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Misadventuring on Wikipedia

Photograph taken in April 1964 by Jeremy J. Shapiro at the Max Weber-Soziologentag. Horkheimer is front left, Adorno front right, and Habermas is in the background, right, running his hand through his hair. Wikimedia Commons

Although I have sometimes benefited from information obtained from Wikipedia, more often than not I have been appalled by the sloppiness and political bias of the entries in my field. I was therefore expecting the worst when a friend “congratulated” me, ironically of course, for being a main source for a Wikipedia entry called “Frankfurt School conspiracy.”

In this case I had to share the spotlight with my friend of many years, Bill Lind, who is introduced in Wikipedia as a one-time spokesman for the Free Congress Foundation and a reviewer of my book The Strange Death of European Marxism. Just about everything ascribed to the two of us in the entry is inexcusably misleading. Neither one of us has argued that there is a Frankfurt School or Cultural Marxist “conspiracy.” Indeed we have stressed the opposite view, namely, that certain Frankfurt School social teachings have become so widespread and deeply ingrained that they have shaped the dominant post-Christian ideology of the Western world.

The entry quotes from my book pointing out that the Frankfurt School reconstructed the basic premises of Marxism and is clearly not reducible to Marxist historical materialism.  This is followed by Bill’s restatement of my position:

Is the critical observation about the Frankfurt School therefore correct, that it exemplifies ‘Cultural Bolshevism,’ which pushes Marxist-Leninist revolution under a sociological-Freudian label? To the extent its practitioners and despisers would both answer to this characterization, it may in fact be valid … but if Marxism under the Frankfurt School has undergone [these] alterations, then there may be little Marxism left in it. The appeal of the Critical Theorists to Marx has become increasingly ritualistic and what there is in the theory of Marxist sources is now intermingled with identifiably non-Marxist ones … . In a nutshell, they had moved beyond Marxism … into a militantly antibourgeois stance that operates independently of Marxist economic assumptions.[15]

For the record, Bill does not hold my view that Cultural Marxism has little to do with orthodox Marxism. He believes that one is derivative from the other and after presenting my position in a review in The American Conservative, he ably expounds his alternative interpretation. This is in fact one of the few instances where the reviewer and I have differed on an historical or political question. Unlike Bill, I don’t see much evidence of genuine Marxist substance in what has been called, for want of a better name, “Cultural Marxism.” To whatever extent this ideology has prevailed, I have argued, it is because it is radically anti-bourgeois but does not carry the conceptual baggage and bad predictive record attached to real Marxism.

But putting this difference aside, I don’t think the suggestion present in the entry that the two of us have influenced the Tea Party, which supposedly features a Frankfurt School conspiracy theory, has even a shadow of truth. Speaking for myself, I have been marginalized by both establishment parties and their PR people for the last 30 years, and at this point I doubt that Bill has more of a profile with them than I. Even more annoyingly, the entry quotes the Berkeley professor Martin Jay to the effect that those who note, however obliquely, the ethnic origin of Frankfurt School theorists are raging anti-Semites. According to Jay, although Bill and like-minded critics don’t mention explicitly the Jewishness of their targets, they rely on a “transparent subtext” so that “subtle hints allow the reader to draw his own conclusion.”

Jay, who has written voluminously on the Frankfurt School, must certainly know that the Hungarian Jewish Marxist Zoltan Tar famously accentuated the Jewish connection of his subjects. Tar treats the ideas of the School as a creative outgrowth of its members’ view of themselves as marginalized Jews in a Christian world. I’ve no idea why noting the obvious in this case turns one into a bigot. I myself have brought up Tar’s highly plausible thesis in discussing the development of the Frankfurt School worldview. Like Tar, I have done so as a research scholar, while being of the same ethnic origin as my subjects.

Most infuriating about the entry is that I’m associated with positions I never held and which in my book I argue against explicitly. This glaring, persistent misinterpretation seems to follow from the fact that I am characterized in the entry as a “conservative.” Not surprisingly the professor who reviewed The Strange Death of European Marxism in the Political Science Quarterly (Summer 2006), and who apparently was told I was a “conservative,” describes my book as an anti-Communist screed.

Truth to tell, I don’t recall a single anti-Communist passage in the entire book, which treats orthodox Marxists far more sympathetically than the post-Marxist Left. Indeed I go out of my way to emphasize the moral traditionalism of French and Italian Communist leadership and repeatedly agree with the critical comments about Cultural Marxism made by traditional Marxist theorists. My reviewer was obviously carried away by the political category that someone assigned me, as I remarked in a letter to the PSQ’s editors that was never published.

Curiously, despite the fact that Bill and I have the Tea Party eating out of our hands, neither one of us is featured on Fox News or asked to write for a mainstream “conservative” publication or website. Perhaps the next addition to the Wikipedia entry, will explain why this is the case. If what I have read in Wikipedia is true, then both of us should be Fox All-Stars by now.

Paul Gottfried is the author of Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America.

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