Last year I stumbled upon some Youtube videos made by right-wing conspiracy theorists about the work of the Frankfurt School. This sort of thing isn’t necessarily new, but I was surprised that the kind of people who would know nothing about intellectual history in the United States somehow knew about thinkers like Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse. On Youtube, the video makers use the term “cultural Marxism” as the catch-all for what they see as the campaign for “political correctness” and the decline of U.S. culture, which is obviously incorrectly attributed to Marxist thought. One hilarious moment in a video includes a voiceover of a quote of Marcuse, in which the narrator does his best to sound like an “evil”, scheming German as he yells out the statement.
Around the same time last year, I was in an airport, waiting for a flight to Vancouver—coincidentally for the Marxist Literary Group’s Summer Institute on Culture and Society—when I saw a book by the U.S.’s quintessential right-wing conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck. I think the book I picked up was Beck’s Cowards (2012). I remember being amazed to find an entire chapter or at least sub-section of a chapter devoted to the Frankfurt School, admittedly with great inaccuracies.
The common accusation raised by these right-wing critics is that Horkheimer, et al. had devised a scheme, whose sole purpose was to destroy the United States for the sake of evil. This is of course a stretch of the praxis of their theoretical goal of human emancipation. This philosophical endeavor, however, is ignored by people like Beck.
At the MLG’s Vancouver institute, I mentioned this curious discover to one of my colleagues, who said that this strain of right-wing thought might stem from Allan Bloom’s book The Closing of the American Mind (1987). I haven’t read the book, but find it funny that Bloom taught at the University of Chicago, where I went to a Masters program recently. I’m guessing Bloom’s book is nowhere near as ignorant and twisted concerning the Frankfurt School as the examples cited above, but it’s fascinating how ideas can be distorted for the sake of American anti-intellectualism.