Cultural Marxism and the Frankfurt School
We should look to Hayek, who followed in the intellectual tradition of Mises, to combat the cultural Marxism that is gaining popularity in intellectual circles.
by Gabriel Zanotti*
I never needed to rely on anyone to talk about cultural Marxism. I have been saying for a long time that Marx’s theory of exploitation is a horizon of generalized pre-understanding, and that is what is considered “cultural” according to hermeneutics. Almost all are Marxists without knowing it; the most tragic is the significant number of intellectuals who claim not to be “except” with regard to “the truth part” of Marx, namely, that capitalism is inexorably exploitative.
Therefore, the new “exploited collectives” that have emerged-the indigenous peoples, women, gays and lesbians, transgenders, etc.-are a new version of cultural Marxism. That’s why I always say, especially to my Catholic friends who claim not to be Marxists: if you do not study methodological individualism, if you do not study Bohm-Bawerk’s refutation of the Marxist theory of exploitation, if you do not read Mises and Hayek on the subject, you will fall completely into the Marxist trap, and, of course, into the most terrible contradictions with your supposed Catholicism.
But the Frankfurt School has nothing to do with that. The only one that was part of a dissolving movement of values, with a ridiculous interpretation of Freud, is Marcuse. The founders, Adorno and Horkheimer, whose great book, The Dialectic of the Enlightenment, is from 1944, have nothing to do with a Stalinist revolutionary movement. For them the reason for the Enlightenment had an intrinsic dialectic (Hegel): in wanting to emancipate humanity, it stifled and oppressed it. The whole result of the Enlightenment, which for them is industrial capitalism, Nazi fascism, and the Soviet Union, all this is a sample of how human reason, pretending to liberate, has become the oppressive monster. And there is no way out. They do not propose any revolution. The reason fell into its own denial, and so it goes. The only one of them who proposed a solution was his young disciple Habermas, who in “Theory of Communicative Action” (1984) speaks of dialogue as the only positive result of enlightened reason.
The warnings of another great thinker of the Frankfurt School, E. Fromm, about alienation, are very important and should be studied more by liberals, regardless of whether Fromm thought that capitalism is intrinsically alienating. No, it is not necessarily, but a liberal society is a society where alienation can occur, which explains why then its masses, fed like the crew in the movie Wall-E, want anything, they vote anything, just as it diagnoses and predicts Ortega in The Rebellion of the Masses.
Liberals should dialogue more with the Frankfurt School, because Hayek was also a staunch critic of the abuse of reason, of the French Revolution, of Constructivism. The great advantage of Hayek is that, having been vaccinated by Mises against Hegel and Marx, he was able to make a critique of enlightened reason that did not fall into the condemnation of the capitalism of the Frankfurters, because Hayek could distinguish, like Popper, between reason and critical reason, between rationalism and reason that knows its limits. Feyerabend, another great libertarian, draws the coherent conclusions of Popper’s Open Society, and arrives at the union between state and science as the great error of the Enlightenment, and proposes the separation between science and state as the New Enlightenment that has not yet come at all. If those who still read nostalgically Adorno and Horkheimer read Feyerabend, they would see that reason does not have an intrinsic dialectic, but has an outlet in a reason that realizes the depth of reality, and that science is only one of the perspectives for its analysis.
Therefore we must continue to denounce cultural Marxism but with more respect for Adorno and Horkheimer, who perhaps had a better interpretation of Marx than Lenin, Stalin, or Mao had. And find on the issue of alienation, and in the denunciations of Hayek and Feyerabend to rationalist reason, a very good meeting point.
*Gabriel Zanotti is the Academic Director at Instituto Acton, Argentina