Marxism Is Obliterating Liberalism
The Israeli scholar Yoram Hazony has written a lucid and penetrating essay about how Marxism manifests itself in our time and place — and how we should meet its challenge.
He begins by pointing out what has been clear to many of us on the Right for a while, but is still not so to most left-liberals:
Institutional liberalism lacks the resources to contend with this threat. Liberalism is being expelled from its former strongholds, and the hegemony of liberal ideas, as we have known it since the 1960s, will end. Anti-Marxist liberals are about to find themselves in much the same situation that has characterized conservatives, nationalists, and Christians for some time now: They are about to find themselves in the opposition.
This means that some brave liberals will soon be waging war on the very institutions they so recently controlled. They will try to build up alternative educational and media platforms in the shadow of the prestigious, wealthy, powerful institutions they have lost. Meanwhile, others will continue to work in the mainstream media, universities, tech companies, philanthropies, and government bureaucracy, learning to keep their liberalism to themselves and to let their colleagues believe that they too are Marxists—just as many conservatives learned long ago how to keep their conservatism to themselves and let their colleagues believe they are liberals.
This is the new reality that is emerging. There is blood in the water and the new Marxists will not rest content with their recent victories. In America, they will press their advantage and try to seize the Democratic Party. They will seek to reduce the Republican Party to a weak imitation of their own new ideology, or to ban it outright as a racist organization. And in other democratic countries, they will attempt to imitate their successes in America. No free nation will be spared this trial. So let us not avert our eyes and tell ourselves that this curse isn’t coming for us. Because it is coming for us.
This, for them, will be new. Joe Biden is the avuncular mainstream liberal who will hold the door open for the army of younger militants to rush through. Biden — avuncular, non-threatening Uncle Joe — is the end of something for liberalism.
In what may be the most practical section of this excellent essay, Hazony points out that anti-Marxist liberals won’t use the label “Marxist” to describe those on the left to hate their values, because they don’t want to be seen as McCarthyite. And the Marxist left doesn’t use Marxist language to refer to itself, preferring other jargon (e.g., “social justice,” “equity”) to describe its ideas. Hazony says these linguistic conventions prevent liberals from seeing the challenge for what it is:
The best way to escape this trap is to recognize the movement presently seeking to overthrow liberalism for what it is: an updated version of Marxism. I do not say this to disparage anyone. I say this because it is true. And because recognizing this truth will help us understand what we are facing.
He then explains, in simple, clear language, the basic framework of Marxist social analysis. It will be clear to any reader that the progressive movements today (e.g., antiracism) are fundamentally Marxist — applied not to economic relations, but to race, gender, and sexual identities.
Hazony says that anti-Marxists like to say that Marxism is a lie, but if that’s true, why is liberal society so vulnerable to it? Because, he says, “Marxism captures certain aspects of the truth that are missing from Enlightenment liberalism.” In particular:
Marx’s principal insight is the recognition that the categories liberals use to construct their theory of political reality (liberty, equality, rights, and consent) are insufficient for understanding the political domain. They are insufficient because the liberal picture of the political world leaves out two phenomena that are, according to Marx, absolutely central to human political experience: The fact that people invariably form cohesive classes or groups; and the fact that these classes or groups invariably oppress or exploit one another, with the state itself functioning as an instrument of the oppressor class.
Hazony explains how liberalism hides this fact from itself, resulting in good liberals believing that they are behaving with perfect rationality and fairness, when in fact they are upholding their own class’s privilege. I’m not going to paste that in here — you really should read his essay — but I will say that this is the aspect of Marxist analysis that has most transformed my own thinking in recent years, and moved me away from right-liberalism (e.g., mainstream Republican Party conservatism) to … well, I’m not sure how to describe it. That’s no doubt because I struggle to think my way through to a new paradigm.
Let me explain, if I can. You longtime readers know that I fell out with the Republican Party around 2008, over the Iraq War and the financial crash. Part of that was mere disgust, but part of it was realizing that big parts of the Republican narrative for explaining the world was not true. It’s what got us into the Iraq War, and what led to the financial crash.
I should say that this was not just the GOP — that is, right-liberal — way of explaining the world, but broadly encompasses the left-liberal way too. JFK was as much a liberal democratic hegemon in his thinking as was George W. Bush. It’s the American way. Moreover, anybody on the Democratic Party left who wants to pin the plutocratic worship of Wall Street on the Republican Party should spend a little time studying the Clinton Administration, and watching the PBS Frontline episode, “The Warning,” about how all the mandarins in Washington in the late Clinton Administration — including Republican leaders — refused to think ill of Wall Street, because it violated their model of the world, and the beneficence of unrestrained capitalism.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I came to understand the world in what can only be called a more Marxist way — that is, in terms of power relationships and class interests, and in how our language conceals these things from us. Once you go down that path, a lot of things become clearer. For example, the kind of talk about how America’s role is to make the world safe for democracy — what most liberals of the left and the right believe unproblematically — becomes rather less gauzy and idealistic when you begin to analyze it through what is actually done in service of that ideal, and who benefits from it.
In a more contemporary vein, a lot of left-liberals (and many right-liberals) despise Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, who is not a liberal. I understand why they hate him. But if you actually go to Central Europe, and spend time in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the picture is not as clear as it looks from so far away. You talk to ordinary people, and you come away with an understanding that what these people are fighting is a kind of Western colonialism.
For example, on my first trip to Hungary, I asked a young Hungarian why people in her country supported Orban. All I knew about his was what I had read in the Western media, and it wasn’t good. She told me a long story about how, after the collapse of communism, Hungarian industrial capacity was sold off to Western bidders. This made Hungary a pawn of rich Westerners. After some time, Hungarians came to believe that they were not in charge of their own fate. Orban spoke to that, and spent a lot of time and money repatriating industrial capacity.
Said the woman, “Did he give control of those industries to his cronies? Yes, you could say that. That should change. The point is, Hungarians were making the decisions for Hungarians, not foreigners. That’s why a lot of people vote for Orban: because we are a small country, and he stands up for us.”
Thinking in a semi-Marxist way puts the efforts of the liberal George Soros, and great villain in Orban’s political cosmology, into a certain light. Soros is revered among liberal elites spending his fortune to inculcate liberal values in the formerly communist countries of Central Europe. To oppose Soros is to oppose liberal democratic values, in their eyes. But that’s not how a lot of Central Europeans see it. They regard Soros as a rich foreigner who is spending lavishly to convince them to surrender the things they value.
Similarly, when I was in Poland last year, I talked to several Catholics who work for the Polish branch of US and European multinationals. They all told me that their office culture mandated celebrations of LGBT Pride Month. These Catholics said that they had no problem treating gay co-workers fairly, but to be made to affirm LGBT Pride violated their consciences. But if they refused, they would be fired, and jobs were hard to come by. They greatly resented Western corporations for behaving like cultural colonizers. And you know, they are correct.
Here’s the problem, though: Marxist analysis is a useful tool, but it cannot be used to explain the world in its entirety. It’s like people who believe that science can explain all things — and anything that cannot be known through science is not true, or not worth knowing. Science is a way of knowing; it is not the only way of knowing. And it is a way of knowing better suited for analyzing some phenomena than others.
If you give yourself over wholly to Marxist analysis, you end up hiding your own self-serving relationship to power. After all, Marxism-Leninism was one great rationalization for Soviet imperialism. Plus, it is far too simplistic to divide the world up into the Exploiters and the Exploited, the Oppressor and the Oppressed. As Orwell showed brilliantly in Animal Farm, it is very easy for the Oppressed to become the Oppressors, because that is, um, human nature. I regard so much of the so-called “antiracism” movement to be nothing more than an attempt to use the language of morality and justice to disempower people of one race on racial grounds alone, and to empower people of another race. There is nothing moral or just about it.
What’s more, Marxist analysis reduces all human relations to power dynamics. It is a lie that exiles love from human existence. And it denies that hierarchies are built into human nature — that we cannot live without them. The best we can manage in this fallen world is to establish hierarchies that provide for human flourishing. Hazony briefly explains why a proper conservative society does that better than any conceivable revolutionary Marxist one. And he notes that actual existing Marxists have never been able to figure out how to reach that utopia, where no one exploits or oppresses anyone else. That’s because it cannot be done.
So, look, I simply want to say that Marxist analysis is something that, like medicine, can be helpful in limited doses, but taken in deep drafts, acts as a powerful poison. If you want to poison a social group — say, an office team — give them a strong dose of Marxist analysis, and turn them on each other to pick out microaggressions and implicit biases. You will end up with sick and paranoid societies like the Central European countries became: polities in which nobody could trust anybody else, and social capital was absent.
I believe that liberalism has failed, for the same reasons Patrick Deneen does. But the reasons why I cannot fully let go of classical liberalism is that a) I don’t want my “classes” to treat others unfairly, and I don’t yet see a plausible form of government under which the disparate peoples in our pluralistic democracy can live together peaceably, and b) I feel certain that without liberalism, people of my class(es) — traditional Christians, most of all — will have no protection at all from the hostile majority. Where I stand — as a disbeliever in the longterm viability of liberalism, but as one who sees no preferable or even workable illiberal alternative in the post-Christian US — is untenable. I get that. This requires more work on my part.
Anyway, back to Hazony. He explains why classical liberalism does not really work absent a pre-political moral ideational structure granted to us by inherited traditions (religious and otherwise). Enlightenment liberalism says that all men are free and equal, but if that’s the case, says Hazony, why can’t anyone who wants to enter the United States? Why can’t anyone who wants to go to Princeton? Why can’t anyone declare that he is actually a woman, and participate fully in women’s athletic competitions? You cannot explain any of this through Reason alone. You have to have recourse to tradition. But liberals believe that traditions are useless inheritances that should not interfere with Reason. Which, says Hazony, is why liberalism is so vulnerable to Marxism:
Thus the endless dance of liberalism and Marxism, which goes like this:
1. Liberals declare that henceforth all will be free and equal, emphasizing that reason (not tradition) will determine the content of each individual’s rights.
2. Marxists, exercising reason, point to many genuine instances of unfreedom and inequality in society, decrying them as oppression and demanding new rights.
3. Liberals, embarrassed by the presence of unfreedom and inequality after having declared that all would be free and equal, adopt some of the Marxists’ demands for new rights.
4. Return to #1 above and repeat.
What to do? Well, read it all. Hazony explains persuasively why left-liberals have no choice but to ally with conservatives against the new Marxists. If they don’t, they will be destroyed. You’ll have to read Hazony to see his argument, but this news today is a perfect example of what he’s talking about:
An English professor at Iowa State University instructed students in her class not to advocate against abortion or the Black Lives Matter movement in any of their writing assignments.
According to Young America’s Foundation, ISU English Professor Chloe Clark stated in her English 250 class syllabus that certain viewpoints are not allowed to be discussed in class or on any assignment.
“GIANT WARNING: any instances of othering that you participate in intentionally (racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, [sic], sorophobia, transphobia, classism, mocking of mental health issues, body shaming, etc) in class are grounds for dismissal from the classroom,” Clark’s syllabus reportedly stated. She says that the same warning applies “for any papers/projects” as well, and tells students that any writing that goes against abortion, gay marriage, and Black Lives matter will not be allowed.
“You cannot choose any topic that takes at its base that one side doesn’t deserve the same basic human rights as you do (ie: no arguments against gay marriage, abortion, Black Lives Matter,etc). I take this seriously,” the syllabus states.
Iowa State University spokeswoman Angie Hunt told Campus Reform that the syllabus did not follow ISU standards and has been corrected.
“The syllabus statement as written was inconsistent with the university’s standards and its commitment to the First Amendment rights of students. After reviewing the issue with the faculty member, the syllabus has been corrected to ensure it is consistent with university policy,” said Hunt. “Moreover, the faculty member is being provided additional information regarding the First Amendment policies of the University.”
Well, that’s good, but you’d have to be a fool to sign up for this professor’s class, especially if you do not share her radical opinions.
Now, consider Hazony’s four-step Dance of Liberals And Marxists in this case. How do liberals resist the Marxist demands? After all, are liberals really in favor of bigotry? (That would be the Marxist line, and it is often very effective.) But to surrender to this professor’s views would be to abandon liberalism. In this case, Iowa State defended the First Amendment, the constitutional expression of a bedrock liberal principle. The more typical case, I believe, is what happened to Prof. Nicholas Christakis, when, back in 2015, he tried to defend liberalism in the face of an angry student mob. They shouted him down, telling him that his attempts to use reason were hurting their feelings. Yale, ultimately, sided with the mob.
For reasons Hazony explains, liberals are going to have to realize that their real enemies are not to the Right, but to the Left. And, to be fair, conservatives and others on the Right need to realize that we are going to have to make common cause with good-faith liberals on these matters, to defend our own liberties.