Frankfurt School conspiracy theory
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (May 2014)|
The Frankfurt School conspiracy theory postulates that the Frankfurt School of critical theorists deliberately subverted traditional Western values through interventions into culture, leading to what is called political correctness. This represents an alternative to the scholarly understanding of the Frankfurt School, which argues that while members of the Frankfurt School did individually engage in social critique, they never developed any unified theory or collective political agenda in the United States. The theory has received institutional support from the Free Congress Foundation.
This conspiracy theory view has been traced in part to the idea of "political correctness" which was popularised in the early 1990s. Although it became more widespread in the late 1990s and 2000s, it originated with Michael Minnicino's lengthy 1992 essay "New Dark Age: Frankfurt School and 'Political Correctness'", published in Fidelio by the Schiller Institute. The Institute has reproduced the essay online. The Schiller Institute, a branch of the LaRouche movement, further promoted the idea in 1994. The Minnicino article charges that the Frankfurt School promoted Modernism in the arts as a form of Cultural pessimism, and played a role in shaping the 1960's counterculture. Historian Martin Jay wrote in 2010 that "what began as a bizarre Lyndon Larouche coinage has become the common currency of a larger and larger public of addled enragés [and] has entered at least the fringes of the mainstream."
By 1997, the polemic against "Political Correctness" had been picked up by Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation which referred to it as Cultural Marxism. In 1998 the head of the Foundation's Center for Cultural Conservatism, William S. Lind, introduced it at an Accuracy in Academia conference. In 1999 Lind led the creation of an hour-long program Political Correctness: The Frankfurt School. The documentary
"spawned a number of condensed textual versions, which were reproduced on a number of radical right-wing sites. These in turn led to a welter of new videos now available on You Tube, which feature an odd cast of pseudo-experts regurgitating exactly the same line. The message is numbingly simplistic: all the ills of modern American culture, from feminism, affirmative action, sexual liberation and gay rights to the decay of traditional education and even environmentalism are ultimately attributable to the insidious influence of the members of the Institute for Social Research who came to America in the 1930's. The origins of "cultural Marxism" are traced back to Lukács and Gramsci, but because they were not actual émigrés, their role in the narrative is not as prominent."
The paleoconservative William S. Lind may have contributed most to the popularisation of the view (partly through editing a 2004 Free Congress Foundation book, Political Correctness: A Short History of an Ideology), including (in 2002) observing of the Frankfurt School that "these guys were all Jewish". Lind argues that,
"Political Correctness is cultural Marxism. It is Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms. It is an effort that goes back not to the 1960s and the hippies and the peace movement, but back to World War I. If we compare the basic tenets of Political Correctness with classical Marxism the parallels are very obvious."
Lind argues that "Political Correctness" has resulted in American citizens, particularly in academia, being "afraid of using the wrong word, a word denounced as offensive or insensitive, or racist, sexist, or homophobic" and that such changes can be attributed to the influence of cultural Marxists.
Another leading proponent is Kevin B. MacDonald, devoting a chapter of his The Culture of Critique (1998) to the Frankfurt School as part of an argument about Jewish influence. Another significant influence is Patrick Buchanan's The Death of the West (2001), "stigmatizing as it did the Frankfurt School for promoting 'cultural Marxism' (a recycling of the old Weimar conservative charge of 'cultural Bolshevism' aimed at aesthetic modernists)." Buchanan asserted that the Frankfurt School commandeered the American mass media, and used this cartel to infect the minds of Americans. Daniel Estulin's 2006 book Los secretos del club Bilderberg (which was praised by Fidel Castro) included the Frankfurt School conspiracy theory. Estulin links Theodor Adorno's involvement in the Rockefeller-funded Radio Research Project with Walter Lippmann, "who was somehow able to engineer the Beatles' conquest of the American media in the 1960's." Others promoting the theory include Michael Savage and Andrew Breitbart (in his book Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World!, 2011.).
Neomarxists called themselves Marxists without accepting all of Marx’s historical and economic theories but while upholding socialism against capitalism, as a moral position …. Thereafter socialists would build their conceptual fabrics on Marx’s notion of “alienation,” extracted from his writings of the 1840s …. [they] could therefore dispense with a strictly materialist analysis and shift … focus toward religion, morality, and aesthetics. ...
Lind comments on Gottfried's book:
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.
In a similar vein, in her Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, Elizabeth Kantor says that it is possible to determine what works of literature are valuable, but that "cultural Marxists" since the 1960s have completely changed the criteria so as to reward mediocre books and denounce truly good literature as racist, sexist, homophobic and elitist.
The "Cultural Marxism" conspiracy theory found fertile ground with the development of the Tea Party movement in 2009, with contributions published in the American Thinker and WorldNetDaily highlighted by some Tea Party websites.
Although the Communist International is not usually involved, in a version of the theory by Ralph de Toledano published in Cry Havoc! (2007), the Frankfurt School was a Communist front set up Willi Münzenberg, which Jay described as a "crackpot claim".
According to Richard Lichtman, a social psychology professor at the Wright Institute, the Frankfurt School is "a convenient target that very few people really know anything about.... By grounding their critique in Marxism and using the Frankfurt School, [cultural conservatives] make it seem like it's quite foreign to anything American. It takes on a mysterious cast and translates as an incomprehensible, anti-American, foreign movement that is only interested in undermining the U.S." Lichtman says that the "idea being transmitted is that we are being infected from the outside."  Lichtman's critique parallels that of rhetorical critic Edwin Black who demonstrated how John Birch Society co-founder Robert Welch used a similar disease metaphor in his writings and speeches during the "Red scare" era of the 1950s and 60s.
Chip Berlet (2012) situates the theory in a wider context: "From the colonial Salem witch hunts, to the anti-Catholic nativism of the 1800s, to the Palmer raids of 1919–20, to the 1950s McCarthy-era Red Scare, to the Tea Parties of today, the hunt for subversion is built around conspiracy theories. Those seeking to expose the conspiracy build movements to counter the alleged subversion. Their central frame is that the national is imperiled by a secret and sinister conspiracy seeking to crush democracy and install some form of evil totalitarian rule." Berlet argues that the "Cultural Marxism" theory is a form of framing that helps "the power elites of organized wealth" to mobilise right-wing popular movements in the support of their interests: "Blaming hard times as being the result of the secret conspiracy is a time-honored tradition, and conspiracy theories function as a narrative form of scapegoating."
Allegations of Antisemitism
Many of the Frankfurt School were Jewish, and according to Kevin B. MacDonald explicitly linked to the plans to School's main ethnic background; Critics have found in other accounts, specifically Paul Weyrich's broadcast "Political Correctness:The Frankfurt School," a transparent subtext [...] which is not hard to discern and has become more explicit with each telling of the narrative".
"In a nutshell, the theory posits that a tiny group of Jewish philosophers who fled Germany in the 1930s and set up shop at Columbia University in New York City devised an unorthodox form of 'Marxism' that took aim at American society's culture, rather than its economic system. The theory holds that these self-interested Jews — the so-called 'Frankfurt School' of philosophers — planned to try to convince mainstream Americans that white ethnic pride is bad, that sexual liberation is good, and that supposedly traditional American values — Christianity, 'family values,' and so on — are reactionary and bigoted. With their core values thus subverted, the theory goes, Americans would be quick to sign on to the ideas of the far left."
Endorsements by white nationalists
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported in 2002 that the theory had been taken up by a number of what it defines as hate groups; the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens, for example, picked up the issue in 2000.
The idea of Cultural Marxism theory reached greater prominence, particularly in Europe, when it was established that Norwegian white nationalist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed dozens of people in 2011, had placed this view of "cultural marxism" as a cornerstone of his ideology, placing a copy of William Lind's 2004 pamphlet on the subject at the beginning of his manifesto. Breivik's manifesto "explicitly equates liberalism and multiculturalism with cultural Marxism, something Breivik says is destroying European Christian civilization." This view was adopted by European white nationalists from American ones, and is grounded in the claim that Cultural Marxism has suppressed white nationalism and racial identity, while African Americans and Latinos have been able to build a strong cultural identity and institutions. As Jared Taylor put it in 2004, "Racial pride is fine for blacks and everyone else, but verboten... for whites. Not just American whites mind you, but all whites everywhere."
Martin Jay cites the following as "a list cited verbatim from many of the websites devoted to the question:"
- The creation of racism offenses
- Continual change to create confusion
- The teaching of sex and homosexuality to children
- The undermining of schools' and teachers' authority
- Huge immigration to destroy identity
- The promotion of excessive drinking
- Emptying of churches
- An unreliable legal system with bias against victims of crime
- Dependency on the state or state benefits
- Control and dumbing down of media
- Encouraging the breakdown of the family
The authorship of the list is unclear; Jay cites a 2009 publication but implies it may predate it.
- Berkowitz, Bill (2003), "Reframing the Enemy: ‘Cultural Marxism’, a Conspiracy Theory with an Anti-Semitic Twist, Is Being Pushed by Much of the American Right." Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center, Summer. http://web.archive.org/web/20040207095318/http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=53&printable=1
- "New Dark Age: Frankfurt School and 'Political Correctness'", Schiller Institute
- Jay, Martin (2010), "Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe". Salmagundi (Fall 2010-Winter 2011, 168–169): 30–40.
- Jay (2010) notes that Daniel Estulin's book cites this essay and that the Free Congress Foundation's program was inspired by it.
- Michael Minnicino (1994), Freud and the Frankfurt School (Schiller Institute 1994), part of "Solving the Paradox of Current World History", a conference report published in Executive Intelligence Review
- Lind, William S., "What is 'Political Correctness?," Essays on our Times, Free Congress Foundation, Number 43, March 1997.; Raehn, Raymond V., "The Historical Roots of 'Political Correctness,'", Essays on our Times, Free Congress Foundation, Number 44, June 1997.
- The Origins of Political Correctness: An Accuracy in Academia Address by Bill Lind. Paper presented at 13th annual summer conference of Accuracy in Academia, July 1998.
- Beirich, Heidi and Hicks, Kevin (2009), "White Nationalism in America", in Perry, Barbara (2009, ed.), Hate Crimes: Understanding and defining hate crime. Greenwood Publishing Group, pp118-9
- Lind, William S. (ed, 2004), Political Correctness: A Short History of an Ideology, Free Congress Foundation, November 2004.
- The Origins of Political Correctness: An Accuracy in Academia Address by Bill Lind http://www.academia.org/lectures/lind1.html
- Buchanan, Pat; The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Threaten Our Culture and Civilization; pp. 73-96. ISBN 0-312-30259-2
- Ben Alpers, 25 July 2011, The Frankfurt School, Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories, and American Conservatism
- Quoted in Lind, William S.. "http://www.amconmag.com/2005/2005_10_10/review1.html Dead But Not Gone." 10 October 2005. The American Conservative. Review of Paul Gottfried, The Strange Death of Marxism, University of Missouri Press.
- Kantor, Elizabeth; The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature; pp. 189-198. ISBN 1-59698-011-7
- Berlet, Chip (July 2012). "Collectivists, Communists, Labor Bosses, and Treason: The Tea Parties as Right-Wing Populist Counter-Subversion Panic". Critical Sociology 38 (4): 565–587. doi:10.1177/0896920511434750.
- For example Chuck Rogér, March 27, 2010, American Thinker, Welcome to the Machine: Cultural Marxism in Education
- Lichtman, quoted Berkowitz.
- Black, Edwin. (1970) "The Second Persona". The Quarterly Journal of Speech.56.2
- Commenting on the 1999 Free Congress Foundation broadcast, Martin Jay (2010) writes "[t]here is a transparent subtext [...] which is not hard to discern and has become more explicit with each telling of the narrative. Although there is scarcely any direct reference to the ethnic origins of the School's members, subtle hints allow the listener to draw his own conclusions about the provenance of foreigners who tried to combine Marx and Freud, those giants of critical Jewish intelligence. At one point, William Lind asserts that "once in America they shifted the focus of their work from destroying German society to attacking the society and culture of its new place of refuge," as if the very people who had to flee the Nazis had been responsible for what they were fleeing!"
- "Mainstreaming Hate: A key ally of Christian right heavyweight Paul Weyrich addresses a major Holocaust denial conference," Intelligence Report, Fall 2002
- Daniel Trilling "Who are Breivik’s fellow travellers?" New Statesman April 2012; Professor Jérôme Jamin (Université de Liège) : «Cultural Marxism in the Anglo-Saxon radical right literature» 2012
- Heidi Beirich, "Hate Across the Waters: the Role of American Extremists in Fostering an International White Consciousness", in Ruth Wodak (ed 2013), Right-Wing Populism in Europe: Politics and Discourse, London: A & C Black. pp96-7
- Timothy Matthews, "The Frankfurt School: Conspiracy to Corrupt," Catholic Insight, March, 2009; the item was originally published in The Wanderer, December 11, 2008.
- Bruce Miller, November 21, 2011, A crackpot far-right theory on the Frankfurt School and "political correctness"