Prof. Gottfried, I have recently come across your article from the November 2020 Chronicles, entitled “The Modern Left is Not Marxist, It’s Worse.” I am always appreciative of the nuance you take in your intellectual histories. As such, I would appreciate further explanation if you could find the time.

I follow the lineage of orthodox Marxism you trace out, and I understand the discontinuity that is the Frankfurt School. Where I am fuzzy lies in what transpires between the Frankfurt School project and the modern left, which you assert is a consequence of the Frankfurt School.

What I have read from the first generation of the Frankfurt School primarily deals with cultural contradictions in capitalist society, and especially the dialectical path from entrepreneurial capitalism to administrative capitalism (contra orthodox Marxist predictions). The essays I’ve seen on these topics are extremely turgid and highly technical, not to mention nightmarishly fascinating to contend with. More to the point, there does not appear to be much fodder for the cultural radicalism we are witnessing today. Even Theodor Adorno’s pop culture critiques seem rather confused, very personal, and, by today’s standards, fairly conservative.

So my question can essentially be boiled down to this: how direct is the line between the modern left and its Frankfurt School ancestry? Is there a particular body of work that is influential upon the cultural radicals? Is the relationship discontinuous/bastardizing in nature (in the same way the Frankfurt School relates to orthodox Marxism)? I will readily admit that my knowledge on the subject is rather limited, but it troubles me to advance such a narrative while lacking textual evidence to support it. It is for that reason that I would appreciate your expert opinion.

Thank you for all the excellent work that you do.

—Jacob Carriero
Salt Lake City, Utah

Prof. Gottfried replies:

Mr. Carriero raises profound questions about the connection between the Frankfurt School and the Critical Theory it produced and what I describe as the post-Marxist left. The question is to what extent feminism, Black Lives Matter, and LGBT enthusiasts are really the heirs to the interwar radical intellectuals who founded the Frankfurt School in Germany and then carried it to New York City after Hitler’s ascent to power. Did the attempt of these theorists to fuse their own brands of Marxism and Freudian psychology bring about the cultural-social left that has now become dominant in Western countries?

The answer is both “yes” and “no.” The attacks on bourgeois society, traditional gender roles, and Christianity are all abundantly evident in the writings of the Frankfurt School; moreover, the publication of Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality in 1950 provided the so-called antifascist left with a readily available guide on how to detect and recondition those who were supposedly prone to the fascist temptation.

Nor can one ignore that the self-proclaimed epigones of the founding generation of Critical Theory, from Jürgen Habermas to Angela Davis, have enthusiastically embraced the current cultural left. Advocates of European anti-nationalism, special rights for gays, lesbians, and the transgendered, and black racial identitarians all cite the Frankfurt School. Like Mark Bray, the author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, these activists view themselves as the heirs of that radical tradition.

But Mr. Carriero correctly notes that if one probes more deeply, one discovers that Frankfurt School theorists often engaged in very abstract discussions, for example, about how Marxism could be made more relevant by being Freudianized or about how managerial society represented a new phase of advanced capitalism. Although these critics viewed themselves as social radicals, the historian should measure their radicalism by interwar European standards.

By current standards, even those of our conservative establishment, these critics do not seem particularly over-the-top in their views of the family and gender roles. They viewed homosexuality, like Freud, as deviant behavior, and it is hard to imagine representatives of the Frankfurt School whom I met in the 1960s and 1970s signing on to the LGBT agenda. The critique of managerial society produced by Adorno and Max Horkheimer influenced both Chronicles columnist Sam Francis and myself. Also, Horkheimer ended his life as a Christian existentialist who deplored the attacks of the German government and the German media on the national sense of the German people.

Since the cultural radicalism that has now overtaken Western society is arguably the most extreme that has ever existed, one can only find distant predecessors of it in older movements of the left. We, not the idiosyncratic Marxist-Freudians who founded the Frankfurt School, may be the tops here.



The Proposition Is the Law

In “Death of a Propositional Nation,” published in the October 2020 Chronicles, William J. Watkins, Jr. states conclusively that “…the Declaration was not the founding of the Union as Lincoln and his cult contend.”

Watkins’ conclusion is erroneous: The Declaration of Independence is the first of the organic laws of the United States.

For evidence of this fact, see the United States Code of Laws published by the U.S. House of Representatives, in which the Declaration is listed among the country’s “organic laws.” Black’s Law Dictionary defines organic law as “The fundamental law, or constitution, of a state or nation, written and unwritten; that law or system of laws or principles which defines and establishes the organization of its government.”

Therefore, Mr. Watkins errs, as did Jeremy Bentham, in his presumption of the superiority of “civil law” over natural law, also known as the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” A very tenuous intellectual position indeed. Further, I am no admirer of Lincoln.

Otherwise, I’m glad I subscribed.

—Cody Whitaker
Bracken, Texas


Mr. Watkins replies:

Mr. Whitaker is correct that the prefatory material to the U.S. Code lists the Declaration as “organic law.” It also lists the Articles of Confederation, Northwest Ordinance, and U.S. Constitution as being of the same category. I wish the matter was as simple as Mr. Whitaker makes it. I would be overjoyed to claim that the Articles of Confederation govern us today and use them to roll back the power of the national government.

Alas, those articles were cast aside and serve as a beacon to remind us of what a true federal government would look like. Similarly, the Declaration is a historical document giving the reasons for the colonial secession from the Mother Country. It is not part of the body of governing law, and unlike the Articles of Confederation and Northwest Ordinance, it has never been part of our governing law.

If you ask 10 different natural law proponents to describe the content of natural law, you will receive 10 very different answers. If the judges can abuse our positive law to write their policy preferences into law, can you imagine what they would do if charged to apply divine law to cases and controversies? I’ll take my chances with positivism.


On Victor Davis Hanson

Yesterday afternoon, I received my first copy of Chronicles. Although for the most part I enjoyed the November issue, I was absolutely appalled the editors would publish the hit piece, “The Life and Times of Victor Davis Hanson” by Jesse Russell. This essay is complete nonsense, absolute drivel, unworthy to appear in print, full of inaccuracies and outright lies.

I have nearly all of Victor Davis Hanson’s books… He is one of the most brilliant classical historians living today, fluent in Greek and Latin, conversant in every aspect of Classical civilization, history and literature, now at the Hoover Institution. His critical analyses of the current socialistic movements appear in nearly all conservative blogs, publications, and media are consistently accurate, illuminating, and thought-provoking.

Prof. Russell calls Hanson a neoconservative. Not! Most neoconservatives like Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes do not support Trump in any way, whereas Hanson has written an excellent book in support of Trump, The Case for Trump (2019), in which he sets forth Trump’s achievements while acknowledging his behavioral faults.

Hanson has fought valiantly for religious freedom, for life, for consistently opposing “the recalibration of America by the left.” And here we are in this piece, shockingly, eating our own heroes. Unless you issue a complete apology to Hanson and the readers of this magazine—and include a substantial correction to Russell’s moronic assertions, I will be asking for a refund on my subscription and an immediate cancellation. What in hell are you thinking?

We don’t need this kind of sophomoric opinion in your pages. Please don’t confuse this with the right to free speech and expression. I support Russell’s right to say whatever he wants, but not in the pages of a distinguished conservative publication. Obviously, in some way, you have given this author and his views your stamp of approval. Please correct this disgraceful action.

—Michael D. Cassity
Reno, Nevada

Prof. Russell replies:

Mr. Cassity, thank you for your spirited response to my article. While you describe my article as a “hit piece,” it is, I believe, clearly quite the opposite. A hit piece is by definition a childish and dishonest attack on the character of a public figure by selectively drawing from his or her life and works.

My piece, on the contrary, is full of praise for Hanson’s scholarly work on ancient Greece—like you, I find his work deeply enriching. My attempts at humor and gentle ribbing of Hanson himself in my piece were by no means mean-spirited or cruel but rather part and parcel of the swordplay of journalism.

My key point is that he has put his scholarship in the service of the American Empire and the worldwide promotion of political liberalism (note: not “leftism”) via the foreign wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. Promoting American liberalism has thus colored his historical vision in, I believe, a distorted manner.

So, please, do not cancel your subscription on my account, as you will miss all of the fine writing contained in the pages of this journal.