Marx's Religion of Revolution: 50th Anniversary

I began writing Marx’s Religion of Revolution in 1965. I was in graduate school at the University of California, Riverside. It was published in 1968. I was 26 years old.

I got the idea from R. J. Rushdoony. In 1965, he wrote a 20-page pamphlet, The Religion of Revolution. It was published by St. Thomas Press, the book publishing outlet of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Houston. The pastor was a conservative, T. Robert Ingram. The booklet was going to be a chapter of a book. He wrote the following at the end of his January 1966 newsletter:

During December, I spoke 31 times, having meetings in Sunnyvale, Anderson, and Redding as well as locally. I wrote another chapter for The Religion of Revolution, of which the first chapter has been published in a pamphlet, and I delivered it as a talk at the wonderful Christmas dinner party on December 19 at the Eric Pridonoff home. At that dinner a tape recorder was given to me as a gift. I am thankful to all of you for it. Several short pieces were also written during December, plus a chapter for another book.During 1965, I spoke 212 times. Two books were published, Freud and The Nature of the American System; two pamphlets, The Religion of Revolution and The United Nations, A Religious Dream. Several articles were written, and a number of chapters for several books in progress. My travels to speak took me to Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. and up and down the state of California repeatedly.

He maintained this schedule for the next three decades, but he never finished the book.

He argued that pagan religion had as its ultimate goal the regeneration of the world through chaos. I immediately saw that Karl Marx’s system, known as scientific socialism, and also known as communism, fit the description that Rushdoony made of pagan religion. I began researching works of Marx and Engels in 1966.


I wrote about his influence on American academic conservatism after 1964 in a 2005 article on Lew Rockwell’s site. It is posted here.

Providentially for me — and conservatism — Nisbet returned to teaching in the fall of 1964. He had served as Dean of the College of Letters and Science from the beginning of the college in 1954 until 1960, when he became Vice Chancellor. The school was called a university, but it did not add a graduate school until the fall of 1963, the term after I graduated. Nisbet had been a professor of sociology at Berkeley up until 1954. He established his reputation as a conservative, beginning in 1953 with the publication of, The Quest for Community, published by Oxford University Press. The next year, he departed from Berkeley and arrived in the near-desert city of Riverside and a brand-new college. He also departed from the classroom. He stayed out of the classroom for a decade.

I had met him in the spring of 1960 when he invited me and one other student to have lunch with him and Russell Kirk. I had contacted by mail him because I had read one of his articles in Modern Age. I was probably the only person on campus who was aware that he had published an article in that conservative academic quarterly. I had no further contact with him in my undergraduate years. That changed in the fall of 1966. I had returned as a graduate student in history in the spring of 1965.

In the fall of 1966, Basic Books published the first book he had written since 1953: The Sociological Tradition. Basic Books, which had been established in 1952, was going through a transformation. The man who ran it, Irving Kristol, had been a Trotskyite in the 1930’s. He became a standard liberal in the 1950’s. He wrote little in these years. By 1965, he had begun to shift views again. He was becoming a conservative. In 1965, Kristol and Daniel Bell created a new quarterly magazine, The Public Interest. This became the flagship intellectual outlet of what would become known as the neoconservative movement. Kristol famously defined a neoconservative: “A liberal who was mugged by reality.” His intellectual associate, Norman Podhoretz, was the editor of the secular Jewish publication, Commentary. He was going through a similar transformation. Both were losing confidence in the federal welfare state.

Beginning in 1966, Commentary and The Public Interest began publishing Nisbet. He later told me that this transformed his career. As he said, Jews read a lot of books. He became one of the two or three conservative sociologists who got published by neoconservative journals.

By 1966, the turmoil of American academia was accelerating. It had begun in the fall of 1964 at Berkeley with the Free Speech Movement (FSM). It spread across the country and continued to accelerate throughout the second half of the 1960’s.

In the fall of 1966, just as The Sociological Tradition was published, I took a year-long upper division sociology course from Nisbet that covered the material in the book. As part of that course, we read a great deal of Marx’s original writings. I used that experience to begin working on my book.

I took his graduate seminar on Max Weber in 1969. I published the paper that I wrote for him as my chapter on sociology in the book I edited, Foundations of Christian Scholarship: Essays in the Van Til Tradition, which Chalcedon published in 1976.

He was one of three readers of my Ph.D. dissertation, along with E. S. Gaustad and Mack Thompson. He left UCR officially about a week after he approved my dissertation. Physically, he was already in Tucson as a professor at the University of Arizona. In 1974, he became the Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University. He retired from teaching in 1978. Then he joined the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, where he remained until his retirement in 1986.

Read the Whole Article