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Conservative Book of the Year Chronicles Revolution, Counsels Counter-Revolution

Posted on Sunday, March 17, 2024
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by David P. Deavel
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8 Comments

AMAC EXCLUSIVE

Conservative Book of the Year Chronicles Revolution, Counsels Counter-Revolution

On Friday night at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the conservative educational foundation ISI awarded Christopher Rufo with their 2024 Conservative Book of the Year Award for his America’s Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything. Rufo’s book is certainly deserving of the honor because it gives the reader a cogent history of the main players and mechanisms by which America’s left conquered almost all our institutions. More importantly, in its closing chapters, it outlines the weaknesses of the “Revolution of 1968” and outlines some ways by which those who favor the “Revolution of 1776” can fight back.

Rufo’s book is distinctively different from last year’s winner, Daniel Mahoney’s The Statesman as Thinker. Mahoney, a distinguished political philosopher, examined great and good political figures from history who provide a model for approaching public service as something more than ascent of a greasy pole. Cicero, Burke, Washington, and Churchill are a far cry from Rufo’s cast of academics and gang leaders who attempted, with differing levels of success, to abolish this country in favor of another mythical paradise by violent revolution or institutional subversion.

This is not to say that Rufo’s book shies away from the philosophical. One of the virtues of the book is to show how figures such as Herbert Marcuse, thought about the world as well as what they did to change it. But Rufo’s focus is ultimately on telling the story of how these ideas came to dominate. 

The book is divided into four sections. Part I covers the beginnings of the American cultural revolution in the 1960s with Marcuse, Angela Davis, and black militants such as Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton. Rufo begins in media res with Marcuse calling for “total revolution against the West” at a 1967 conference in London. It is a dramatic beginning, but it is fair to criticize the volume for starting with little sense of what was going on in America before this. Though the 1960s were a decade of rapid change, many of the intellectual and cultural shifts had been prepared for decades by academics and activists. The secularism and collectivism of the professors at his alma mater were the subject of William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, published in 1951. Whitaker Chambers’s Witness memorably detailed the powerful Communist forces active in the United States since the 1930s. It would have been nice to see some indication of how American ground had been prepared for the Leftist seeds.   

Despite this lack, Rufo’s tale is very detailed in its account of how Marcuse, a German émigré philosopher, became known as the “godfather of the New Left.” Though escaping to America before World War II (he was a secular Jew) and finding much more freedom than he had found anywhere else, Marcuse was still convinced of the pot of gold beyond the Marxist rainbow. It was his “critical theory of society,” called by scholar Douglas Kellner “Western Marxism,” “neo-Marxism,” or “critical Marxism,” that provided the basic philosophical and strategic approach that would be used to brew up the storm that would precede that utopian rainbow.

Rufo summarizes his “four key strategies for the Radical Left” as: “the revolt of the affluent white intelligentsia, the radicalization of the black ‘ghetto population,’ the capture of public institutions and the cultural repression of the opposition.” Marcuse saw that the working class would never mount a revolution, so he theorized that what was needed was a marriage of the “intellectuals and the slum dwellers.” He saw in particular that the black underclass was ripe for revolution and that race could be the new catalyst for revolution.

The New Left’s turn to violence, both in white groups such as the Weathermen and black groups such as the Black Panthers, eventually caused a reaction in the American populace that set the forces of the Left back. Undaunted, however, those among the New Left who lived made the strategic decision to follow Marcuse’s guidance about institutions and repression of speech. The key maneuver was to move from “the messy politics of revolutionary action” to “the manipulation of symbols and ideas.” It was in the 1970s that all the terms that now dominate our media were coined: “anti-racism,” “white supremacy,” “white privilege,” “institutional racism,” “neocolonialism,” and all the rest. They were used as tools in the war to stop the speech and actions of those who did not subscribe to the leftist vision. The academic, the therapeutic, and the bureaucratic were all molded together by the New Leftists who put down their rifles and took up their typewriters and, eventually, computers as they filled first universities, then corporate and government administrative positions in what German leftist Rudi Dutschke had called for: a “long march through the institutions” to take action and transform “all social spheres.”

Rufo’s second section is “Race.” Like the first, he begins with the most important figure, in this case Marcuse’s student Angela Davis, a beautiful and intellectual black woman capable of marrying high theory to bloodthirstiness. Like many of the Weathermen, she was involved in violence but managed to avoid prison. Like them, she managed to parlay her radicalism into an academic career. Like them, she was successful in using different language to sell what might otherwise be unpopular. Rufo shows how Davis and her collaborators were able to sell the radicalism of the old Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army to a new generation such that the New York Times would parrot it and its new proponents: the BLM movement. As Rufo details, that movement was claimed by Davis just as the movement claimed her. And for good reason. The complete revolution against American society and the need for bloodshed in achieving it were acknowledged by both earlier and later figures.

Yet what is perhaps more chilling than Rufo’s narration of how these insane ideas were used to destroy Seattle (the last chapter of Part II) is his story in “Part III: Education” of how another figure, the Brazilian activist Paolo Freire, would sell the insanity of Marxist revolution with a racialist tinge to the world of education schools. Again, Rufo blends biography, theory, and reporting to show how Freire’s “pedagogy of the oppressed” became the default mode of public and elite schooling in the United States. It is this educational theory that separates everyone into two categories: white and of color, oppressor and oppressed, victimizer and victim. The goal of it all is to sow the seeds of revolution such that everything in America will be abolished.

In “Part IV: Power,” Rufo tells the story of Derrick Bell, the founding theorist of Critical Race Theory. Rufo calls him the “prophet of racial pessimism” since the former civil rights lawyer who became the first black professor at Harvard Law School became consumed by his own fantasies that white people all hated black people—and black people had made no progress in America. Despite the fact that the fundamental flaws and incoherence of Bell’s theory were criticized quite early on by white and black scholars (Rufo treats especially Bell’s black Harvard colleagues Randall Kennedy and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., as well as Thomas Sowell), they have triumphed so far.

Rufo highlights three key elements of the theory he and his disciples created. The first is their complete “reconceptualization of the truth.” Critical race theorists believe that all western rationality is simply a cover for power. What they put in place of rationality is a hodgepodge of identity and ideology in which having the right skin and/or politics substitutes for evidence and intellectual authority. The second key is “intersectionality.” How do we know whose identity and thus authority is higher? Intersectionality gives a “finely graded, multivariate hierarchy of oppression.” Finally, the critical race theorists gave us a “critical race praxis,” namely, an application of their theory to politics by which they would use their concepts to take over institutions.  

And take over they did. Rufo shows how Critical Race Theory, particularly under its bureaucratically adapted version of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and its popularizations by Ibram Kendi, has become a kind of new anti-Constitution for America. “Taken together,” Rufo writes, “the three pillars of the critical race theorists’ ideal system of governance—the replacement of individual rights with group rights, the race-based redistribution of wealth, the suppression of speech based on a racial and political calculus—constitute a change in political regime.”

What then is the answer? In the concluding chapter, “The Counter-Revolution to Come,” Rufo notes that there is a philosophical and educational core to any return to the Constitution of 1776. Americans must be ready to point out the incoherence, the violence, and the poor results this revolution has brought. This will require “a new political vocabulary, with the power to break through the racialist and bureaucratic narratives” and gain popular support for a new set of policies that will sever these ideologies from American “administrative power.” His own work in thinking about how to communicate to Americans has been extremely effective in this regard. Ultimately, the goal of our counter-revolution will be “the restoration of political rule in America,” namely the return of “the rule of the legislature, executive, and judiciary” and an end to the “de facto rule of managers and social engineers.”

The earlier criticism of Rufo’s failure to give a bigger historical frame to his story is pertinent here. The American cultural revolution was made possible in large part because of the massive fourth, extra-Constitutional branch of government that has largely usurped the three legitimate branches. Any counter-revolution will of necessity require destroying, sidelining, or getting around the unelected bureaucrats and agencies that rule us now. It is good that Rufo introduces the topic, but a historical background to his story could have shown not only how the left was active before the 1960s but had already established the means by which they would eventually achieve their revolution. 

Despite these criticisms, however, America’s Cultural Revolution is a worthy choice for a conservative book of the year. At 284 pages of text, it is both meaty and engrossing in its ability to blend philosophical analysis, personal stories, and reportage. Most importantly, it is both sobering and hopeful. He knows what time it is in America but refuses to say that we can’t work for a better time in America. The radical left may have, as his subtitle says, “conquered everything,” but he’s ready to help Americans fight to get it all back.

 

David P. Deavel teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. Follow him on X (Twitter) @davidpdeavel.

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PaulE
PaulE
30 days ago

Having read many of the original works of the various leftist elites mentioned in Rufo’s book (You have to understand the mindset of the enemy in order to formulate effective strategies to oppose them.), I say he captured the essence of the long-term strategies and methodologies favored by those planning for the Marxist style transformation of the United States of America from the early to late 1960s all the way to present day America. Most Americans sadly have no idea who Marcuse and the other driving, intellectual leaders of the 1960s through today were or are. Many just parrot names like Soros and a few others, that they have heard on TV or radio.

From this article, it sounds like Rufo’s book might be a good, condensed read of some of the driving intellectual leaders of America’s Marxist movement for a lot of people out there. It seems a lot of folks are apparently struggling to understand the rhyme or reason behind the various decisions taken over the decades by certain government officials and their allies and financial sponsors in the private sector, that have led us to the current state of our rapidly declining republic. It’s a shame this article’s author didn’t care to share with us what the so-called “fix” was, that he alluded to in the final paragraph, that would allow us to effectively fight back at this late stage. Hopefully it is something more substantial than just hoping the left decides to stop what they’re doing and just go away quietly. I guess I’ll have to read a copy of the book on-line and skip to the end for the solution.

JoAnn Pajunas
JoAnn Pajunas
30 days ago

This book is what I was hoping to see come out. A practical guide to the socialist, communistinfluence that has been seeping into our country for decades. Better still the author has a solution in noting we need to rid our country of unelected bureaucrats. I must add we must rid ourselves of the infiltrated press as well. We can if we have the will and are powered by God!

Harry
Harry
30 days ago

A Better time in America? Hmmm. When an illegal can cancel your vote with the approval of our government?
Garland wants no ID to vote!

So we no longer need ID’S for anything then, right Garland?

Nick
Nick
29 days ago

It’s true. We conquered and we’re not giving it back. Funnily enough, we didn’t even need guns.

Mike Trump 2024
Mike Trump 2024
30 days ago

Great Book, Great Read Just Finished Reading It, Re-read Many Parts Of The Book.

ronald reagan
ronald reagan
30 days ago

ron reagan jr for president

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