The Kingdom of Heaven Suffereth Violence: Popper, Gramsci and the Frankfurt School

What men want to learn from Nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men.  That is the only aim.  Ruthlessly, in despite of itself, the Enlightenment has extinguished any trace of its own self-consciousness.  The only kind of thinking that is sufficiently hard to shatter myths is ultimately self-destructive.

Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightement

Herbert Marcuse

Between 1934 and 1949 a small clique of German-Jewish refugees, many formerly affiliated with the Frankfurt School of Economics, emigrated to America.  From there they began crafting a response both to the evils of capitalism and the excesses of Stalin and Hitler.  The result was a synthesis of Marxist economics and Freudian analysis. Rejecting Communism for its hidebound dogmatism, they proposed a Critical Theory which sought to change the world through critique and therapy.  

The Sexual Revolution took a political turn thanks to Herbert Marcuse’s 1955 Eros and Civilization and Wilhelm Reich’s 1946 Mass Psychology of Fascism.  Mass Psychology claimed that “fascist mysticism is orgiastic yearning, restricted by mystic distortion and inhibition of natural sexuality” and complained the patriarchal family was the reactionary breeding groud of authoritarian societies.  Eros and Civilization promoted a “polymorphous sexuality” which would make the entire body “a thing to be enjoyed – an instrument of pleasure” and  lead to “a disintegration of the institutions in which the private interpersonal relations have been organized, particularly the monogamic and patriarchal family.” Both saw better sex as the way to better politics and both were popular with the budding Gay Liberation movement.

The Authoritarian Personality, a 1950 study helmed by Theodor Adorno, offered tests to measure a subject’s propensity to Authoritarian or Democratic thinking.  These tests used criteria which had earlier been used at the Frankfurt School to separate Fascists from Revolutionaries: by the standards of Adorno’s “F-scale” a conservative Bible-believer would be marked “Authoritarian” while a radical who wanted to fight injustice by any means necessary would be “Democratic.”  Though controversial from its release, Authoritarian Personality would influence American sociologists and academics for decades.

Karl Popper

While often lumped in with the Frankfurt School, Karl Popper actually had several ongoing disagreements with the group.  The Frankfurts loved Freud and Marx: Popper thought psychoanalysis and Marxism were pseudoscience. In his 1945 introduction to The Open Society and its Enemies Karl Popper asserts “if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men.”  He clarified in the 1952 second edition that “our greatest troubles spring from something that is as admirable and sound as it is dangerous – from our impatience to better the lot of our fellows.”

Reich believed “The basic religious idea in all patriarchal religions is the negation of the sexual needs” and Marcuse thought institutionalized religion hinged on our need for a Primal Father.  Popper saw no problem with religion, so long as they promoted humane behavior rather than socially destructive teachings of bigotry and intolerance. He explained further in a 1940 speech:

I have of course, the various brands of totalitarianism and racialism in mind. These are movements which with fervent belief try to destroy the greatest achievement of Christianity—the belief that we are all brethren; that all the differences between us are ultimately not very important at all; the belief, in short, in the unity of mankind

Perhaps one of Popper’s most enduring ideas is his work on the “Paradox of Tolerance.”  In a footnote to Chapter 7 Popper notes

If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them… We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

Popper was careful to note that forceful censorship should be an absolute last resort after appeals to reason fail and violence is unavoidable.  Marcuse, in a 1965 essay entitled “Repressive Tolerance,” bluntly stated that the only acceptable tolerance  “would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.”

Popper’s sociopolitical views were squarely in the classical European Liberal tradition – free commerce in a free brotherhood of man.  Open Society was dedicated to noted Austrian economist and free-market advocate Fredrich Hayek, who warned in a 1944 book that Socialism was The Road to Serfdom.  One of Popper’s students at the London School of Economics, a young Hungarian named George Soros, was greatly impressed by Open Society.  After  becoming a multibillionaire he funded an Open Society Institute whose “national and regional foundations and thematic programs give thousands of grants every year towards building inclusive and vibrant democracies.”

Antonio Gramsci

During his 11 years as an involuntary guest of Benito Mussolini, Antonio Gramsci filled nearly thirty notebooks with his political and philosophical observations.  Smuggled out of his cell, Gramsci’s thoughts were released twenty years after his 1937 death as Prison Notebooks.  Although a leader of Italy’s Communist Party, Gramsci had serious issues with both Trotsky and Stalin.  He also noted that Marx had predicted industrialization would lead inevitably to proletarian revolutions, yet the capitalist hold on the most prosperous and industrialized societies was tighter than ever.

Gramsci explained this by expanding upon the Marxist-Leninist concept of “hegemony.”  For Lenin “hegemony” was a synonym for political power.  Gramsci distinguished between political and cultural power.  The masses were ruled not only by domination but by direction.  Bourgeois ideals were reinforced by academia, churches, and the media and entertainment industries.  These institutions used the soft power of persuasion and peer pressure:  the police and military were only there to step in should their efforts fail.  Any successful offensive would require gaining positions in those strongholds and creating a counternarrative to the positions vested interests presented as the norm. 

Toward gaining cultural hegemony, Gramsci proposed the creation of a “historical bloc” of various coalitions through cooperation, outreach, and compromise.  Violence was a last resort, and generally useless against better armed and more popular opponents.  Coalitions could more easily and effectively be brought together around common points than individuals.  In 1967 a West German student leader and Gramsci aficionado named Rudi Dutschke alluded to Mao’s Long March across China and promised a “Long March through the institutions.”  Marcuse explained in his 1972 Counterrevolution and Revolt that Dutschke’s plan involved:

working against the established institutions while working within them, but not simply by ‘boring from within’, rather by ‘doing the job’, learning (how to program and read computers, how to teach at all levels of education, how to use the mass media, how to organize production, how to recognize and eschew planned obsolescence, how to design, et cetera), and at the same time preserving one’s own consciousness in working with others.

Gramsci’s distinction between politics and culture led many Marxist intellectuals to turn away from class struggle in favor of identity politics.  Today acolytes of Intersectionality help craft the “community standards” which govern online discourse and the workshops which “inform” children, students and HR offices.  Yamonte Cooper of the National Career Development Association (NCDA)’s Committee on Diversity Initiatives and Cultural Inclusion described in a 2017 article some of the “Intersecting Axes of Privilege, Domination, and Oppression” which career counselors should consider:

Identities that exists on the axes of privilege includes: genderism (male/masculine and female/feminine), sexism or androcentrism (male), racism (White), eurocentrism (European heritage), heterosexism (heterosexual), ableism (able-bodied), educationalism (credentialed), ageism (young), politics of appearance (attractive), classicism (upper and upper-middle class), language bias (Anglophones), colorism (light, pale), anti-Semitism (gentile non-Jew), and pro-natalism (fertile).

Identities that exists on the axes of oppression includes: infertile, Jews, dark-complected, English as a second language, working class poor, physically unattractive , old in age, illiterate, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ, non-European origin, people of color, women, and the gender “deviant”

The meteoric rise of Gay Rights movement has led to an ever-increasing collection of sexual and gender minorities gathering beneath the Rainbow flag.  Each axis of oppression is a fertile recruiting ground for the Cause.  Where the Dissident Left once fought for better wages and working conditions, they now focus on recalcitrant cake bakers and lesbians who refuse to acknowledge the female penis.  Attention has shifted from the proletariat and toward issues closer to the hearts of bourgeois liberals and college students.  This control of the culture and consensus morality has given the Dissident Left considerable clout: America’s 2020 riots will likely leave a greater political impact than the 1967-68 riots.  But they have done little to improve conditions for those they purport to help.

What is called today the “Culture War” or the “War on Whiteness” is just a skirmish in a battle that started before the Bastille was stormed.  That effluviant which rose in Paris and overwhelmed Moscow would see the last oppressor strangled with the guts of the last believer.  It has lapped for decades across America, feeding off Washington’s corruption like it fed off the corruption at Versailles and St. Petersburg.  It has soiled our schools and our churches.  It has desecrated our monuments and defiled the memory of our ancestors.  It would see us punished for sins we never committed while it mocks the very idea of sin.

We have imagined the world with nothing to kill or die for and no religion too.  Yet that world stubbornly refuses to live as one; greed and hunger persist; we need no hell below us because hell keeps pushing itself in our faces.  We have designed better computers, reinvented catalog shopping and discovered new ways to share our lives with strangers.  We have not made ourselves, or our world, happier.  And across the West plummeting birth rates show that many of us have stopped making ourselves at all.

Our people and our country have been poisoned.  Our only hope lies in the Grail.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s