Contra Fonte

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Lately
John Fonte's essay "Why there is a culture war" in the
most recent issue of Policy Review has created a stir on
the intellectual right. Fonte's argument is that the ideology of
the Left today is best characterized by the thought of Italian Marxist
Antonio Gramsci, while that of the Right is descended from Alexis
de Tocqueville. Fonte is no more than half-right, because his "Tocquevillians"
themselves exhibit Gramscian tendencies.

That
modern American leftish thought is Marxist, even in its non-economic
elements, has long been the position of the Free Congress Foundation's
Center for Cultural Conservatism. Its head, Bill Lind, has found
the origins of the Left's "Cultural Marxism" back to the
Frankfurt School of German intellectuals, including Theodor Adorno
and Herbert Marcuse. These men, in turn, were explicitly influenced
by Gramsci. Lind traces this genealogy in his
lecture at Accuracy in Academia's Conservative University
.

Fonte
is correct then about Gramsci's influence on the modern Left, if
not wholly original. But more needs to be said, because Gramsci
can tell us as much about the modern Right as he can the Left. Stripped
of its Marxist ideology, Gramscian technique is the search for "false
consciousness," the idea that certain oppressed groups have
internalized the world view of their oppressors and so are unable
to fight it. As an analysis this applies very aptly to many conservatives,
particularly of the neoconservative variety. We find that they share
basic assumptions with the Left and have therefore been ineffective
against it. In fact, these conservatives are inadvertently abetting
the Cultural Marxists.

James
Kalb describes this situation in the Summer 2000 issue of Modern
Age:

"The
triumph of radical liberalism has made moderate conservatism, which
assumes a social order defined in fundamental ways by non-liberal
attitudes and practices, an empty position. A desire to seem thoughtful
and aspirations toward something less thin than liberal ideology
may lead public men to use the language of conservatism, but the
substance is gone. Mainstream conservatism grumbles, drags its feet,
and tries to moderate the disruption caused by implementing liberal
demands, but it cannot deny the justice of those demands or deprive
them of ultimate victory. It cannot even talk about them in language
very different from that of triumphant liberalism." To put
it another way, moderate conservatives have nothing to conserve
except what the left has already accomplished. Just look at the
withering of conservative opposition to "civil rights"
laws.

It
is for this reason that Fonte misses the mark when he calls the
opponents of Gramscian leftism "Tocquevillians." These
individuals – neoconservatives, Straussians, centrist Democrats,
and National Review-Heritage Foundation style conservatives
– are as often as not part of the problem. The description
of "Tocquevillian" policies that Fonte himself furnishes
proves the point. In Fonte's own words "the past few years
have also witnessed what could be called u2018Tocquevillian' initiatives
that attempt to bring faith-based institutions (particularly churches)
into federal and state legislative efforts to combat welfare and
poverty." Fonte's "Tocquevillianism," far from getting
government out of the way, uses private institutions to serve the
government's ends. In Gramscian fashion, it politicizes the personal.

There
is no precedent for such an approach in Tocqueville's own writing.
Democracy in America shows Americans fending for themselves without
state assistance, even in the form of school vouchers or national
educational standards intended to "empower" Americans
to live more independently. Fonte incorrectly attributes to Tocqueville
the neoconservative trinity of capitalism, religiosity (but never
any particular religion) and Lincolnian patriotism. In so doing
he neglects a central element of the American character that should
be plain to anyone familiar with Tocqueville – anti-statism,
the belief that government should do nothing that individuals and
communities can do for themselves. Even if we accept the benevolent
character of school vouchers or national education standards under
a Republican administration, how long will it be before the next
Democrat administration uses such precedents to further indoctrinate
schoolchildren nationwide in Cultural Marxism?

Fonte
concludes his article by saying that the Gramscians want to transform
America, while the Tocquevillians want to transmit American values
to the next generation. But in fact what his "Tocquevillians"
too often do is transmit the transformations wrought by the Left.
Fonte's article is a useful reminder of the real intellectual roots
of leftism and the nature of its techniques, but he fails to recognize
the extent of the problem and that the very "Tocquevillians"
he sees as the last bastion against the Gramscians are often in
practice Gramscians themselves.

January
9, 2000

Daniel
McCarthy is a graduate student in classics at Washington University
in St. Louis.

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