Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Cultural Marxism": a far-right conspiracy theory involving the Frankfurt School

Several writers who follow the Radical Right have commented on the confessed Norwegian Christian terrorist Anders Breivik's strong emphasis on a far-right, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about what its advocates call "Cultural Marxism" in his political manifesto. It's key theme is that it blames the Frankfurt School, about whom I have written quite a bit on this blog the last couple of years, for "political correctness," by which the Radical Right means opposition to white racism and to other forms of bigotry.

Bill Berkowitz described the crackpot theory several years ago in Reframing the Enemy Intelligence Report 110 (Summer 2003).

I came across this particular crackpot theory several years ago. As Berkovitz noted in his piece, the Council of Conservative Citizens was pushing some DVD on it at the time. Chip Berlet provides a link to a different video advocating the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory: The History of Political Correctness. Berlet tweeted this link with the description, "History of Political Correctness: video--Lind, Islamophobe David Horowitz, and Nazi collaborator Laszlo Pasztor."

I've been aware of the actual Frankfurt School authors and their school of "critical theory" since my undergraduate time. And I've done some additional reading on them in recent years. "Frankfurt School" is shorthand for the Institut für Sozialforschung/Institute for Social Research, which had its first institutional home at the University of Frankfurt. This is the English version of the Institute's history at their website: Ludwig v. Friedeburg, History of the Institute of Social Research (Summary) n/d. It has a bibliography list, including histories of "critical theory" by Martin Jay and Douglass Kellner.


It made some kind of warped sense to me on the surface that far-rightists would pick the Frankfurt School as a bogeyman of multiculturalism. The most prominent figures associated with them were Jewish and they understood themselves as Marxists as well as Freudians. Since the far-right equates even American liberalism with Communism, no amount of actual history would persuade them of a more nuanced picture. But two of the most famous Frankfurt School writers, Franz Neumann and Herbert Marcuse, worked for the US wartime Office of Strategic Services doing intelligence analysis on Germany. And anyone who has read (or attempted to read!) an essay by any of the three core Frankfurt School figures - Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Marcuse - will seriously doubt whether even the more intellectually inclined among the Christian nationalist crowd have much direct exposure to what they actually wrote.

Lately I've been reading through the five studies in the "Studies in Prejudice" series, the results of a research project sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and led by Horkheimer, the most famous of which is The Authoritarian Personality. The AJC has made the texts available at their website: Studies in Prejudice Series. Reading through these, it occurred to me that this set of studies may particularly irritate the present-day Radical Right because of its careful analyses of the crackpot right of the 1940s.

Those were Old Right isolationists. But their kindred spirit to the Tea Party of today is readily evident, particularly in Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator by Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman. The AJC also has a typed, 4-page report from Lowenthal on a local 1945 meeting of a far-right group called the Christian Front that I found interesting reading. The website doesn't link it directly; you have to search for Leo Lowenthal and look for "Surveillance report on a Christian Front meeting in New York."

Various recent discussions of this include the following.

Ben Alpers, The Frankfurt School, Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories, and American Conservatism US Intellectual History 07/25/2011.

Chip Berlet, Anders Behring Breivik: Soldier in the Christian Right Culture Wars Talk to Action 07/23/2011

Chip Berlet, Breivik cited William S. Lind, Free Congress Foundation, & the LaRouchites Talk to Action 07/24/2011

Chip Berlet, Breivik's Core Thesis is White Christian Nationalism v. Multiculturalism Talk to Action 07/25/2011

Chip Berlet, Breivik 2011 Manifesto Echoes Weyrich 1999 Manifesto Talk to Action 07/25/2011

Chip Berlet, Author Cited by Anders Behring Breivik Regrets Original Essay Talk to Action 07/26/2011

Martin Jay, "Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe" Salmagundi (168/169) Fall 2010

Dave Neiwert, Norway terrorist Breivik was an ardent subscriber to theories of 'Cultural Marxism' C&L 07/23/2011

Dave Neiwert, Norway terrorist Anders Breivik leaves written, video manifestoes to explain his motives: He's a right-wing cultural warrior C&L 07/24/2011

Sarah Posner, How Breivik's "Cultural Analysis" is Drawn from the "Christian Worldview" Religion Dispatches 07/27/2011

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