A long read, but a must read.—A/D
I. The collapse of institutional liberalism
For a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, most Americans and Europeans regarded Marxism as an enemy that had been defeated once and for all. But they were wrong. A mere 30 years later, Marxism is back, and making an astonishingly successful bid to seize control of the most important American media companies, universities and schools, major corporations and philanthropic organizations, and even the courts, the government bureaucracy, and some churches. As American cities succumb to rioting, arson, and looting, it appears as though the liberal custodians of many of these institutions—from the New York Times to Princeton University—have despaired of regaining control of them, and are instead adopting a policy of accommodation. That is, they are attempting to appease their Marxist employees by giving in to some of their demands in the hope of not being swept away entirely.
We don’t know what will happen for certain. But based on the experience of recent years, we can venture a pretty good guess. Institutional liberalism lacks the resources to contend with this threat. Liberalism is being expelled from its former strongholds, and the hegemony of liberal ideas, as we have known it since the 1960s, will end. Anti-Marxist liberals are about to find themselves in much the same situation that has characterized conservatives, nationalists, and Christians for some time now: They are about to find themselves in the opposition.
This means that some brave liberals will soon be waging war on the very institutions they so recently controlled. They will try to build up alternative educational and media platforms in the shadow of the prestigious, wealthy, powerful institutions they have lost. Meanwhile, others will continue to work in the mainstream media, universities, tech companies, philanthropies, and government bureaucracy, learning to keep their liberalism to themselves and to let their colleagues believe that they too are Marxists—just as many conservatives learned long ago how to keep their conservatism to themselves and let their colleagues believe they are liberals.
This is the new reality that is emerging. There is blood in the water and the new Marxists will not rest content with their recent victories. In America, they will press their advantage and try to seize the Democratic Party. They will seek to reduce the Republican Party to a weak imitation of their own new ideology, or to ban it outright as a racist organization. And in other democratic countries, they will attempt to imitate their successes in America. No free nation will be spared this trial. So let us not avert our eyes and tell ourselves that this curse isn’t coming for us. Because it is coming for us.
In this essay, I would like to offer some initial remarks about the new Marxist victories in America—about what has happened and what’s likely to happen next.
II. The Marxist framework
Anti-Marxist liberals have labored under numerous disadvantages in the recent struggles to maintain control of liberal organizations. One is that they are often not confident they can use the term “Marxist” in good faith to describe those seeking to overthrow them. This is because their tormentors do not follow the precedent of the Communist Party, the Nazis, and various other political movements that branded themselves using a particular party name and issued an explicit manifesto to define it. Instead, they disorient their opponents by referring to their beliefs with a shifting vocabulary of terms, including “the Left,” “Progressivism,” “Social Justice,” “Anti-Racism,” “Anti-Fascism,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Critical Race Theory,” “Identity Politics,” “Political Correctness,” “Wokeness,” and more. When liberals try to use these terms they often find themselves deplored for not using them correctly, and this itself becomes a weapon in the hands of those who wish to humiliate and ultimately destroy them.
The best way to escape this trap is to recognize the movement presently seeking to overthrow liberalism for what it is: an updated version of Marxism. I do not say this to disparage anyone. I say this because it is true. And because recognizing this truth will help us understand what we are facing.
The new Marxists do not use the technical jargon that was devised by 19th-century Communists. They don’t talk about the bourgeoisie, proletariat, class struggle, alienation of labor, commodity fetishism, and the rest, and in fact they have developed their own jargon tailored to present circumstances in America, Britain, and elsewhere. Nevertheless, their politics are based on Marx’s framework for critiquing liberalism (what Marx calls the “ideology of the bourgeoisie”) and overthrowing it. We can describe Marx’s political framework as follows:
1. Oppressor and oppressed
Marx argues that, as an empirical matter, people invariably form themselves into cohesive groups (he calls them classes), which exploit one another to the extent they are able. A liberal political order is no different in this from any other, and it tends toward two classes, one of which owns and controls pretty much everything (the oppressor); while the other is exploited, and the fruit of its labor appropriated, so that it does not advance and, in fact, remains forever enslaved (the oppressed). In addition, Marx sees the state itself, its laws and its mechanisms of enforcement, as a tool that the oppressor class uses to keep the regime of oppression in place and to assist in carrying out this work.
2. False consciousness
Marx recognizes that the liberal businessmen, politicians, lawyers, and intellectuals who keep this system in place are unaware that they are the oppressors, and that what they think of as progress has only established new conditions of oppression. Indeed, even the working class may not know that they are exploited and oppressed. This is because they all think in terms of liberal categories (e.g., the individual’s right to freely sell his labor) which obscure the systematic oppression that is taking place. This ignorance of the fact that one is an oppressor or oppressed is called the ruling ideology (Engels later coined the phrase false consciousness to describe it), and it is only overcome when one is awakened to what is happening and learns to recognize reality using true categories.
3. Revolutionary reconstitution of society
Marx suggests that, historically, oppressed classes have materially improved their conditions only through a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large—that is, through the destruction of the oppressor class, and of the social norms and ideas that hold the regime of systematic oppression in place. He even specifies that liberals will supply the oppressed with the tools needed to overthrow them. There is a period of “more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution” and the “violent overthrow” of the liberal oppressors. At this point, the oppressed seize control of the state.
4. Total disappearance of class antagonisms
Marx promises that after the oppressed underclass takes control of the state, the exploitation of individuals by other individuals will be “put to an end” and the antagonism between classes of individuals will totally disappear. How this is to be done is not specified.
Marxist political theories have undergone much development and elaboration over nearly two centuries. The story of how “neo-Marxism” emerged after the First World War in the writings of the Frankfurt School and Antonio Gramsci has been frequently told, and academics will have their hands full for many years to come arguing over how much influence was exerted on various successor movements by Michel Foucault, post-modernism, and more. But for present purposes, this level of detail is not necessary, and I will use the term “Marxist” in a broad sense to refer to any political or intellectual movement that is built upon Marx’s general framework as I’ve just described it. This includes the “Progressive” or “Anti-Racism” movement now advancing toward the conquest of liberalism in America and Britain. This movement uses racialist categories such as whites and people of color to describe the oppressors and the oppressed in our day. But it relies entirely on Marx’s general framework for its critique of liberalism and for its plan of action against the liberal political order. It is simply an updated Marxism.
III. The attraction and power of Marxism
Although many liberals and conservatives say that Marxism is “nothing but a great lie,” this isn’t quite right. Liberal societies have repeatedly proved themselves vulnerable to Marxism, and now we are seeing with our own eyes how the greatest liberal institutions in the world are being handed over to Marxists and their allies. If Marxism is nothing but a great lie, why are liberal societies so vulnerable to it? We must understand the enduring attraction and strength of Marxism. And we will never understand it unless we recognize that Marxism captures certain aspects of the truth that are missing from Enlightenment liberalism.
Which aspects of the truth?
Marx’s principal insight is the recognition that the categories liberals use to construct their theory of political reality (liberty, equality, rights, and consent) are insufficient for understanding the political domain. They are insufficient because the liberal picture of the political world leaves out two phenomena that are, according to Marx, absolutely central to human political experience: The fact that people invariably form cohesive classes or groups; and the fact that these classes or groups invariably oppress or exploit one another, with the state itself functioning as an instrument of the oppressor class.
My liberal friends tend to believe that oppression and exploitation exist only in traditional or authoritarian societies, whereas liberal society is free (or almost free) from all that. But this isn’t true. Marx is right to see that every society consists of cohesive classes or groups, and that political life everywhere is primarily about the power relations among different groups. He is also right that at any given time, one group (or a coalition of groups) dominates the state, and that the laws and policies of the state tend to reflect the interests and ideals of this dominant group. Moreover, Marx is right when he says that the dominant group tends to see its own preferred laws and policies as reflecting “reason” or “nature,” and works to disseminate its way of looking at things throughout society, so that various kinds of injustice and oppression tend to be obscured from view.
For example, despite decades of experimentation with vouchers and charter schools, the dominant form of American liberalism remains strongly committed to the public school system. In most places, this is a monopolistic system that requires children of all backgrounds to receive what is, in effect, an atheistic education stripped clean of references to God or the Bible. Although liberals sincerely believe that this policy is justified by the theory of “separation of church and state,” or by the argument that society needs schools that are “for everyone,” the fact is that these theories justify what really is a system aimed at inculcating their own Enlightenment liberalism. Seen from a conservative perspective, this amounts to a quiet persecution of religious families. Similarly, the pornography industry is nothing but a horrific instrument for exploiting poor women, although it is justified by liberal elites on grounds of “free speech” and other freedoms reserved to “consenting adults.” And in the same way, indiscriminate offshoring of manufacturing capacity is considered to be an expression of property rights by liberal elites, who benefit from cheap Chinese labor at the expense of their own working-class neighbors.
No, Marxist political theory is not simply a great lie. By analyzing society in terms of power relations among classes or groups, we can bring to light important political phenomena to which Enlightenment liberal theories—theories that tend to reduce politics to the individual and his or her private liberties—are systematically blind.
This is the principal reason that Marxist ideas are so attractive. In every society, there will always be plenty of people who have reason to feel they’ve been oppressed or exploited. Some of these claims will be worthy of remedy and some less so. But virtually all of them are susceptible to a Marxist interpretation, which shows how they result from systematic oppression by the dominant classes, and justifies responding with outrage and violence. And those who are troubled by such apparent oppression will frequently find themselves at home among the Marxists.
Of course, liberals have not remained unmoved in the face of criticism based on the reality of group power relations. Measures such as the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly outlawed discriminatory practices against a variety of classes or groups; and subsequent “Affirmative Action” programs sought to strengthen underprivileged classes through quotas, hiring goals, and other methods. But these efforts have not come close to creating a society free from power relations among classes or groups. If anything, the sense that “the system is rigged” in favor of certain classes or groups at the expense of others has only grown more pronounced.
Despite having had more than 150 years to work on it, liberalism still hasn’t found a way to persuasively address the challenge posed by Marx’s thought.
IV. The flaws that make Marxism fatal
We’ve looked at what Marxist political theory gets right and why it’s such a powerful doctrine. But there are also plenty of problems with the Marxist framework, a number of them fatal.
The first of these is that while Marxism proposes an empirical investigation of the power relations among classes or groups, it simply assumes that wherever one discovers a relationship between a more powerful group and a weaker one, that relation will be one of oppressor and oppressed. This makes it seem as if every hierarchical relationship is just another version of the horrific exploitation of black slaves by Virginia plantation owners before the Civil War. But in most cases, hierarchical relationships are not enslavement. Thus, while it is true that kings have normally been more powerful than their subjects, employers more powerful than their employees, and parents more powerful than their children, these have not necessarily been straightforward relations of oppressor and oppressed. Much more common are mixed relationships, in which both the stronger and the weaker receive certain benefits, and in which both can also point to hardships that must be endured in order to maintain it.
The fact that the Marxist framework presupposes a relationship of oppressor and oppressed leads to the second great difficulty, which is the assumption that every society is so exploitative that it must be heading toward the overthrow of the dominant class or group. But if it is possible for weaker groups to benefit from their position, and not just to be oppressed by it, then we have arrived at the possibility of a conservative society: One in which there is a dominant class or loyalty group (or coalition of groups), which seeks to balance the benefits and the burdens of the existing order so as to avoid actual oppression. In such a case, the overthrow and destruction of the dominant group may not be necessary. Indeed, when considering the likely consequences of a revolutionary reconstitution of society—often including not only civil war, but foreign invasion as the political order collapses—most groups in a conservative society may well prefer to preserve the existing order, or to largely preserve it, rather than to endure Marx’s alternative.
This brings us to the third failing of the Marxist framework. This is the notorious absence of a clear view as to what the underclass, having overthrown its oppressors and seized the state, is supposed to do with its newfound power. Marx is emphatic that once they have control of the state, the oppressed classes will be able to end oppression. But these claims appear to be unfounded. After all, we’ve said that the strength of the Marxist framework lies in its willingness to recognize that power relations do exist among classes and groups in every society, and that these can be oppressive and exploitative in every society. And if this is an empirical fact—as indeed it seems to be—then how will the Marxists who have overthrown liberalism be able use the state to obtain the total abolition of class antagonisms? At this point, Marx’s empiricist posture evaporates, and his framework becomes completely utopian.
When liberals and conservatives talk about Marxism being “nothing but a big lie,” this is what they mean. The Marxist goal of seizing the state and using it to eliminate all oppression is an empty promise. Marx did not know how the state could actually bring this about, and neither have any of his followers. In fact, we now have many historical cases in which Marxists have seized the state: In Russia and Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, and Cambodia, Cuba and Venezuela. But nowhere has the Marxists’ attempt at a “revolutionary reconstitution of society” by the state been anything other than a parade of horrors. In every case, the Marxists themselves form a new class or group, using the power of the state to exploit and oppress other classes in the most extreme ways—up to and including repeated recourse to murdering millions of their own people. Yet for all this, utopia never comes and oppression never ends.
Marxist society, like all other societies, consists of classes and groups arranged in a hierarchical order. But the aim of reconstituting society and the assertion that the state is responsible for achieving this feat makes the Marxist state much more aggressive, and more willing to resort to coercion and bloodshed, than the liberal regime it seeks to replace.
V. The dance of liberalism and Marxism
It is often said that liberalism and Marxism are “opposites,” with liberalism committed to freeing the individual from coercion by the state and Marxism endorsing unlimited coercion in pursuit of a reconstituted society. But what if it turned out that liberalism has a tendency to give way and transfer power to Marxists within a few decades? Far from being the opposite of Marxism, liberalism would merely be a gateway to Marxism.
A compelling analysis of the structural similarities between Enlightenment liberalism and Marxism has been published by the Polish political theorist Ryszard Legutko under the title The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies (2016). A subsequent book by Christopher Caldwell, The Age of Entitlement (2020), has similarly documented the manner in which the American constitutional revolution of the 1960s, whose purpose was to establish the rule of liberalism, has in fact brought about a swift transition to a “Progressive” politics that is, as I’ve said, a version of Marxism. With these accounts in mind, I’d like to propose a way of understanding the core relationship that binds liberalism and Marxism to one another and makes them something other than “opposites.”
Enlightenment liberalism is a rationalist system built on the premise that human beings are, by nature, free and equal. It is further asserted that this truth is “self-evident,” meaning that all of us can recognize it through the exercise of reason alone, without reference to the particular national or religious traditions of our time and place.
But there are difficulties with this system. One of these is that, as it turns out, highly abstract terms such as freedom, equality, and justice cannot be given stable content by means of reason alone. To see this, consider the following problems:
1. If all men are free and equal, how is it that not everyone who wishes to do so may enter the United States and take up residence there?
By reason alone, it can be argued that since all men are free and equal, they should be equally free to take up residence in the United States. This appears straightforward, and any argument to the contrary will have to depend on traditional concepts such as nation, state, territory, border, citizenship, and so on—none of which are self-evident or accessible to reason alone.
2. If all men are free and equal, how is it that not everyone who wants to may register for courses at Princeton University?
By reason alone, it can be argued that if all are free and equal, they should be equally free to register for courses at Princeton on a first come, first served basis. This, too, appears straightforward. Any argument to the contrary will have to depend on traditional concepts such as private property, corporation, freedom of association, education, course of study, merit, and so on. And, again, none of this is self-evident.
3. If all men are free and equal, how can you justify preventing a man who feels he is a woman from competing in a women’s track and field competition in a public school?
By reason alone, it can be said that since all are free and equal, a man who feels he is a woman should be equally free to compete in a women’s track and field competition. Any argument to the contrary will have to depend on traditional concepts of such as man, woman, women’s rights, athletic competition, competition class, fairness, and so on, none of which is accessible to reason alone.
Such examples can be multiplied without end. The truth is that reason alone gets us almost nowhere in settling arguments over what is meant by freedom and equality. So where does the meaning of these terms come from?
I’ve said that every society consists of classes or groups. These stand in various power relations to one another, which find expression in the political, legal, religious, and moral traditions that are handed down by the strongest classes or groups. It is only within the context of these traditions that we come to believe that words like freedom and equality mean one thing and not another, and to develop a “common sense” of how different interests and concerns are to be balanced against one another in actual cases.
But what happens if you dispense with those traditions? This, after all, is what Enlightenment liberalism seeks to do. Enlightenment liberals observe that inherited traditions are always flawed or unjust in certain ways, and for this reason they feel justified in setting inherited tradition aside and appealing directly to abstract principles such as freedom and equality. The trouble is, there is no such thing as a society in which everyone is free and equal in all ways. Even in a liberal society, there will always be countless ways in which a given class or group may be unfree or unequal with respect to the others. And since this is so, Marxists will always be able to say that some or all of these instances of unfreedom and inequality are instances of oppression.
Thus the endless dance of liberalism and Marxism, which goes like this:
1. Liberals declare that henceforth all will be free and equal, emphasizing that reason (not tradition) will determine the content of each individual’s rights.
2. Marxists, exercising reason, point to many genuine instances of unfreedom and inequality in society, decrying them as oppression and demanding new rights.
3. Liberals, embarrassed by the presence of unfreedom and inequality after having declared that all would be free and equal, adopt some of the Marxists’ demands for new rights.
4. Return to #1 above and repeat.
Of course, not all liberals give in to the Marxists’ demands—and certainly not on every occasion. Nevertheless, the dance is real. As a generalized view of what happens over time, this picture is accurate, as we’ve seen throughout the democratic world over the last 70 years. Liberals progressively adopt the critical theories of the Marxists over time, whether the subject is God and religion, man and woman, honor and duty, family, nation, or anything else.
A few observations, then, concerning this dance of liberalism and Marxism:
First, notice that the dance is a byproduct of liberalism. It exists because Enlightenment liberalism sets freedom and equality as the standard by which government is to be judged, and describes the individual’s power of reason alone, independent of tradition, as the instrument by which this judgment is to be obtained. In so doing, liberalism creates Marxists. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, it constantly calls into being individuals who exercise reason, identify instances of unfreedom and inequality in society, and conclude from this that they (or others) are oppressed and that a revolutionary reconstitution of society is necessary to eliminate the oppression. It is telling that this dynamic is already visible during the French Revolution and in the radical regimes in Pennsylvania and other states during the American Revolution. A proto-Marxism was generated by Enlightenment liberalism even before Marx proposed a formal structure for describing it a few decades later.
Second, the dance only moves in one direction. In a liberal society, Marxist criticism brings many liberals to progressively abandon the conceptions of freedom and equality with which they set out, and to adopt new conceptions proposed by Marxists. But the reverse movement—of Marxists toward liberalism—seems terribly weak in comparison. How can this be? If Enlightenment liberalism is true, and its premises are indeed “self-evident” or a “product of reason,” it should be the case that under conditions of freedom, individuals will exercise reason and reach liberal conclusions. Why, then, do liberal societies produce a rapid movement toward Marxist ideas, and not an ever-greater belief in liberalism?
The key to understanding this dynamic is this: Although liberals believe their views are “self-evident” or the “product of reason,” most of the time they are actually relying on inherited conceptions of what freedom and equality are, and inherited norms of how to apply these concepts to real-world cases. In other words, the conflict between liberalism and its Marxist critics is one between a dominant class or group wishing to conserve its traditions (liberals), and a revolutionary group (Marxists) combining criticial reasoning with a willingness to jettison all inherited constraints to overthrow these traditions. But while Marxists know very well that their aim is to destroy the intellectual and cultural traditions that are holding liberalism in place, their liberal opponents for the most part refuse to engage in the kind of conservatism that would be needed to defend their traditions and strengthen them. Indeed, liberals frequently disparage tradition, telling their children and students that all they need is to reason freely and “draw your own conclusions.”
The result is a radical imbalance between Marxists, who consciously work to bring about a conceptual revolution, and liberals whose insistence on “freedom from inherited tradition” provides little or no defense—and indeed, opens the door for precisely the kinds of arguments and tactics that Marxists use against them. This imbalance means that the dance moves only in one direction, and that liberal ideas tend to collapse before Marxist criticism in a matter of decades.
VI. The Marxist endgame and democracy’s end
Not very long ago, most of us living in free societies knew that Marxism was not compatible with democracy. But with liberal institutions overrun by “Progressives” and “Anti-Racists,” much of what was once obvious about Marxism, and much of what was once obvious about democracy, has been forgotten. It is time to revisit some of these once-obvious truths.
Under democratic government, violent warfare among competing classes and groups is brought to an end and replaced by non-violent rivalry among political parties. This doesn’t mean that power relations among loyalty groups come to an end. It doesn’t mean that injustice and oppression come to an end. It only means that instead of resolving their disagreements through bloodshed, the various groups that make up a given society form themselves into political parties devoted to trying to unseat one another in periodic elections. Under such a system, one party rules for a fixed term, but its rivals know they will get to rule in turn if they can win the next election. It is the possibility of being able to take power and rule the country without widespread killing and destruction that entices all sides to lay down their weapons and take up electoral politics instead.
The most basic thing one needs to know about a democratic regime, then, is this: You need to have at least two legitimate political parties for democracy to work. By a legitimate political party, I mean one that is recognized by its rivals as having a right to rule if it wins an election. For example, a liberal party may grant legitimacy to a conservative party (even though they don’t like them much), and in return this conservative party may grant legitimacy to a liberal party (even though they don’t like them much). Indeed, this is the way most modern democratic nations have been governed.
But legitimacy is one of those traditional political concepts that Marxist criticism is now on the verge of destroying. From the Marxist point of view, our inherited concept of legitimacy is nothing more than an instrument the ruling classes use to perpetuate injustice and oppression. The word legitimacy takes on its true meaning only with reference to the oppressed classes or groups that the Marxist sees as the sole legitimate rulers of the nation. In other words, Marxist political theory confers legitimacy on only one political party—the party of the oppressed, whose aim is the revolutionary reconstitution of society. And this means that the Marxist political framework cannot co-exist with democratic government. Indeed, the entire purpose of democratic government, with its plurality of legitimate parties, is to avoid the violent reconstitution of society that Marxist political theory regards as the only reasonable aim of politics.
Simply put, the Marxist framework and democratic political theory are opposed to one another in principle. A Marxist cannot grant legitimacy to liberal or conservative points of view without giving up the heart of Marxist theory, which is that these points of view are inextricably bound up with systematic injustice and must be overthrown, by violence if necessary. This is why the very idea that a dissenting opinion—one that is not “Progressive” or “Anti-Racist”—could be considered legitimate has disappeared from liberal institutions as Marxists have gained power. At first, liberals capitulated to their Marxist colleagues’ demand that conservative viewpoints be considered illegitimate (because conservatives are “authoritarian” or “fascist”). This was the dynamic that brought about the elimination of conservatives from most of the leading universities and media outlets in America.
But by the summer of 2020, this arrangement had run its course. In the United States, Marxists were now strong enough to demand that liberals fall into line on virtually any issue they considered pressing. In what were recently liberal institutions, a liberal point of view has likewise ceased to be legitimate. This is the meaning of the expulsion of liberal journalists from the New York Times and other news organisations. It is the reason that Woodrow Wilson’s name was removed from buildings at Princeton University, and for similar acts at other universities and schools. These expulsions and renamings are the equivalent of raising a Marxist flag over each university, newspaper, and corporation in turn, as the legitimacy of the old liberalism is revoked.
Until 2016, America sill had two legitimate political parties. But when Donald Trump was elected president, the talk of his being “authoritarian” or “fascist” was used to discredit the traditional liberal point of view, according to which a duly elected president, the candidate chosen by half the public through constitutional procedures, should be accorded legitimacy. Instead a “resistance” was declared, whose purpose was to delegitimize the president, those who worked with him, and those who voted for him.
I know that many liberals believe that this rejection of Trump’s legitimacy was directed only at him, personally. They believe, as a liberal friend wrote to me recently, that when this particular president is removed from office, America will be able to return to normal.
But nothing of the sort is going to happen. The Marxists who have seized control of the means of producing and disseminating ideas in America cannot, without betraying their cause, confer legitimacy on any conservative government. And they cannot grant legitimacy to any form of liberalism that is not supine before them. This means that whatever President Trump’s electoral fortunes, the “resistance” is not going to end. It is just beginning.
With the Marxist conquest of liberal institutions, we have entered a new phase in American history (and, consequently, in the history of all democratic nations). We have entered the phase in which Marxists, having conquered the universities, the media, and major corporations, will seek to apply this model to the conquest of the political arena as a whole.
How will they do this? As in the universities and the media, they will use their presence within liberal institutions to force liberals to break the bonds of mutual legitimacy that bind them to conservatives—and therefore to two-party democracy. They will not demand the delegitimization of just President Trump, but of all conservatives. We’ve already seen this in the efforts to delegitimize the views of Senators Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Tim Scott, as well as the media personality Tucker Carlson and others. Then they will move on to delegitimizing liberals who treat conservative views as legitimate, such as James Bennet, Bari Weiss, and Andrew Sullivan. As was the case in the universities and media, many liberals will accommodate these Marxist tactics in the belief that by delegitimizing conservatives they can appease the Marxists and turn them into strategic allies.
But the Marxists will not be appeased because what they’re after is the conquest of liberalism itself—already happening as they persuade liberals to abandon their traditional two-party conception of political legitimacy, and with it their commitment to a democratic regime. The collapse of the bonds of mutual legitimacy that have tied liberals to conservatives in a democratic system of government will not make the liberals in question Marxists quite yet. But it will make them the supine lackeys of these Marxists, without the power to resist anything that “Progressives” and “Anti-Racists” designate as being important. And it will get them accustomed to the coming one-party regime, in which liberals will have a splendid role to play—if they are willing to give up their liberalism.
I know that many liberals are confused, and that they still suppose there are various alternatives before them. But it isn’t true. At this point, most of the alternatives that existed a few years ago are gone. Liberals will have to choose between two alternatives: either they will submit to the Marxists, and help them bring democracy in America to an end. Or they will assemble a pro-democracy alliance with conservatives. There aren’t any other choices.
Yoram Hazony, President of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem and author of The Virtue of Nationalism, is chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @yhazony.
Liberals will have to choose between two alternatives: either they will submit to the Marxists, and help them bring democracy in America to an end. Or they will assemble a pro-democracy alliance with conservatives. There aren’t any other choices.
I observed the behaviour of liberals during the so-called Harper’s Letter. Their feeble effort to push back was a canary in the coalmine.
These useful-idiots – who opened the gates to this demonic ideology – took one trembling step against it and folded like a cheap suit.
They fancied themselves to be as bright as the stars in the night sky and as virtuous as the saints. What fools they are and what evil they have unleashed.
Marxists aren’t like conservatives. They will steal your assets and the loyalty of your children then they’ll stare in your eyes and without blinking they’ll break your neck.
This article presents “liberals” as weak defenses against the Marxist onslaught. They are not.
Provided we understand that “liberal” here refers to the Orwellian bastardization of classical liberalism, the “liberals”, when they are not themselves Marxist, are the people who armed the Marxists. They gave them their tools – moral relativism, subjective truth, critical theory, etc. They handed loaded guns to maniacs out of a badly misguided sense of altruism and are now surprised to find themselves being shot.
They are far from innocent.
Although many liberals and conservatives say that Marxism is “nothing but a great lie,” this isn’t quite right.
There are two types of ideological “success” being conflated here. One is actually working as policy. The other is gaining power. An ideology can have the second kind of success while being devastatingly bad for society.
This is Marxism.
And here again, the “liberals” handed it the tools. Obama’s presidency comes to mind, as virtually any list of his “successes” compiled by his supporters consists almost exclusively of a list of policies he enacted, not a list of positive outcomes generated. The Left has long defined political success as “winning”. Their opponents only learned to do this (in the US) in 2016.
Agreed, this is the best article Quillette has published in a while.
A lot of it boils down to the fact that the disdain for “tradition” that underscores left-wing thinking manifests as a forgetting of all of history’s lessons. Rather than standing on the shoulders of giants, the Leftist gets down on his hands and knees, then thinks himself the first to glance upward.
It is not the elevation of “reason” that causes this problem. Rather, it’s the “garbage in, garbage out” problem that results from applying reason without knowledge.
Nihilism means nothing to me.
This article tries to show that the current movement is “Marxist” by listing what it and classical Marxism have in common.
True, both advocate “a revolutionary reconstitution of society”, but so do other movements, such as fascism, showing that the concept is too vague to say advocating it makes you a Marxist.
They also have in common the idea that class antagonisms will end when this revolution have taken place. This is probably true – if you asked one of the gurus of critical race theory if they want to abolish class privilege as well as white privilege, they’d agree. But for them, race is central. This puts them closer to fascism than Marxism.
It is true that Engels ‘later’ coined the term ‘false consciousness’ to describe people believing things which are not in their interests, but everyone believes this is possible, including the author, who thinks that liberalism has a weakness which enables Marxism.
But the author’s key amalgam is the dichotomy oppressor/oppressed, which Marxism does indeed have in common with Black Lives Matter and the rest of the American left. The difference is that Marx claimed to have discovered an oppression which contains its own negation – the proletariat is driven to overthrow the bourgeoisie, thus abolishing itself. This theory may be completely wrong, but it’s also completely unlike intersectionality, which compiles a list of minorities (plus women) with a grievance, and claims that their complements (eg. straight white men) gain from their oppression. Whereas it’s obvious that Jeff Bezos gains from my mate Dave slaving away in a warehouse, it’s not at all clear to me how Dave benefits from the murder of George Floyd.
Race activists suffer, not from Marxism, but from Marxism envy. They wish that the New York Times’ 1619 Project was true, that the USA was founded on slavery. In fact, the USA was founded on capitalism, which Marx rightly described as ‘progressive’, partly because it abolished slavery. And if America had not imported a single African slave, it would have survived, and avoided a civil war. Sorry guys, but black people, nor any other minority, are no substitute for the proletariat.
The current movement is not a version of Marxism – it is an amalgam of two currents, one of which became disillusioned with the proles and tried to psychoanalyse them, and another which explicitly rejected Marxism as a ‘grand narrative’.
I’d suggest the author tries again, after reading some Marx & Engels.
A great essay which does much to shed light on the relationship between liberalism and Marxism. However, it fails to address a couple of points. First, there is the emotional level and the fact that we do our children a disservice when we lie to them before we send them out in to the world. The principle lie we tell our children is that we allow our teachers to give them a false sense of the role they will play when they go out into the world.
The child-centred approach allows children to ‘discover’ learning for themselves. It gives them an overrated and inflated view of their own powers of reason and casts them as decision-makers in solving society’s problems, as though one could become a doctor or a scientist by simply donning a white coat. It belies the very real commitment to specialism which is required to make a substantial contribution to our cooperative effort, or the couple of hundreds of hours of research that is necessary to make passing observations on any subject, speaking with authority and knowledge.
This is perhaps why they are prone to experiencing Maths-trauma and tend to gravitate towards the humanities over science. Because whilst one can substitute ‘skills’ for knowledge in other domains, both Maths and Science still require a commitment to the memorisation of knowledge in order to get to grips with the next level of the pyramid of knowledge. This is how the mystique of critical theory comes in so handy when they reach university, because it gives them a prepackaged excuse for why they inevitably fail when they go out into the world.
The simple fact is that they have been lied to all their lives. Most organisations don’t want their thoughts, opinions or ideas, they want their labour. This might be acceptable if they had been taught to see service to others as something inherently valuable- to anticipate the pleasure a chef feels when he ends his shift in the bar with a drink, and gets to hear the delight of his customers with his days efforts. But this is not what they have been trained to want or expect.
They want to have impact. They have been taught all their life that there ideas will be valuable and important, when it takes huge amounts of effort to just be able to make a small contribution to someone else’s pet project for incremental improvement. If they have a certain gift with words or possess in inherent charisma, they might possess the requisite abilities to enter journalism or become an influencer, where they get to pass comment on subjects that they know nothing about, acting as cheerleaders for politicians, or leading a group of similarly inclined dimwits, but these sorts of roles really are a zero-sum game, because they rely upon a hugely disproportionate imbalance between commentators and listeners or readers.
Against this backdrop of being lied to their entire life, is it any wonder that they end up feeling disabused and resentful. And its not as though their more able, less ideologically committed teachers knew any better, because most lack experience in the real world and do not realise that their own role is a necessarily protected throwback to a softer Keynesian imagining of society, where full employment required that people make do with less, materially, in return for a measure of employment security for most.
So they tend bar, wait tables or serve coffee as baristas, with some waking up to the knowledge that they will require technically specific knowledge for careers. Many more wallow in the unfairness of the world, mired in student debt from courses with little practical application and stuck in low paying service jobs, having swallowed the oppressor and oppression narrative. They fail to recognise that they have been sold a line from the very beginning, and instead blame entrenched interests for their own lack of impact, when those who have succeeded simply had the luxury of parents who were more brutally honest about their future prospects in the world, and the requirement to acquire huge masses of knowledge to be of any relevance in the world.
We could have taught them to be entrepreneurs, to risk everything repeatedly for the chance to own their own little enterprise somewhere, bringing retail joy to others. Or scientists, doctors, lawyers and engineers. But we didn’t, because we didn’t want to acknowledge the basic truth of the world, instead opting for a second chance at success through vicarious immortality. The system requires inequality, both in terms of income, but far more importantly in terms of our ability to have impact in the world.
At its most basic and material level, inequality is necessary because a huge portion of any society relies upon it for labour. Consider the gardener and the doctor, where the gardener is still part of the native population. There should a substantial gap in the hourly earnings of the doctor and the gardener. Why? Well because the doctor has to invest a substantial part of their twenties getting qualified, often stacking up huge amounts of debt in the process. The gardener can start work at 16, and by 25 if they are smart they will have taken on a couple of lads to supplement their income.
The gardener may have to work a few hours to equal even a relatively short amount of the doctor’s labour, but this doesn’t mean the process is unfair or unequal, because their labour intrinsically holds different value. The gardener is happy when he takes his daughter to the doctor and he prescribes pills that cure her sickness, and is happy to get paid for tending the doctors garden. Economic transfers can be used to equalise this basic inequality, but not as much as many liberals would like.
They don’t seem to understand that most restaurants would shut if there wasn’t inequality, that the gardener would be unemployed, or the doctor would need to pave over her lovely garden with concrete to save time from her busy schedule. That there wouldn’t be coffee shops offering high quality coffee, or that cinemas would need to dispense food and drinks from machines, to stay open. They don’t understand all of this because they weren’t adults before the seventies (or the fifties in America).
There is a flaw in capitalism, but it is not one they are psychologically inclined to look for or to deal with. The flaw actually lies in exactly the area they obsess over, but is a fundamentally different problem from the one they imagine. The fact is that people are unequal, often hugely so, despite our urge of some to not want it to be so and despite our best intentions to treat everyone equally under the Law. The flaw in the market is, if we leave it to itself, the competition inherent to the market will leave a significant number of people unable to compete, dispossessed and a burden on our collective resources through taxation.
We need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions about whether it is wiser to select the most able for a job, or the best suited. At the top rungs of society, this is a no-brainer- because the most able candidate will inevitably achieve much better results over time, than the next most able. It’s a simple Law of the Pareto distribution, and one which has been proven time and again in any number of enterprises and institutions. But in the bottom 60% of the talent and ability distribution, this may not be the case.
We need to ask ourselves what is the wisdom in requiring a farrier to sit a written exam, when this necessarily squeezes someone who is perfectly able to do the jobs out of the market, and effectively making it the province of someone too able? The boss in the bar needs to ask himself whether hiring someone who is 10% faster and requires less supervision, is really that a smart a move, if they are likely to get bored after a year, requiring the added expense of training someone new. A more loyal, but initially less able employee might be a better fit, when we understand that the cognitively less able can come to match their more gifted counterparts over time, with less demanding roles.
All of this requires a sea change in corporate ethos, and the way we as a society understand problems. It requires a fundamentally more truthful and realistic understanding of the way we view the world, and the people in it.
It will also require a fundamentally different approach it the way corporate organisation view the moderately talented young. Instead of holding them back and helping them come to a realisation of more modest ambitions, in order to hold them captive to the workforce, we will need to give them skills and knowledge in surplus. We mus then be willing to throw them out of the corporate nest to fly or fall, when they are surplus to requirements- in the hopes that they will be brave enough to start their own ventures, rather than taking the safer approach of finding a new employer. Small businesses can be huge source of labour, after all, and their inherently smaller hierarchies tilt towards greater agency and initiative for subordinate employees.
The pay-off is huge whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. For the Republican, the 10% to 15% of revenue saved by such a societal shift could be used to pay down the deficit, or could be spent on more police and better courts. For the Democrat and liberal the resources saved in this cultural shift could be used to facilitate all sorts of programs which target one of the main sources of inequality- the disparities which occur in early childhood development.
Of course, none of this is likely to happen because pigs might fly before the conservative and liberal makes common cause, and understands to true threat on the form of the ascendant Marxist. We could develop a society that is both intrinsically more humanist in its liberal doctrine, and more persuasive in terms of traditional values. All that is requires is to recognise the fundamental differences which emerge from nature and through nurture, and the huge gulfs in human potential which this causes. We need to understand any hyper-efficient and well-oiled machine needs both big cogs and small ones to make it run.
The American Progressives have been engaged in a ‘long march’ which began a long time before Gramsci coined the fashionable term. (Gramsci himself was not available in English till the 1970s in America.) The Progressive counter revolution against liberalism, it could even be said, was seeded in the Philadelphia convention itself. Hamilton walked away from the convention, because the new constitution was not Progressive enough for his taste. The oscillation between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian politics continued until the North-South war.
Since then, the Hamiltonians have engineered an absolute hegemony, and the pendulum no longer swings in the Jeffersonian direction. With each suceeding generation, the US have transmogrified from a liberal, federal republic into a fascist, unitarian republic. The ethos of a society does not change overnight. Even today the ghostly semblance of the former liberalism is perceptible. On the whole, however, liberalism is commonly understood to mean a vacuous infinity of tolerance. Homosexual marriage is today the signal achievement of liberalism that is trumpeted abroad—-with pride.
The word, liberalism, may still be in use, but its meaning has been evacuated entirely a long time ago. This is why nothing but feeble whining, and futile hand wringing is all that liberals have to offer by way of counter argument to communism. They have not defended liberalism on principle, for a very long time. I suspect, few liberals today could articulate its principles to my satisfaction, let alone Mr. Jefferson’s. Private property, freedom of association, and equality before the law are three of the fundamental principles jettisoned long ago.
There are secondary principles too, inseparable from the proper execution of the primary, that have been tossed overboard. Sound money being one. For principle has been substituted a buffet of pragmatic compromises restrained by nothing if a majority of votes has been secured. There is now a Byzantine administrative state devouring the substance of these United States with ferocious zeal. We are more taxed, more regulated, more licensed, more permitted, and generally pushed and shoved around than at any time in the history of the European settlement in America. Our money is inflated endlessly to finance the corporate state. In short, we are treated like the indentured serfs we are. This is what the voters asked for, in their customary stupidity.
What exactly is liberal about any of this? That some liberties in the Bill of Rights are still upheld in court? Well, you had better have the money to hire suitable professional counsel, if that is where you hang your liberal hat. No, liberalism is a word. Its substance is no more. Liberty perished long ago.
We have progressives. Plenty of them. The difference between Progressives and Marxists is nothing more than subjective, aesthetic preference. No essential question of principle divides them. They are united on principle. They part company only on questions of when, and how much violence they must use. That is to say, once the monopoly on power is captured, the whining and hand wringing progressives will be the first to be murdered off.
This is what is called liberalism today. Do I exaggerate?
Calling them Marxists is just as silly as them calling us racists.
The article isn’t about calling them Marxists. It’s pointing out that modern progressivism seems to be leading towards Marxism. That a core group of Left wingers already identify as Marxist and that more of the Left is moving in that direction and away from individual liberty.
And no it’s not like them calling the Right racists. Very few members of the Right self identify as racists. Most of the Right is explicitly against racism. The Right is not moving towards racism. There’s no calls from the Right for segregated buses, lunch counters, not allowing blacks to vote, etc. Liberals are using the racist label well outside the common definition of racism. Furthermore, they refuse to admit that many of their policies (affirmative action, mandatory diversity, etc) are explicitly racist. Whereas, the right doesn’t have Marxist policies of any significance. So that’s not a close analogy.
I will agree that often times the Marxist label is used incorrectly, however, it’s very clear that prominent BLM agitators are literally Marxists. The Left is calling for radical change, including the suppression of speech, bypassing the judicial system, expropriation of assets (wealth taxes to fund reparations, universal income, etc). It’s also clear that some percentage of social science professors are literally Marxists. Furthermore, a much greater percentage are allied with the Marxist professors than are with any conservative movement.
The equivalent epithet would be calling the Right capitalists. But of course, the Right isn’t denying that.
Looks like I can scratch one Quillette submission off my list. I’ve been part of the reluctant audience for the Marxist-liberal dance since I witnessed the first performance as a undergraduate in the late 90s. The liberal was always the submissive partner, the Marxist always the dominant one.
Like Hazony, I believe that turning the tide depends on waking liberals up to what’s going on around them. But I’ve become pessimistic. From then until now I’ve tried to persuade liberal friends and acquaintances that they’re being pressed into the service of a illiberal cause, being turned into something they are not. As I’ve pointed out here many times before, however, they don’t get it until they themselves are bitten by the beast. The JBPs, Haidts, and Bret Weinsteins only woke up after they’d become progressive targets.
All the same, one must soldier on.
As a liberal who believes that group hierarchies should not exist and that everyone should be judged as an individual with equal individual rights, why would I ally with conservatives like this author who openly argues that group hierarchies exist, are inevitable, and are desirable?
The fact that they are inevitable pretty much takes the question of desirable off the table; the question then is how to create a society that functions well while acknowledging that there are aspects of human nature that are sometimes good, and sometimes bad.
The difference is that Marx claimed to have discovered an oppression which contains its own negation – the proletariat is driven to overthrow the bourgeoisie, thus abolishing itself. This theory may be completely wrong, but it’s also completely unlike intersectionality, which compiles a list of minorities (plus women) with a grievance, and claims that their complements (eg. straight white men) gain from their oppression.
Marx’ idea is completely wrong, as with most things he said or did. The proletariat doesn’t rise up to overthrow the bourgeoisie. The proletariat seeks to BECOME the bourgeoisie. And they do, continuously.
Marx adherents and followers have always been the disaffected intelligentsia, the idiot worshipers of ‘smarts’ who think that just by having the trappings of a thing, you have the thing. The perpetual college students. The sons who won’t inherit. Trust fund kids.The people deprived the privilege of title.
Intersectionality, critical theory, feminism were all created because Marxists could not, no matter how they tried goad a class war in the US, no matter what riches or freedoms they promised.
So they apply the same rhetoric to race, sex, and ethnicity. If they can’t get class war, they’ll settle for race war.
Because the point isn’t race or class.
The point is getting them the trappings of power, with which, they believe, they can decree leftist utopia.
And they do this over and over. And they fail, over and over.
Because there’s no plan beyond getting their hands on the trappings of power. They truly believe they can decree all they want–because they believe that this is what those in power do now.
The USSR was a maggot-state almost from it’s inception, feeding on the corpse of the Russian Empire and any other states it could consume. Why?
Because the people in charge had absolutely no idea how to make anything they promised real. They have no grasp of economics, of statecraft, of science–of anything.
And they’re no different today.
As one of the few Christians who raise their heads up often on QC, I want to say that the views Hazany expressed fit very much into the feeling and discussions going on for decades in Christian circles (maybe other religions too, but I have not been privy to those). ‘Conservative Christians’ (not far right, I am talking of those wishing to preserve the Judeo-Christian values the US was founded on), have been aware of, and unfortunately not very good at stopping, the slide towards Marxism/Progressivism, THROUGH ‘liberalism’. Or at least what liberal meant 50 years ago to those 60s activists.
The ‘battle’ at the beginning, was in the 60s, then between ‘liberals’ and conservatives’, with the feminists wanting to blow up the system. I never had thought of that as Marxian or Postmodern before recently. They demonized stay-@-home moms (the ‘women’s movement’ specifically never Included them – read about Phyllis Schlafly or watch Mrs. America, the 9 part series on her), added the beginnings of gay rights, ‘reproductive rights’ (wordsmith at work as ‘abortion’ is a pretty rough term), pro-choice’ was even better – who isn’t for ‘choice’? Wait, who isn’t for Black Lives Matter? Of course we are, but we know the words are just a manipulation towards an agenda. Case in point, activists just got arrested for painting on the street ‘unborn black lives matter’… Crazy land…
The 60s also had MLK, which was big social change, yet his cause was rooted/based on Christianity. He said we needed more Christianity to fix the racial problems. Imago dei and all that. Sure some Christians in the south took issue with him, but by and large, Christians ‘got it’ that the racial problem needed to be fixed, and were on board with it socially, as well as theologically. It had substance. A foundation. @Obamawasafool I can hear an ‘amen’ from your non-Christian corner.
Then on to the 70s and the destructive self-actualization mantras of ‘I’m ok, you’re ok’, which implies you are fine how you are, so accept it – not just you, but EVERYONE has to accept it – this flies in the face of Christianity which would nuance that to say ‘I’m not ok, neither are you, but God created us on purpose to be how we are now, but He loves us too much to leave us that way.’ Jordan Peterson also alludes to the psychological and existential need for goals, motivation and improvement, but the social strategies of the last decades have left us empty, as God was removed by the ‘then’ liberals in school and society. Christians tried, but failed in keeping the foundation in tact.
But, as Hazany said, the liberals of old now find themselves side by side with the Christians trying to defend the basic concept of liberalism as it applies to democracy. And many are shocked. The Christians aren’t. I have been fascinated by how much I agree now, versus 30 years ago with ‘typical liberals’ like gay marriage proponents, Berkeley-esque free speechers, etc.
I think the article does much to bring into relief what we are dealing with on the other side of our democracy, and we free thinkers (not too free, you classic liberals, or that might lead to ‘burning the system down’ like the infection in the universities did), need to develop tools (or weapons) to successfully defend our hard fought liberal democracy in the west. If we don’t, I fear my teenage kids will not get a chance at life, compared to me.
Notwithstanding that I also believe God does know what is going on, and I have some comfort in that belief – while still looking ahead to see what looks like to be the next thing to be done to improve the lives of mankind.