The Frankfurt School: Part 1
The info presented here has been taken from a chapter of a book I will leave uncited. I believe it is important to look at the information provided from a research perspective and challenge you to look further and do the research on your own.
I have, however, cited the sources used by the author at the end. Links are also attached for further research and reference in BLUE. They range from articles to Wikipedia/New World Encyclopedia entries, psychology encyclopedias, etc, but you can easily google for more. Whether you agree with this author’s opinion on the matters or not, I encourage you to look deeper and not simply discard them.
The philosophy of “The Frankfurt School” coupled with the pragmatic tactics of “Rules for Radicals” helped me put into perspective the divisive and dichotomous matters of our cultural and political sides/opinions today. They may enlighten you a little as well, if not at least make you think a little more about the ‘simplicity’ of how all this works.
While reading this mini history lesson on communism and it’s infiltration into the American life and thought, I pose these questions to you for reflection:
- What is your view on human nature?
- Do we need training in virtue or are we are all naturally good?
- How does our view on human nature shape our beliefs and actions?
- What elements of communism, socialism, and capitalism do you like?
- What do you favor more, liberty or fairness?
- What’s your view of ‘critical theory’?
- Is critical theory the only way to look at the world from an ‘objective’ perspective?
- Is it possible to look at the world objectively?
I spent most of my life in a world where the Soviet Union had been destroyed. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, we felt that we had finally defeated global Marxism.
Ronald Reagan and the United States had taken down the single largest repository of communism on the planet, and we’d done it without firing a direct shot. The whole world could see that communism didn’t work—its failure was on display for the entire globe to look at and say, “So much for that.”
At least that was what we thought.
When you look at the history of the Soviet Union, what you see is-
- The conversion of hundreds of millions to a corrupt and insidious worldview via the overpowering propaganda of communism. Yes, they used force. But they also used every means at their disposal to control the culture, the everyday lives, the very thoughts of their citizens.
When I was at [university], I saw the same cultural forces at work:
- The forces of the thought police, of the cultural fascisti.
- People in positions of power who decided what was okay to think and what to write, what words meant and who was allowed to say them. Tribunals without oversight, kids thrown out of college for uttering the wrong sentiments.
Later, I saw that the cultural Marxism of [University] wasn’t restricted to [my University]—it was everywhere, from the mainstream media to Hollywood to the educational system to the government. And when I began researching the origins of that pervasive cultural Marxism, I realized that this wasn’t a result of America’s suddenly and spontaneously embracing a rebellious counterculture in the 1960s—it started long before that.
It started from the beginning.
The Founders of our country were realistic men who understood human nature and recognized that people weren’t infinitely changeable and that they had certain traits born into them.
In The Federalist #51, James Madison (1751-1836) famously said that-
- Men were not angels—
- They were ambitious but rational.
- We therefore needed to construct a system of government that pitted ambition against ambition.
John Adams (1735-1826) knew government had to be limited, since,
“It is weakness rather than wickedness which renders men unfit to be trusted with unlimited power.”
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) agreed.
The Founders understood human nature because they were part of the great Western tradition of philosophy and literature and history.
[Their heritage sprang] from basic knowledge about what human beings are...Men were not naturally good and needed moral education.
Adam Smith’s (1723-1790) capitalism was based on the same principles, not the pure greed and selfishness [many] would have us believe.
Smith knew that capitalism—the exchange of the products of one’s best efforts for the products of someone else’s best efforts—required people to act with virtue.
To sum up, The Founders’ view was this:
- Human nature is variable and requires training in virtue.
- No government should be given too much power, or the people comprising that government will use the power in the worst ways possible.
- Individual freedom, when used within the boundaries of morality, is the highest good.
The Constitution (1787) was written as a living testimony to this view.
ROUSSEAU & MARX
Individual liberty found its opponent in the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and, later, Karl Marx.
- View on HUMAN NATURE
- People were naturally good and were corrupted only by the development of the surrounding society.
- (He himself was not naturally good, fathering five children out of wedlock and abandoning them all to orphanages.)
- Modern society, created as it was to protect property rights and life, had destroyed the natural communism that prevailed before the advent of society.
- The solution was the creation of a new “social contract,” one based on the “general will.”
- The “general will” didn’t need any checks and balances, because it embodied the entire will of the people. And if individuals argued with the general will, they lost.
Picked up where Rousseau left off.
- HUMAN NATURE
- He didn’t care much about human nature.
- For him, it didn’t really exist.
- Was produced by surrounding society.
- If it was to be changed, it could be changed only by destroying the surrounding society.
- DIALECTIC THEORY
- The theory by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel that backed Marx’s utopianism.
- Conflicts made the world a better place—
- THESIS + ANTITHESIS = SYNTHESIS
- The struggle between two opposing ideological or philosophical forces—thesis and antithesis—would eventually end in a “synthesis” of the two sides, and that “synthesis” would be better than what had come before.
- DIALECTIC MATERIALISM
- Marx + Hegel
- Capitalism carried the seeds of its own destruction.
- Capitalism (thesis) would be faced with the wealth gap that capitalism creates (antithesis), and that wealth gap would be solved by socialism/communism (synthesis).
- In the final conflict, the workers would win and a communist synthesis would be established.
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
THE NEW NATIONALISM
Even though Teddy was a Republican, he was no conservative—he was a “Progressive.”
- Progressivism was a strain in American thought.
- It merged Hegelian dialectic with Marxism backed by a rosy Rousseau-ian view of humanity and the general will = soft Marxism without the class struggle.
There was only one problem: America had a Constitution that protected individual liberty.
That didn’t stop Teddy. Progressivism was active.
- Teddy slammed those who disagreed with him, characterizing typical American self-reliance as selfishness. Collectivism was the new cool.
- Those who stand for Progressivism,
“stand for the forward movement… for the uplift and betterment, who have faith in the people.” -TR
“We of today who stand for the Progressive movement here in the United States are not wedded to any particular kind of machinery, save solely as means to the end desired. Our aim is to secure the real and not the nominal rule of the people.”1 -TR
That’s scary stuff [because] the business of government is all about means, which is why the Constitution is mostly a document describing how things get done, not what things should get done.
Once a president starts ignoring means to get to ends, we’ve got a serious constitutional problem on our hands.
- Teddy’s 1910 speech comparing wealth inequalities with the Civil War and said that individual rights had to take a backseat to the common interest.2
- People couldn’t be permitted to make money unless it was of benefit to the community for them to do so.
“We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community…”
Teddy’s Progressivism had its most dramatic effects in shaping a new view of the Constitution.
- He summed up his thoughts about the Constitution in one line:
“To hell with the Constitution when the people want coal!”3
- Teddy’s ideological heir
- A political science professor and Princeton dean who frowned upon democracy.
- Our American egalitarianism was beginning to be replaced by elites who knew better than the masses.
- He rejected the idea of government by the people, and he rejected the old-fashioned notion that founding principles of free enterprise and private property should be protected by checks and balances on the growth of government.
- Government, he said, was a living thing, and it needed the freedom to do its magical work.
Because government had stuff to do, the Constitution was a waste of time for Wilson. It held the people back.
“Justly revered as our great constitution is, it could be stripped off and thrown aside like a garment, and the nation would still stand forth clothed in the living vestment of flesh and sinew, warm with the heart-blood of one people, ready to recreate constitutions and laws.”4
- Mostly, the Constitution was standing in the way of the grand Hegelian synthesis of government power in the name of socialism. Wilson felt that true democracy and socialism were not just compatible—they were indistinguishable. All individual rights were subject to the rights of the state:
“Men as communities are supreme over men as individuals.”5
Both Roosevelt and Wilson were far less concerned about the rights of individuals or the value of republicanism; it was the job of Great Leaders to hand down good governance.
- Great decisions should be made on high by men of high thought
- The dirty process of democracy just blocked any chance at true change.
- This philosophy paved the way for FDR, and it echoes all the way down to Obama.
Despite the fact that Marxism made headway in terms of policy in the United States and other Western European countries in the early part of the twentieth century, orthodox Marxists had a major problem by the end of the 1910s:
- The actual worldwide Marxist revolution really hadn’t ignited.
- Workers had spent the better part of five years murdering each other en masse in World War I.
- Marx’s dialectical prophecy had been proved false.
DESTROYING THE STATUS QUO
Just because soon the new Soviet Union would be slaughtering its own citizens at record rates, didn’t mean that the Marxist intellectuals were going to give up on worldwide revolution.
- An Italian socialist who saw tearing down society as the necessary precondition for the eventual victory of global Marxism.
- Cultural Hegemony
- The prevailing cultural norms of society, which are imposed by the ruling class, must not be perceived as natural and inevitable, but must be recognized as artificial social constructs [See also, WHITE GUILT's Social Determinism].
- Marxism simply hadn’t won because men were weak.
- Men were weak because they were the products of a capitalist society.
“Man is above all else mind, consciousness. That is, he is a product of history, not of nature. There is no other way of explaining why socialism has not come into existence already.”6 -Gramsci, 1916
Gyorgy Lukacs (1885-1971)
- Built on Gramsci [by using] Marx’s dialectic materialism [as not] a prophetic tool for predicting the future—[but as] a tool for tearing down society itself.
- Destroying the status quo in the minds of the people would bring Marxism.
“I saw the revolutionary destruction of society as the one and only solution…. A worldwide overturning of values cannot take place without the annihilation of the old values and the creation of new ones by the revolutionaries.”7 -Lukacs
Felix Weil (1898-1975)
- Young radical from Frankfurt, Germany, and a devotee of Marx.
- Like Lukacs, he saw the problems of implementing socialism—namely, that nobody really liked it very much.
- He was rich and used his [family's] money to fund the Institute for Social Research.
Institute for Social Research quickly became known as the Frankfurt School.
Max Horkheimer (1895-1973)
[To start the school], Weil brought in Lukacs and a Marxist philosopher named Max Horkheimer.
- Horkheimer coined [the term]…critical theory.
- Critical theory was exactly the material we were taught at [University].
- It was, quite literally, a theory of criticizing everyone and everything everywhere.
- Tear down the social fabric by using all the social sciences (sociology, psychology, economics, political science, etc.)
- An infinite and unending criticism of the status quo
- Adolescent rebellion against all established social rules and norms.
Critical theory is “suspicious of the very categories of better, useful, appropriate, productive, and valuable, as those are understood in the present order.”8 -Max Horkheimer
MAKE EVERYTHING MEANINGLESS
The real idea behind all of this was to make society totally unworkable by making everything basically meaningless.
As Horkheimer himself openly stated, Critical theory does not create; it only destroys… “Above all… critical theory has no material accomplishments to show for itself.”9
- No wonder my thought upon graduating was that getting a job was selling out.
When Horkheimer took over the institute in 1930, he filled it up with fellow devotees of critical theory:
Each agreed with the central idea of critical theory-
- All of society had to be criticized ad nauseam.
- All social institutions leveled.
- All traditional concepts decimated.
“One can rightfully speak of a cultural revolution, since the protest is directed toward the whole cultural establishment, including the morality of existing society…. What we must undertake is a type of diffuse and dispersed disintegration of the system.”10 -Marcuse
With Hitler’s rise, they had to flee (virtually all of them—Horkheimer, Marcuse, Adorno, Fromm—were of Jewish descent). And they had no place to go. Except the United States.
INTO THE USA via ACADEMIA
The United States’ tradition of freedom and liberty, its openness to outside ideas, and our highest value, freedom of speech, ended up making all America vulnerable to those who would exploit those ideals.
We welcomed the Frankfurt School…They took full advantage.
- They walked right into our cultural institutions, and as they started to put in place their leadership, their language, and their lexicon, too many chose to ignore them.
We always feel that our incredible traditions of freedom and liberty will convert those who show up on our shores, that they will appreciate the way of life we have created—isn’t that why they wanted to come here in the first place?
When they moved to California, Horkheimer and Adorno and depressive allies like Bertolt Brecht moved into a house in Santa Monica on Twenty-sixth Street.
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) and his ilk were the Kurt Cobains of their day: massively depressed, nihilistic people who wore full suits in eighty-degree weather while living in a house by the beach.
As Adam Cohen wrote in the New York Times, these were “dyspeptic critics of American culture. Several landed in Southern California where they were disturbed by the consumer culture and the gospel of relentless cheeriness. Depressive by nature, they focused on the disappointments and venality that surrounded them and how unnecessary it all was. It could be paradise, Theodor Adorno complained, but it was only California.”11
Members of the Frankfurt School had some American allies in American academia—
“Critical theory” became a staple of Philosophy, History, and English courses across the country.
- Horkheimer himself took his show on the road, from Columbia to Los Angeles to the University of Chicago.
- Erich Fromm, one of the Frankfurt School’s main thinkers, was pushing cultural Marxism through psychology by blaming Western tradition for the rise of Nazism and the rejection of Marxism.12
- This was convenient rewriting of science to meet a political agenda.
- Marxism is just as totalitarian as Nazism:
- It would make sense that those who love communism quickly fell in love with Nazism in Germany, and those who resisted communism would resist Nazism.
- But Fromm had a convenient answer to protect the Marxists:
Marxists had not gone Nazi; resisters to Marxism had gone Nazi! …Those who submit to Marxism love freedom, while those who fight Marxism are secretly repressed.
- Leftists today still call their opponents Nazis on the basis of this flawed psychoanalysis.
Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957)
- Fromm embraced [his] Frankfurt School fellow’s ideas.
- Psychological problems largely stemmed from sexual repression, and said that sexual liberation from societal mores could cure large numbers of people.
- Reich (whose psychoanalysis included disrobing his patients and then touching them) helped place the foundations of modern feminism:
[He argued] that “the repression of the sexual needs creates a general weakening of intellect and emotional functioning; in particular, it makes people lack independence, will-power and critical faculties.” Marriage, he wrote, ruins lives: “Marital misery, to the extent to which it does not exhaust itself in the marital conflicts, is poured out over the children.”14
Fromm also expanded on the parenting ideas of Lukacs and John Dewey:
- [Dewey] rejected parental authority
- Parents [should] stand by and let their children reinvent the wheel through experience.
Fromm’s philosophy was imbibed by a young socialist student Benjamin Spock, who would go on to shape a generation of parents with his child-rearing book The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, which helped launch the self-esteem movement.15
ART & CULTURE
Theodor Adorno was sliding Marxism into the American consciousness by attacking popular trends in the world of art.
First teaching at Columbia and then later at Princeton, he argued that:
- Television and movies were problematic because they appealed to the masses—but television and the movies weren’t catering to the public tastes, they were shaping them, Adorno argued.
- Popular art and culture had destroyed true art, which is always used for revolutionary purposes, he said.16
- All popular art therefore had to be criticized as a symptom of the capitalist system.
Performance art and modern art found their philosophical foundation in Adorno.
This nihilistic influence in art, reinforcing the destruction of cultural norms, means that many grown adults have never experienced an epoch in which the transcendent and the innately beautiful have been celebrated as the artistic ideal.
All of these major contributors to the Frankfurt School of thought paled in comparison to Herbert Marcuse, the founder of the “New Left.”
A former student of future Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger, the father of “deconstruction,” a process by which every thought or writing from the past had to be examined and torn down as an outgrowth of its social milieu.
- Heidegger wasn’t shy about his intentions; he longed for the moment “when the spiritual strength of the West fails and its joints crack, when the moribund semblance of culture caves in and drags all forces into confusion and lets them suffocate in madness.”17
After [Marcuse] moved to the United States and became a citizen:
- He was hired by FDR’s Office of War Information to create anti-Nazi propaganda, despite his Marxism.
- He also worked in the Office of Strategic Services (the pre-CIA OSS), and the State Department, where he worked to prevent the United States from pushing Germany away from democratic socialism.
- He taught at Columbia, then Harvard, then Brandeis, and then finally at the University of California in San Diego.
- He really hit his stride in 1955, however, with the publication of Eros and Civilization.
- Essentially made Wilhelm Reich’s case that sexual liberation was the best counter to the psychological ills of society.
- It wasn’t the freshness of Marcuse’s message that made the difference (it wasn’t a fresh message) as his timing—the kids brought up with Fromm and Freud and Spock were coming of age.
- While similar philosophies of sex had failed in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, by the 1950s the men and women who had suffered through the Great Depression and fought in World War II were determined to raise privileged kids who would never have to actually fight for their country or work for their food.
- The misplaced guilt of the Greatest Generation brought forth a new generation free to embrace Marcuse.
- The result was a group of kids ready and able to participate in the sexual revolution promised by the Frankfurt School.Marcuse excused sexual promiscuity as the fulfillment of the need for the people to rise up against Western civilization and to free themselves of the sexual repression it created.Not a hard sell for teenagers.
- MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR
- It was no wonder that in a very real sense, his followers believed they were doing something special when they made love, not war (a slogan attributed to Marcuse himself)—they were using their sexual energy to bind the world together rather than destroy it, as sexual repression would do.
- VICTIM GROUPS
- Marcuse saw the third world’s “anti-colonial” movements as evidence that Marx was right—in the United States there would be no such uprising by the working class.
- He therefore needed a different set of interest groups to tear down capitalism using his critical theory.
- He found those groups in the racial, ethnic, and sexual groups that hated the old order.
- These victimized interest groups rightly opposed all the beauties of Western civilization “with all the defiance, and the hatred, and the joy of rebellious victims, defining their own humanity against the definitions of the masters.”19
- Marcuse’s Mission: Dismantle American society by using diversity and “multiculturalism” as crowbars with which to pry the structure apart, piece by piece.
- Set all “victim groups” in opposition to the society at large.
- Marcuse’s theory of victim groups as the new proletariat, combined with Horkheimer’s critical theory, found an outlet in academia, where it became the basis for the post-structural movement—Gender Studies, LGBT/“Queer” Studies, African-American Studies, Chicano Studies, etc.
- All of these “Blank Studies” brazenly describe their mission as tearing down traditional Judeo-Christian values and the accepted traditions of Western culture, and placing in their stead a moral relativism that equates all cultures and all philosophies—except for Western civilization, culture, and philosophy, which are “exploitative” and “bad.”
- Marcuse was widely accepted in the 1960s by the student movement—so much so that students in Paris during the 1968 uprising marched with banners reading “Marx, Mao, and Marcuse.”
- But he still wasn’t winning in America. Marcuse had a big, big problem:
- America’s founding ideology is still far sexier than that of the Marxists, who insist on a tyrannical state of equality rather than freedom with personal responsibility.
- Even if Marcuse was promising unending sex, drugs, and rock and roll, most Americans were more interested in living in liberty with their families, in a society that values virtue and hard work rather than promiscuity and decadence.
- “Repressive tolerance”was Marcuse’s way to defy the opposition.
- Tolerance was good only if nondominating ideas were allowed to flourish—
- Non-dominating ideas could flourish only if dominating ideas were shut down.
- “[T]he realization of the objective of tolerance,” he wrote, “would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed.”
- America was experiencing a “repressive tolerance” under which dissenting viewpoints were stifled; what it needed was “partisan tolerance.”20
- In other words, if you disagreed with Marcuse, you should be forcefully shut up, according to Marcuse.
- This made political debate very convenient for him and his allies.
- This totalitarianism is now standard practice on college campuses, in the media, and in Hollywood—the very places that the Frankfurt School sought to control.
- Political Correctness
- Another name for Marcuse’s “partisan tolerance.”
- The term “political correctness” came from one of Marcuse’s buddies: Mao Tse-tung.
- Mao used the term to differentiate between those who had “scientifically correct” views and those who did not…
- Those who did were termed, “politically correct.”
HOW IT GREW
How did Frankfurt School philosophy, which is obviously complicated, highfalutin stuff, become a mass psychosis? How did it trick so many millions of people?
- We didn’t notice it because we didn’t think it was important—
- “Our Constitution survived a revolution and a Civil War and two World Wars. Why should we worry about a few German eggheads?” Especially since America was economically thriving under such “oppression.”
- We slept while the other side armed, and while we snoozed they secretly stole away our defensive weaponry—
Our allegiance to the Constitution and to freedom of speech and opinion.
The line was becoming clear______________________________________________________
- Marx and Hegel had paved the way for the Progressives…
- Who in turn had paved the way for the Frankfurt School…
- Who had then attacked the American way of life by pushing “cultural Marxism” through “critical theory.”
- The Frankfurt School thinkers had come up with the rationale for radical environmentalism, artistic communism, psychological deconstruction of their opponents, and multiculturalism.
- Most of all, they had come up with the concept of “repressive tolerance,” aka political correctness.
- My “American Studies” program at [University] had far more Adorno and Gramsci and Horkheimer and Marcuse than Twain or Jefferson or Lincoln.
HOW IT TOOK OVER
How did [this] huge philosophical system designed to take America head-on, recede into the background so much that a few decades later, we can’t even recognize that it exists?
Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals…
Continue reading TIFF NOTEZ…The Frankfurt School: Part 2, “Rules for Radicals”
3. Quoted in Thomas E. Woods, 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask (New York: Crown Forum, 2007), 138.
4. Ronald J. Pestritto, Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 75.
5. Ronald J. Pestritto, Woodrow Wilson: The Essential Political Writings (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 78.
6. Christopher Lasch, Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995), 86.
7. As quoted in Chilton Williamson, The Conservative Bookshelf (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 2005), 296.
8. Max Horkheimer, Critical Theory: Selected Essays (New York: Continuum, 2002), 207.
9. Ibid., 218–19. 10. As quoted in Patrick Buchanan, The Death of the West (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2001), 86.
11. Adam Cohen, “What’s Hot on This BBC Podcast? The Siege of Munster (1534–35),” New York Times, February 17, 2010.
12. Erich Fromm, The Fear of Freedom (London: Routledge, 1984), 241.
13. Ibid., 145–46. 14. Wilhelm Reich, The Sexual Revolution: Toward a Self-Governing Character Structure (New York: Macmillan,
1962), 77–78, 111, 184.
15. Thomas Maier, Dr. Spock: An American Life (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 112, 458.
16. Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry (London: Routledge, 2003), 99.
17. Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Change (New York: Broadway Books, 2007), 175.
18. Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966), 81, 226.
19. Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), 46–47.