Perhaps you’ve wondered why so many college professors are so left-wing. In your freshman year, you might have noted with dread—as I did—some of your fellow students “going with the flow” and molding their beliefs to fit in. Perhaps one of them was you, before you grew up and snapped out of it! The Frankfurt School is the answer to why so many universities are Social Justice Warrior factories.
The origins of the Frankfurt School
They began as a Communist think tank at the Goethe University Frankfurt. They noted that the masses didn’t rise up during the First World War to overthrow capitalism; instead, the citizens fought for their countries. Only Russia became Communist, a place they didn’t expect Communism to take hold. Since they took the writings of Marx as gospel, all this was quite shocking. They decided they needed to prepare the way by breaking down traditional social ties—country, family, and religion—and afterwards the masses would embrace rule by a global Communist state. That’s not working out too well lately, but all that’s another story.
Because the proletariat just wasn’t interested in revolution, they rebranded Communism, taking out the elements of class struggle, and adding contributions from Freudian theory. This was a mistake; Communism emphasized hard work and heroism; that much is respectable even if the rest of the ideology is badly flawed. If you compare the Motherland Calls statue to Trigglypuff, you’ll understand.
How cultural Marxism took root
“You see, what Antonio Gramsci called ‘hegemony’ is, like, the value system of the Establishment, man! So don’t trust anyone over thirty, dig?”
They had two strategies: ensconcing themselves into academia, and the criticism of society (hence “critical theory”). Ultimately, this meant ideological subversion and basically badgering society to death. (It seems incredible that they did so much without picking up a single rifle.) They stressed moral relativism and the “question everything” atmosphere that became the 1960s counterculture zeitgeist. A few of their books, such as Eros and Civilization by Herbert Marcuse and The Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno, have become classics in academia.
Many of their students graduated and became professors elsewhere, just in time for the 1960s. Young people are at the most impressionable time of their lives, so indoctrinating college students was a very effective strategy. It’s little wonder that campuses became hotbeds of student activism! College draft deferments surely helped them reach more students sympathetic to their message.
Further, the ideological seeds of the Frankfurt School—along with the Communist Party USA—fell onto fertile ground. There were several groups that they—cultural Marxists and garden variety Communists—infiltrated and subverted, for instance:
- There was already a feminist movement, mostly moderate and mostly simply about equal rights (a goal which was nearly complete by then). Under leftist influence, second wave feminism began, which was anything but moderate and effectively about deconstructing society.
- There was already a beatnik counterculture. With a little encouragement, this became a much larger youth counterculture, the hippies. Having a significant toehold in academia put the Critical Theory folks in a very good position to influence the young Baby Boomers.
- There was already a civil rights movement, which the Communists had put a lot of effort into influencing. This included figures such as W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Stanley Levison (MLK’s top advisor), and Frank Marshall Davis (called “Pops” in Obama’s autobiography).
- The gay movement was heavily influenced in the beginning by the Mattachine Society, founded by Harry Hay, of which most members were Communists.
Connecting the dots
Earlier I had assumed that the Frankfurt School was an independent movement, with no particular encouragement or guidance from the USSR. Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that. Read the rest of this entry »