14 Nov The Long March to Antisemitism
Those of you who have read The Dictatorship of Woke Capital know that I spend a significant part of the first half of the book (Chapter 3, to be exact) discussing that which the infamous German Marxist student-leader Rudi Dutschke called “the long march through the institutions.” In brief: after World War I, the Marxists of Europe realized that the workers of the world were never going to unite and throw off their chains, meaning that the long-anticipated revolution was never going to occur – or at least it was never going to occur on its own. The revolution and the triumph of Communism were not, as Marx had declared, historically inevitable. They would have to be incited.
Antonio Gramsci, György Lukács, and the scholars at the Frankfurt School (helmed by Max Horkheimer) decided collectively that the only way to accomplish this incitement was to alter the consciousness of the workers, to strip them of their institutionally created false consciousness and liberate them “from the circumstances that enslave them.” And the way to do that, in turn, was, as Horkheimer put it, to mount a “historical effort to create a world which satisfies the needs and powers of men.” In short, they would have to change society by changing its institutions of consciousness and cultural transmission. Hence, the “long march.”
Near the end of that chapter, I note how shockingly successful the long march has been, especially in the United States. Whereas Marx was a crackpot who knew almost nothing about economics, history, or the conditions of the working class, his post-War successors turned out to be quite brilliant and quite attuned to the nature of the relationship between man and society. In less than half-a-century, the critical theorists “managed to do precisely what Gramsci and Lukács had suggested needed doing a half-century earlier”:
They stripped away the veneer of false consciousness—or, more accurately, they stripped away the consciousness that had existed previously, replacing it with their own consciousness, one rooted in skepticism and alienation, which would become the overarching themes in higher education and every single endeavor subsequently undertaken by those who passed through the American system of higher education from the 1970s on.
Despite this, and even though the Left’s capture of America’s institutions has been obvious to anyone paying any attention at all over the last 30 years or so, I think that we – Americans, conservatives, me – tend, at times, to underestimate this success. After all, the whole point of the long march was to prepare the way for the Revolution. But because the Revolution itself is an inane millenarian endeavor based on Marx’s crackpotastical nonsense, the march will never completely succeed, because it can never attain its goal. It is a brilliant strategy put to service in pursuit of a manifestly stupid and unattainable goal. So…why worry?
Well, as we’re seeing today – on college campuses, in major cities, and all around the nation – there is plenty of reason to worry, even if the Revolution is no closer today than it was in 1918.
The defining characteristic of the Western protests against Israel’s war with Hamas has been the unnerving surge in open, unabashed, and unembarrassed antisemitism. As some wag or another noted on Twitter/X the other day, Kanye West’s biggest mistake was his timing. If he had held his tongue about Jews and Hitler for just a few short months, he would have been hailed as the savior of the Palestinian people, an anti-war, anti-establishment hero, rather than the hateful bigot he is. Yesterday, an otherwise normal looking woman at a pro-Palestinian rally in Miami – with her baby, nonetheless – just casually, nonchalantly yelled at a Jewish passerby that ““Hitler should have f—king finished the job—he knew what the f—k he was doing!”
As we noted in these pages just a couple of weeks ago, however, the source of the antisemitism in the United States is coming from a far different place than the antisemitism in London or Paris or Berlin. European antisemitism is being driven by migration, by masses of unintegrated immigrants from Muslim-dominated areas of the world, who have been raised to detest Jews and hate Israel. In the United States, by contrast, the antisemitism is far less visceral and far more intellectual. It is being driven by activists and academics, by people who were born and raised in this country, who are, for the most part, non-religious, and who detest Jews because Jews fall into the “oppressor” category on the intersectional/Orientalist scorecard.
We also noted recently that “it is impossible to understand the contemporary Middle East, and especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without first understanding Edward Said.” As fate would have it, Said and his intellectual evolution also offer a case study in the devolution of American academia in the face of the long march.
Said’s first book, published in 1966 (as an extended version of his PhD dissertation) was titled Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. It was a standard, perfectly typical case of academic literary criticism (even as it was, prophetically, focused on Western colonialism). Moreover, for the first several years of his academic career, Said himself was a standard, perfectly typical professor of literature.
As the 1960s wore on, however, and morphed, seamlessly, into the intellectually radical ‘70s, Said’s focus changed significantly, as did his intellectual influences. After stints at Harvard and Stanford, as well the solidification of his relationship with Yasser Arafat, Said began to dabble in the ideas central to the Marxian rehabilitation of the 1920s and ‘30s. He studied Gramsci, the critical theorist Theodor Adorno, and especially the structuralist/postmodernist Michel Foucault.
By the late 1970s, Said was a full-fledged anti-realist, steeped in post-colonialism and believing deeply in the power of language to create narratives and of narratives to alter or reinforce the distribution of power. In short, then, Said’s intellectual evolution over the span of just over a decade is very much analogous to the changes in American academia more generally. And his prominence as one of the architects of these changes solidified his influence among his intellectual peers. As Joshua Muravchik noted in 2005, Said “not only transformed the West’s perception of the Israel-Arab conflict, he also led the way toward a new, post-socialist life for leftism in which the proletariat was replaced by ‘people of color’ as the redeemers of humankind.”
Unlike Herbert Marcuse, his contemporary in this endeavor to remake the consciousness of the masses, Said never cared one whit about the Revolution. His opus, Orientalism, was, in fact, criticized by some of his fellow culture critics as anti-Marxist or, at least, insufficiently pro-Marxist. Said had come to understand what Marcuse did not, that the class revolution was, in the long run, both unachievable and likely to be unsatisfying. To Said, the distribution of wealth was far less important and far less enticing than the distribution of power.
Regular readers undoubtedly know that we believe that Marcuse has been exceptionally influential on the American Left and exceptionally detrimental to American society. Still, in the end, Marcuse, like all Marxists, was a utopian/millenarian fantasist. Said, by contrast, was a Marxist in his epistemology but not in his teleology. The true consciousness he sought was focused on raw power and its exercise, rather than the quasi-religious ends of the true Marxists.
Given this, he is, in many ways, the godfather of today’s intellectually driven American antisemitism.
Note, this is NOT to say that American antisemitism is any less virulent or menacing than the ethnicity-driven European version. In some ways, it may be worse, as entrenched intellectual beliefs can be harder to surmount than ethnic prejudices.
It is, rather, to say that the antisemitism on display on American campuses and in American cities is very much one of the fruits of Gramsci-Lukacs-Frankfurt long march. That march has been shockingly successful, the demise of Marxist economics notwithstanding.
The only way to undo this damage, of course, is to make the long march back through the institutions. We have thoughts on how the current crisis might help to spark that long march back, but that, as they say, is a story for another day.