Patriotic Americans are raised with a respect for our Founding Fathers: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington being among the most famous. But there is a sizable segment of our population who have little respect for these intellectual and political titans; instead they admire a roster of radicals, revolutionaries, and reprobates.
Rather than regurgitate a stale description of these great thinkers’ ideas, which is available all over the Internet, we shall take an irreverent look at what makes these figures significant in the minds of leftists. A quick look at the “Dirty Thirty” will hopefully be on some counts informative and illuminating.
Proto-communist philosopher of ancient Greece. Non-coincidentally lived just prior to the fall of Athens. His Republic doesn’t so much resemble the self-titled system of government than a communist oligarchy ruled by philosopher-kings. Stratified by role, Plato’s ideal society is enforced by Guardians, a KGB-like police force that cracks down on the sheeple at the behest of the philosopher kings. Plato’s pre-Kantian notion of Forms would fuse with Christianity to dominate the aptly named Dark Ages. His advocacy of banishing private property was aptly rebuffed by Aristotle.
Sir Thomas More is revered for being a “saintly” figure in both Catholic and left-wing lore. His seminal novel Utopia, a Greek word meaning “Nowhere,” has stimulated countless flights into otherworldly fancy, and numerous quixotic and sometimes bloody attempts to superimpose fantasy on reality. In More’s novel, a world traveler regales the protaganist about a wonderful world where there is no private property, and everyone’s needs are provided for through compulsory labor. His book would inspire an entire genre of works categorized only as “utopian.”
Rousseau was a brilliant polemicist known to many as the “Father of the French Revolution.” His theorizing about the social contract is ample fodder for political science courses. Slightly less well-known is his counter to Hobbes’ description of a brutish state of nature in his savage noblesse, whose supposedly gentle nature implied civilization was a corrupter of man, rather than a life-edifying social arrangement, thus making him influential with the environmental left. His ideas can still be felt today in artificial constructs of society versus nature, particularly in regards to the industrial revolution. A bit of a sexual pervert, he enjoyed sado-masochism, like fellow leftist the Marquis de Sade.
The bloody French revolutionary known as Robespierre is perhaps the emblematic figure of The Enlightenment gone awry. His steely insistence on classically liberal concepts animated his deep desire to destroy the Ancien Regime and all it stood for. Unfortunately, the unethical means he advocated to accomplish his goals did not match his occasionally moral ends. His name would become synonymous with la Terreur; if Rousseau was the Father of the Revolution, Robespierre is the Father of Terrorism.
Ayn Rand considered Immanuel Kant to be the arch-enemy of reason, mind, truth, and happiness. Through such works as the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant divorced reality from man’s ability to perceive it, and posed that reason was prostrate to directly know anything. Instead, he argued that men were imprisoned by their senses and doomed to grope in the dark for as long as they existed. His influence is widespread and ephemeral; Kant’s dark impress can be felt in the Zeitgeist since his day, expressed in extreme skepticism and pessimism. His works have done much to demoralize and infantalize man.
One of the pre-eminent left-wing thinkers of modern times, he is known as an Uber-statist and the mentor of Karl Marx. One of the most significant contributions to the radical cause is his conceptualization of historical inevitability. He is widely acknowledged as among the first philosophers to imbue teleology into his thinking, and influence one sees in Marx’s pronouncement of the eventual triumph of socialism. Writing with an esoteric and borderline incomprehensible style, he is the archetype of the indecipherable intellectual. Rightfully called the Father of Totalitarianism.
A Gremlinesque figure whose scrawlings are extremely pessimistic and grim. His main argument is that all phenomena and universal life-force can be reduced to the Will. The universe wills itself to exist, like human beings will themselves to survive. His borderline nihilistic synopsis of the quintessence of life and existence presages Heidegger, and his emphasis on Will marks a transition point to Nietzsche’s Will to Power, so popular later with the National Socialists. His thoughts and works can be grouped with Kant’s and Hegel’s as reflective of German Idealism, staples of early (European) Continental Philosophy.
An often overlooked philosopher on the right, his views on religion are among the purest expressions of secular humanism one can find. Feuerbach was an atheist who believed that God is a projection of human beings’ self-alienated desires. God’s eternal nature is man’s wish for immortality; His Holiness is man’s wish to become sinless and pure; Heaven is a manifestation of man’s desire for a perfect world; and the Trinity is symbolic of desiring to become part of something while retaining identity. Feuerbach’s influence can also be seen in existentialist, atheist, and psychoanalytical circles.
Probably the best known and most influential leftist of them all. Marx’s inversion of Hegelian dialectics in a materialist mode sought to destroy what he saw were class relations of exploitation and oppression. A perpetual gold-digger and deadbeat dad reliant upon the funding of his associate Friedrich Engels, his life is an outstanding example of how the left thinks the world should work. Marx believed foremost that “all that exists deserves to perish,” and he constructed his theory around that imperative. His adaptation of Ricardo’s debunked Labor Theory of Value, utilization of the discredit Iron Law of Wages, and contradictory argument that one’s philosophy is materially determined by class relations, are useful anti-capitalist myths the left have invoked for generations.
A morose, brooding figure whose thinking defies right and left classification, and indeed, many deny that he was a philosopher, as if such a guild exists. Nietzsche is best known as a nihilist, or someone who did not believe there were such actual things as good and evil, but he grappled with this insight his entire literary career. An ardent attacker of religion, he deemed Christianity to be an internalized “slave morality,” and claimed that what are considered to be sins among the masses are merely the virtues of the rulers. In his view, the Will to Power underlay the rhetoric of the masters, and moralizing is merely an instrumental abuse of language for personal gain (whether altruistic in form or not). Went mad in his later years.
Looking like the slightly more disheveled twin of Karl Marx, Bakunin was an anarchist flamethrower from the early 19th century. With Sergei Nechaev he co-wrote the influential left-wing guidebook The Catechism of a Revolutionist, a nineteenth century “Rules for Radicals,” if you will.. He was probably the more theoretically minded of the destructive duo, whose advocacy of revolutionary violence laid the groundwork for anarchist and socialist circles throughout the century and beyond. His presence can still be felt among such modern self-styled anarchists as the Black Blok, the more strident arm of left-wing movements like Occupy.
The Father of Psychoanalysis, as he became known, is one of the key figures of modern psychology. His musings on human sexuality, as unprovable as they are, have been influential in imbuing psychosexual motives to a wide range of human behavior. One of his more charming heuristics is that men are possessed to kill their fathers in order to debauch their mothers. His formulation of the subconscious has become an omnipresent understanding of Western discourse, and is often invoked as a literal catch-all explanation of human motivation. A chief theoretician adapted and integrated by the New Left.
Born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, he became radicalized and intensely interested in Marxist theory after his brother was executed for plotting to kill the Tsar. Lenin would adapt Marxism from a theory proclaiming the inevitable triumph of the proletariat to a call to action for a cadre of intellectuals to usher in socialism’s realization. His putsch of Russia in October 1917 and surrender to Germany in WW I would hasten in a ravaging Civil War. Economic dislocation due to War Communism led to trauma among the peasantry, who were finally allowed petty marketing under his New Economic Plan. He died after a sudden stroke in 1924, paving the way for the even more ruthless Stalin.
A superb orator and intellectual, Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, as he was born, was initially a leader of the so-called Menshevik faction of world communists. Early on, he supported the argument that Russia should be propelled through the historical stages outlined by Marx in order to reach the socialist end-goal. Later, he became famous as an advocate of “perpetual revolution” in order to forestall any reversion of the socialist revolution into authoritarian statism. For this innovation, Trotsky became a hated rival of Joseph Stalin, whose contributions to leftism are not so much intellectual as they are practically brutal in implementation. Trotsky would be hunted down while in exile and killed by a Stalin-hired assassin in Mexico.
Continuing the tradition of frizzy-haired radicals, the great strategician of the cultural Marxists was the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, whose contributions to the left’s grand strategy of cultural destruction cannot be overemphasized. Gramsci’s argument was the capitalism’s contradictions were held together by cultural hegemony, or domination, which should be undermined and used to further the effort to simultaneously transform the economic base. Gramsci’s demand for a “long march” through the West’s institutions is the master key that unlocks one’s understanding of the modern left.
Hungary’s Minister of Culture under the short-lived Bela Kun government of 1919, Lukacs was a primary advocate of sexualizing youth in order to destroy Christian culture. Lukacs’s argument was that the use of the education system to teach the young sexual perversion would “liberate” them from Christianity, and cause them to rebel against their parents. This would make them more irresponsible and thus more receptive to state authority and communism. He was thrown out of power by outraged Christians in one of the few effective uprisings against a communist regime. His influence can be seen with such figures as Safe Schools Czar Kevin Jennings, known to have prurient interests in youth sexuality.
One of the least mentioned and most important voices on the New Left, he was a critical early influence in the Frankfurt School, a circle of intellectuals exiled from Hitler’s Germany. Established at Columbia’s Institute for Social Research, Adorno would work on the influence of mass media in obstructing or furthering the socialist cause. A specialist on music theory and the medium of radio, he argued that repetition itself ‘demystified’ the romantic and individualistic nature of Western art, an insight that helps explain the primary role of repetition in modern culture. He is perhaps best known popularly for his specious theory of the inherent “authoritarian personality” of all conservatives.
Adorno’s mentor (and rumored by some on the left to be his gay lover), Max Horkheimer was a founding member of the Frankfurt School. He was a collaborator with Adorno on the Dialectic of Enlightenment, which explicitly sought to reverse the Enlightenment’s historical gains. Their theorizing would produce the seminal texts of Critical Theory, which is an idea based on unremitting criticism of Western philosophy without the need for justifying a viable alternative. Critical Theory would evolve to become a guide for tactics as well, breaking up the left into complementary “social justice” movements aimed tacitly at destroying Western culture. These architects of “political correctness” should be well-known to every American conservative.
Marcuse co-founded the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research with Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer. He has also been credited with developing Critical Theory, a type of Neomarxism influenced by Hegelian Idealism, psychoanalysis and existentialism. His primary motive was to build an aesthetic critique of capitalist culture, since Marx’s economic critiques were widely acknowledged to have failed. Best known popularly for his book Eros and Civilization, and the slogan “Make Love not War.” His work would help revitalize Freud and Hegel on the Marxian left.
Known as an expert on Freud, the Critical Theorist Erich Fromm was somewhat of a quack whose speculation on human psychology ran afoul of Herbert Marcuse, who condemned him as a revolutionary who had fallen into de facto support for the status quo. In typical left-wing fashion, as credibility comes from out-radicalizing one’s critics, Fromm rebuffed Marcuse as a dogmatist. Perhaps Fromm’s most interesting and twisted work is Escape from Freedom, in which he argued mankind was tormented by the Enlightenment’s version of freedom, and is thereby alienated from his community.
One of the most influential economists in world history, John Maynard Keynes developed a leading reputation during and after the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. His strongest imprint would be felt at the post-World War II Bretton Woods Conference, however, and his thinking has dominated the academic and political world ever since. Argued by many pragmatists and other statists to be a capitalist “reformer,” his policies of unending state market intervention, such as boosting aggregate demand in an economic downturn, would justify constant government meddling, unmeddling, and scapegoating of capitalism for the state’s inevitable economic failures.
Recognized by some as the Father of American Education, Dewey’s radicalism is difficult to expose in a compressed space. His pragmatism would situate morality temporally, thus removing the concept of universal ethical application. An ardent believer in pure democracy, or what many would identify as social democracy, his ideas when applied through such institutions as education and journalism break down the Western moral and political order. A Deweyan world would thus be one where all would be up for vote and morality would be contextually bound by historical circumstances, in many ways the antithesis of American Constitutional government.
Heidegger is best known perhaps as the philosopher who both sympathized with, and who was adapted by, the Nazis. His primary contribution would be to existentialism in his argument that the essence of life is existence, and that the notion of there being a meaning to life is absurd. His anti-humanistic philosophy would break down man into a creature no better than animals, one ridiculously inflated in self-importance. Heidegger’s impact can be seen in modern form in the leftist movement of radical environmentalism, a program non-coincidentally bearing many resemblances to fascism.
Born to Russian immigrants, Saul Alinsky would become a master political tactician. His texts, Reveille for Radicals and the better-known Rules for Radicals, would be seized upon as bibles for left-wing operators ranging from the average street thug or shakedown artist to political heavyweights like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. His Machiavellian emphasis on unabashed power-seeking combined with an ends-justify-the-means mentality would become vital to forming the remorselessly destructive and unscrupulous left. Many of his tactics can be seen throughout the media today, such as the persistent use of ridicule by the left to delegitimize conservative opposition.
Chomsky is as notorious for his public criticism of “neo-conservative” policies as he is for his contributions to linguistics. His unapologetic support for anarchism or “libertarian socialism” has made him a prominent intellectual leader on the contemporary left. In Manufacturing Consent, he points out three media biases: the profit motive, advertising, and reporting news favorable to the government since it is a main source of news. He then goes on to argue that “flak,” or how special interest groups mobilize against criticism, “anti-communism” and in the post-Cold War setting “The War on Terror,” silence news outfits. Political Correctness is an infinitely more potent journalistic bias than either of his two above-named forms of bias.
Foucault’s deconstruction of literature and history in terms of power relationships provides a critical link in the transition from early Critical Theory to “post-structural” techniques of advancing the leftist cause. The French philosopher’s main contribution, and thereby his central means of indoctrinating students into the leftist cause, is his argument that power relationships are absolutely inescapable. In other words, all works of art and literature reflect the preferred power relationship bias of their creators, spawning modes of “feminist” or “black” critiques. His work attracted the criticism of fellow left-wing intellectuals Jean-Paul Sartre and Richard Rorty, who are important in their own right, but who will only be mentioned in passing here.
Derrida is alternatively a post-modernist or a post-structuralist, depending on which leftist you ask. His method of exegesis is a standard benchmark of literary departments around the world, and has famously been captured in his phrase “there is nothing outside the text.” Derrida explains that his process is one of constant contextualization and re-contextualization of the text. As he describes himself as a historian, one sees the influence of the Continental Philosophy concept of historicism in his work, meaning, the limiting of truth to historical circumstance. Such a program attempts to deprive The Enlightenment of its universalistic claims of truth, and to “get beyond” its modernizing locus.
Considered to one of the most influential Neomarxists alive, Habermas is known for his theories of intersubjective discourse, communicative rationality, and the operations of the public sphere. The innovation of Habermas’ theorizing is to transform rationality from its understanding as a tool for man to understand the universe to one fulfilling the communicative goal for man to be mutually understood. His drawing on hermeneutics, pragmatism, and social psychology thus renders communication and reason as impotent means to understanding the world, instead emphasizing their essentially social role. In some ways, a living contributor to the Frankfurt School.
A favorite among contemporary anarchists, his views are a hodge-podge defying academic or philosophical description. His views are variegated, but center around the Critical Theory agenda of intense criticism of capitalism and Western society. A featured speaker at the Occupy Wall Street protest, he has become somewhat of a darling among young radicals. The cogency of his vision and his academic rigor, however, is questionable. Nonetheless, he has provided ample fodder for endless college bull sessions, and his simultaneous advocacy of “politicizing the economy” and anarchism is a poignant exemplar of the modern left’s refusal to believe in contradictions.
Perhaps the most complete personification of radical ideologies and agendas, Barack Obama is both a cunning Alinskyite street operator and a media-styled intellectual aloof from philosophical categorization. The leftist influences on his thoughts and actions, however, are clear. As he himself bragged, “To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully, the more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists.” But in his person, he defrays the argument that he is a Marxist radical: through his clothes, effete mannerisms, soothing pre-meditated lectures, to the fact he himself is the result of a racially mixed relationship. Barack Obama is Critical Theory. And he has been specifically reared to “fundamentally transform” America from a free nation based on liberty to a Marxian superstate. We must fully understand him and refuse to let him.
Kyle Becker blogs at RogueGovernment, and can be followed on Twitter as @RogueOperator1. He writes freelance for several publications, including American Thinker and OwntheNarrative, and is a regular commentator on the late night talk show TB-TV.