Is Cultural Marxism a Myth?

By Phil Bair

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September 4, 2020

Question:

I don’t believe there is such thing as cultural Marxism. It’s merely a made up myth. If you disagree, please describe exactly what is meant by “cultural Marxism” and explain it to me like I was a five-year-old. While you’re at it, I’d love to hear your understanding of Marxist thought because I suspect it is extremely shallow, partisan, and sophomoric.

– Ben


Answer:

Thanks for your question, Ben.

You hit the nail on the head: very few people actually understand Marxism (let alone the dangers of Marxism). I appreciate your insights and understand your frustration. The analogy I like to use is the difference between a tourist who has taken a picture of a mountain and someone who has actually climbed it. Most Americans see Marxism as a tourist looking at a photo. The climber who climbs a mountain will understand the mountain — and it’s dangers — far better than the tourist who is merely looking at a picture of it will. So to actually “climb the mountain” of Marxism, one needs to read Marx and the works of notable Marxists. That’s not an easy task, but it will yield better comprehension than a “shallow” approach will. To start the climbing process, one might start with my article, Marx Attacks. Just make sure to read the original literature as well. 

I would explain cultural Marxism to you as a five-year-old (as you requested) like this: The communist revolution Marx thought was going to be the result of “inevitable” (that’s the word Marx used in the Communist Manifesto) economic forces never occurred in Europe as Marx thought it would. The Institute for Social Research, better known as the Frankfurt School, was founded by Marxist scholars like Max Horkheimer and others partly for the purpose of understanding why. Building partly on a foundation laid by Antonio Gramsci, the Frankfurt School scholars realized that the capitalist socio-economic framework was too strong for the assault of communist revolutionaries.

Their response to this realization was to launch an attack on various Western institutions on behalf of the disadvantaged underclass in capitalist society through the application of critical theory. Rather than framing class warfare using economic categories like the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the real struggle is between the classes in society that have hegemony and those who don’t and therefore are “oppressed.”

That’s why the ideology is called “cultural” Marxism.

It is between cultural classes rather than the economic ones that you find the deeper conflict. The economic class struggle still exists, but Horkheimer and his colleagues saw the real profound oppression as being broader than the issues surrounding labor and economic exploitation alone. Horkheimer, Marcuse, Adorno, Lukacs, et al, were still committed classical Marxists. But they forged the weapon of critical theory to attack the West from within its own institutions rather than attempt an economic overthrow from without that was doomed to failure. I would call this an expansion of Marxism as well as a fundamental shift from economic to cultural categories in their social theory.

If you want to know what cultural Marxism is in more detail, I would recommend the following (all of which I have studied):

Critical Theory – Selected Essays by Max Horkheimer
The One-Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse
Repressive Tolerance (a monograph) by Herbert Marcuse
Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno
History and Class Consciousness by George Lukacs
Reason and Revolution by Herbert Marcuse
The Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno (et al)
Notes from Prison (3 volumes, which I am still in the process of digesting) by Antonio Gramsci

There is a lot more material to cover, but that will get you started substantially on cultural Marxism, and will take you far beyond the level of a five-year-old as it has for me. I have spent years climbing the Marxist mountain, but I would be the first to say I haven’t reached the summit yet. I probably never will. It makes me feel better that I don’t think anyone ever has or ever will. Indeed, it takes a lifetime. But at least I am climbing the mountain rather than gazing at snapshots from casual tourists. The work I have done has paid off in spades.

I can assure you that cultural Marxism exists, and I have made enormous progress in my comprehension of its essential nature. I strongly endorse Tim Stratton’s posture comparing Marxism to Naziism (See Why It’s Time to Treat the Hammer and Sickle Like the Swastika). There are important differences, but we should not fail to see their similarities and their relationship. Indeed, we must not fail to grasp the evils of both Naziism and Marxism!

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About the Author

By Phil Bair

Phil Bair studied philosophy, technology, earth sciences, and music theory at the University of Iowa, the University of Colorado, the National Institute of Technology, and Simpson College in Indianola Iowa. He has been dedicated to independent study and research for over thirty years in a variety of subject matter pertaining to the Christian world view. He has written several monographs on the relationship between theology and hope, being true to the Word of God, the creation/evolution controversy, and critiques of alternative spiritual doctrine and practices. He has written two books: From Rome To Galilee, an analysis of Roman Catholic theology and practice, and Deconstructing Junk Ideology - A Modern Christian Manifesto, a series of essays on the culture wars and applying Biblical principles to our socio-political landscape. He has delivered lectures, seminars, and workshops to churches and educational institutions on apologetics, textual criticism, creation science, ethics, critical thinking, the philosophy of science, understanding new age thought, and the defense of Christian theism, as well as current religious, philosophical, cultural, and political trends, with an emphasis on formulating a meaningful and coherent Christian response in those areas. His roles include author, speaker, Bible study leader, worship pastor, and director of contemporary music and worship for several evangelical churches. He has served as philosophy consultant and speaker for Rivendell, a cultural apologetics organization founded in Denver, Colorado and headquartered in Santa Barbara, California.