A Long, Slow Ride to Hell -- and We're Not There Yet
As Roger Kimball noted on PJ Media last month, Encounter Books has recently published my new book, The Devil's Pleasure Palace, a study of the nature of good and evil, God and Satan, and the heroic culture of the Judeo-Christian West vs. the collectivist nihilism of what I call the Unholy (or satanic) Left, followers to a man of the Frankfurt School of mostly German Marxist philosophers, whose destructive, anti-cultural handiwork we can see all around us. For just about every social pathology that currently has Americans and Europeans scratching their heads -- how the hell did we get here? -- has its origins in the teachings of the Frankfurters and its practical application embodied by the pernicious doctrine of Critical Theory. Destruction of national sovereignty? Check. Redefinition of marriage and the family? Check. Replacement of the Individual-as-Hero with the collectivist ethos of the human ant farm? We have a winner.
Antonio Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Wilhelm Reich -- the list of villains reads like Hell's honor role. Herewith, some excerpts:
Were any of the originators of Critical Theory sill among us, they might well say, quoting Sir Christopher Wren: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. Look about your daily lives here in early twenty-first-century America and Western Europe, and see the shabbiness, hear the coarseness of speech and dialogue, witness the lowered standards not only of personal behavior but also of cultural norms, savor the shrunken horizons of the future.
The Frankfurt School sucker punched American culture right in its weak solar plexus. Americans have always been sympathetic to an alternative point of view, sympathetic to the underdog, solicitous of strangers, especially foreign refugees fleeing a monster like Hitler. Largely innocent of the European battles over various forms of socialism, and softened up to a certain extent by the Roosevelt administration’s early, frank admiration of Mussolini as it tried to solve the economic crisis of the Depression, the American public was open to self-criticism.
The problem with the Frankfurt School scholars was that they arrived with ideological blinders—men of the Left fighting other men of the Left back in the old Heimat —and were unable to see that there was another, different world welcoming them in the United States if only they would open their eyes. (How, for example, could they hate California?) They appear not so much scholarly as simple, viewing American capitalism as a vast, deliberate, conspiracy against their own socialist ideas, when, in fact, their ideas were simply wrong, their analysis flawed, and their animus ineradicable. They were creatures of their own time and place, with no more claim to absolute truth than the man on a soapbox in Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park or the lunatic staggering down Market Street in San Francisco talking to himself. Everybody’s got a beef.
Unfortunately for us, these particular lunatics wound up at Columbia University after fleeing Nazi Germany, from which redoubt they injected their relativist poison into the academic bloodstream. Critical Theory effectively states that there is nothing -- no cultural totem, institution, set of beliefs -- that cannot and should not be questioned, attacked and destroyed. And they went right at the heart of what I call the ur-Narrative, the primal cultural underpinnings of western societies that in fact antedated organized religion. Like Satan in Paradise Lost, they sought not a kingdom of their own, but the diminishment of God's creatures, Mankind.
For what we—in an increasingly secular West—misread as a political argument is, in reality, nothing of the sort. It is a literary argument, if we define literature properly not as “fiction” but as the expression of the soul of a people, in this case, of all people. Politics (which for many has come to replace sports as the subject of rooting interest par excellence) is merely its secondary manifestation, the generally tiresome litany of regurgitated policy prescriptions and bogus campaign promises that residents of the Western democracies routinely encounter today. But where once in our culture raged religious arguments (whose moral underpinnings were never in doubt), today we are concerned not simply with the details of a system of governance and social organization, but with the very nature of that system itself. In fact, at issue is the very nature of Western civilization itself and how it may be subverted to achieve a vastly different—indeed, opposite—end than originally intended. For one side has changed the meaning of the principal words in the debate, including “democracy,” “culture,” “civilization,” and “justice,” among others. The two sides speak different languages, but with a superficially shared vocabulary that serves as a means of deceit for one and confusion for the other.
Seduction, subversion, sedition—these are the tools of a creature we once called Satan, the Father of Lies, the loser of the Battle in Heaven. Yet he continues the fight here on earth with the only weapons at his disposal: man’s inherent weaknesses and zeal to be duped if the cause seems appealing enough. Chief among the weaknesses of Western man today are his fundamental lack of cultural self-confidence, his willingness to open his ears to the siren song of nihilism, a juvenile eagerness to believe the worst about himself and his society and to relish, on some level, his own prospective destruction.
Whether one views the combatants in the struggle between God and Satan ontologically, mythically, or literarily, God created man in his own image and likeness but chose to give him free will—a force so powerful that not even God’s infinite love can always overcome it. Thus given a sporting chance to ruin God’s favorites, the fallen Light-Bringer, Lucifer, picked himself and his fellows off the floor of the fiery lake into which they were plunged by the sword of St. Michael, and he endeavors each day not to conquer Man but to seduce and destroy him. As Milton’s Satan observes in Book One of Milton’s Paradise Lost:
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
What matter where, if I be still the same…
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.
Satan himself, however, has no need for servants in Hell, as God does in Heaven; he is instead satisfied with corpses on earth.