Why Cultural Marxism is a big deal for Brazil, and also for you

I already heard the criticism that cultural Marxism is not a real thing. It’s just a scary word, like neoliberalism, that doesn’t mean anything really. Well, for those who think that way, please pay a visit to Brazil.

When I talk about cultural Marxism, here is what I have in mind: I’m not a specialist in Marx or Marxism by any means, but what I understand is that Marx gravitated towards economic theory in his life. He began his intellectual journey more like a general philosopher but ended more like an economist. A very bad economist. Marx’s economic theory in The Capital is based on the premise of the labor theory of value: things cost what they cost depending on how much work it takes to produce them. Of course, this theory does not represent reality. You take the labor theory of value, Marx’s economic theory crumbles down. That is what Mises explained on paper at the beginning of the 20th century and reality proved throughout it everywhere and every time people tried to put Marxism into practice.

Although Marx’s economic theory didn’t work, Marx’s admirers didn’t give up. In Russia Lenin tried to explain that capitalism survived because of imperialism. Many Marxists working in International Relations make a similar claim. In Italy Gramsci tried to explain that capitalism survived because capitalist elites exercise cultural hegemony. The Frankfurt Schools said the same. It is mostly Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, sometimes collectively called critical theory, that I call cultural Marxism.

Marxism arrived in Brazil mainly in the beginning of the 20th century. Very early then, a communist party was founded there. This communist country was initially very orthodox, following whatever Moscow told them to. However, after WWII and especially after the Military Coup of 1964, Brazilian Marxists started to gravitate towards Gramsci. During the Military Dictatorship, many leftists tried to fight guerrillas, but others simply chose to get into universities, newspapers, churches and other places, and try to overthrow capitalism from there.

In general, I am not a great fan of John Maynard Keynes, but there is a quote from him that I absolutely adore: ““Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist”. That’s how I see most Brazilian intellectuals. They are of a superficial brand of Marxism. It would certainly be incorrect to call them Marxist in an orthodox sense, but I understand that they are what Marxism has become: something vaguely anti-establishment, anti-capitalism, in favor of big government and very entitled.

Why is this important for you? Because Brazil is the second largest country in America in population, territory, and economy. That’s why. The economy is a win-win game. An economically free, prosperous Brazil would be good for everyone, not just for Brazilians. But that can only happen if we first defeat the mentality that capitalism is bad and that the state should be an instrument for some vague sort of social justice.

Nightcap

  1. Cultural Marxism and the New Right Neuffer & Paul, Eurozine
  2. Black soldiers in European wars, 18th century edition Elena Schneider, Age of Revolutions
  3. A forgotten Indian hero TR Vivek, Pragati
  4. The treason prosecution of Jefferson Davis Will Baude, Volokh Conspiracy

Answering questions about Bolsonaro (from the comments)

Answering some comments about Bolsonaro, as far as I can.

Can you deal more precisely with some well known claims about Bolsanoro: he has praised at least one military officer who was a notorious torturer under the last dictatorship.

The “notorious torturer” in question is Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra. Ustra himself wrote a book, A Verdade Sufocada, questioning this accusation. I am not defending Ustra (as Bolsonaro does), but in my ignorance, I lift any judgment.

he has praised the dictatorship.

There is no denying that. Actually, Bolsonaro refuses to admit Brazil went through a dictatorship between 1964 and 1985.

I’ve just checked your previous contributions on Brazilian politics and you seem to be in favour of the dictatorship as a agent of struggle against Marxism. I agree that marxism is a bad thing, but it’s not clear to me that means supporting rightist dictatorship.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Read again.

You say that Bolsanaro understands the need for ‘order’ in Brazilian society.

Actually, his name is Bolsonaro. Where did I write that?

Can you identify some restrictions on liberty in Brazil that Bolsanaro would remove?

No, I cannot. One thing is for sure: he is not a libertarian.

Don’t you think there is the slightest risk his attitude to ‘order’ might lead the police to act with more violence?

Well, all things are possible. But I don’t think that this is plausible.

Do you deny that the police sometimes act with excessive violence in Brazil?

No.

Do you have any expectation that Bolsanaro will do anything to resolve this or the evident failings of the judicial system?

Yes. Having Sergio Moro as Minister of Justice is a great move in the right direction.

Do you deny that Bolsanaro said he would prefer his son to be gay rather than die?

No.

Don’t you think this gives gays good reason to fear Bolsanaro?

Not at all. Bolsonaro was being very honest about his personal beliefs and how they apply to his personal life. Even then, this was a few years ago. I believe he is changing his mind on a number of issues, including this one. Anyway, he was talking about his private life, and not what he would do as president.

I have had a message from a gay American friend who says he is afraid of what will happen and may have to flee the country? Do you understand and care why he is afraid? Do you have any words I can pass onto my friend to reassure him? Preferably not angry words about Gramsci, ‘cultural Marxism’ and ‘gender theory’.

If I can’t talk about cultural Marxism, Gramsci and gender theory, I can’t help much. This is essential to explain what is going on in Brazil.

Could you actually explain what this ‘gender theory’ in schools is that it i so terrible and apparently justifies Bolsanaro’s crude language?

It would take very long, but the short answer I can give here is that it is terrible to teach people that their gender has nothing to do with biology. Apart from real medical conditions, people are born XX or XY, and gender and sex go together.

Do you deny that he said a congress woman was too ugly to rape?

No, I don’t. This woman, Maria do Rosário, called him a raper. How would you feel being called a raper? I know I wouldn’t like a bit. Besides, on that occasion, Bolsonaro was exactly defending harder punishment for rapers, following the Champinha case. Champinha and his gang raped and then murdered Liana Friedenbach and her boyfriend Felipe Caffé in one of the most barbarous crimes in recent Brazilian history.  Maria do Rosário was defending Champinha and his gang. See if you can find something about it in a language you can read. In sum, Bolsonaro answered an insult with another insult. I have no problem with that whatsoever.

Can you explain how someone can be fit to hold the highest office in Brazil who makes such a comment?

It would take very long. But the short answer is that I am really happy to have a president who, if he had his own way, would have the death penalty for criminals like Champinha and his gang.

It’s nice of course that Bolsanaro says now he is favour of free market economics, but isn’t he now back pedalling on this and promising to preserve PT ‘reforms’?

He is not a libertarian. Libertarians are sure to be disappointed.

Well, I will stop here.  Sadly, although I can’t “write at length” more than that.

I write at length, so does Jacques, so there is no reason why you should not.

Actually, there are many reasons. You just don’t know. I did what I can right now. All the best.

From the Comments: Bolsonaro is no libertarian (but is he a fascist?)

Barry Stocker outlines the sentiments of many libertarians when he put forth the following argument under Bruno’s “Brazil turns to the Right” post:

Bruno (responding to this and your previous linked post), I’m delighted to be assured that Bolsonaro is not a homophobe, misogynist, a racist or a fascist (an absurdly over used term anyway). However, you offer no evidence to counter the impression that Bolsanaro has leanings in these directions in the Anglophone media, and not just the left-wing media.

Can you deal more precisely with some well known claims about Bolsanoro: he has praised at least one military officer who was a notorious torturer under the last dictatorship, he has praised the dictatorship. I’ve just checked your previous contributions on Brazilian politics and you seem to be in favour of the dictatorship as a agent of struggle against Marxism. I agree that marxism is a bad thing, but it’s not clear to me that means supporting rightist dictatorship.

You say that Bolsanaro understands the need for ‘order’ in Brazilian society. I’m sure we can all agree that Brazil would benefit from more rule of law, but calling for ‘order’ has a rather unpleasant ring to it. The ‘party of order’ has rarely been good for liberty. Can you identify some restrictions on liberty in Brazil that Bolsanaro would remove? Don’t you think there is the slightest risk his attitude to ‘order’ might lead the police to act with more violence? Do you deny that the police sometimes act with excessive violence in Brazil? Do you have any expectation that Bolsanaro will do anything to resolve this or the evident failings of the judicial system?

Do you deny that Bolsanaro said he would prefer his son to be gay rather than die? Don’t you think this gives gays good reason to fear Bolsanaro? I have had a message from a gay American friend who says he is afraid of what will happen and may have to flee the country? Do you understand and care why he is afraid? Do you have any words I can pass onto my friend to reassure him? Preferably not angry words about Gramsci, ‘cultural Marxism’ and ‘gender theory’. Could you actually explain what this ‘gender theory’ in schools is that it i so terrible and apparently justifies Bolsanaro’s crude language? Do you deny that he said a congress woman was too ugly to rape? Can you explain how someone can be fit to hold the highest office in Brazil who makes such a comment?

It’s nice of course that Bolsanaro says now he is favour of free market economics, but isn’t he now back pedalling on this and promising to preserve PT ‘reforms’? Exactly what free market policies do you expect him to introduce and what do you think about the rowing back even before he is in office? Could you say more about which parties and personalities represent classical liberalism now in Congress? If Lula and other leftist politicians (who of course I don’t support at all) have used worse language than Bolsonaro, could you please give examples?

On more theoretical matters

‘Cultural marxism’ to my mind is not an excuse for Bolsanaro’s words and behaviour, or what I know about them. Your account of cultural Marxism anyway strikes me as fuzzy. I very much doubt that Gramsci would recognise himself amongst current ‘cultural Marxists’ and the topics that concern them. I can assure you that a lot of people labelled ‘cultural Marxists’ would not recognise themselves as Marxist or as followers of Marcuse or Gramsci.

The politics of Michel Foucault are a rather complicated and controversial matter but lumping him with some Marxist bloc is hopeless. This isn’t the place to say much about Foucault, but try reading say: *Fearless Speech*, *Society Must Be Defended*, or *Birth of Biopolitics* then see if you think that Foucault belongs with some Marxist or cultural Marxist bloc. The claim that relativism about truth is something to do with Marxism and the anti-liberal left is absurd, all kinds of people with all kinds of politics have had all kinds of views about the status of truth over history. Jürgen Habermas who is an Enlightenment universalist is an influence on the intellectual left, as is Noam Chomsky, a belief in innate knowledge in the form of the universal grammar of languages and associated logical capacity.

Conservatism has often resorted to relativism about the unique values of different countries. Do you think the ancient Sceptics and Sophists have something to do with cultural Marxism? You are referring to these phenomena in a series of familiar talking points from conservative pundits which do not make sense when applied to rather disparate people with different kinds of leftism, of course I have criticisms of them but different kinds of criticisms respecting differences between groups, in which I try to understand their arguments and recognise that sometimes they have arguments worth taking seriously, not a series of angry talking points.

I look forward to being educated by your reply. Please do give us detail and write at length. I write at length, so does Jacques, so there is no reason why you should not.

Again, Barry’s arguments are a good indication of how many in the libertarian movement, worldwide, view Bolsonaro (and others like him, such as Trump), but, while I eagerly await Bruno’s thoughts on Barry’s questions, I have my own to add:

Bolosonaro got 55% of the vote in Brazil. How long can leftists continue to keep calling him a “fascist” or on the “far-right” of the Brazilian political spectrum, especially given Brazil’s cultural and intellectual diversity? Leftists are, by and large, liars. They lie to themselves and to others, and maybe Bruno’s excitement over Bolsonaro’s popularity has more to do with the cultural rebuke of leftist politics in Brazil than to Bolsonaro himself; he’s well-aware, after all, that Brazil’s problems run deeper than socialism.

Bolsonaro’s vulgar, dangerous language might be entertaining, and Brazil’s rebuke of socialist politics is surely encouraging, but it can be easy to “take your eye off the ball,” as we say in the States. Brazil has a long way to go, especially if, like me, you think Brazilians have elected yet another father figure rather than a president tasked with running the executive branch of the federal government.

Nightcap

  1. U.S. environmentalism is a success story Patrick Allitt, Liberty Forum
  2. Don’t blame Karl Marx for “Cultural Marxism” Brian Doherty, Reason
  3. Texas and the white-washing of the American Revolution Michael Oberg, Age of Revolutions
  4. How would we recognize an alien if we saw one? Samuel Levin, Aeon

A short note on Brazil’s elections

In October Brazilians will elect the president, state governors, and senators and congressmen, both at the state and the national level. It’s a lot.

There is clearly a leaning to the right. The free market is in the public discourse. A few years ago most Brazilians felt embarrassed to be called right wing. Today especially people under 35 feel not only comfortable but even proud to be called so.

The forerunner for president is Jair Bolsonaro. The press, infected by some form of cultural Marxism, hates Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro’s interviews in Brazilian media are always dull and boring. Always the same questions. The journalists decided that Bolsonaro is misogynist, racist, fascist, guitarist, and apparently, nothing will make them change their minds. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Bolsonaro is a very simple person, with very simple language, language that can sound very crude. But I defy anyone to prove he is any of these things. Also, Bolsonaro is one of the very few candidates who admits he doesn’t know a lot about economics. That’s great news! Dilma Rousseff lied that she had a Ph.D. in economics (when she actually didn’t have even an MA), and we all know what happened. Bolsonaro is happy to delegate economics to Paulo Guedes, a Brazilian economist enthusiastic about the Chicago School of Milton Friedman. One of Bolsonaro’s sons is studying economics in Institute Von Mises Brazil.

It is very likely that Brazil will elect a record number of senators and congressmen who will also favor free market.

Even if Bolsonaro is not elected, other candidates like Marina Silva and Geraldo Alckmin favor at least an economic model similar to the one Fernando Henrique Cardoso implemented in the 1990s. Not a free market paradise, but much better than what we have today.

Unless your brain has been rotten by cultural Marxism, the moment is of optimism.

Debating a Marxist: An invitation

This week, I thought it might be fun to take a break from the series on the state and education and instead to introduce the topic of up-close and personal encounters with some very interesting people: Marxists. My reason for writing on this topic is simply that I’m curious to see if other people have had similar experiences and what the Notes on Liberty community thinks of this breed.

In my experience, there are two archetypes of modern Marxist. The first is the “cultural” one. This one is to my mind the more preferable of the two. This one conscientiously reads all the literature associated with Marxism and its derivatives, normally discards much of the economic aspects, and embraces the social and intellectual pieces. They tend to not think too highly of The Communist Manifesto but are crazy about Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoléon. The result is that they cerebrally focus on class struggle, disenfranchisement, social inequality, etc., all while happily stipulating to all of the horrible famines, massacres, breadlines, general deprivation, etc. that occurred under Marxism. Their attitude is similar to a person who uses an old, long unpracticed religion as a form of social identification, e.g. “I’m Catholic (though I haven’t been to Mass in 40 years and support causes frowned upon by the Church).”

The standard response when asked about the fruits of Marxism tends to be a variant of “That wasn’t true Marxism; Marxism done right wouldn’t have caused that,” or “it just wasn’t implemented properly.” I have even heard one along the lines of “That was communism, not Marxism.” The cultural Marxist is easy to get along with. Because he tends to be a genuine intellectual and honest academic, when faced with reputable sources, he will graciously concede the point. Since this type respects skill and knowledge, there is a shared framework in which to debate. He is happy to debate anything and never views any author or source as particularly sacrosanct.

As a result, the cultural Marxist is reasonably open-minded and eager to find some common ground. My personal encounters with this type tend to be positive and normally end with everyone buying everyone else coffee and leaving the meeting as friends. They also tend to be pragmatic; during my time at Columbia (it’s reputation should be well known vis-à-vis Marxism), there was one faculty member who could only be described as fiscally capitalist and socially Marxist. Dovetailing with debates on class structure, we also received exhortations to secure our financial futures and received step-by-step instructions on how to invest in Vanguard mutual funds! It was slightly surreal, but I later discovered that this hybrid attitude is fairly typical among cultural Marxists. For them, it’s not about the money; it’s about the ideas. But because they mix and match ideas to create a personal worldview, they are neither invested in any particular aspect of Marxism, nor overly interested in practicing it.

The other archetype is the rabid ideologue who believes everything from Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and, variably, Ivan Trotsky, Josef Stalin, or Mao Tse-tung is gospel. Unlike the cultural Marxist, the knowledge of ideologue tends to be constrained to a limited number of sources and works. The existence of The Eighteenth Brumaire can come as a surprise to these people, though they can quote The Communist Manifesto practically verbatim. Encounters with this type disintegrate to name calling and ad hominem attacks within a matter of minutes, in my case usually when their source foundations have been abolished in debate. The hallmark of their mentality is a fixed belief that if they personally are incapable of something, then no one else can do it either.

As an example, a group of students, including myself, went to a performance of La Traviata at Opéra Bastille in Paris. One of our number turned out to be a Marxist ideologue who spent the evening denigrating the entire affair. I recall one particularly embarrassing moment during an intermission when the person loudly ranted about how none of the attendees were there through love of music, being only drawn through an affected desire to show off and appear cultured. All attempts to inveigle the person to return quietly to our seats failed. Never once did it occur to the person to observe that evidence of genuine music appreciation was present just within the student group.

Recently, I tangled with a self-identified Marxist-Leninist ideologue online. Somehow the conversation careened from the original topic to his insistence that I couldn’t possibly have functional fluency in six languages (classical musicians have to be able to read and work in the five languages of music – English, French, German, Italian, and Latin – and I studied Ancient Greek through college). The only justification for his doubts appeared to be that he only had knowledge of three languages. The pivot and then ad hominem doubt is all par for the course in dealing with this type of person, but what struck me is that in all my history of engagements only ideologue Marxists have used the “you can’t possibly be or do X because I’m not or can’t” argument. This is where there is a real divergence between ideologue Marxists and cultural Marxists: all of the latter I have interacted with are highly capable people who go to the opposite extreme and assume that others are informed and thoughtful as well. On a side note, there is nothing quite as entertaining as watching a cultural Marxist debate an ideologue; it inevitably ends with a scorched earth defeat of the ideologue.

Since all of these interactions are anecdotal, they may be sheer personal experience and could very well be due to ideological ignorance. At this point, I invite members of the NOL community to relate their personal stories of brushes with Marxists and what most struck them about their mentality and approach. What is the most irrational thing you have heard on this topic? Were you able to reach a state of détente?  Did the discussion end in a draw, or a meltdown? Are there any archetypes you might add?

Notā bene: I am entering an intensive language course in preparation for doctoral studies. As a result, I may not be very present on NOL for the summer. I will do my best, though, to monitor comments and to be part of the conversation.