American Maoism

There is much to be learned by confronting the deep pathologies at the heart of the ideological deformation of reality.

Editor’s Note – This essay was originally published at American Mind on May 5, 2023.

Those of us who care about the survival of ordered liberty are daily faced with a conundrum: Do we painstakingly chronicle the constant assaults on the life of the mind and civilized norms and risk the charge of being one-note Johnnies? Or do we turn to other, more noble concerns and preoccupations, doing the right and the good? The latter path might seem more high-minded, rooted in a refusal to have our intellectual and political agendas determined by the rage of others. Why should our concerns be determined by the transparently false agendas of those who tear down and repudiate, and who offer nothing constructive in place of our civic and civilized inheritance? Let them pursue the thankless path of total critique, while we teach, build, construct, and sustain a civilized order worthy of human beings.

In truth, however, we must be attentive to both tasks, the positive work of high-minded thought and action that makes reasonable choice and civic comity possible, and the defense of the city without which nothing noble and choice-worthy can be sustained. And there is much to be learned by confronting the deep pathologies at the heart of the ideological deformation of reality. In any case, to stand aside while ideologues and fanatics seize the commanding heights of the academy and civil society entails nothing less moral and civil abdication, a choice for passivity over our non-negotiable duty to pass on the precious inheritance that is civilized liberty as a trust to our children and grandchildren. Surely Leo Strauss was right when he wrote in the 1940s that the greatest practical task of political philosophy is to defend “sound practice” against “bad theory.”

And bad theory abounds today. We daily witness displays of political rage informed by what David Martin Jones and M.L.R. Smith call in their indispensable 2022 book, The Strategy of Maoism in the West, “permanent offence taking.” Righteous indignation and the search for new and newer victims (and oppressors) are on constant display. DEI offices in colleges, universities, and corporations (and the news media, too) look to penalize, marginalize, and humiliate “oppressors” and “exploiters” as much as to “privilege” the oppressed, who must remain victims in perpetuity for the new system of ideological control to sustain itself. Merit, progress, opportunity, and civic reconciliation are all passé notions, deemed at once racist, offensive, and intolerable. What used to be called “Americanism,” equality under God and the law, must be castigated in a pathological display of collective self-loathing.

The constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley, an impressive liberal of the old school, has recently highlighted a macabre and deeply disturbing incident at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. At this self-described Christian institution, the student government association voted 9-4 to bar Xi Van Fleet, a survivor of the brutal and surreal Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976 to speak on campus. Van Fleet had the temerity to suggest in a series of speeches, writings, and tweets that “woke” culture in the United States had more than a passing similarity to the rage, illiberality, and insane self-confidence of the Red Guards unleashed by the murderous tyrant Mao Zedong. Her criticism of “woke” culture—including the DEI regime, the neo-Maoist Black Lives Matter movement, and the ever more fanatical LGBTQ “community”—was deemed hateful and “too harmful for any student to hear.” That is how Maoism comes to America, full of censorious rage but fueled with self-pity, therapeutic claptrap, and a narcissism that makes a mockery of civic debate and liberal education grounded in genuine discussion and disputation. But like the Maoists of old, Turley points out, these students at an ostensibly Christian institution of higher learning war with “false thoughts” with a sanctimony that is as pathetic as it is loathsome. As Turley shows, “conservative, religious, and libertarian views” are now what Mao and the Cultural Revolutionaries called “poisonous weeds” to be “removed from the garden of ‘fragrant flowers’ of approved viewpoints in higher education.”

Anyone who is not appalled by this, and who does not actively work to resist it, has broken with the honorable traditions of democratic liberalism and democratic conservatism that are the wellsprings of political decency and sanity in the Anglosphere and the West as a whole. That point must be stated loudly, clearly, and unequivocally. And as Xi Van Fleet is doing, the relevant history of cultural Maoism must be brought to the public’s attention, in what Lord Acton famously called “the embarrassing pedigree of ideas.”

As David Martin Jones and M.L.R. Smith point out, the Maoists in China and in revolutionary circles in the West from the 1960s on targeted the “Four Olds”: old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits, all of which were to be said to be at odds with the emancipatory and revolutionary Communist project. The Red Guards shouted slogans such as “Destruction before construction” as they marauded through Chinese cities and cultural institutions to destroy what Mao Zedong ominously called “ghosts and monsters.”

Maoism was the crudest and cruelest mass movement of repudiation to take on a global presence. It was applauded by leftist cultural icons such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Julia Kristeva, the movie director Jean-Luc Godard, Angela Davis, and much or most of the New Left of the sixties and seventies. The BLM movement in America and Britain today is proudly and unapologetically Maoist in inspiration and attitude. These “trained Marxists,” as they call themselves, delight in destruction and repudiation and preach racial hatred as fanatically and single-mindedly as the Marxists of old preached inexpiable class struggle. Corporate America shamelessly funds these racialists and totalitarians with little or no backlash or consequence. Corporate Maoism is real enough—something few predicted just a few short years ago.

America can certainly do better than this homegrown version of Maoism, full of rage and truly pathetic self-pity. An America that cannot listen to the inspired witness of Xi Van Fleet is heading off the precipice like the demonically possessed Gadarene Swine so dramatically described in the synoptic Gospels. Let authentic conservatives and liberals unite in resisting the ideological deformation of reality before it is too late. Honor and intellectual integrity demand nothing less.