Friday, May 24, 2013

Critical Theory: Not Just a Punching Bag

Conservatives like to use the Frankfurt School (of neo-Marxists) and their "critical theory" as punching bags.  Not to mention as the source of all our problems.

Yes, it's true that all the cruel and unjust ideological repression against conservatives through the application of what we call "political correctness" seems to issue from the ideas of the Frankfurt chappies like Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and second-stringer Herbert Marcuse.

But in my view it is better for conservatives to study and understand the ideas of the Frankfurt School than to stigmatize and reject them as, for instance, the excellent Bill Whittle does here.

That's because if conservatives want to win the culture war we need to be able to understand and transcend the ideas of the left.  We need to grasp the kernels of truth in their critiques of bourgeois society, and then go on to show how they completely miss the point.

Let's take Max Horkheimer's definition of critical theory as an example.  He wrote that a theory is
critical insofar as it seeks "to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them."
Now, of course, lefties use critical theory in the limited scope that assumes that it is traditionally marginalized groups that need to be liberated and bourgeois culture that they need to be liberated from.

But what about liberals?  Think of the awful liberal bubble of The New York Times and NPR.  Think how they enslave liberal minds.  Think of a glorious future in which liberals could free themselves from their ideological devotion to "good" government and comprehensive and mandatory universal administrative programs designed and implemented by "large-minded" people.

Why not use critical theory to liberate liberals from the ideas that enslave them?  Who else could do the job but conservatives.  Actually, Jonah Goldberg already did it with his Liberal Fascism.

 The Frankfurt School originated after World War I when German intellectuals realized that Marxism as defined by Marx and implemented by the Bolsheviks was a mess.  So they went to work to understand where Marx had gone wrong and to try to rescue their millennial Marxian hopes from despair.

By the time that Horkheimer and Adorno wrote The Dialectic of Enlightenment in the US during World War II they had despaired of the Enlightenment project.  Because they saw that fascism was already encoded in the notion of enlightenment and reason.  What man wants from nature is to dominate it and other men, they wrote.

When Herbert Marcuse came up with One-dimensional Man in the 1960s his grand contribution amounted to a lame notion that, now that the working class had made its peace with capitalism, narcotically immunized by big media and and advertising and consumer goods, the would-be revolutionaries would have to look elsewhere for the cannon fodder for their revolution.

But real thinkers like Jürgen Habermas began on a solution to the problem of enlightenment and its identification with domination.  He revived the idea that we are not just mechanical wind-up toys, cogs in a rational machine, but communicators.  So his Theory of Communicative Action proposes that the systems world of Enlightenment and instrumental reason should be balanced by a life-world of communication and negotiation.  In German, the "Action" in his book's title is "Handeln."  It means not just action but exchange, negotiation.  It also had a use in German as a pejorative when applied to Jews as hagglers and peddlers.

Now, of course, the silly lefty liberals in our US universities have made a complete dog's breakfast of "critical theory."  They have fashioned it into a club with which to beat conservatives and stigmatize us as racists, sexists, anti-choice fascists and homophobes.  Not to mention that their Gramscian "march through the institutions" turned the academy into a sterile monoculture.

Be of good cheer.  All is not lost.  We can see, finally, as we get into the scandal zone of the Obama administration that critical theory is leading liberals off the cliff.  It's encouraged them to think that they, the lame critical theorists, are the good guys, and the defenders of freedom and tradition are pond scum.

The thing is that critical theory and postmodernism can be applied to anything.  Used judiciously, they can be used to do a penetrating critique of any cultural tradition and expose its assumptions and hypocrisies.

Like Obama and the Obamanauts.

So I say: forget about trashing the Frankfurt School and critical theory.  Read up on it.  Then apply its tools against fin de siècle liberalism.  Because everything that liberals say about the patriarchy or dead white males or capitalism applies in spades against the monstrous self-serving ruling-class ideology we call liberalism or progressivism or multiculturalism or whatever.

And this is just the moment to do it, as the Obama years-the-locust-ate collapse in a welter of scandals that all issue from the self-inflicted wounds of liberalism and its foolish attempt to keep the Marxist dream alive.

Let's face it: the original Marxism did nothing but harm to the working class.  Finally, through a maelstrom of purges and death camps the working class emerged and made a separate peace with capitalism.  So what did the Marxists propose as an encore?  To apply the same ideas to what Herbert Marcuse called "a new substratum of outcasts and outsiders."  It's the same thing.  Trust in us, the noble overclass, and we will protect you, the minority and the marginalized, from the evil white man and his cunning plan to oppress and exploit you.  And by the way, whaddya think of this free stuff?

Already, back in the land of Israel, Esau found out that it is not a good idea to exchange your birthright for a mess of pottage.  It didn't do the working class much good to exchange their benefit clubs and friendly societies for the administrative benefits and "free stuff" of the welfare state.  It isn't doing much good for today's "women and minorities."  Because, relying on government, they are always "hardest hit" when something goes wrong.  That's because when you get your stuff from government you let your ties of family and solidarity weaken and shrivel.  When you need them, when all of a sudden government isn't there like liberals promised, your social ties aren't strong enough to take the strain.

As the Obama administration spirals into scandal and failure conservatives have a once in a generation opportunity to lead America back to the ideas that made it great: freedom and civil society.

It would really help if, in between teaching the American people about truth, justice, and the American Way, we could eat the liberals' lunch, and apply critical theory to the hypocrisies of their rotting pile of multiculturalist diversity.

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