It’s Not Mindless Violence We’re Seeing. It’s a Violent Mindset.
At this moment in history, Americans are being overwhelmed by fear, anger and anxiety.
Fear of having a lifetime of work destroyed by vandals, whether that work is a business or reputation. Anger at seeing cherished national monuments desecrated. Anxiety over threats to destroy their homeland.
“If this country doesn’t give us what we want, we will burn down this system and replace it,” proclaimed Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter’s chapter in greater New York.
Newsome’s threats, despite their appearance, are not mindless. Neither is the current chaos. Both represent a mindset. A mindset the radical Left has advocated for more than a century.
That mindset was best articulated by philosopher Herbert Marcuse of the Neo-Marxist Frankfurt School.
Meet Herbert Marcuse
Founded in 1918 in a Germany ravaged by World War I, the Frankfurt School sought to implement Marxist ideas by peacefully integrating them into society. Marcuse provided an example with his landmark essay, “Repressive Tolerance.”
Marcuse rejected two mainstays of American society: the Judeo-Christian ethic and the idea of individual liberty protected by due process. In their place, Marcuse advocated a Marxist approach that favored ostensibly oppressed groups at the expense of everybody else.
As a result, Marcuse’s essay contains the seeds of cancel culture, identity politics, campus speech codes and violent anarchism.
“A policy of unequal treatment would protect radicalism on the Left against that on the Right,” he wrote. “Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.”
That policy would extend “to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda, of deed as well as of word,” Marcuse wrote. Such a policy, he added, would demand “the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements.”
Which ones? Those that not only “promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion” but also “oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.,” Marcuse wrote. Opposition, he added, “may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions.”
Marcuse even justified violence and described police as instruments of state oppression.
“There is a ‘natural right’ of resistance for oppressed and overpowered minorities to use extralegal means if the legal ones have proved to be inadequate,” he wrote. “Law and order are always and everywhere the law and order which protect the established hierarchy; it is nonsensical to invoke the absolute authority of this law and this order against those who suffer from it and struggle against it …. If they use violence, they do not start a new chain of violence but try to break an established one.”
The Marcus Influence on Campus
Marcuse’s influence permeates the universities. In discussing Antifa, NYU Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat referred to a protest last year. Antifa pelted independent journalist Andy Ngo with so-called milk shakes laced with quick-drying cement. Ngo suffered a brain hemorrhage and went to a hospital.
“Throwing a milkshake is not equivalent to killing someone,” Ben-Ghiat said. “But because the people in power are allied with the right, any provocation, any dissent against right-wing violence, backfires.”
K-Su Park, now an associate law professor at Georgetown, even challenged the American Civil Liberties Union to reconsider its approach to the First Amendment after the 2017 riots in Charlottesville, Va. The ACLU represented Jason Kessler, who organized the “Unite the Right” rally and sued that city for revoking his permit to protest.
The ACLU’s approach “implies that the country is on a level playing field, that at some point it overcame its history of racial discrimination to achieve a real democracy, the cornerstone of which is freedom of expression,” Park wrote. “Other forms of structural discrimination and violence also restrict the exercise of speech, such as police intimidation of African-Americans and Latinos. The danger that communities face because of their speech isn’t equal.”
At the time, Park was a fellow with UCLA’s critical race studies program. Critical race studies comes from critical theory, the sociological approach developed by the Frankfurt School.
Relative Morality Verse Truth
One reason such ideas flourish is the belief that objective truth does not exist. All truth is supposed to be relative, which ultimately means personal. Truth, therefore, deteriorates into narrative. In highly politicized times and contexts, narrative descends into ideology. In a nation with no protections for individual freedom, ideology becomes totalitarianism.
That’s why so many embrace “woke” narratives. They really have no tools to evaluate those narratives. Consequently, narrative means everything. Those opposing a narrative, especially a highly-charged one, fall victim to cancel culture, even if the opposition is thoughtful or intelligent.
By contrast, the Judeo-Christian ethic declares that values and ethics “are derived from God, not from reason alone, nor from the human heart, the state or through majority rule,” wrote Dennis Prager.
“It is a belief in a universal, not relative, morality,” Prager added. “It is the belief that America must answer morally to this God, not to the mortal, usually venal, governments of the world.”
Or to their ideologies.
Central to the Judeo-Christian ethic is the idea that each individual, as a divine creation, has God-given dignity. From that idea flow other ideas: equality under the law, uncorrupted due process and respect for private property.
Even when the United States failed to practice those ideals, activists relied on them to reform society. Those ideals inspired Americans who fought against slavery in the 19th century and segregation in the 20th.
Activists like Newsome, however, believe those ideals are the problem. Under the guise of social justice, activists like Newsome seek national disintegration. Out of the ruins, they hope to build their socialist utopia. (As others have tried before and failed, at a cost of tens of millions of lives.)
Only by embracing and promoting the Judeo-Christian ethic that motivated this nation’s founders — and by rejecting Marcuse’s neo-Marxist poison — can the United States make genuine social progress.
Joseph D’Hippolito has written commentaries for such outlets as the Jerusalem Post, the American Thinker and Front Page Magazine. He works as a free-lance writer.