Deconstructing Marxist Critical Theory
For those of you who haven't been formally introduced to the sociological doomsday weapon of the 20th century, critical theory is an approach to analyzing society not for the purpose of understanding it, but for the purpose of transforming it by undermining its existing institutions. The hard work of understanding how and why people do things is unnecessary if your goal is merely to take a sledgehammer to the machinery. Critical theory is the invention of the Marxist Frankfort School of the 1930s, so, as one might expect, it reinterprets everything it looks at through a Marxist (or neo-Marxist) lens. The women's studies, racial studies, and gender studies curricula found in almost every university in the West are the direct products of the more general critical theory program. Many things that end in "theory" (e.g., deconstruction theory, queer theory) are also critical theory's progeny.
The connection between critical theory and Marxism is neither disputable nor often denied. The discipline's formulators (Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, et al.) were all self-identified Marxists teaching in an avowedly Marxist school. Modern academic proponents of critical theory and its descendants do not go to any great lengths to deny either the discipline's origins or their own fundamentally Marxist intentions. Only the mainstream media, renowned for denying the existence of gorillas discovered in plain sight, deny that the echoes they make in their echo chambers have a distinctly German socialist accent.
In our deconstruction of this leftist tool, let's begin with an examination of the promise Marxism has always made though never achieved. While the language of the promise has changed from "emancipation" and "liberation" to "social justice" over the years, the basic sales pitch behind all leftist proselytism has remained consistent – the promotion of a better and fairer society. Well, who wouldn't want that? Any decent person, given a choice between a fair society and an unfair one, all else being equal, prefers a fair one. For many reasons, I believe that the Marxist formulation is naïve and problematic, but for the sake of argument, let's just accept the leftist claim as it stands: their goal is to build a better and fairer society.
In the pursuit of a better and fairer society, critical theory comes with one colossal rub. If we accept that such a society can exist, one of the characteristics it has to possess is at least some degree of stability. Implicit in "better and fairer" must be the notion that most improvements made become permanent. A utopia poised to blow itself apart at the end of one perfectly blissful generation certainly clashes with the left's new buzzword: "sustainability." Moreover, even the most rabid leftists will admit, if pressed, that change is not always good. For them to believe that white colonizers wickedly oppressed the non-whites of the world, leftists have to imagine some better condition non-whites were living in prior to the colonization. In other words, they have to admit that conditions can get worse in history – that history isn't rigged by nature to automatically make things better. Their argument against conservatism, if they have one, has to be that things can be deliberately improved – not simply that blowing up the status quo inevitably leads to an improvement. The indiscriminate destruction of the status quo, however, is precisely what critical theory was designed to accomplish.
An all too familiar scenario plays itself out daily on modern college campuses. The old guard of liberal professors, who see themselves as the lineal descendants of Herbert Marcuse and Gloria Steinem (if not quite Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxembourg), are more and more seen by their politically indoctrinated students as the closest available examples of white privilege, entrenched authority, and (if they happen to be male) the dreaded patriarchy. Genuinely conservative professors have been hunted to near extinction, so liberal white or older profs must now genuflect embarrassingly to avoid the role of hated oppressors. They're the authorities who come most easily to hand and are much more fragile targets than conservatives ever were. They have few ideological places to run. Even declaring sexual attraction to members of the same sex no longer offers victim status to the radical of yesteryear. For today's more dedicated social justice warriors, full trans-sexuality is about the only refuge for the terminally Caucasian. The speech codes and trigger warnings that have proliferated in today's classrooms are not the direct invention of left's old guard, but are instead demanded by the students. They are a grotesque byproduct of critical theory itself. The monsters, it seems, grant no special deference to their ultimate creators. The indoctrinated are not the minions of their forbears, but are instead the ungovernable creation of a plan gone out of control.
It is likely that the current intellectual poverty of the left is also a byproduct of critical theory's basic tenets. When racial studies programs were originally formed, it was taken as a given that the goal was not honest research, but rather the production of a continuous moaning and howling over grievances. That is precisely what critical theory was meant to produce. Papers written by black students asserting that whites (or cops) acted as a single, corporate, nefarious body could never have passed muster if viewed critically. Neither could the feminist re-invention of the Western world as a "rape culture." However, since the goal of racial and gender studies programs never was truth, but merely the raw articulation of a certain kind of outrage, normal academic standards never applied. Reason was not the goal, but an impediment to the goal.
Measure people not by the quality of their arguments, but by the pungency of their hatred, and you will get exactly what we have gotten: generations of narcissistic nihilists who see themselves as right by virtue of the intensity of their feelings. For decades now, valid-looking academic credentials have been awarded for little more than unsupported posturing. Many of these ideological monsters are now "educators" themselves. Many others swell the bureaucracies of government.
If we are to overcome these people, we cannot lose sight of the methodology that created them. Attempting to argue with anyone who helps himself to the idea that anyone who disagrees with him is wrong a priori is obviously futile. Nevertheless, one sees innumerable instances in print, on television, and in social media of some frustrated conservative attempting to do just that. We must stop wasting our time! If progressives were amenable to reason, they would not be progressives.
The rational response to a madman is not to argue with the progressive, but to firmly separate him from any means of doing harm. Progressives must be removed from power, including, at a low level, taking away the public funding that allows them to make careers as full-time street agitators. While it may make us uncomfortable to deprive people of the freedoms to which Americans ought to be entitled, we must face certain facts. When someone explicitly makes war on any and all of our existing institutions, it is foolish to imagine that he is, somehow, just our fellow countryman with different opinions. Such people are as much our enemies as any foreign invader.
When Muslims say they would like our Western laws and traditions replaced with sharia, I see no reason not to take them at their word. When a Marxist says something similar, we should take him at face value, too.