VIOLENCE, rebellion and anarchy are spreading across the western world. Businesses and buildings are robbed and burned, demonstrators are taking to the streets, defacing and destroying statues, while the establishment appears to be bowing to the new forms of totalitarian censorship demanded.
To understand why once-accepted absolutes and certainties no longer apply, a good place to start is Augusto Del Noce’s The Crisis of Modernity in which he details the nature and origins of what he describes as ‘the new totalitarianism’.
The Italian philosopher and political theorist argues that, unlike other dictatorships such as communism and fascism, the West since the end of the Second World War has faced a more virulent and destructive form, one that ‘denies traditional morality and religion without preserving or sublating any aspect’.
Del Noce traces this nihilist form of totalitarianism to the establishment of the Frankfurt School in Germany during the mid-1930s and the rise of neo-Marxist inspired critical theory. A theory that champions ‘a process of liberation from authority, theological or human, transcendent or empirical’.
As noted by the American academic Roger Kimball in The Long March, another essential aspect of critical theory is the belief that the most effective way to destroy capitalist society and bring about the new utopia is to take the long march through the institutions by engaging in the culture wars.
The Australian psychologist Wanda Skowronska draws the same conclusion when she writes: ‘Critical theory did not aim to tear down the economic base of western society . . . [it was] aimed rather at tearing down the cultural superstructure which supposedly reflected the powerful controllers of the economic system and this would enable the collapse of western civilisation.’
Underlying the concept of critical theory and the long march is the concept of ‘ideological state apparatus’ made famous by the Marxist academic Louis Althusser. When explaining how capitalist economies maintain power and are able to reproduce themselves, Althusser differentiates between a repressive state apparatus and an ideological one.
The second involves institutions and organisations associated with religion, education, family and political, legal, media and cultural systems. Taken together they enforce the ruling ideology by conditioning citizens to accept as natural or beneficial what is supposedly oppressive and exploitive.
A belief in competition and meritocracy in education, for example, is condemned as inequitable and unjust as it reinforces capitalist hierarchies and privilege where disadvantaged students are always condemned to fail.
As a result of the cultural revolution of the late 1960s, critical theory has since morphed into a rainbow alliance of cultural-Left ideologies ranging from postmodernism and deconstructionism to radical feminist, gender, postcolonial and queer theories.
While such theories often conflict, what they have in common is a deep-seated hatred for what are condemned as traditional forms of authority represented by the family, schools and universities, Christianity and the history and achievements of western civilisation.
Such is the prevalence of critical theory and its more recent offshoots that university students are taught that subjects such as history, literature, music and even mathematics and science have no inherent value of meaning. They are simply social constructs that enforce the hegemony of the ruling elites and that have to be critiqued and deconstructed in terms of power relationships involving gender, ethnicity and class. Even language and a belief in objectivity and truth are not immune, as how each individual constructs and relates to the world is both subjective and relative.
Ignored, as argued by the late Roger Scruton in Culture Counts, is that if all discourse is socially constructed and based on power, rationality and reason no longer prevail leaving violence as the only recourse. As proved by recent events, individual agency gives way to mindless groupthink and the hysteria of the mob.
As a result of neo-Marxist inspired gender theory, primary and secondary students are taught that gender and sexuality are fluid and limitless and that they have the right to decide whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer.
What the American feminist Camille Paglia describes as child abuse is now increasingly widespread as young children are counselled that there is nothing wrong with denying their birth sex by undergoing transgender treatment.
As shown by events since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, it’s also the case that such is the power of critical theory that identity politics, virtue signalling and victimhood now prevail.
Anyone who criticises the Black Lives Matter demonstrations is condemned as a racist and guilty of white supremacism. Instead of enforcing the law, police bend the knee in a show of compliance, and the only reason so many African-Americans are in jail is because capitalist society is riven with inequality, injustice and structural racism.