It can be said that in my intellectual youth, a period defined as it always is by untempered enthusiasm, I was often taken to a kind of revolutionary fervour. The sparkle of this fervour appeared to open up a whole world of potential; to right wrongs, to deliver justice where it wasn’t to be found, to bring virtue into situations mired in arbitrary inequity. Certainly no one can say that the world we live in is one which needs no settling of scores, no redemption, on the contrary- in so far as we all have hopes and dreams of brighter futures it is because in various cases we observe that ideals are not realised, that work must be done in the pursuit of something better.
Contemplating all this with a sense of indignation is the sign of a healthy moral conscience, and it was in this fertile ground for grand schemes that Marxism appeared as the prevailing contemporary utopian vision, to inflame the passions, to provide the secular Messianic deliverance from perceived systems of oppression, with its own systematic and large-scale prescriptions. Though this is something of an autobiographical note, it is also no doubt, the common story of one’s encounter with the ‘red spectre’, which is continually reenacted in universities across the world with countless other impressionable and intellectually curious students.
The trap of Marxism is beguiling precisely because of its correct diagnosis of various problems clearly seen in the present economic order, whether it be a concentration of power which is closely associated to wealth, or the fetishisation of a consumerist culture which trades in the illusion that the only worthwhile things have a price tag, or the broad discourse of dehumanisation that accompanies this order. Enticed with such astounding insights into the workings of inequity, many are then led inexorably into accepting the prescriptions proposed, and the dogmas which provide them with their rationale. Guided by the best of intentions, we’re immediately led to uphold a great Manichean divide, between the agents of Progress and the lackeys of Reaction, to see the world through the limiting prism of the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and in its many more popular variations, the protagonists may well change, to the cultural Marxist for instance, there’s the added layers of “heteronormative’’, “white’’, “patriarchal’’ systems of oppression- which are more pervasive than ever.
In this scheme, we lose sight of the individual as having his own purposes, or own potential for good and evil, but we become inherently suspect of some, who guilty by association, are always held to be in the service of secret agendas while simultaneously we give carte blanche to others, overlooking shortcomings and idolizing groups held to be “oppressed”. In-built into the Marxist narrative is the scapegoating of opponents, whose elimination becomes necessary and justified in the pursuit of an abstract conception of justice. That is the old mentality which informs the madness of the mobs, from the French Reign of Terror, the Soviet purges, and the Maoist Cultural Revolution, to indeed the phenomenon of sustained harassment that characterizes the modus operandi of cultural Marxists today- in the pursuit of utopia, the aristocrats, the bourgeoisie, and the misogynists/privileged must be rounded up and silenced.
Once the utopian becomes entrenched in his own self-righteousness (namely that he is now immune to what he accuses opponents of) then all means are justified if they serve the ends. If systematic oppression exists, then it calls for systematic and radical responses however vaguely defined.
In this year, 2015, we saw a burgeoning student movement on both sides of the Atlantic who testified to this principle, seeking to, among many things, impose a system of benign segregation on racial lines as a matter of policy – where in various ‘safe spaces’, speakers would be given or denied platform on account of their racial background, and other characteristics, on the premise that ‘undue privilege’ disqualifies individuals, and its absence endows others with merit they’d otherwise not have.
One student protest in particular was particularly revealing, in that it seemed in the minds of various activists that in the pursuit of a vague notion of “equality’’, facts didn’t matter provided they had a good story. In Missouri, student outrage fueled by overblown or fabricated instances of racism, from swastikas drawn in human feces to alleged KKK invasions into the university campus ultimately culminated in an episode where a faculty member whose field was media and communications not only joined in the festival of subversion and disorder, but harassed journalists and denied them the right to document the event. The professor, true to principle of the mobs, was even caught on camera requesting the assistance of “some muscle’’ to force journalists out of the protest.
Similarly, the Stalinist instinct of control was manifested elsewhere too, where students for all intents and purposes held universities to ransom, so as to force them to adopt arbitrary and ideologically-laced policies of political correctness. In Yale, following an email sent by a lecturer who voiced misgivings over a policy of monitoring Halloween costumes, yes really, students sure enough summoned the power of the mobs to demand from the university an unconditional “safe space policy’’ . This was presented following the rationale that the university is not meant to be a place for debate, and an encounter with disagreement, but a “home”, where students are never challenged or met with anything less than wholehearted endorsement. Faculty members who’ve been found guilty by the ad hoc People’s Court have subsequently been subjected to sustained campaigns of abuse and intimidation, accompanied by calls for their resignation.
In this same year, Feminist groups have successfully campaigned to have “anti-rape’’ consent classes compulsory in various universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, with the implication that all men are rapists by default, and so this a justified measure (the obvious eluded them of course, that actual rapists know what consent is, and that trespassing it is precisely what they want). One student, George Lawlor, from the University of Warwick, objected to the narrative being put forward by the campaigners, and pointed out this fatal flaw to the whole anti-rape campaign, only to subsequently become another victim of the People’s Court, being handed the usual sentence dished out to dissenters- collective harassment, online and in person, abuse, threats, and public infamy as a “rapist”.
The cultural Marxists railing against the “patriarchy”, or nonexistent racism, and equally imaginary “rapists’’, in their utopian pursuits of “equality’’, will quite easily convince themselves of the merits of trampling not only on individuals who disagree, but on fundamental principles which allow debate to take place, and which allow the freedom of people to their own opinions. This careless instinct to ride roughshod over any opposition, perceived or otherwise, however is interestingly accompanied by a tendency to become apologetic, to offer vain rationalisations and sometime outright deny objective reality when the truth of the matter comes into conflict with a cherished dogma in a way that is too obvious- like the old Marxists who poured praise on the Soviet Union and Maoist China, and dismissed the number of casualties of their ideology.
Let us consider multiculturalism, and particularly the cultural Marxist’s love affair with Islam. The same people who vigorously denounce “rapists” and any form of sexual violence, even of the non-existent variety, appear to fall silent when it emerges that in Britain, as in places like Sweden and Norway, some sects of Islam, and Muslims who adhere to them, have a less than stellar view of women and behave accordingly. Given the utopian quest for equality and diversity, it is simply heretical to state that there could be something wrong with some people, by virtue either of some morally deficient cultural traits or their interpretation of Islam and the behavior that appears to be condoned- those who have done so, and spoken for the victims of these abuses have invariably been dismissed as “Islamophobes” and “racists”.
In all such instances, we see the error that blinds the minds of many well-intentioned people, the preoccupation with abstract utopian causes, coupled with safe and easy anonymity in the “movement”, that sets out to make scapegoats out of dissenters while simultaneously ignoring personal shortcomings or real issues when these prove to be ideologically problematic. The peril of this variety of utopianism is ultimately that it corrupts and perverts real indignation, it takes genuine sentiments of goodwill, that one should oppose unfair treatment of others, and stand up for the marginalized in society, and turns it into an ideological crusade that deadens the spirit of charity in those who partake in it- to the extent that they become blind to the victims of their own ‘progressive’ campaigns of vilification.
The problem of the false hope of Marxism, in all its variations, and the general utopianism which pervades them is that, to quote philosopher Roger Scruton, “it becomes a mechanism for turning problems into solutions and grief into exultation, without pausing to study the accumulated evidence of human nature, which tells us that the only improvement that lies within our control is the improvement of ourselves”. Systems and structures are corrupt because people are corrupt, and not the other way around. The proper response, after indignation, ought to be the cultivation of personal virtue, before posturing and tilting at windmills- the idea that evil resides in systems and not in our hearts is a grave error, which when we least expect it, becomes all the more evident, when in the pursuit of a good cause, we join the mob and clamor for more heads to roll. It’s necessary to bear these things in mind, lest we have our senses forever dulled by what French philosopher Raymond Aron rightfully called, “the opium of the intellectuals”.