Cultural Marxism, the so-called “ultimate wisdom of the world,” is foolishness in God’s eyes (1 Corinthians 3:19). Worldly foolishness is reflected most prominently in the denials we see dismissing the existence of cultural Marxism. More than ten years ago, an Internet search of the concept would have turned up loads of materials linking the concept of cultural Marxism to Karl Marx and his disciples who fled Nazi Germany in 1933.
Shortly thereafter, in 1935, this band of Marxist exiles from the Frankfurt School’s Institute of Social Research set up camp at Columbia University in New York City. It was from this new academic perch that these exiled Marxist loyalists soon started proclaiming their ideas about how the world ought to operate, and their proclamations not only spread across America but are resonating now more than ever. In the 21st century, We the People are reeling from the direct and indirect effects of cultural Marxism. From the early disciples of Karl Marx we received what morphed into critical theory, political correctness, trigger warnings on campuses, infiltration of churches, and radical changes—and most of us did not see this coming.
Progressives deny the existence of cultural Marxism, although in their own minds they quietly embrace it. If you search “cultural Marxism” in Google, the first thing that often pops up is the Oxford Dictionary definition followed by a long list of articles repeating a non-neutral, values-laden definition: “[Among some right-wing thinkers] a radical political ideology said to be promoted by left-wing activists with the aim of undermining or subverting western social and cultural institutions, ultimately resulting in the imposition of a progressive agenda on society.” This definition treats cultural Marxism as nothing more than rumor or fantasy, implying that cultural Marxism does not exist and that the left is not trying to destroy traditional institutions such as the family, the church, governmental institutions, marriages, and biological differences between males and females.
Fortunately, there is a conservative dictionary that has a credible definition of “cultural Marxism” with some history included: “Cultural Marxism is a branch of Marxist ideology formulated by the Frankfurt School, which had its origins the early part of the twentieth century. Cultural Marxism comprises much of the foundation of political correctness and wokeism. It emerged as a response of European Marxist intellectuals disillusioned by the early political failures of conventional economic Marxist ideology.”
Cultural Marxism originated in the writings of an Italian Communist, Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci bemoaned Communism’s slow advance in the West—a sentiment that would be shared by many Communists to come. Whereas Karl Marx had emphasized the role of material conditions in creating a revolutionary consciousness among workers, Gramsci argued that this process was impeded by the dominance of certain ideas over others (“cultural hegemony”).
From this revised footing, Gramsci proposed that capitalism could be overthrown gradually. This would be accomplished by infiltrating and transforming society’s major institutions—e.g., education establishments, media, law, religion, and the family. Under new management, the institutions would transmit revolutionary ideas in place of bourgeois ones. As these ideas came to define “common sense” in the public imagination, the old social (and therefore economic) order would decay and give way to a new, revolutionary Communist society (see also: Yuri Bezmenov).
The dark brilliance of weaponizing society’s institutions against society itself is that defending society from this attack becomes an act of social deviance. To critique the dominant culture’s assault on gender, sexuality, marriage, and the family is “bigotry,” variously defined. To support Christianity, traditional family and sexual norms, and the rule of law is to support institutions of cultural “oppression” and “domination.” Indeed, in a culture so profoundly committed to self-immolation, support for the nation itself—e.g., statues of presidents, and the American flag—is labeled “divisive” and “racist.”
Critical Theory’s Relationship to Cultural Marxism
Gramsci’s banner was carried to America by that Frankfurt School group of Marxist and Freudian academics. Much as Gramsci had recommended, these Frankfurt scholars worked tirelessly to undermine capitalist society’s foundations by attacking (“problematizing”) its sociocultural foundations. Their approach has been alternatively described as “neo-Marxist” and as “cultural Marxist,” although some consider the latter term to be controversial. Therefore, we get efforts to dismiss the concept of cultural Marxism as being closely tied to “right-wing” politics.
Frankfurt scholars christened their approach “Critical Theory” as a nod to Marx’s call for “ruthless criticism of all that exists.” This means the “deconstruction” or tearing down of traditional institutions. The term critical theory has both broad and narrow meanings depending on whether the discussion is about philosophy or the history of the social sciences. Max Horkheimer (1937) argues that a “critical theory” differs from a “traditional theory” in that the latter attempts to describe the world as it is and understand how it works, while the former begins with, a normative moral vision for society, describe[ing] how the item being critiqued fails that vision (usually in a systemic sense), and prescribe[ing] activism to subvert, dismantle, disrupt, overthrow, or change it—that is, generally, to break and then remake society in accordance with the particular critical theory’s prescribed vision.
Using this approach, Frankfurt scholars targeted marriage, the family, and Christianity. In Eros and Civilization (1955), for example, Herbert Marcuse advocates abandoning traditional morality and embracing sexual revolution and gay rights movements. Marcuse was also instrumental in identifying women and racial and sexual minorities as alternative sources of support for revolutionary change. Recentering the oppressor/oppressed paradigm on so-called “victim groups” resolved a problem that had long bedeviled the far Left: the fact that, in the most advanced capitalist country, workers showed little enthusiasm for revolution. Modern identity politics thus owes much to Marcuse’s work. Likewise, his arguments for restricting conservative speech in Repressive Tolerance (1969) laid the foundation for political correctness and for the censorship that increasingly pervades American public life. Although some of these ideas are complex, it is essential that we as Christian believers gather the information needed to engage a society that has been permeated with ungodliness. Let Colossians 2:8 stand as a warning to us: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (NASB).
 Cultural Marxism. n.d. Conservapedia. https://www.conservapedia.com/Cultural_Marxism
 “Antonio Gramsci.” n.d. Marxists.org. https://www.marxists.org/archive/gramsci/index.htm
 “Long March through the Institutions,” n.d. Conservapedia. https://www.conservapedia.com/Long_march_through_the_institutions
 “Lecture by Yuri Bezmenov,” Bezmenov.net, 2020, https://bezmenov.net/lecture/
 Frank Bruni, “Republicans Have Found Their Cruel New Culture War,” The New York Times, April 10, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/10/opinion/sunday/transgender-rights-republicans-arkansas.html
 Dream McClinton, “Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP Should Be Celebrated, Not Scolded,” The Guardian, August 12, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/aug/12/cardi-b-megan-thee-stallion-wap-celebrated-not-scolded
 Stephanie Wang, “Same-Sex Marriage: Why People Really Oppose It,” USA Today, March 2, 2015, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/03/02/same-sex-marriage-why-people-really-oppose-it/24296403/
 Rosemarie Ho, “Want to Dismantle Capitalism? Abolish the Family,” The Nation, s019, https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/want-to-dismantle-capitalism-abolish-the-family/
 Lawrence R. Samuel, “Is the American Flag a Symbol of Racism?” Psychology Today, 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychology-yesterday/202007/is-the-american-flag-symbol-racism
 David Williams, “Protesters Tore Down a George Washington Statue and Set a Fire on Its Head, CNN, June 19, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/19/us/portland-george-washington-statue-toppled-trnd/index.html
 James Lindsay, “Cultural Marxism,” New Discourses, 2020, https://newdiscourses.com/tftw-cultural-marxism/
 Marx, Karl: Letter to Nikolai Danielson. St. Petersburg, Russia. February 19, 1881. International Publishers (1968), Marxist.org, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1881/letters/81_02_19.htm
 James Lindsay, “Critical Theory,” New Discourses, 2020, https://newdiscourses.com/tftw-critical-theory/
 Complaints made by students, traditional academics, and outside observers regarding the activist (vs. scholarly) character of the various “critical” fields (e.g., the “studies” fields) are thus well-founded.
 Eros and Civilization. n.d. Marcuse.org., https://www.marcuse.org/herbert/publications/1950s/1955-eros-and-civilization.html
 Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation, 1969,https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/marcuse/works/1969/essay-liberation.htm
 Other important influences include the black nationalist, Black Power and women’s liberation movements. See, Azerrad, David, “The Promises and Perils of Identity Politics,” The Heritage Foundation, Jan 23, 2019, https://www.heritage.org/progressivism/report/the-promises-and-perils-identity-politics
 Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore, Jr., and Herbert Marcuse, A Critique of Pure Tolerance. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969, pp. 95-137. https://www.marcuse.org/herbert/publications/1960s/1965-repressive-tolerance-fulltext.html