08 February 2024

cultural Marxism's obsession with Language – part 4

The term ‘cultural Marxism’ is here used to mean:
the corpus of Marxist ideology excluding the parts that are overtly about economics or politics,
not the ‘Cultural Marxism’ conspiracy theory, usually spelt with a capital C.


‘Critical Theory’ is cultural Marxism, and Marxism is an ideology. Hence Critical Theory is also ideology. This becomes obvious enough to anyone starting to wade through Critical Theory’s bewildering complex of concepts, and its ambitious range of assertions about psychology and society – most of them developed by intellectuals from the comfort of their armchairs, with little or no empirical basis.
   Yet Critical Theory claims to investigate and expose ideology, even offering to liberate its audience from ideology – that is to say, from the supposedly ‘dominant’ ideology of Western nations, which it asserts is pro-capitalist.
   If however there are, in fact, two competing major ideologies prevalent in the secular West – (1) pro-capitalist ideology and (2) cultural Marxism (‘Critical Theory’) – the question arises: which of the two should be regarded as dominant? Are cultural Marxists right to claim that it is pro-capitalist ideology that is dominant? Is it not perhaps the case that, at least in the context of campus, and highbrow media, it is cultural Marxism that has become dominant?
   Note that this question cannot simply be answered by pointing to the capitalist aspect of Western economies. Political/economic arrangement does not simplistically equate with ideology. A society’s political arrangements might be in flux due to pressure from the dominant ideology, so that its current state is not representative of what is ideologically dominant. Or there might simply be a permanent disjoint between political and ideological domains, as there was under Christian hegemony. (Marxist analysts may claim that Christianity was no more than the prop for prevailing politics, but an alien visitor to Earth circa 1600AD is more likely to be struck by the paradox of an intellectual/cultural sphere that stresses meekness and humility, side by side with an economic/political sphere in which acquisition and expansion are openly pursued.)
   To assume that Western nations can readily be described as ‘capitalist’ also ignores the fact that the state currently occupies upwards of 40 percent of the socio-economic space in many of those nations.
   How then is one to ascertain ideological dominance? One answer is to look at what people say, rather than at what they do. Take ideology about sex during the period of Christian hegemony. It would probably not be particularly helpful to know to what extent people committed adultery in medieval Europe; it probably happened to a similar degree as at any other period, prior to the development of chemical contraception. Looking at what was said, and written, during this period is likely to be more useful for determining the prevailing ideology. While many people may have committed adultery, few if any publicly expressed permissiveness towards it. Any that did would likely have been penalised in various ways for doing so; for example, by losing their jobs.
   If we apply this method to contemporary society, we are likely to come up with rather different answers from the ones given by cultural Marxists. Take the realm of the universities. If we carried out an exercise to see how many currently active professors have publicly expressed support for capitalism, or hostility to cultural Marxism; versus professors who have expressed hostility to capitalism or support for cultural Marxism, there is little doubt we would find the numbers heavily skewed towards the latter.
   As far as student life and academia is concerned, it seems uncontroversial to suggest that cultural Marxism is ideologically dominant. There is certainly little evidence that pro-capitalist ideology is dominant within that sphere.
   Moving outside the confines of campus, let’s consider the mainstream media. As far as radio, television and movies are concerned, similar arguments apply. One rarely hears support for capitalism via those channels, whereas one is regularly exposed to perspectives that are at least aligned with cultural-Marxist ideology, if not explicit espousals of it.
   Only in the realm of newspapers can there be said to be anything like parity. In the UK, for example, the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and The Sun are arguably, at present, more in favour of capitalism than of cultural-Marxist ideology; while the opposite seems to be true of the Guardian, the Independent and the Daily Mirror.

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The thesis espoused by cultural Marxists, that dissemination of their perspectives will lead to liberation from the dominant ideology, is clearly flawed. If any ideology is currently unequivocally dominant in the West, it is unlikely to be a pro-capitalist one. We may indeed be moving towards a possible outcome in which the overall dominant ideology is cultural Marxism, or at least some watered-down version of it. Regardless of whether this is so, it seems obvious that ‘Critical Theory’ (cultural Marxism) becoming a kind of default methodology – as many humanities professors seem to think it should – cannot lead to liberation from ideology, given that Critical Theory is itself highly ideological.

* * * * *

What is cultural-Marxist ideology? Briefly, it is the flip side of political collectivism. Collectivism involves the individual’s surrender of autonomy and sovereignty to agents of the state or other authorised collectives. Cultural Marxism therefore consists of psychological and social theories that support moves towards a greater level of collectivism.
   Cultural-Marxist ideology incorporates the following positions, among others:
• Individuals are unimportant; what matters is social groups and classes.
• Culture is a ‘social product’.
• Individuals are essentially identical, any significant differences being due to cultural or other environmental factors.
• Individual decision-making is flawed, and needs to be increasingly surrendered in favour of expert opinion.
• Inequality is invariably unjust and oppressive – except for power inequalities between agents of the state and everyone else, but this caveat is usually left unstated.
• ‘Truth’ is no more than social consensus; therefore individuals should defer to the opinions of authorised collectives.
• Social change in directions approved by cultural Marxists must be assumed to be good; opposition to such change should be interpreted as malevolent.
• If you disagree with what cultural Marxism tells you, it’s because you have unconscious ideological biases.
   The last of these is best interpreted as a strategy, used to deflect criticism.
   There are other theoretical approaches in cultural Marxism which should probably be regarded as strategies, where the point seems not to be to convey any specific position but simply to mess with people’s heads – presumably as a way of encouraging them to surrender thinking critically for themselves, in favour of accepting Marxist ideology. The most notable of these is the cultural-Marxist approach to language, a topic we will look at in the final instalment of this series of posts.

part 1: introduction
part 2: terminology
part 3: ‘ideology’
part 4: which ideology is dominant?
part 5: ‘good’ and ‘evil’
part 6: ‘culture is a social product’ (extract from my forthcoming book)
part 7: Language (extract from my forthcoming book)