On Christmas Day 1991, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, sat down in front of TV cameras to sign a document that would forever abolish the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and end the Cold War. Placing his pen to the paper Gorbachev tried to sign his name, then tried again – no ink flowed from his pen. A producer from the American CNN film crew handed him a Mont Blanc pen with which Gorbachev then delivered the coup de grâce to the Soviet empire.1 Hollywood could not have scripted a more fitting allegory for the final moment of communism’s capitulation to democratic capitalism.
If you have been following the news, you know about Venezuela - the latest Marxist regime and economy to implode. Has there been a single Marxist success? Not one.
Despite Marxism’s utter failure around the world, we are seeing its resurrection today. The most obvious example is the growing influence of former presidential candidate and avowed socialist Bernie Sanders. Sanders’ economic plans, says Austan Goolsbee, University of Chicago economist and advisor to President Obama, are as close to reality as “flying magic puppies with winning [lottery] tickets tied to their collars.”
But it isn’t just Bernie who is resurrecting socialism – Marxism is an increasingly common feature at universities where it is subverting the very logic and reasoning that birthed the principles and institutions of Western civilization, individual rights, and a free and open society.
Consider the state of colleges across the nation. Increasingly violent student protestors seek to silence speech, prevent the execution of laws, and stop Halloween costumes they find unsettling. College administrators presume victims are honest and deny the accused their due process rights. Faculty trying to uphold standards by inquiring whether a student plagiarized a paper are accused by other faculty of racism. Lost in this political correctness maelstrom is a value for truth as discovered through open dialogue even when that means airing uncomfortable ideas.
How has America moved so far from its roots? It is not uncommon for conquerors to adopt the religion or philosophy of those they conquered. Ancient Israel turned away from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and His covenant to worship Baal. Conquering Rome adopted Greece’s gods and philosophy. American progressives of the 20th Century rejected the founding fathers’ constitutional balance of powers in favor of a European hierarchical model. Today, a similar process is under way as growing segments of universities extol the virtues of the latest incarnations of Marxism, such as critical theory, and denigrate democratic capitalism and the Western liberal order.
Proponents of this ideology knew they could not defeat Western values and principles with a head-on confrontation. Instead, they adopted Antonio Gramsci’s strategy to pursue a “long march through the institutions” of Western society – that is, acquire positions in Western institutions then subvert and corrode those institutions from the inside.
Their cover is their claim to help the poor, dispossessed, and suffering. And many of them naively believe that is what their ideas will do – just as many Western intellectuals falsely believed that Stalin would help the poor, dispossessed, and suffering (“useful idiots” is what Stalin called those idolizing Western intellectuals.)
Marxism’s preeminent scholar, Leszek Kolakowski, concluded that Marxism inevitably leads to slavery, and makes people stupid. By proclaiming to provide a simple answer to everything – history, economics, and politics – Marxism leads people to neglect facts, truth, and basic logic.
Kolakowski’s criticism of leading critical theorist Herbert Marcuse applies to most campus protestors today. “Contempt for technique and organization goes hand in hand with a distaste for all forms of learning that are subject to regular rules of operation or that require vigorous effort, intellectual discipline, and a humble attitude towards facts and the rules of logic. It is much easier to shirk the laborious task and to utter slogans about global revolution transcending our present civilization and uniting knowledge and feeling.” Marcuse, Kolakowski concluded, replaces reason with “slogans,” “ex cathedra statements,” and “bombast concealing poverty of thought.”
The same tactics and poverty of thought are found in current college protestors. Frank Bruni, the liberal New York Times columnist who covers higher education, noted that these college campus protestors are responding with nothing more than “character slurs,” which demonstrates, he believes, a failure to understand, and inability to engage with, ideas contrary to their own.2
That these events are happening on college campuses across the country is not that surprising when one realizes that many academic disciplines have given up on rules of logic and reasonableness in favor of justificatory and rationalizing proclamations. One of the leading scholars of this development, Jonathan Haidt, says many academic disciplines have become “tribal moral communities” that indoctrinate rather than instruct.
Bruni and Haidt believe the solution is greater intellectual diversity on college campuses. That could facilitate a return to teaching the discipline of logic and the principles of liberal democracies and market economies that have raised more people out of poverty than anything else in the entire history of the world.3
Staying the current course, however, may be America’s Baal.