The Gospel Coalition’s Bamboozling Act

The Gospel Coalition (TGC) has been increasingly tolerant of and sympathetic toward the “social justice warriors.” Thabiti Anyabwile (aka Ron Burns), for example, champions leading tenets of Cultural Marxism (CM) under TGC rubric. He declared that whites should collectively repent for assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr. (Yes, he did write that.) So we shouldn’t be surprised, I imagine, that TGC’s Joe Carter exploits the recent synagogue murders by Orthodox Presbyterian teenager John T. Earnest to identify the latter’s racist, murderous ideology with those of us who consistently and vigorously — but thoughtfully and peacefully — oppose CM.

Real Racism

Carter situates Earnest within “kinism,” the racist ideology parading under the Christian banner which holds, in Carter’s cited definition, “that God specially ordained ‘races’ and that he intends for us to preserve that division to one degree or another.” Carter correctly identifies kinism as contra-biblical. The multinational, multiethnic gospel of Jesus Christ rests in the work of the Cross, which was specifically designed (among other things) to erase racial barriers (Eph. 2:11–22). Note carefully that the gospel doesn’t help people achieve “racial reconciliation.” The gospel is (among other blessings) racial reconciliation. Like justification by faith alone, it’s a reality, not an agenda.

Real Smear-by-Association

From there, however, Carter makes an odd and ominous shift. He argues that those of us Christians who expose CM are guilty of using racist “jargon” that “make[s] us sound like we subscribe to an alt-right ethno-nationalist worldview.” Carter summarizes CM this way:

The term originally referred to the idea that since the Marxist concept of “class consciousness” was not merely an economic phenomenon but was also expressed in cultural forms (books, traditions, institutions, and so on), the production of culture as it relates to power must also be analyzed.

This at best is paltry, even as a summary. Even a simple blog explanation can do better. But what is especially (and embarrassingly) evident is how much Carter hinges his argument on the genealogy of the expression itself: “Many [Christians] are merely repeating a term they heard used by fellow Christians and are unaware of the anti-Semitic and racialist origin.” Unfortunately, Carter doesn’t document that the term has anti-Semitic and racialist origins, so it appears he expects the reader simply to take his word for it.

Even if the moniker itself has anti-Semitic and racialist origins, that fact wouldn’t disprove the accuracy of its content. In fact, this argumentative tactic is intellectually dishonest. You don’t refute an argument by disqualifying the moniker that describes it. I don’t refute Anglicanism by pointing out that its original moniker (The Reformed Church of England) originated within a strategy to validate King Henry VIII’s divorce. I’d actually need to disprove the tenets of Anglicanism. But Carter doesn’t refute the phenomenon CM describes. He claims the moniker originated as a racist conspiracy theory and leaves it at that: the moniker had racist origins, so CM is a conspiracy theory best forgotten.

Real Cultural Marxism

In fact, however, Carter exhibits no acquaintance with the original writings of, or important secondary literature about, leading CM thinkers like Adorno, Gramsci, Horkheimer, Lukács, Marcuse, and his sweeping identification of us critics of these Cultural Marxists with racists is frankly embarrassing — to him and TGC.

Perhaps he’s unaware that a number of the early German CM’s were themselves anti-Semitic Jews, deeply resentful of their own privileged upbringing. They saw the Weimar Republic as the social laboratory for their experiments in moral decadence. In the mid- and late-20s they were not radically anti-Nazi because they believed that if Hitler seized control, the National Socialist order would collapse quickly and would be replaced by Marxism: they believed that Nazism was a final stage of capitalism. American Leftist John Dewey got the Frankfurt School to Columbia in the 1930s, when Hitler essentially kicked them out of Germany. From there their influence and writings proliferated at Columbia University and other prominent universities and, their influence was significant, especially on the New Left and the 60’s student radicals. And many of those same folks sculpted the ideology of major cultural institutions beyond the universities: the family, the press, the arts, corporations, foundations — even the church.

This isn’t a conspiracy theory; it’s a demonstrable fact. (Please consult the appended recommended reading list for proof.)

But Carter is undeterred. He writes:

When those on the political right use terms like “Frankfurt School” or equate cultural Marxism with multiculturalism, they are—whether the recognize it or not—using the redefinition and racialized meaning given by [William S.] Lind.

Perhaps Carter is unaware that “Frankfurt School” or “Critical Theory” is a widely accepted description of the tenets originating at the Institute for Social Research in Germany in 1923. There’s nothing conspiratorial or racist about employing this language that anybody in the academic guild would use.

Further, is the Jewish magazine Tablet anti-Semitic for defending the use of the expression “Cultural Marxism” and acknowledging the ideology itself? What about Allen Mendenhall of the classically liberal James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal? And what about Galen Watts at the free-thinking Quillette, who uses the term — and even agrees with some of its iterations?

Apparently one can employ the moniker “Cultural Marxism” without being anti-Semitic and racist. Professor Ardel Caneday was correct, therefore, to write on his Facebook page in response to Carter’s post:

Long ago, without any input from William Lind, I have been critiquing “Multiculturalism and Diversity” and its various and numerous iterations as Cultural Marxism. Furthermore, I have been doing so quite intelligently so without the slightest hint of kinism or racism. Additionally, I have never been guilty of “merely repeating” the term “heard used by fellow Christians.” Joe Carter is wrong to claim that the origin of the term “Cultural Marxism” is “anti-Semitic and racialist.” Whether someone uses the term in an anti-Semitic or racialist manner does not render the term itself anti-Semitic or racialist or racist.

Still, I’m not inextricably wedded to the moniker. It’s dispensable, like almost any other moniker. This school of thought has also been termed neo-Marxism, revisionist Marxism, Western Marxism, and existential Marxism. The name is not sacrosanct, but altering the name doesn’t alter the reality it describes.

Real Arguments

Carter proceeds to slander the motives of those who use the expression CM:

Like many others that have used the term over the years, Lind is just as obsessed with identity politics as the people he’s criticizing. The only difference is he’s worried it’s his own ethnicity that might lose power.

I’m not sure when God granted Carter the gift of mind- and motive-reading, but in any case it perhaps hasn’t occurred to him that it’s not loss of “white power” animating us Christian critics of CM, but loss of Christian power. CM is designed to erode Western civilization and the broad, generic Christianity that helped foster it (Gramsci, in fact, explicitly said so). We’re committed to the creation of Christian culture, not white culture. But it’s so much easier to dismiss arguments by questioning the motives of one’s opponent than actually engaging his argument. 

It’s also lazy and contemptible.

Joe Carter might wish to mute the criticism of CM, but smear-by-association tactics leveled at the moniker itself won’t effectively do that. He’ll actually need to engage the argument.

Smart people know when they’re being bamboozled.

For Further Reading

Adorno, Theodor W. and Horkheimer, Max. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford, California. Stanford University Press, 2002.

Berlin, Isaiah. Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002.

––––– .  “Two Concepts of Liberty,” Four Essays on Liberty. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1969, 118–172.

Codevilla, Angelo M. The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About. New York: Beaufort, 2010.

———- . “The Rise of Political Correctness,” Claremont Review of Books, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Fall 2016), 37–43.

Chambre, Henri. “Marxism.” The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Goetz, Philip W., ed. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1988, 23:577–585.

Fonte, John. “Antonio Gramsci and the Transformation of Institutions,” in Building a Healthy Culture, Don Eberly, ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001, 204.

French, David. “Malign Marcuse,” National Review, April 17, 2017, 32–34.

Germino, Dante. Antonio Gramsci: Architect of a New Politics. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1990.

Heller, Mikhail. Cogs in the Wheel: The Formation of Soviet Man. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.

Hook, Sidney. “Marxism,” in Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Wiener, Philip P., ed. New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1973, 3:146–161.

Lukács, Georg. History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, Rodney Livingstone, trans. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1968, 1971.

––––– . Marxism and Human Liberation, E. San Juan Jr., ed. New York: Dell Publishing, 1973.

Marcuse, Herbert. “Repressive Tolerance,” in A Critique of Pure Tolerance, Wolff, Robert Paul; Moore Jr., Barrington; and Marcuse Herbert, eds. Boston: Beacon Press, 1965, 81–117.

Minogue, Kenneth. The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life. New York and London: Encounter Books, 2010, 296.

Molnar, Thomas. Utopia: The Perennial Heresy. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1967.

Rubin, Barry. Silent Revolution: How the Left Rose to Political Power and Cultural Dominance. New York: HarperCollins, 2014.

Sartwell, Crispin. “The ‘Postmodern’ Intellectual Roots of Today’s Campus Mobs,” The Wall Street Journal, March 25–26, 2017, A13.

Schroeder, William R. Continental Philosophy: A Critical Approach. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2005, 76–80.

Scruton, Roger. Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015, 2016.

Steele, Shelby. “The Exhaustion of American Liberalism,” The Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2017, A-17.

Voegelin, Eric. The New Science of Politics: An Introduction. Chicago and London: University of Chicago, 1952, 1987).

Walsh, Michael, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West. New York and London: Encounter Books, 2015.

Wolin, Richard. The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004.

———-. The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010. 

5 thoughts on “The Gospel Coalition’s Bamboozling Act

  1. If you think that the anti-gay, anti-abortion Gospel Coalition is too left-wing, you’re delusional.

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