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What is cultural Marxism?

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Cultural Marxism can be a controversial term—some assert there’s no such thing, and others use the term as a catch-all for anything they see as undermining society. In short, cultural Marxism is a revolutionary leftist idea that traditional culture is the source of oppression in the modern world. Cultural Marxism is often linked to an insistence upon political correctness, multiculturalism, and perpetual attacks on the foundations of culture: the nuclear family, marriage, patriotism, traditional morality, law and order, etc. Cultural Marxists are assumed to be committed to establishing economic Marxism, in which case their cultural attacks are a necessary preparation for their ultimate goal.

After World War I, some Marxist philosophers felt the need to modify their political strategy. Karl Marx generally saw culture as a secondary concern. His successors realized that culture was, in fact, critical to social change. When a society is willing to criticize its institutions, it is ready to make changes. The result of these ideas was the Frankfurt School, a generic term for Marxist philosophy focused on social criticism and bottom-up change. In particular, the Frankfurt School rejected the idea of absolute truth and promoted aggressive criticism of all aspects of life and society. Some early observers referred to this new approach as cultural Marxism to distinguish it from the earlier, classical forms of Marxism. More orthodox Marxists do not see cultural Marxism as Marxist at all.

The philosophy of cultural Marxism endures today, although the term itself is rarely used by those who subscribe to the Frankfurt School of thought. In actual practice, cultural Marxism is often used as a derogatory term for various left-leaning, progressive, or liberal practices. Unfortunately, various conspiracy theorists and anti-Semitic groups also use the term cultural Marxism to promote their belief in the Illuminati or to blame the Jews for society’s ills. Such misuses of the term do not negate the existence of an intellectual movement to destabilize society from within.

Beyond question, there is a purposeful effort in parts of Western culture to reject traditional values and aggressively replace them with more (supposedly) progressive ideals. This often results in an extreme imbalance in criticism and cultural sensitivity. For instance, derogatory attitudes toward men, whites, Christians, fathers, heterosexuals, and so forth are often celebrated or encouraged. Equally critical comments directed at women, minorities, Muslims, mothers, homosexuals, and so forth are readily condemned as “hateful.” Whether or not cultural Marxism is behind this imbalance, many people do seem purposefully prejudiced against certain points of view.

For Christians, dealing with cultural Marxism involves a spiritual dimension. It is undeniable that, in the West, Christian values are under attack. However, the root cause of these attacks is not wholly political or racial or social. It is spiritual. To the extent that traditional Western culture reflects biblical truth, attacks on that culture are anti-God. As an example, for centuries Western culture promoted chastity before marriage as an ideal; modern culture downplays chastity and glorifies immorality. Cultural Marxism at work? Possibly. Satan working in tandem with humanity’s sin nature? Assuredly (see James 1:14).

There are certainly reasons for Christians to resist political correctness, relativism, unfair attitudes toward Christianity, acceptance of immoral behavior, and so forth. We can and should work diligently to stand against those problems. We are lights in the world (Matthew 5:14). Our best strategy is not necessarily to rail against cultural Marxism, especially given the controversies surrounding that term. Rather, we must recognize the roots of these problems and deal with them accordingly. It is a spiritual battle fought in the minds and hearts of individuals (Ephesians 6:12).

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This page last updated: July 14, 2023