Ideas cannot be put against the wall and shot, and the complex of ideas represented by the French Revolution, ideas that broke out again in Russia and Germany in the early twentieth century, became endemic in the 1960s and will always be part of the American political story. This complex of ideas is like Marxism but it is more than classical Marxism; it is a richer brew, and owes much to the anarchists of the nineteenth century. Its adherents are to be found in your local university, in the local teachers’ union, in the city council, in ngos and foundations.
As a system this complex of ideas is propagated by the upper middle class on behalf of an imagined constituency of designated victims whose innocence and political righteousness is presumed. It is revolutionary. Language is not a means to truth but to power. As a system it is atheistic and perforce materialistic. It is dedicated to the destruction of the family and (typically) advocates polygamy and homosexuality. Its action committees include most of the professoriate in the soulshaping disciplines and the educational arms of the mainline churches, including many Catholic seminaries.
To learn more of the origins of this way of looking at life and the world, read those from whose thought it is derived. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, 1754), with his insistence that the very organization of society, with its laws and customs, creates an unnatural inequality, is a good place to begin, and Rousseau’s life was itself an anarchic foray against what he considered convention. Then go to William Goodwin (Political Justice, 1793), to find an early opponent of marriage on the grounds that it is repressive for women. Next read one of the great nineteenth-century anarchists Max Stirner (The Ego and Its Own, 1846), for one source of the idea that any idea is repressive and that reality and self-assertion are synonymous. Go on now to Antonio Gramsci (1896–1937), the Italian philosopher and revolutionary who developed the concept of cultural hegemony and popularized the idea that civilization is not (as Marx maintained) driven by inevitable historical forces but is defined by a hegemonic complex of ideas that revolutionaries must make their own, preferably through gaining control in peaceable ways of education. Herbert Marcuse (One-Dimensional Man, 1964) was a great favorite among campus revolutionaries in the 1960s, bringing to philosophical fruition the conviction that liberal toleration could be as severely repressive as the detested politics of the right. William Ayres, of Weatherman fame, is a disciple of Saul Alinski (1906–1972), the original community organizer and author of Rules for Radicals (1971). Ayres is the heir of this tradition, and, not unexpectedly, occupies a chair in the University of Illinois.
If this polyglot collection of thinkers shared one idea it was that the western tradition is unjust and corrupting and must be overthrown. If there is a second it is the anti-essentialist position that forms and meanings are products not of truth discovered but of will asserted.
You, gentle reader, have paid and are paying for these ideas through your taxes and through your charity. Marx said that capitalists would sell communists the rope with which to hang their capitalist enemies. In fact the rope has been a gift. For these ideas, often in weak form, are the staples of university and one fears even seminary life. So when in a political year we see them, in form weak or strong, each paraded across the stage of public debate, be not surprised.