“The ambition of this book is to reveal the inner history of America’s cultural revolution, tracing the arc of its development from its origin point to the present day.”
– Christopher Rufo, America’s Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything.
Christopher Rufo may have been setting out the ambition of his new book, America’s Cultural Revolution, but there is no mistake that this work itself is ambitious, given the scale of material (the cultural revolution and pre-revolutionary ideas, and the creation and progression of that movement, for starters) and the connection from leftist thought leaders of the mid-20th century to the absurdities and very real cultural and political dangers we see today.
But his task is also necessary, as the proper answer to the question of “where we are” – one of disagreement even among conservatives, some of whom deny we are in a revolutionary age – requires an exploration of how we got here and the ideas that led us to this point. The revolutionary lineage from the 1960s (and before) carries on to this day – albeit in an arguably stronger form. What was radical is now the orthodoxy. Those calling for sexual liberation in 1955, for example, would no doubt be shocked – and proud – at the evolution and success of that idea. We add that political liberation and sexual liberation are indeed intertwined, as they both can lead to spiritual bondage.
Rufo, to his credit, achieves that ambitious goal. America’s Cultural Revolution is divided into four parts: Revolution, Race, Education, and Power, with each including a biography of the prophets of the cultural revolution. There is an exacting focus on the prophets’ writings (supported by hundreds of footnotes) concerning “liberation”, political violence, anti-racism, and the destruction of institutions – many of which we see regurgitated, exercised, and acted upon to this day.
Your humble author is especially thankful for Rufo’s deep dive into the history of the revolutionaries, which helps to give a biography of the movement. We often see the ridiculous (the shop teacher with z-cups) and the concerning (statues toppled) and the evil (public school teacher-led gender transitions), but we’re left without an understanding of where all this originated and how it came to be.
The words of the left’s prophets, as Rufo demonstrates, became the blueprint for societal change, for violent upheavals, and leftist control of institutions that will take a revolution to undo. In the first few chapters, for example, he goes into great detail discussing the demands and views of Herbert Marcuse, a German-born philosopher dubbed “the father of the revolution” who argued:
“modern capitalist society had created the perfect means of repression, anesthetizing the working class with material comforts, manufactured desires, and welfare programs, which stabilized the system and allowed for the creation of external scapegoats.”
The solution to this problem was nothing short of unrest and dissolution, through violence if necessary. It would require “the revolt of the affluent white intelligentsia, the radicalization of the black ‘ghetto population,’ the capture of public institutions, and the cultural repression of the opposition.”
Rufo observes that “all of these objectives have been realized to some degree.” It’s hard to disagree with that assessment – especially considering how Rufo dedicates later chapters solidifying that point through discussions of the liberal domination of academia, the use of race as a means to target the American system as a whole, the far left’s long march (which can also be called a historically short march) through the institutions (including universities, local schools, business, and federal bureaucracies), and the increasingly accepted and forceful censorship and repression regimes, both public and private. In doing so, Rufo effectively makes the argument that for even those paying close attention, things might be worse than we thought, that the revolution we face is stronger than reported.
His exposition on the evolution of revolutionary ideas is particularly compelling. By the time Rufo gets to discussing Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the later chapters, we have a better understanding of the originators, history, and vulnerabilities of basic elements to CRT. And Rufo provides necessary context, both in historical criticisms of CRT and his own accurate assessment of the movement:
The elements of critical race theory are, in fact, a near-perfect transposition of race onto the basic structures of Marxist theory. “White supremacy” replaces “capitalism” as the totalizing system. “White and black” replaces “bourgeoisie and proletariat” as the “oppressor and oppressed.” “Abolition” replaces “revolution” as the method of “liberation.” This is not a mere metaphor or post hoc comparison. The critical race theorists appeal directly to Marxist theoreticians and the Marxist-Leninist figures of the black liberation movement.
With this knowledge, Rufo is by all means qualified to discuss where the movement goes from here. He warns:
This movement seeks to establish itself in every layer of the public and private administration, which will be refitted to advance the substitute morality of critical race theory and replace governance by the Constitution with governance by the bureaucracy.
He makes that warning with the understanding of what the movement wants, the answer to which is “found in the original literature of critical race theory”: the abandonment of equal justice under the law, the redistribution of wealth along racial lines, and the prohibition of speech that is considered harmful or hateful. But we think he makes that warning not just based on their words, but because he understands and respects their zealotry, their dedication, their patience, their resentment (another word for hatred), and the lengths they will go to accomplish their desires.
As I read this book, I couldn’t help but ask whether this was always going to be the end result of liberalism or whether this is liberalism hijacked by its more radical elements. That’s not really a focus of the book (there are only so many pages), but it’s worthy to explore whether liberal democracy is authoritarian by its very nature and susceptible or predestined to adopting forms of fundamentalism to achieve its ends. Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed and Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy are good places to start, if you’re interested in looking into those questions further.
If there is a revolution, then consider this book to be part of the counter-revolution. In conclusion, Rufo concentrates on the response to the revolutionaries and the necessary elements of the opposition: hope, a fight against collectivism and racial reductionism, a fight for natural rights and the Constitution and individual dignity. The counter-revolution he proposes goes much further than vanquishing the far left and retaking the institutions. It requires decentralization, local control, self-governance, a system of government that protects the rights of the individual while scaling back its own authority. It’s not just an improvement. It’s a return.
That seems ambitious in 2023. But so too were the revolutionary ideas of 1968.
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Wed, 07/19/2023 – 21:55