One week after the horrendous mass shooting at a Florida high school in which 17 people were killed, the Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association (NRA), Wayne LaPierre, addressed the Conservative Political Action Committee during its annual gathering at the National Harbor in Maryland. Twitter was erupting with calls to boycott the NRA, and there was no difficulty finding hatred and vitriol directed at the NRA among the Twitter feeds of celebrities, the literati, and the intelligentsia. Despite the massive decline in gun violence in the United States over the last few decades (while the number of guns per capita has doubled), and despite research demonstrating that most gun crimes are committed by people who possess guns illegally, Mr. LaPierre found himself defending an organization that boasts five million law-abiding members because it was supposedly doing its very best to facilitate an epidemic of gun violence in America.
Thus, it was not surprising that Mr. LaPierre’s speech met with derision by several outlets in the mainstream media. CNN reported that Mr. LaPierre “made no attempt to moderate his message.” Slate wrote that the NRA “Muddles Its Message in Surprise CPAC Speech.” The Onion ran a piece saying that “Wayne LaPierre Accidentally Blows Hands Off During CPAC Speech.” A CBS News headline stated that “NRA’s Wayne LaPierre makes it clear he isn’t backing down on guns—or the culture wars.” The Atlantic claimed that the speech reflected “Wayne LaPierre’s Cynical Exploitation of Outrage.” Huffington Post wrote that Mr. LaPierre’s claim was that the FBI and elitism were to blame for school shootings.
Among the more transparently hostile articles to appear, however, was a polemic that ran in Haaretz demonizing Mr. Lapierre for purportedly trading in anti-Semitic conspiracy-mongering reminiscent of the Protocol of the Elders of Zion, an apocryphal anti-Semitic tract that famously helped fuel the rise of Nazism by raising the prospect of a Jewish conspiracy aimed at worldwide domination.
Never mind that one can find no hint of anti-Semitism in Mr. LaPierre’s speech, or that Mr. LaPierre never once mentioned a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. Mr. LaPierre’s ire was aimed instead at European-style socialism, which he claimed has infiltrated the Democratic Party and its allies. But according to the Haaretz polemic, Mr. LaPierre “identified the enemies of the NRA, and of America, as Jews – from Karl Marx to Bernie Sanders, from Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor George Soros to former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. LaPierre singled out Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York as one of the Democrats who are ‘liars to the core.’”
In other words: Mr. LaPierre assailed several NRA opponents who happen to be Jewish. Ergo, he was anachronistically harking back to early-20th century anti-Semitic fear-mongering on the order of Protocol of the Elders of Zion. This absurd logical leap is made even though Mr. LaPierre not only lambasted politicians named Bernie Sanders, George Soros, and Michael Bloomberg, but also Kamala Harris, Christopher Murphy, Elizabeth Warren, Keith Ellison, Cory Booker, and Andrew Cuomo. Moreover, Mr. LaPierre took aim at Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and Occupy Wall Street, all of which are concerned with causes not known for focusing on the interests of the Jewish community.
At its core, Mr. LaPierre’s speech attacked “European-style Socialists”, intellectual elites whose goal is “[a]bsolute control, in every corner of our government” because “[t]hey think they’re smarter than the rest of us” and “deserve to be in charge of every lever of power.” This sweeping, broad-strokes claim may strike a casual observer unfamiliar with America’s culture wars as irresponsible conspiracy-mongering. But a careful observer will note that Mr. LaPierre did not describe a scripted conspiracy by a small cabal of insiders. Instead, Mr. LaPierre unearthed a more ominous threat posed by broad ideological infiltration of American institutions by the historical and cultural legacy of the writings of Karl Marx. In his speech, Mr. LaPierre was specifically concerned with how this threat affects the Second Amendment, but he also directed attention at social engineering efforts that attack the integrity of American institutions, at one point reminding us that the writings of Karl Marx are frequently found on the syllabi of courses at American universities.
One needs to look no further than the Social Justice Movement to see that he is onto something. In an article I wrote last year, I argued that the “specter of Marxism haunts the social justice movement….For the social justice warrior, the fundamental concern of justice is emancipation from the grid of oppression and exploitation, by way of personal liberation and vindication, or more ominously, by way of pro-active social engineering, which mobilizes all the resources of McCarthyite thought-police brigades and their zealot’s brand of political correctness to rewire the DNA of the social body, or by outright revolution to force change by way of social upheaval and, when the chaos clears, by way of kumbaya consensus if possible, by decree if necessary.” American culture, in the view of the Social Justice Movement, amounts to little more than a history of oppression and exploitation, and it must be overturned, no matter the effect on such fundamental rights as those guaranteed in the First Amendment, or as Mr. LaPierre laments, the Second Amendment.
That may sound like a mouthful, but a visit to college campuses, a scan of the headlines in the mainstream media, or a study of the increasingly vocal “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party makes clear the degree to which ideological preoccupation with class struggle and a presumed “superstructure” of exploitation and victimization has infiltrated our academic, media, and political institutions, transforming social justice dogma into a twenty-first century incarnation of the Marxist creed. Nothing short of a rewiring of the collective consciousness will be tolerated.
This is not conspiracy-mongering. It’s not as if cabals of European socialists are meeting in clandestine rooms to discuss a plot to take power. While left-wing activism has indeed become a force in the university and other American institutions, the problem Mr. LaPierre identifies is something more insidious. The infiltration of Marxist ideology in American institutions is a script that emerges most clearly from the writings of a left-wing intellectual named Antonio Gramsci, an Italian neo-Marxist and Socialist who gained renown for his writings in the early 20th century on “cultural hegemony”, the idea that a ruling class propagates and perpetuates the norms and values of a cultural landscape which sustains their control over prevailing institutions and the “subaltern” classes subservient to them.
Arguing that an oppressive status quo maintains itself in large part with the artificial consent of the governed, Gramsci proposed an ideological battle for hearts and minds conducted by partisan intellectuals who strive to acquire positions of influence within the social hierarchy to articulate and advocate for the transformation of capitalist society (his so-called “war of position”), motivated by the view that social constructs can be designed to change the normative consciousness of citizens only if partisans infiltrate social institutions and transform the culture on which the social construct ultimately rests.
The Social Justice Movement has wholly bought into Gramsci’s plea for a new brand of normative leadership. It believes there is little or no virtue in prevailing norms, ideas, and institutions if they are not connected to a concerted effort to undermine the pillars of American society and capitalism. In this effort, the Social Justice Movement employs a strategy of cultural transformation that seeks revolution rather than reform, and draws on a whole lexicon of victimization and Marxian polemics. In his CPAC speech, Mr. LaPierre primarily discussed tactics like the “art of the smear”, but he hinted at the more fundamental threat when he discussed the culture of victimhood propagated by the Social Justice Movement. According to Mr. LaPierre, “[y]ou name a group, and they’ll find a way to turn them into victims. They keep their movement growing by finding someone to be offended by something, every minute of every day.” Groups such as the Occupy Wall Street movement, Black Lives Matter, and Antifa “agitate the offended, promote uncivil discourse, and ignore any sense of due process and fairness, to destroy their enemies.”
There are few places where this trend is more apparent than in the university, where who can say what at university is a constant topic of controversy, and ill-defined concepts like “micro-aggressions” are front and center in classrooms, seminars, and diversity-training programs.
There are countless examples of colleges and universities where course evaluations, “cultural competency” training programs, and institutional policies make irresponsible use of “micro-aggressions” to hyper-sensitize students and repress opposition to the Social Justice Movement’s agenda. I identify some of these in another article I wrote last year reviewing the blockbuster paper published in January 2017 by Emory University psychology professor Scott Lilienfeld, who conducted a systematic review of the literature on micro-aggressions and called into question the prevailing assumption on university campuses that “micro-aggression” is a “psychologically meaningful construct.”
The micro-aggression fad constitutes only one example of how the Social Justice Movement has overreached in its attempt to address shortcomings in American culture. “Trigger warnings”. “Safe spaces”. The recent controversy about a scene in the movie “Peter Rabbit” that was deemed offensive to people with allergies. A “Whiteness Group” at Kenyon University created after students protested and ultimately shut down production of an allegedly “racist” play about immigration. The examples abound. The modus operandi of the Social Justice Movement is to attack and suppress any semblance of cultural activity that it believes, rightly or wrongly, perpetuates systemic injustices like toxic masculinity and patriarchy, misogyny and sexism, institutional racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and all other manifestations of discrimination, exclusion, and disempowerment. Debate about the merits of their indictments and accusations will not be tolerated. Due process is inconvenient at best, and outright reactionary at worst. To express doubt is to resist the effort to reengineer the process of socialization whereby children learn how to emulate the pieties of new norms and attitudes. To have reservations or concerns is to resist the effort to rip out from the roots the ideologies which make all of us compliant in our own victimization. Karl Marx, who argued that the history of mankind is a history of class struggle between oppressors and their victims, and that emancipation can come only by uprooting all the norms and values that uphold the institutions of bourgeois complacency, is surely resting in peace.
The threat of infiltration by European-style Socialists extends to far more than the culture of victimhood they promote. It extends to policies like single-payer health care, tax and spend budget proposals, and, as Mr. LaPierre laments, efforts to undermine the Second Amendment right to bear arms. But at their core, the Democratic Party and its allies are motivated by ideas and sentiments that have deep roots in an ideological vision outlined by Karl Marx and his intellectual disciples, most notably Antonio Gramsci.
None of this is to suggest that the fight against oppression is an unworthy objective, or that we should not be committed to building a more humane society, or that we should not have debates about the pros and cons of various policy initiatives. But we must do so with an eye to nuance and empathy rather than with the doctrinaire puritanism of social justice warriors who are inclined, like Marx, to reduce every aspect of society—every attitude, every institution, every conflict—to a Manichean historical drama that pits oppressors against oppressed. When stern polemics replace intellectually-honest inquiry, there is little room for shades of gray. The fight against oppression morphs into its own form of oppression. We are left with what Mr. LaPierre rightly identifies as the hardline social engineering efforts of “European-style Socialists” who hold powerful sway in the Democratic Party, American universities, and the mainstream media. Mr. LaPierre was right. The specter of Marxism haunts the Social Justice Movement, and the Social Justice Movement is at the heart of a left-wing movement to oppose not only to the NRA and the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but American culture at large.
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