THE LIST OF developments for which "cultural Marxism" has been blamed includes the following: the LGBT rights movement, especially the legal push to eliminate sodomy laws and legitimize gay marriage; activism for transgender acceptance and recognition; the increase in divorce at the end of the 20th century and a decrease in nuclear family formation; African Americans protesting police abuse; art and music that fails to follow familiar genre conventions; increased depictions of a variety of races, genders, and sexualities in popular media; acceptance of immigrants and the cultural pluralism they bring; a lack of tolerance for nonliberal ideas on college campuses.
This bill of particulars is not new, especially from conservatives. The twist was to begin dragging Karl Marx into it. Here's how the narrative goes: After the horrific deaths of millions, global communism may have been discredited as a viable economic system, but its proponents want to sneak it perniciously through the back door via cultural decadence. Thus, political correctness is part of a lefty long con to take over America.
You have to give the conspiratorial right credit for clever rhetorical deck-stacking, at least. How can you approve of sympathetic gay people appearing in yogurt commercials if it's all a commie plot?
It may be comforting to believe your ideological foes are dupes of manipulative intellectual fiends. But declaring that advocates of multiculturalism, feminism, and gay rights are the pawns of dead Jewish communists is both mistaken as a matter of cultural history and foolish as a way to sell an alternate ideology. You won't win the day by treating people who merely disagree with you as stalking horses for socialist tyranny.
THE CRITICAL THEORY CONSPIRACY
YOU MIGHT THINK that a history of cultural Marxism would start with Marx, but the poorly coiffed Prussian has almost nothing to do with this tale of insidious infiltration. Instead, the theory took off in the late 1990s due to speeches, essays, and books by William Lind, then with the Free Congress Foundation, and Patrick Buchanan, the firebrand conservative columnist, TV talking head, and sometime presidential candidate. (The idea, though not the name, was hatched earlier, in a 1992 monograph called "The New Dark Age: The Frankfurt School and Political Correctness." It was written by a disciple of the noted conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche.)
Lind and Buchanan claimed that various progressive social or legal changes--from sex education in public schools to speech codes on college campuses--are the deliberate result of a program set in motion decades ago by a squad of philosophers, musicologists, psychologists, and incomprehensible brainiacs arising out of a Marxist/Freudian ferment between the world wars in Europe.
That gang is known as the Frankfurt School, because they launched their Institute for Social Research at Goethe University Frankfurt in the 1920s. Their orbit included such recondite social philosophers as Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor Adorno.
The story goes that these eggheads saw that Marx's predictions about the contradictions in capitalism producing a proletarian revolt were failing to come true. They decided that traditional Western culture was keeping the masses from their revolutionary mission and needed to be annihilated. Religion, the family, traditional sexual mores, belief in objective truth--all had to be overturned. So they launched "critical theory" to demolish the sacred principles that made Western civilization great and pave the way for communist tyranny and an eventual stateless Utopia.
Summing up what the Frankfurt School's clotted and confusing thinkers actually wrote or believed is beyond the capacity of a short essay (or even a long one). Luckily, it is also beside the point for understanding the conspiracy theory of cultural Marxism. Basically, these philosophers believed that knowledge and...