THE COLUMN: Mephisto's Revenge

Michael Walsh29 Apr, 2024 7 Min Read
“Two souls live in me, alas, Irreconcilable with one another.”

And so the War of the Baby Boomers has now come full circle, and for those of us who were in college at the end of the Sixties it's déjà vu all over again. The urgent need of the postwar generation to protest something, anything, is now -- like them -- in its dotage but still lashing out at the thing it's always hated: the United States of America. Only this time, they're on the receiving end of the nasty activism of which they were the first modern practitioners.

And it's happening precisely at Ground Zero of the anti-American revolution: Columbia University, the American home of the Frankfurt School. The tragic irony is that an "intellectual" movement of largely German-Jewish Marxists, refugees from National Socialist Germany, has now been weaponized against the Jews themselves, with anti-Semitic outbreaks on campuses and elsewhere across the country -- this time with the Jews cast in the role of the Nazis. (The current moment is not, it should be noted, the first time Columbia's had a Jewish problem.) 

A few years back I published a book that has become, somewhat to my surprise, a foundational text in the war against the anarcho-fascist Left: The Devil's Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West. That book was not strictly about politics but rather a cultural examination of "critical theory's" religious and literary roots, for which I used Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost (itself a riff on Genesis) and Goethe's play Faust, Part One as tools of analysis. This is how it begins:

Read it and weep.

In the aftermath of World War II, America—the new leader of the West—stood alone as the world’s premier military power. Yet its martial confidence contrasted vividly with its sense of cultural inferiority. Still looking to a defeated and dispirited Europe for intellectual and artistic guidance, a burgeoning transnational elite in New York City and Washington, D.C., embraced not only the war’s refugees but also many of their resolutely nineteenth-century “modern” ideas as well.

Few of these ideas have proven more pernicious than those of the so-called Frankfurt School and its reactionary philosophy of “critical theory.” At once overly intellectualized and emotionally juvenile, Critical Theory—like Pandora’s Box—released a horde of demons into the American psyche. When everything could be questioned, nothing could be real, and the muscular, confident empiricism that had just won the war gave way, in less than a generation, to a fashionable

Were any of the originators of Critical Theory sill among us, they might well say, quoting Sir Christopher Wren: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. Look about your daily lives here in early twenty-first-century America and Western Europe, and see the shabbiness, hear the coarseness of speech and dialogue, witness the lowered standards not only of personal behavior but also of cultural norms, savor the shrunken horizons of the future.

Although this battle is simply the latest front in an ancient war, this critical struggle—“the Fight” or “the Struggle” (or der Kampf), as leftists call it—is the defining issue of our time. It will determine not only what kind of country the United States of America will become but also whether the Western world will continue the moral, cultural, and technological dominance it shares with the larger Anglophone world, or finally succumb to a relentless assault on its values and accept the loss of its cultural vigor. In other words, will it—will we—repel the invaders, organize sorties, ride out and crush them—or wearily open the gates to the citadel and await the inevitable slaughter?

To say this message was not well-received by the other side is an understatement. In 2017, Andreas Huyssen, a professor of German and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, had a go at me via the typical Leftist tropes of smearing, name-calling, and of tu quoque argumentation, one of discussion's lowest forms:

Looking into the mirror of Critical Theory and its analysis of race hatred and media domination, the white supremacists recognized themselves and their history. But in order to preserve their righteous indignation — an indignation based on pathologically conspiratorial thought — they had to make Critical Theory into a primary intellectual enemy and scapegoat. The over the top attack on the Frankfurt School in a host of white supremacist publications, including the recent confused rant by another Breitbart editor Michael Walsh entitled The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West, only points to the fact that they themselves are doing what they accuse their opponents of doing: subverting American politics and culture.

For what is the difference between making society unworkable and destroying the administrative state? Between making everything meaningless and creating alternative facts and fake news? Central to this kind of inverted appropriation of critical theory is what Adorno and Horkheimer analyzed in Nazi ideology and behavior as the processes of mimesis, projection, and inversion. Leo Löwenthal and Norbert Guterman, two other members of the Institute for Social Research, put it quite succinctly in their 1949 book about fascist tendencies in the US entitled Prophets of DeceitThere they wrote that the follower of right-wing ideology “is nothing but an inverted reflection of the enemy...” Michael Walsh picked up the theme when he claimed in The Devil’s Pleasure Palace that “Critical Theory is the very essence of Satanism,” its only purpose being destruction, not (mind you) deconstruction.

Citing Adorno and Horkheimer in order to prove that Adorno and Horkheimer were right is a nice, solipsistic touch, and one entirely characteristic of our ideological opponents. And if there's a meaningful, practical difference between destruction and deconstruction, I've yet to hear it. Further, the defenders of cultural Marxism -- who basically deny its very existence even as they defend it -- routinely criticize its critics for not having published "peer-reviewed research" on a subject in which only they can be experts. Here, for example, is the opening from a corrupted and now-useless Wikipedia (thanks, Katherine Maher!) entry:  

"Cultural Marxism" refers to a far-right antisemitic conspiracy theory that misrepresents the Frankfurt School as being responsible for modern progressive movements, identity politics, and political correctness. The conspiracy theory posits that there is an ongoing and intentional academic and intellectual effort to subvert Western society via a planned culture war that undermines the supposed "Christian values" of traditionalist conservatism and seeks to replace them with culturally liberal values.

Inventing your own conspiracy theory while charging others with inventing a conspiracy theory -- the Left does the same thing with the Great Reset, a conspiracy so vast it's proudly proclaimed on the World Economic Forum's own website -- is pretty much par for the course with these folks. Here's another example of academic calumniation:

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Still, the answer to the question I asked in Devil nearly ten years ago remains. It's not enough to laugh at the Boomers' children and grandchildren as they ape their elders while burning down the neighborhood, advocate untrammeled illegal immigration, and mock conservatives for wanting to have children. It is not enough to fall back on the intellectually lazy trope: "Don't they realize that..." as if that's going to dissuade them. They do realize it; the terrifying thing is that they don't care. Maybe -- as the embedded academic twaddle above indicates -- the institutional forces arrayed against any sort of pre-Frankfurtian restoration will prove too strong, and the old campus radicals' chant of "Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go" will finally be effected.

Soixante-huitards indeed.

For my generation, the outcome has been clear: they won. Those beard-tugging, draft-dodging eternal graduate students triumphed by simply remaining in academe and letting attrition do the rest. My friend, colleague, and publisher, Roger Kimball, has himself written eloquently about this process in his book, The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America.

In a recent Substack column, the Israeli-American  Benjamin Kerstein writes about les soixante-huitards, “the ‘68ers":

The term refers to the radicals who took part in the 1968 student riots in Paris, as well as their ideology and the movements that emerged out of it: Third-worldism, environmentalism, anti-Americanism, anti-racism, etc. In many ways, the ethos of this kind of 1968ism defines the modern left. 

It hardly needs to be said that the American ‘68ers’ greatest success was in academia. During the 1960s, American radicals realized the power of the campus. They mobilized thousands if not millions of students, most of them wholly ignorant of the ideologies they claimed to advocate, in service of the movement to destroy South Vietnam and install a communist government in its place. In many ways, they succeeded.

Along the way, they also destroyed the Democratic party for a generation, committed numerous acts of terrorism, and forged a counterculture that continues to wield immense cultural power even after the passage of half a century.

As it happens, I recall the Paris revolt of May 1968 very well, when in my freshman French class the professor stopped his lesson to remark to a room full of 18-year-olds: "You're all the bastard children of Rousseau," a comparison more apt than I realized at the time. Two years later, the student riots in the U.S. were punctuated by the shootings at Kent State University, when the National Guard opened fire on mostly-not-at-all-peaceful protestors, killing four, but effectively ending the anti-war and anti-draft disorder on college campuses.

Rousseau's love children are now in their seventies and even eighties, but still the battle over the future of the nation rages on, this time with fresh shock troops from the ranks of the passionate and uneducated young. Still, having reached their high-water mark in their dotage, the former revolutionaries are just as miserable and malcontented as ever, perhaps more so. Like Milton's Satan, they are trapped in their own kingdom, servants to none but still the slaves of passion: 

Which way I fly is hell; my self am hell; And in the lowest deep a lower deep still threatening to devour me opens wide, to which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.

Dissent, the Left used to say, was the highest form of patriotism. Dissent has now been replaced in that equation by treason and overt revolution. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice: it's their hell and we're just living in it.

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints, and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace and its sequel, The Fiery Angel. Last Stands, a study of military history from the Greeks to the present, was published by St. Martin's Press in December 2019. He is also the editor of Against the Great Reset: 18 Theses Contra the New World Order, published on Oct. 18, 2022, and of the forthcoming Against the Corporate Media. Follow him on Twitter: @theAmanuensis


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2 comments on “THE COLUMN: Mephisto's Revenge”

  1. I always find it interesting that the defenders of the Frankfurt School always seem to have just one argument - it's fascist, white supremacist, etc. to argue that the Frankfort School ideology is wrong. When the only defense against your opponent's arguments is essentially your opponent is not allowed to argue about the validity of your position, you are way beyond science or rational thought. You are a cult. This is what the Frankfurt School, or cultural Marxism, is. A cult. As such not only does it need to be defeated in the arena of ideas, which it essentially already has been even if the media wishes to ignore that, it then needs to be pulled out and thrown away, with its advocates being replaced and moved away from any position of influence or authority. The communists at this stage would imprison or kill their opponents, just as the democrats have started to do today. I would wish merely to fire them; though I wonder if that will be enough.

  2. “ The tragic irony is that an "intellectual" movement of largely German-Jewish Marxists, refugees from National Socialist Germany, has now been weaponized against the Jews themselves,…” If only they had become Zionists and not Marxists ! Could these intellectuals have been trying to find a way for the Jew to be finally accepted into German (European) culture by trying to destroy that culture altogether?

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