Max Horkheimer on Critical Theory

Conservatives who bring up neo-Marxist Critical Theory and its influence on the modern Left (of which I’ve written about here and here) are often dismissed as conspiracy theorists. After all, “Marx” is still somewhat a dirty, four-letter word in the mainstream, and progressives big and small convulse at being besmirched by it.

Well, take such filthy language straight from the Horkheimer’s mouth:

Betwixt thine dialectical thighs, Freedom and Justice, the social justice warrior is thus thrust into the world only to despise it and manufacture its overcoming. Who else thrives upon bringing forth the perceived “negative aspects” of this country and the concomitant self-loathing festering in American and Western politics? Critical Theory, criticism solely for the sake of change itself, is their noxious enterprise. Regardless of whether the modern leftist wants to think about it, here was “Daddy” reminiscing about conception.

And yes, you read the subtitles correctly. For Horkheimer, a society that “does not immiserate the workers but helps them to build a better life” is not a good or free one. There’s still workers and property owners, the oppressed and their oppressors and social strata, the very being of which dominates human existence. So let’s criticize and tear down the “superstructure” that prevents us from divining this superlative community about which people like Horkheimer cannot ever seem to articulate a moral standard, let alone a compelling reason, as to why this immanentized future would be superior to the capitalist, poverty-killing, constitutional republic in which we now reside. Sure, it’s not perfect, but there’s very little to suggest — controversial appeals to dialectic aside — what follows would be freer and more virtuous.

On the contrary, the evidence — history has routinely reflected the reality of fallible human nature — indicates that it would become the polar opposite,

Modus Pownens


Will social justice warriors apologize for their “cultural appropriation”?

* Updated on 4/30 *

Although it requires further effort and explanation, to keep it brief, mainstream social justice ideologies are incoherent. By design, these theories are less interested in truth and internal consistency between its tenets than enacting change. Are most social justice warriors aware of or if cognizant, even care to address these implications, precarious as they undoubtedly are?

Don’t count on it.

Both this incoherence and willful ignorance is perhaps best demonstrated by the use of the concept of “cultural appropriation.” According to “MTV Decoded” host Franchesca Ramsey, “The main problem with cultural appropriation comes from dominant groups ‘borrowing’ from marginalized groups who face oppression or have been stigmatized for their cultural practices throughout history” (00:36 – 00:46). She utilizes the example of cornrows and makes what is a false comparison between blacks being fired or told not to wear these type of hairstyles as a matter of workplace etiquette and white celebrities who are praised for wearing them in the contexts of fashion. Additionally, YouTube personality Kat Blaque opines, “Cultural appropriation can kind of be defined as a sort of taking of different aspects of culture, and in the process, kind of erasing the meaning and the importance of these aspects” (02:40 – 02:51). Both Ramsey and Blaque also intimate as racist the “monetization” of these cultural “aspects”;  both will also be haunted by the specter of their own words.

See, not that I’ve ever taken a course in ethnic studies, but I wager most instructors aren’t too keen on teaching their students who came up with Critical Theory — of which Critical Race Theory is a particular genus — and where this intellectual tradition of “Critique” comes from…

Max Horkheimer
Theodor Adorno
Herbert Marcuse

….that’s right — white men! Although there were others, these were the three main guys who believed that philosophy ought to serve as handmaiden for the social liberation of the downtrodden against forms of oppression. Simply put, they conceived of Critical Theory to pursue such an end.

Now if I was a black, Critical Race Theory-espousing professor decrying the injustices of cultural appropriation during lecture and instilling the spirit of black emancipation against white hegemony into my budding activist students, I imagine, if I had any integrity, it would feel a tad bit awkward and self-contradictory to relay the fact that our entire crusade is indebted to whitey.

But if there is one consistent thing about social justice warriors, it’s that they have no integrity. Thus, if confronted with this information the likes of Ramsey and Blaque would probably distance themselves from their intellectual benefactors, responding that as white men, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, et al. were the privileged of the privileged and truly could not fathom the sort of oppressive systems and structures “people of color” face daily. They’re part of the “dominant” group, so they and their ideas couldn’t be and aren’t subject to cultural appropriation.

Nice try, but I can’t help but find that reply about as useful as a riposte that skewers oneself. Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse and their colleagues are not only white but Jews — Jews who lived in Germany during 1920s and 30s. They literally fled their country because of the antisemitism and anticommunism of the Nazis. Therefore, it’s untenable to imply that men who escaped the white supremacist clutches of the Third Reich and otherwise would have been likely victims of the Holocaust, who also pioneered and wrote the first books on “structures of oppression,” overall lacked firsthand knowledge of racial discrimination and were more privileged than Ramsey and Blaque, who get in a tizzy when Kylie Jenner has the gall to wear cornrows or dreads.

In other circumstances I might be inclined to agree that the Kardashians are worse than the Nazis, though methinks what we have here is a rampant case of foot-in-mouth syndrome. Oh, and this gaffe is the gift that keeps on giving. There’s more of their own rope to be hanged upon, more of their own petard by which to be hoisted.

Remember Blaque mentioned that the “taking of different aspects of culture” trivializes their value and meaning? Well, to really understand Critical Theory and the work of Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse and at least the first generation of the Frankfurt School, one can’t downplay the roles of the Holocaust, the rise of fascists like the Nazis, mass media, consumer culture and the influences of Marx, Hegel and Freud in their thinking. Yet, there’s little doubt that Ramsey, Blaque and their brethren probably have never heard of the Frankfurt School let alone read the works of its most prolific thinkers. But that hasn’t stopped them from liberally “borrowing” various elements of these men’s work and “in the process, kind of erasing the meaning and the importance of these aspects” within the greater context of their thought and annals of philosophy.

See, social justice warriors are fond about about personal narratives and subjectivity as a legitimate forms of knowledge that supersede objective facts. That’s why the claim, “All lives matter” — the truth of which is uncontroversial — as a response to the proclamation of “Black Lives Matter” is now chastised as racist because it impugns the demagogues’ war cry and their grander project for “change.” Similarly, Horkheimer criticized positivism, metaphysics and other systems of absolute truth or objectivity that emphasized and scrupulously maintained the separation of subject (knower) and object (thing to be known external to the subject). Being the good Hegelian and Marxist that he was, according to him, individuals are embedded in the existential and historical contradictions constituting class struggle — in this sense, collapsing the subject-object distinction — and thereby ought not remove themselves from the suffering experienced therein, as the scientific method mandated even if applied in matters of sociology. Thus, radical emancipation, “change,” again is forestalled.

Between these examples of Horkheimer and the typical college cry-bully, there is an implicit call for empathy and primacy of feeling in rejection of detached rationality that is seen as complicit in social domination. However, Horkheimer relies on Hegel’s understanding of society as an intertwined totality and Marx’s focus on concrete existence to buttress this conclusion. Social justice warriors and their ilk just sort of assume it, the bastards with no awareness of their intellectual parentage that they are.

Of course there is more wanton taking from their forefathers. Progressives are extremely prone to denouncing those who disagree with them as “racist,” “homophobic,” “Islamophobic,” “transphobic” and just basically mentally ill and sociopathic. Horkheimer and Adorno were the first to habitually psychoanalyze and deconstruct the supposed lurking malicious biases behind any opposition in order to dismiss it. Likewise, the notions of “safe spaces,” perceived “right not to be offended” and shutting down of dissenting conservative or otherwise critical voices echoes the one-sided tolerance for the Left that Marcuse argued for in “Repressive Tolerance.”

Furthermore, they like to plagiarize the Marxist slogan of “We have nothing to lose but our chains” and sermonize about “being on the right side of history,” extracting the determinism that characterizes Marxist theory for rhetorical effect. Ramsey and Blaque even riff off of Marxist criticisms of commodification with their reference to capitalization or “monetization” of culture.

Now, I’m not implying they are disciples of Marx; rather, I’m insinuating they are disciples to nothing but their own wills to power. For I’m willing to bet they haven’t a clue what is dialectic, remain completely oblivious to the fact that what they scrutinize in society is what Marx identified as “superstructure” and don’t have the good Left-wing Hegelian sense to reject the entire rotten whole of the white male bourgeoisie culture they’re lambasting, instead often preferring to condemn it piecemeal and by its own socially spawned and accepted terms — in 140 characters or less. Any avowed Marxist at least acknowledges dialectic and is well-versed in these concepts. Most social justice warriors would probably go, “Dia-what?”. At the most flattering, they’re the worst kind of Marxists: unconscious and non-revolutionary.

This isn’t to argue they’re not dangerous or uninfluential because they definitely are, as the recent slew of college administrators and governors who crumble to their moral bluster abundantly illustrate. However, average social justice warriors lack the intellectual firepower and mental acuity to realize that they should go all-in and maintain some semblance of ideological coherence in the service of radical change. Instead of merely flirting with it, embrace the Dark Side of the Force, as it were. Follow the logic embedded in your tirades to its utopian conclusion. Yet, more comfortable and immersed in the status quo than they realize, these creatures of habit, as a matter of course, culturally appropriate singular elements of classical German philosophy and its 20th century offshoots when it suits them rather than jumping completely into the deep end.

Thusly, these self-righteous imbeciles are the ones who show no respect for the brilliant heritage and high culture they rely upon, thereby diminishing it and the men, oppressed or not, who begot it. They strip it from its context and mystify its meaning. Sure, their irreverence isn’t for making a profit; it’s just for enriching themselves in more and more power. They’re afflicted not so much by greed but that other immemorial evil that corrupts souls — megalomania. Terms such as “privilege,” “patriarchy,” “intersectionality,” “cultural appropriation,” “problematic,” “microaggression,” “cultures of oppression,” etc. exist to offer a patina of legitimacy, a veneer of objectivity — or in a phrase from Horkheimer and Adorno — serve as a form of “instrumental reason” to justify their swift bid to remake the world in their image.

Many people like Ramsey and Blaque like Critical Theory but are anything but critical. Not in a full-blooded Marxist sense. Not in an introspective, intellectual sense. They are dilettantes. Charlatans fooled by their own con. Most of their radicalism is imitation. The pretense of revolution is hollow. They court the devil but don’t really believe in him.

However, the Father of Lies is very real, and the hour is drawing late to exorcise his demonic machinations from the West’s embattled core,

Modus Pownens

I hate “people of color”

The phrase, folks! The phrase “people of color” is the subject of my ire not black, brown, red, yellow, purple and plaid people. Title came out a little wrong, admittedly, but c’mon guys—don’t be obtuse! There is something called the use-mention distinction, so why don’t you educate yourselves before you goin’ trippin’ on yous own legs and gettin’ ’em egg yolks on y’all faces ‘gin, you putzes.

Anywho, “people of color” (or “people of colour” if you’re British and thereby a git) is one of those politically correct terms that suddenly materialized out of the academic ethnic studies ether, and well, now everyone uses it: politicians, professors, journalists, college students, celebrities. You know, all our moral betters who selflessly serve as our benevolent overlords who are “in-the-know” about these kind of things. Their effete use of “people of color” proves it.

So one reason for my internet rage, all beet-faced with spittle, is the groupthink behind the recent mass adoption of this phrase into people’s lexicons. All the who’s who, people of influence, talk the same way is upsetting in a I-just-woke-up-in-a-George-Orwell-novel sort of way.

Then there’s the pretentiousness of it all. “Colored people” nowadays is considered dated and insensitive, but “people of color” has a ring to it, a nobility to behold. It bespeaks a mannered, enlightened, Tolkienesque syntax that is wielded by a cultured, progressive mind. So then ostensibly being “of color” confers a type of fantastical, legendary moral stature like “the Riders of Rohan,” “the White Tree of Gondor,” or “of House Lannister.” Ugh. The self-importance of it all induces the gag reflex.

And did I mention that all that who’s anyone repeats the insipid phrase, especially journalists. As I have a background in journalism, needless to say but I’ll do it anyway, this vexes me. This topic deserves a post in its own right, but basically when the fourth estate quickly digests politically correct jargon and uses it as the standard for appropriate style in praxis, ruh roh! And as everyone knows, the free press is naughty…

…so too then are we screwed,

Modus Pownens

Thomas Sowell and Charlie Rose on “diversity”

A couple of observations:

1. Charlie Rose—to borrow a phrase from the Brits—is a git. After Dr. Sowell mentions that the term “diversity” is meaningless and enumerates the several countries in which he’s studied “diversity”-boosting affirmative action policies, thus establishing his expertise, Rose interrupts him to explain “diversity” to the esteemed professor as if Sowell is ignorant on the matter. The gumption! The patronizing disrespect! Imagine if William F. Buckley would have done something similar say to Cornel West or Derrick Bell. The race-baiters would have detected all sorts of racist overtones, undertones and “tones” previously never heard of in such overt rudeness.

But both a scholar and a gentleman, Sowell permits Rose space to run roughshod with his mouth a bit, only for the presumptuous journalist to stumble over his Leftist talking points before the good-natured professor incisively cuts him and his buffoonery to pieces.

2. Sowell: “I’m fascinated with the extent of words. We’re conditioned to react like Pavlov’s dogs to words….this is a word [“diversity”] that has become magic.” Exactly. For the Left, “diversity” is intrinsically good and anything that enhances or hinders it is instrumentally good or bad. Yet, “diversity” is never defined and remains nebulous as to what it actually is and why it’s so valuable. It has become a fetish for the Left, and I mean “fetish” in a Marxist sense. It’s a term that has been so reified—an abstraction that is treated as a concrete, real thing—the presence of “diversity” or lack thereof is viewed as an objective feature of the world with objective value when instead it’s merely a projection of the Left’s own ideological preferences.

Furthermore, once objectified, “diversity” strips people of their individuality and composition of self. Race, gender, class, are becoming more important in hiring decisions, college admissions, politics and accolades than the actual content of one’s character and accomplishments. Reduced to these superficial elements, people are estranged from themselves and one another, as these features are more vital in the development, maintenance and operation of a social organization than the overall proficiency and merit of the whole persons who occupy it.

Don’t believe me? Just tour any university and look at the brochure and the ethnic makeup of the students and faculty boasted throughout its pages in its pitch to sell you its institution. Spend any time paying attention to campus administrative politics, and you’ll hear officials bemoan the insufficient amounts of “diversity” in certain departments. You’ll be made aware of bureaucrats who advocate for the increase in the enrollment for students “of color” and the retention of minority professors to boost the school’s competitiveness. “Diversity” has become a commodity and thus dominates us proles, especially in the most progressive and liberated of social entities.

How about that for a Marxist theory of alienation?

Modus Pownens

Free speech and anti-Trump “protesters”

There are those who have defended the Bernie Sanders’ supporters, members of and the students of the University of Illinois-Chicago who shut down the Donald Trump rally in the Windy City as merely exercising their right to free speech. At the worst, this claim is dangerously incorrect, and at best, it’s grossly misleading. Some exfoliation is needed then.

Most charitably, it’s deceptive because while these malcontents do have the right to protest Trump on-site, they are stipulated to do it peacefully. They don’t have a carte blanche to engage in malicious actions, namely harassing those who came to see the Republican front runner and thereby molesting Trump and his supporters’ rights to assembly and speech.

And what did these “patriots” do? Precisely the sort of behaviors from which they are both legally and morally prohibited. Hence, one reason the sentiment is a grave falsehood. Though, there’s more.

As hinted above, contrary to popular belief, speech and expression is not absolutely unfettered and for good reasons. Defamation and libel laws come to mind. Furthermore, there’s issues concerning obscenity and public danger.

For the former, yelling the profane “Fuck Trump!” is difficult to construe as protected speech. And although what counts as obscenity is still up for debate among legal scholars, the Supreme Court has never considered what qualifies as under First Amendment protection.

Working even more to its disadvantage, the crass phrase pretty much summarizes the lack of a coherent idea ready for expression within the protesters. It betrays the inchoate urges that amounts to just a vehement recoil from The Donald—a purified coal seething of anti-Trump sentiment that belies a very feral temperament. “Fuck Trump!” is the magma bubbling up to the surface in the crudest manner possible. Unrefined, such a nugget of molten vulgarity directed at anyone adds nothing to the national conversation—in point of fact, it degrades it—and in some contexts, puts people in danger, bringing me to the latter.

Expression that incites rioting and panic is also not protected. Shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater is the classic example, or more recently, pulling the fire alarm in an attempt to prevent Ben Shapiro from speaking at California State University-Los Angeles. Including Chicago, in each case, there was an implicit threat of violence in the unruly mob that manifested. Aggregated as a whole, the rabble-rousers endanger themselves, the non-belicose protesters and the supporters of the controversial men who came to speak.

Hence, it’s not at all unjustified to call the Leftists who live Alinsky exactly what they are—enemies. Democracy can’t function if these reprobates’ actions are treated as acceptable or understandable. History actually shows it doesn’t. As mentioned previously, the Nazis did the same sort of things against political opponents to rig elections, conquering the Reichstag and bringing Hitler into power.

It’s disgusting Orwellian mendacity to claim Trump and the majority of his voters are the new fascists. Totalitarians like fascists aren’t bullied; they’re the bullies. The only ones bullying here on a mass scale—organizing to intimidate and silence dissenters and aggressively cornering the marketplace of ideas—are the folks who preach “tolerance,” “inclusiveness,” “diversity.” The irony is really not at all unexpected coming from a lot so intellectually and morally effete their ululations of comparison demean the millions who suffered and perished due to the Third Reich’s barbarism as just the latest sample of stunted denouncements delivered down from sandcastle parapets.

These moral “giants” must be made low so as to preempt them from treading as tyrants on us all.


Modus Pownens

Addendum to Trump, Hitler and the rise of fascism

For those who require the long answer (the short answer) to whether that New York real estate mogul and reality TV star is the American reincarnation of Der Fuhrer, it’s hell no.

We’re good, right?

No? You’re going to make me spell it out for you? Well, I guess for the sake of posterity…

…The Donald is admittedly a lot of things, many of which are unflattering. Narcissistic—sure. Misogynistic—check. Will say anything to get elected—most definitely.

But it bears mentioning that it’s cute that the Left abruptly now discovers standards about the character of the president when the Democrats’ front runner is a dishonest, incompetent felon in bed with Wall Street. I’m also compelled to point out that Obama is also an extreme egotist who had an eerie cult of personality when his sunny aura burst onto the presidential election landscape.


Chris Matthews could barely contain himself either.


As for Trump’s sexism, whatever his indiscretions are in this regard, they probably pale in comparison to the exploits of Bill Clinton, who was not shy in the Oval Office, or the extramarital excesses of JFK. Both former leaders of the free world were and are undoubtedly womanizers.

In regard to Trump’s campaign rhetoric promising accomplishments that are constitutionally illegal for his office, it’s sort of adorable that someone would believe this mouthing off is unique to him. How exactly will that angry, socialist Muppet Bernie Sanders going to make student debt go POOF! and implement free college for all? By diktat? His magic redistributive powers that he developed at Eugene V. Deb’s Institute for the Socially Cranky? Or will he perform a snazzy show-tune scored by the Electric Mayhem with family-friendly, social justice-themed lyrics that will make all of his constituent’s inequality problems go away?

Anyway, this notion that American elections are decided by the public objectively picking the qualitatively best candidate based on their policies, if not always, has been a fanciful myth for many, many passed horizons. Our politics is very much now a popularity contest, where the candidates bloody each other to the point that whoever looks the least evil at the end wins. Plus, mainstream journalists these days are too corrupt and intellectually inept to actually scrutinize the feasibility of any proposed policies. They’re, for example, more concerned with catching and construing Jeb! Bush as racially insensitive for uttering the term “anchor baby” in regard to immigration instead of vetting his policy ideas on the matter. Beholden to political correctness and identity politics, news media are a hatchet keen on character assassination, not the investigation of issues and candidates in a sterile, analytical process devoid of innuendo.

Digression aside, what about Trump’s supposed mean, racist comments on Mexicans and Muslims? It’s like Hitler and the Nazi’s scapegoating the Jews!

funny laughing star trek android data

I shouldn’t be laughing, but that moratorium to secure our border is nothing like blaming Jews for everything, forcing them to wear stars for identification, segregating them in ghettos and then shipping them to places called Buchenwald, Dachau or Auschwitz for those once-in-a-lifetime showers. To my knowledge, no one reasonable in this country, not even the hyperbolic Trump, has called for the systematic rounding-up of Mexicans or Muslims for genocide.

But isn’t he spreading “hate”? Well, according to the latest available FBI statistics (2014) reported hate crimes are down from the year before, and for religious-motivated bias, Jews are vastly targeted more than Muslims. Surely, these bigoted feelings Trump allegedly has been coaxing out into the open have been festering long before 2014. Yet, there doesn’t appear to be a noticeable uptick in anti-Muslim or anti-Latino hate crimes to correspond with this supposed rising white supremacist miasma threatening minorities that Trump’s allegedly personifies.

What about the violence at his rallies? Of course, his supporters who engage in it are reprehensible. And Trump is morally obligated not to be flippant within his oratories to encourage it. Once again, however, political disagreement meted out in fisticuffs isn’t anything new to American politics. Additionally, at what point do we grant the lion’s share of moral responsibility to the individual goons, who for whatever reason, belligerently react to anti-Trump protesters?

Moreover, the violence that does occur seems to be contained at his rallies. It’s not like there are roving bands of Trumpite stormtroopers harassing and intimidating ideological dissidents to ensure Trump’s election to office like the Nazi’s SA. What is happening are pugnacious troops of social justice warriors marauding and rioting to disrupt their political opposition’s right to assembly.

If anyone is guilty of anything that looks like Nazi political violence, it’s those who support Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Perhaps they should be held accountable for their sycophants. Perhaps media need to acknowledge their own hateful and slanderous rhetoric obtusely comparing Trump to some of the most vile men in history, which now is likely inspiring actual acts of organized terror and thuggery.

It’s true Trump’s sudden rise is in response to American political Leftism rooted in Marxism just as fascism arose to combat European and Soviet communism. I also concede that our country’s cultural rot has parallels to Weimar Germany. Yet, the similarities stop there.

Of course, we should be vigilant for ultra-populist strongmen coming to power. And certainly, the gradual erosion of our constitutional republic—the deterioration of which jerked forward under Obama—lays the foundation for men like Hitler and Mussolini to seduce the desperate masses. But Trump, despite his numerous flaws, is just not one of them. The braggadocio in The Art of the Deal is not the anti-semitic angst of Mein Kampf. More seriously, there aren’t the sort of atrocities like Kristallnacht emanating from his campaign. His rallies resemble nothing like Leni Riefenstahl’s footage of Hitler and the Nazis: For instance, there’s no saber rattling that consists of divisions of men marching to frighten the rest of Europe nor the neo-Roman iconography hinting at the Third Reich’s imperial ambitions.

To suggest Trump is the political embodiment of burgeoning American fascism probably indicates despicable defamatory intent and or gross historical ignorance. For those who are committed to such shibboleths, I only have these four words:

Sieg heil, scheiße köpfe!

Modus Pownens