The Anti-Intellectual Intellectuals of the Conservative Movement

Authors on the left are prevalent in academia, while liberals and centrists are dominant in much of the national media—apart from Fox News and its imitators, of course. But conservatives have long been adept at producing best-selling books that shape public opinion and even galvanize movements. Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, educated two generations on the right about the alleged virtues of untrammeled capitalism; the Austrian-born economist’s disciples included the likes of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. Goldwater did not actually write The Conscience of a Conservative, the slim paperback issued under his name in 1960 (it was ghost-written by L. Brent Bozell Jr.). But the manifesto, which made the Arizona senator’s fervent case against the moderate liberalism then prevailing in both parties, quickly sold over 3 million copies and propelled him to the GOP presidential nomination four years later. In his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind, the classicist Allan Bloom assaulted university curricula and student mores with a blend of outraged hauteur and nostalgia for an anti-relativist past. And while subsequent politicians and pundits may not have replicated Bloom’s high-minded, erudite style, echoes of his arguments can be found in many of the culture war screeds against academia that have been issued over the past three decades.

Mark R. Levin’s American Marxism, a polemic against all manner of progressive ideas and movements, may rival its predecessors in popularity. Published this past summer, it spent weeks perched at or near the top of the best-seller list. But American Marxism represents a distinct dumbing-down of the kind of book-length attacks on the left that have appeared over the past century. Hayek and Bloom produced rigorous critiques of the liberal ideology and left policies they abhorred, which required them to take the time to learn about them. Levin just slaps the label of “Marxism” on the various political phenomena he detests—from critical race theory and “genderism” to environmental justice, teachers unions, and the bias of the liberal media. He also accuses the Democratic Party of embracing these ideas and institutions and “adopting Marx’s language of class warfare” in order to put its own “interests…before those of the country,” thereby destroying what makes (or made), in his view, America so great. American Marxism is a virtual digest of familiar attacks on all the favorite targets of the contemporary right, and it suggests the depths of the right’s commitment to depicting its opponents not just as wrongheaded but as sworn enemies of the nation itself. Of course, liberals and leftists revile conservatives, too. But most of us refrain from accusing the entire Republican Party of harboring treasonous thoughts or wanting to overthrow the republic (the January 6 insurrectionists notwithstanding).

Levin devotes most of the chapters in his book to a particular head of the “Marxist” hydra he aims to slay with his invective. He moves from Black Lives Matter to “Hate America, Inc.” (radical educators) and from “‘Climate Change’ Fanaticism” to “Propaganda, Censorship, and Subversion” (the liberal media). Marx makes an occasional appearance, but contemporary left-wing professors (including The Nation’s Jon Wiener) get the lion’s share of references, whether or not they identify as Marxist. Levin’s point is obvious: The bearded author who spent far more time in the British Library than he did fomenting rebellion wrote the bible of anti-capitalism and obedience to the state. Americans who “cloak themselves in phrases” and names like “progressives,” “Democratic Socialists,” “Antifa,” and “The Squad” are just adapting his evil gospel to our own time.


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