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Fifty years ago, the New Left launched a revolution that has had profound consequences.
1975, the Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn spoke to a coalition
of labor leaders in New York City and denounced the American radical
Angela Davis, who had become a symbol of international communism and
violent revolution against the West.
this period, the Soviet government had churned out propaganda
celebrating Davis as a world-historical figure and instructed millions
of schoolchildren to send her cards and paper flowers. “In our country,
literally for one whole year, we heard of nothing at all except Angela
Davis,” Solzhenitsyn said.
this campaign was based on a lie. The Soviets had created a global
slave state, with a network of gulags, dungeons, and prison camps
extending from Vladivostok to Havana; Solzhenitsyn himself had spent
eight years enduring imprisonment, torture, and forced labor.
however, followed the propaganda line. During a publicity tour of the
Soviet Union in 1972, she praised her hosts for their treatment of
minorities and denounced the United States for its oppression of
“political prisoners.” But during an unscripted encounter, Solzhenitsyn
said, a group of Czech dissidents approached Davis with a plea: “Comrade
Davis, you were in prison. You know how unpleasant it is to sit in
prison, especially when you consider yourself innocent. You have such
great authority now. Could you help our Czech prisoners? Could you stand
up for those people in Czechoslovakia who are being persecuted by the
Davis responded with ice: “They deserve what they get. Let them remain in prison.”
Solzhenitsyn, this moment revealed everything. Davis embodied the
spirit of left-wing revolution: sacrificing the human being in service
of ideology. Her commitment to the great abstractions—liberation,
freedom, humanity—was a ruse. “That is the face of Communism,” he said.
“That is the heart of Communism for you.”
Soviet Union eventually collapsed and many Americans considered the
question of left-wing revolution settled. It had proven disastrous
everywhere it had been tried—Asia, Africa, Latin America. The world had
learned its lesson, they believed and moved beyond the promises of Marx,
Lenin, and Mao.
they were wrong. Although the left-wing cultural revolution had
self-destructed in the Third World, over time it found a new home: in
new revolution patiently built itself in the shadows and then, after
the death of George Floyd in the spring of 2020, exploded onto the
American scene. All of a sudden, the old Angela Davis narrative appeared
everywhere: America was an irredeemably racist nation; whites
constituted a permanent oppressor class; the country could be saved only
through the performance of elaborate guilt rituals and the wholesale
overturning of its founding principles.
of the formative institutions—universities, schools, corporations,
government agencies—repeated the revolution’s vocabulary like a mantra:
“systemic racism,” “white privilege,” “diversity, equity, and
inclusion.” Meanwhile, in the streets, mobs of left-wing rioters
expressed the ideology in physical form, toppling statues of Washington,
Jefferson, and Lincoln and burning entire city blocks to the ground.
question of left-wing revolution was suddenly reopened. How did this
happen? Where did these ideas come from? Who was responsible for the
order to answer these questions and understand the dizzying cultural
changes that have swept across the United States—the capture of
America’s institutions, the Black Lives Matter street revolution, the
spread of racialist ideology in public education, and the rise of the
“diversity, equity, and inclusion” bureaucracy—one must return to their
story of America’s cultural revolution begins in 1968, as America
endured a long season of student uprisings, urban riots, and
revolutionary violence that has provided the template for everything
that followed. During this period, left-wing intellectuals developed a
new theory of revolution in the West and their most dedicated disciples
printed pamphlets, detonated homemade bombs, and dreamed of overthrowing
The ambition of my book America’s Cultural Revolution
is to reveal the inner history of America’s cultural revolution,
tracing the arc of its development from its origin point to the present
book is divided into four parts: revolution, race, education, and
power. Each part begins with a biographical portrait of the four
prophets of the revolution: Herbert Marcuse, Angela Davis, Paulo Freire,
and Derrick Bell. These figures established the disciplines of critical
theory, critical praxis, critical pedagogy, and critical race theory,
which, in the subsequent half century, multiplied into a hundred
sub-disciplines and devoured the university, the street, the school, and
the bureaucracy. Together they represent the intellectual genesis of
the revolution. Their ideas, concepts, language, and tactics shaped and
now suffuse the politics of the present.
Marcuse was the preeminent philosopher of the so-called New Left, which
sought to mobilize the white intelligentsia and the black ghetto into a
new proletariat. Angela Davis was one of Marcuse’s graduate students
and, after pledging to violently overthrow the state, became the face of
racial revolt in the West. Paulo Freire was a Brazilian Marxist whose
work on turning schools into instruments of revolution became the gospel
of left-wing education in America. Derrick Bell was a Harvard law
professor who set the foundation for critical race theory and recruited a
cadre of students who would capture elite institutions with their new
the 1970s, the most violent elements of the New Left coalition— the
Weather Underground, the Black Panther Party, and Black Liberation
Army—fell apart, but the spirit of their revolution carried on in a
subtler but equally dangerous form. As Solzhenitsyn revealed the
bankruptcy of the communist movements in the West, the most
sophisticated activists and intellectuals of the New Left initiated a
new strategy, the “long march through the institutions,” which brought
their movement out of the streets and into the universities, schools,
newsrooms, and bureaucracies. They developed intricate theories along
the lines of culture, race, and identity, and silently rooted them into
the entire range of America’s knowledge-making institutions.
the subsequent decades, the cultural revolution that began in 1968
transformed, almost invisibly, into a structural revolution that changed
everything. The critical theories, first developed by Marcuse, Davis,
Freire, and Bell, were not designed to operate as mere abstractions.
They were designed as political weapons and oriented toward the
acquisition of power.
the disciples of the New Left gained purchase over the great
bureaucracies, they advanced the revolution through a process of
relentless negation: it gnawed, chewed, smashed, and disintegrated the
entire system of values that came before it. And their strategy was
ingenious: the capture of America’s institutions was so gradual and
bureaucratic, it largely escaped the notice of the American public,
until it burst into consciousness following the death of George Floyd.
America’s cultural revolution has reached the endgame. The descendants
of the New Left have completed their long march through the institutions
and installed their ideas into school curricula, popular media,
government policy, and corporate human resources programs. Their core
set of principles, first formulated in the radical pamphlets of the
Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army, has been sanitized
and adapted into the official ideology of America’s elite institutions,
from the Ivy Leagues to the boardrooms of Walmart, Disney, Verizon,
American Express, and Bank of America.
critical theories of 1968 have turned into a substitute morality:
racism is elevated into the highest principle; society is divided into a
crude moral binary of “racist” and “anti-racist”; and a new
bureaucratic logic is required to adjudicate guilt and redistribute
wealth, power, and privilege. To enforce this new orthodoxy, left-wing
activists have established departments of “diversity, equity, and
inclusion” across an entire stratum of the public and private
bureaucracies. Allies are rewarded with status, position, and
employment. Dissenters are shamed, marginalized, and sent into moral
cultural revolution has culminated in the emergence of a new
ideological regime that is inspired by critical theories and
administered through the capture of the bureaucracy. Although the
official political structures have not changed—there is still a
president, a legislature, and a judiciary—the entire intellectual
substructure has shifted. The institutions imposed a revolution from
above, effectuating a wholesale moral reversal and implementing a new
layer of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” across the entire society.
Nobody voted for this change; it simply materialized from within.
ultimate goal is still revolutionary: the activists of the radical Left
want to replace individual rights with group-identity-based rights,
enact a scheme of race-based wealth redistribution, and suppress speech,
based on a new racial and political calculus. They want a “total
rupture” with the existing order.
despite its successful blitz through the institutions, the revolution
has its limits. The political Left might have succeeded in unmasking and
delegitimizing the old order—the critical theories have supplanted the
mythology of the American Founding, and the substitute morality of
“diversity, equity, and inclusion” has become the new operating system
of the elite institutions—but the revolution cannot escape the
fundamental contradictions that have plagued it since its beginning.
intellectual movement that began in 1968 was able to initiate the
process of disintegrating the old values, but it could not build a new
set of values to replace them. Instead, the New Left’s call to commit
“class suicide” and renounce “white-skin privilege” unleashed a torrent
of narcissism, guilt, and self-destruction. The terror campaigns of the
Weather Underground and Black Liberation Army alienated the public and
led to a swift reaction. The student radicals eventually abandoned their
armed revolution and transformed themselves into patronage-seeking
academics, activists, and bureaucrats.
same dynamic holds today. The descendants of the New Left have captured
the elite institutions but have not been able to reorder the deeper
structures of society. The war of negation has failed to deliver the
world beyond. It has, instead, yielded a world of failure, exhaustion,
resentment, and despair. The universities have lost the ancient telos of
knowledge, replacing it with an inferior set of values oriented toward
personal identities and pathologies. The resurgence of politically
motivated street violence with the Black Lives Matter movement—itself a
crude reincarnation of the Black Panther Party—has wreaked havoc on
American cities. The public schools have absorbed the principles of
revolution but have failed to teach the rudimentary skills of reading
and mathematics. Critical race theory bears all the flaws of traditional
Marxism, then amplifies them with a narrative of racial pessimism that
crushes the very possibility of progress.
the span of 50 years, the cultural revolution has slowly lowered its
mask and revealed its hideous face—nihilism. The anxiety that has spread
through every corner of American life is wholly justified: the common
citizen can sense that a new ideological regime has been established in
the institutions that provide the structure for his social, political,
and spiritual life. He understands intuitively that appeals to a new
system of governance based on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” are a
pretense for establishing a political order that is hostile to his
values, even if he does not yet possess the vocabulary to pierce through
the shell of euphemism and describe its essence.
The aspiration of America’s Cultural Revolution
is to open his eyes. It is to reveal the nature of the critical
theories, to establish the facts about the new ideological regime, and
to prepare the grounds for revolting against it. This book raises the
questions that exist beneath the surface of the cultural revolution.
Does the public want an equality society or a revenge society? Will it
work to transcend racialism or to entrench it? Must it tolerate
destruction in the name of progress?
it may seem that America’s cultural revolution has entered a period of
dominance, the space between its ambitions and its outcomes has left
open the possibility of reversal. The simple fact is that society under
the critical theories does not work. The revolution is not a path to
liberation; it is an iron cage.
the public want an equality society or a revenge society? Will it work
to transcend racialism or to entrench it? Must it tolerate destruction
in the name of progress?
is, in short, a work of counter-revolution. The basic premise is that
the enemies of the cultural revolution must begin by seeing the critical
theories and the “long march through the institutions” with clear eyes.
They must help the common citizen understand what is happening around
him and mobilize the vast reservoir of public sentiment against
the ideologies, laws, and institutions that seek to make the cultural
revolution a permanent feature of American life.
task for the counter-revolutionary is not simply to halt the movement
of his adversaries but to resurrect the system of values, symbols,
myths, and principles that constituted the essence of the old regime, to
reestablish the continuity between past, present, and future, and to
make the eternal principles of freedom and equality meaningful again to
the common citizen.
counter-revolution is already forming and staking out the territory for
the fight ahead. The question now is which vision of America will
prevail and which vision will return into the void.