Keyboards are active after Joe Carter’s criticism of the term “cultural Marxism.” Apparently, many evangelical bloggers have invested a lot in using this phrase to attack the Left. I’m getting the impression that unless we attack critical theory as cultural Marxism, Western Civilization will collapse.
I’ve been away from the evangelical blogosphere for several years, blissfully reading old books. But two weeks ago, I felt guilty about ignoring today’s evangelical intellect, so I started following some blogs again. Like all shamefaced backsliders, I was driven by grim determination. I shall read this material, I thought, and I shall be edified whether I like it or not.
And this is what I come back to.
Carter said that John Earnest, the 19-year-old who shot Jewish worshipers in a San Diego synagogue, had justified his terrorism by using the phrase “cultural Marxism” in his online manifesto. Carter then said that the term had been adopted by racialist ideologues, acquiring anti-Semitic connotations.
In the words of the original post, Carter complained about “the tendency of politicized terms to be used in ways that have one or more connotations for a non-tribalized audience and quite another for those committed to tribalism.” That is, some call postmodern philosophy “cultural Marxism” because it applies class consciousness to societal issues beyond economics, issues like sexual identity and race. But others use “cultural Marxism” as an anti-Semitic slur, as Earnest did, because lots of Marxists were Jews, like those of the Frankfurt School. Carter argued that if we want to attack postmodernism, we should use terms that don’t moonlight as racist jargon. (Carter later updated his post to make this point clearer.)
I linked to Carter’s post on Sunday thinking, “Here’s a valuable caution against feeding people words that terrorists like Earnest can turn into fake intellectual patter.”
But Carter’s post infuriated a whole lot of evangelical bloggers.
Pulpit and Pen said that Carter had gotten his argument about cultural Marxism from the leftist Southern Poverty Law Center. Another blogger, Cody Libolt, linked to a less hysterical but still exercised post by P. Andrew Sandlin, who argued that cultural Marxism is a legitimate and necessary description of postmodernism. There was also an explosion on Facebook, with parties exchanging charges of hypocrisy. And no web controversy would be complete without Doug Wilson firing his howitzers of sarcasm.
So. Here are my observations:
1. These bloggers seem to have been waiting for Carter to say something like this, as though Carter is just another example of how “leftist” The Gospel Coalition is. Their posts reek of adrenaline, making me suspect that I’ve blundered into an ongoing feud.
2. The bloggers are writing about the Frankfurt School—Jewish Marxists like Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor Adorno (pictured above) who fled Nazi Germany and continued their work in exile. They laid the foundations for critical theory and other postmodernist monstrosities.
3. Most of the posts against Carter are super long.
4. Let’s keep attacking Marxism. It is poisonous to the intellect and has a record of industrial-scale murder.
5. The phrase “cultural Marxism” is not a great loss. Dialectical materialism was always a philosophy about culture. Just call it Marxism. Why build fortifications around redundancy? Let it go.
6. Anti-Semitism is mixed up with the history of the Frankfurt School. To treat that history as unimportant is willfully obtuse. I am a William F. Buckley conservative. We drive anti-Semites out of public discourse, and we pose a choice between conservatism and racism. Buckley not only did this when he founded National Review in the 1950s, but also when his friend Joseph Sobran later flouted the principle in the 1990s. Buckley didn’t do this because the Left “controlled the discourse.” He did it because it was right. This is basic in attacking leftist ideology—elementary, not up for discussion.
7. The Left can “control the discourse” not only by calling everyone “racist,” but also by baiting conservatives into their habit of making a series of irritable mental gestures.
8. I can’t help but notice that a man really did shed blood in a synagogue last week. He really did commit murder in the name of fighting “cultural Marxism.” Some of these evangelicals are once again displaying their flair for being—at the same time, in the same post—both offensive and boring.