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We’re All on the Frontlines Now

A shrewd woman (to whom I happen to be married) recently read me some passages from an old news story about the re-naming of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, given to writers of children’s books: “‘This decision was made in consideration of the fact that Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness,’ the Association for Library Service to Children said in a statement after the unanimous vote.”

The town librarian used to be the enforcer of “community standards” by preventing unsuitable material from falling into adolescent – or anyone’s – hands. And even in demanding good behavior, as per “The Music Man”:

For the civilized world accepts as unforgivable sin
Any talking out loud with any librarian
Such as Marian . . . Madam Librarian.

He/she still is an enforcer, but now – despite talk of “inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness” – pushes Heather Has Two Mommies, proudly defends “drag-queen” story-hours that would make any normal child run screaming, and polices the literature of past, present, and future (certain books never get published for fear of running afoul of her/him).

People talk a lot about “cultural Marxism” now. I don’t know exactly what to make of the expression because during the Cold War some of us actually studied Marxism and its rigid tenets, which serious Marxists regarded as “scientific.” Marx himself would have looked askance at much of what falls under that rubric today. He had, for example, a rather low view of the non-white races – on the basis of the settled science of his time. Curiously, though there are statues of Marx all over Europe, none have been torn down recently.

For Marx, “scientific” history also predicted that Communism would emerge in the advanced nations, not in relatively backward places like Russia and China, which did not yet have the proper “objective” conditions. The revolution would occur in advanced capitalist nations that would so impoverish the masses that they would rise up in huge numbers and easily displace the exploiters.

Recent protesters are not a fulfillment of this fantasy. The vast majority of the people protesting (and even rioting) are not destitute or exploited. They live well compared to most human beings throughout history, at least materially. There’s a reason why Europe and America have to restrict the vast numbers of people – usually “people of color” from Africa and Latin America – who would like to enter despite alleged racism and prejudice. And everyone with a modicum of sense knows it.

So I get the anti-capitalism of the Marxists who founded the Black Lives Matter Movement; I don’t much get the “cultural Marxism” of BLM, which attacks “systemic” racism and promotes LGBTQ as if it were a natural part of Marxist thought.

I know something, however, about what serious Marxists have thought about “culture.” The most prominent of those figures, Antonio Gramsci, if he were alive today, might run with the pack against orthodox Marxism. But he’s enlightening nonetheless.

*

Gramsci knew the crucial importance of what he called una cultura capillare“a capillary culture” that, like the capillaries in the body, would carry the revolution into every nook and cranny of society. He gauged – correctly – that you couldn’t defeat democratic liberty directly. It was just too powerful and entrenched.

Gramsci argued – shrewdly – that what was needed was something like what the Jesuits of the Catholic Counter-Reformation were able to achieve by developing and deploying an educational system that formed people in all the crucial cultural institutions. If Marian the Librarian (and all the main institutions to which she is attached) is Catholic, there’s no need for a frontal assault. The revolution imposes itself as a natural consequence.

Just think of the mental revolutions it took for a library association devoted to promoting children’s books to use words affirming its “core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness.” In normal times, those words point to goods to be celebrated and pursued. These are not normal times.

“Inclusiveness” does not mean adding voices that might want to raise legitimate questions about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s perspectives on minorities. It means using the old Marxist tactic of portraying others as “class enemies” and airbrushing them out of the picture. Including requires excluding.

“Respect,” in similar Marxist fashion, means judging who is worthy of respect on puritanical ideological grounds. So “respect” is to be shown to Native Americans and Blacks, who – to be clear – deserve it merely as our fellow human beings, whatever their individual foibles or the shortcoming of their “cultures.” Laura Ingalls Wilder, however, and the culture of her day, don’t get – don’t warrant – the same “respect,” whatever their shortcomings.

Once this process gets going in the library, school (and school board), university, media, HR department, even some churches, we are well on the way to what Gramsci knew would produce a revolution almost impossible to reverse.

Almost, because there’s nothing that stops us from carrying out a counter-revolution like what the Jesuits of another age were able to carry out.

Politics is important in this counterrevolution, to be sure. We are in an election year and TCT will be discussing some of the crucial questions for Catholics – and others – in coming months. (As a non-profit, we can neither support nor oppose candidates as such.) One thing we will constantly maintain, however, is that any candidate who is to be taken seriously must affirm the rule of law and denounce violence, whoever the perpetrator.

Barack Obama, the most prominent black leader in America at present, could have done all Americans a service in recent days by speaking out against riot and looting – even if he may have wished to support protests. It’s on such fundamental public distinctions that our future depends. [Author’s correction: it appears that he did reject violence and looting in a speech on June 1. That message, however, seems to have gone unheard and has not been conspicuous in his – or others’ – subsequent remarks.]

But the politics will fail if that’s all we do – if we neglect the day-to-day “capillary” efforts that we each have to make, in whatever place we find ourselves.

We’re all on the frontlines now.

 

*Image: Daniel’s Answer to the King by Briton Rivière, 1890 [Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, England]

Robert Royal

Dr. Roert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C., and currently serves as the St. John Henry Newman Visiting Chair in Catholic Studies at Thomas More College. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.



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