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Kerry Bolton

How Critical Theorists Respond to Criticism: A Case Study on the Banality of Leftist Academe – Part 1

Series: How Critical Theorists Respond to Criticism

An analysis of a book review shows how scholarship is replaced by banality when Leftist dogma provides the methodology.

This essay is an analysis of a review of my book Revolution from Above, published by Arktos Media in 2011. Relatively detailed consideration is given to the review because it provides an example of how scholarship is replaced by banality when Leftist dogma provides the methodology. The string of quips, clichés, straw man arguments, non-sequiturs, reductio ad absurdum, ad hominem, ad nauseum, are what is now accepted as ‘rigorous scholarship’ by academe, especially when the purpose is to advance some Leftist agenda.

It is enough for the Leftist intelligentsia to claim that what they are ‘critiquing’ is too simplistic to require anything more than sneering denunciations.

According to those we shall loosely call Cultural Marxists, ‘conspiracy theorists’ are by definition ‘right wing extremists’ with paranoid delusions leading to ‘fascism’. This is the theory that was popularised since before World War II and given a clinical guise with the publication of The Authoritarian Personality, which remains a seminal text in academia to this day.1

In this vein Andrew Woods, a Ph.D. candidate at the Center for the Study of Theory and Criticism at Western University, and a Doctoral Fellow at the Centre of Analysis of the Radical Right, has attempted several critiques on ‘conspiracy theories’ as they relate to ‘Cultural Marxism,’ the Frankfurt School, and The New School for Social Research.2

Public Seminar is described as ‘a journal of ideas, politics and culture published by the Public Seminar Publishing Initiative at The New School’. Presumably, Woods’ paper is an example of the type of material The New School accepts as ‘rigorous scholarship’ (sic).

Woods uses the straw man argument in opening his critique of Revolution from Above, and proceeds for the rest of the article with that method. He describes ‘conspiracy theories’ as offering ‘alternative explanations for shocking historical events and sweeping cultural changes. They simplify complex socio-political factors and processes into seductive narratives of Good versus Evil. They are the opium of those who believe that they are on the wrong side of history, yet imagine that God is on their side’.3

Alternatively one might ponder the comments of Dr. Richard Spence, senior professor of history at the University of Idaho. Spence writes in Wall Street and the Russian Revolution 1905-1925, that ‘investing in revolution was fundamentally no different from investing in anything else’. In introducing his book Spence states that it is necessary to a great extent to ‘connect the dots’. ‘Some dots will form neat, definite lines. Others will not. … Very often we will be discussing possibilities as opposed to certainties. But that’s what real history is like’. Much ‘educated guesswork’ is required, but that is ‘the driving force of investigation’. ‘Every new discovery begins with a hunch’.4

As for conspiracy theory, what this book emphasizes is conspiracy fact. The Russian Revolution, like every revolution, was by nature conspiratorial. You cannot organize the overthrow of a regime without conspiracy, or you won’t be organizing very long. … A trust is a conspiracy and so are stock raids and corporate takeovers. Conspiracy begets conspiracy. Simply put, conspiracy is not the exception in human behavior, it is the norm.5

What is Woods’ opening round other than a simplification? It is enough for the Leftist intelligentsia to claim that what they are ‘critiquing’ is too simplistic to require anything more than sneering denunciations.

In an example of projection Woods warns with foreboding of the insidious spread of ‘conspiracism’, which he conflates with ‘fascism’, to ‘become one of the most pressing political issues of our time’, and it is therefore unfortunate that ‘the existence of conspiracy theories’ cannot be altogether ignored. In particular it is because such incipient ‘fascism’ is a danger especially to ‘scholars and students’ where ‘those conspiracy theories … implicate them directly’. In such paranoid delusions concentration camps and firing squads await.

In this pedigree of Fascist assault, Woods honours Revolution from Above, because ‘Kerry Bolton takes aim at The New School for Social Research as one of the targets in a grand conspiracy theory about the secret plot to transform the world into an oligarchical collectivist state’.6

According to Bolton, The New School was established in 1919 to spread the ideology of Fabian Socialism in America. John Dewey – whose educational philosophies helped form the school – wanted The New School to promote his brand of ‘progressive education’ and offer a theoretical defense for the collectivist economic policies of the New Deal. The Rockefeller Foundation sponsored the ‘University in Exile’ and the ‘Emergency Program for European Scholars’ to smuggle Marxist intellectuals into America and ‘lay the foundations for the new schools of sociology and psychology that continue to dominate the academia of the entire West’.7

‘According to Bolton’, writes Woods – with the implication that the description of The New School is inaccurate. As Woods concedes, the book has a plenitude of references, as distinct from his eight endnotes, with two references. The material on The New School amounts to only three pages of the 250 page book, so Woods seems to have found it necessary to fluff up this Fascist assault. For example there is no allusion in Revolution from Above to Dewey’s purpose being to ‘offer a theoretical defense for the collectivist economic policies of the New Deal’.8 There is no reference to the Rockefeller Foundation smuggling Marxist intellectuals9 into U.S. academe. The Frankfurt Institute had already relocated to Geneva in 1933, from whence they relocated to the USA, fearing that Switzerland might become Nazi.10 Woods continues,

The New School’s Board of Trustees is crammed full of globalist plutocrats who plan to use these left-wing scholars as ground-troops in their assault on ‘Tradition.’ Under plutocratic control, higher education is intellectual warfare. The unlikely cooperation of Marxist scholars and philanthropists is a key dynamic of what Bolton calls ‘dialectical capitalism’.11

Revolution from Above is indeed focused on the nexus between plutocracy and the Left. Woods’ allusion, ‘The New School’s Board of Trustees is crammed full of globalist plutocrats’, is supposedly an assertion that is so ridiculous it needs no refutation. As if there could possibly be collusion. Woods is therefore presumably implying, without needing to descend to argument, that the Board of Trustees is not ‘crammed full of globalist plutocrats’. Pages 108 and 109 of Revolution from Above cite the affiliations of the trustees at the time, including Salomon Bros., Chevron, Wesco Finance, et al. The representation by global capitalism continues. The New School states of its Trustees that they exemplify roles in business, education, philanthropy, media etc.12 Ironically, the ‘sponsor’ of Public Seminar, where Woods’ article is published, is Michael E. Gellert,13 a general partner and co-founder of Windcrest Partners; a director of Dalet Technologies, director emeritus of Seacor Holdings, and chairman of the board of Smith Barney Worldwide Special Fund NV, and numerous private companies.14

The New School lauds the success of its graduates in helping to shape society on all levels, ‘adding new thought, knowledge, and ideas in the world of academia, non-profits, government, and business’.15

‘From the Undeniable to the Unbelievable’

Woods must address the problem of Revolution from Above, having conceded that ‘To the untrained and uncritical reader, Bolton’s book seems meticulously researched. Every page overflows with footnotes’. Woods discounts the inconvenience of the book’s documentation by quoting Richard Hofstadter, generally regarded as having been America’s most influential historian, stating that ‘Bolton’s thesis is a classic example’ of what Hofstadter described as ‘“the big leap from the undeniable to the unbelievable” that characterizes most conspiracy theories.’ Woods explains that,

Scraps of information are taken radically out of context and presented as evidence for the existence of a malignant oligarchical conspiracy. It is undeniable that Dewey influenced the founding of The New School, that the Rockefeller Foundation partly funded the University in Exile, and that a few Marxist scholars have occupied teaching posts and research positions at the institution. Nonetheless, Bolton leaps from these facts into an unbelievable narrative about a hidden plot to establish a World Collectivist State.16

It is too tempting to resist pointing out that Hofstadter received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation for his book The Development and Scope of Higher Education.17 Moreover, Hofstadter was one of the many Leftist intellectuals recruited by the CIA front, the American Congress for Cultural Freedom,18 the national affiliate of the world-wide Congress for Cultural Freedom, funded by the Rockefeller and other Foundations as a major part of the Cold War offensive against the USSR.19 Hofstadter’s biographer Dr. David Brown states that Hofstadter’s ‘studies on higher education were influenced by his work for the American Committee for Cultural Freedom’. At least two journals that received CIA funding, Encounter and Daedalus, published Hofstadter’s work.20 These journals were the intellectual mouthpieces of the Congress.

Woods warns with foreboding of the insidious spread of ‘conspiracism’, which he conflates with ‘fascism’. In such paranoid delusions concentration camps and firing squads await.

Woods does not cite his reference for the Hofstadter quote on ‘the big leap from the undeniable to the unbelievable’, nor does he explain how ‘Scraps of information are taken radically out of context [in Revolution from Above] and presented as evidence’. He seems to be trying to emulate the style of Hofstadter himself, whose 1964 essay on the ‘paranoid style of American politics’ was a wide-ranging attack on sundry Establishment boogeymen such as Senator Joseph McCarthy and The John Birch Society.21 The Establishment was very fearful that their confrontation with the USSR would develop into populism of the Joe McCarthy variety, and turn on them.

Hofstadter had based his ‘paranoid style’ polemics against the Right on the doctrines of the Frankfurt School, in what Brown called Hofstadter’s ‘search for the social-psychological foundations of the New Right’.22 Brown quotes Hofstadter’s most notable protégé, Christopher Lasch, in stating of the influence of the Frankfurt School’s Authoritarian Personality that it ‘had a tremendous impact on Hofstadter and other liberal intellectuals, because it showed them how to conduct political criticism in psychiatric categories, to make those categories bear the weight of political criticism’. The Frankfurtist doctrine ‘provided Hofstadter with an exotic social scientific vocabulary that stood as an intimidating barrier to critics’.23 That is, anyone considered a hindrance to the Left and its Establishment patrons could be assigned a high score on the Frankfurtist ‘F’ Scale of ‘Fascism’. According to Brown, Hofstadter’s critiques of ‘populism’ and the American ‘Right’ bear the ‘imprint’ of the Frankfurt School.

Lasch, in rejecting his former Leftism, looked for a genuine conservatism that stood for the restoration of the organic social community based around family bonds, but could only find what he called the ‘false conservativism’ of free enterprise, which he recognised as subversive. He wrote of the pseudo-radical character of Leftist critics, stating that while ‘cultural radicalism’ ‘poses as a revolutionary threat to the status quo, in reality in confines its criticism to values already obsolete and to patterns of American capitalism that have long ago been superseded’. He described ‘Left-wing social critics’ as ‘essentially conformist’. 24

To Lasch, the ‘elites’ that control the economic, political, cultural and social foundations of the USA were inaugurating a social order on the ruins of tradition – especially on the ruins of the family.25

What Lasch described was the very same process documented in Revolution from Above, which the Leftist intelligentsia rejects out-of-hand as ‘conspiracy theory’.

The Association Between The New School & the Frankfurt School

Woods questions the association between the Frankfurt School and The New School. He sees this as yet another fallacy of the Right, citing Revolution from Above:

Several decades later, Dewey’s brood of American socialist intellectuals were joined by what Bolton calls ‘the German counterpart of Fabianism,’ The Frankfurt School (otherwise known as the Institute for Social Research).26 Although only one member of the Frankfurt School – Erich Fromm – actually taught at The New School, Bolton sees the ‘University of Exile’ facilitating the integration of ‘Frankfurtian Marxists’ into American intellectual life.27

Revolution from Above does not use descriptions such as ‘brood’. Woods presumably implies that such terminology is used in order to give the impression that the book is an extremist polemic rather than a work meeting standards of scholarship to the extent of being shortlisted as recommended reading by Richard Spence. Secondly, ‘the University of Exile’, the sundry academics brought from Europe to the USA courtesy of the Rockefeller Foundation and State Department, is not used in Revolution from Above as a euphemism for the Frankfurt School. Rather, the ‘University of Exile’ is described as a ‘large number of socialist intellectuals’, fleeing Hitler, who formed the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science at The New School.28 Thirdly, it is The New School that boasts of its seminal relationship with the Frankfurt School, stating that its ‘commitment to progressive values, academic freedom, rigorous scholarship, and critical theory in the tradition of the Frankfurt School lies at the heart of The New School’s history and draws upon the vital legacy of the University in Exile.29

The interest of the oligarchs in the social sciences as a means of social engineering starts well prior to the crisis in Europe.

Woods correctly states that Revolution from Above cites former White House communications aide and presidential candidate Pat Buchanan’s book The Death of the West as a reliable secondary source for a brief historical outline of the Frankfurt School:

Bolton would not be the first to infer a firmer connection between the two institutions of ‘social research.’ Citing Pat Buchanan’s 2002 The Death of the West,30 Bolton claims that the thinkers of the Frankfurt School travelled to America in the 1930s to besmirch traditional American values and destroy Western Civilization.31

Woods’ dramatisation is used to bolster the thesis of Hofstadter about ‘the paranoid mind,’ as is the fanciful title for his article, ‘The Secret Invasion’. Just how influential these academics are in the social sciences in the USA, and across the Western world, is described by The New School itself:

From the beginning, The New School maintained close ties to Europe. Its founders had modeled the school in part after the Volkshochschulen for adults established in Germany. Then, during the 1920s, Alvin Johnson, The New School’s director, became co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. While working on this massive undertaking, Johnson collaborated regularly with colleagues in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. … With the financial support of philanthropist Hiram Halle and the Rockefeller Foundation, he obtained funding to provide a haven in the United States for scholars whose careers (and lives) were threatened by the Nazis, called the University in Exile. This institution was given a home at The New School and sponsored more than 180 individuals and their families, providing them with visas and jobs. Some of these refugees remained at The New School for many years and some moved on to other institutions in the United States, but the influx of new people and new ideas had an impact on the U.S. academy far beyond any particular university or institute.32

As a group, these leading intellectuals helped transform the social sciences and philosophy in this country, presenting new theoretical and methodological approaches to their fields.33

Funding for the Social Sciences

The interest of the oligarchs in the social sciences as a means of social engineering starts well prior to the crisis in Europe. From 1922 Rockefeller money, through the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM),34 started funding the social sciences. In 1923, ‘social scientists came together to organize the Social Science Research Council, and the Council – under the Memorial’s developing agenda – became an early and prominent recipient of Rockefeller support. Well into the final years of the Second World War, the Rockefeller funds provided more than ninety percent of the financing at the Council’.35 Rockefeller money was instrumental in forming the SSRC:

Charles Merriam, President of the American Political Science Association, first promoted the idea of a research council that would work toward ‘the closer integration of all the social sciences’ and develop interdisciplinary approaches for the solution of social problems. Beardsley Ruml, President of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM), worked with Merriam and others to establish the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) for this purpose in 1923.36

The Rockefeller Foundation states that,

with support first from LSRM and then the RF (along with other foundations such as Russell Sage and the Carnegie Corporation), SSRC rapidly became an operating arm of the foundation world similar to the role played in science by the National Research Council and in the humanities by the American Council for Learned Societies.37

The Rockefeller Foundation’s annual report for 1934 stated that this interest was a matter of ‘social control’: ‘In the field of social science aid will be given for objective studies on selected problems of realistic importance in social control, through the methods of direct factual study, training of personnel, and basic research.’38

Among the directors of the Social Science Research Council is Michael Gellert, as noted, a trustee of The New School. Other interesting associations on the SSRC board include those from Warburg Pincus, Skyview Ventures, Goldman, Sachs & Co., Asia Society,39 and Mahindra and Mahindra (Inida).40 The SSRC vice president of programs is Ronald Kassimir, who took time off from the SSRC during 2005 to 2013 to become a prominent staff member of The New School.41

References

1See for example: Michael J. Wood, Karen M. Douglas, Robbie M. Sutton, ‘Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories’, Social Psychology & Personality Science, 25 January 2012.

2Andrew Woods, ‘A Secret Invasion: The University in Exile and Conspiracy Theories’, Public Seminar, The New School, May 20, 2019.

3Andrew Woods, ‘A Secret Invasion…’, ibid.

4Richard B. Spence, Wall Street and the Russian Revolution 1905-1925 (Waterville, Oregon: Trine Day, 2017), pp. 2-3.

5Richard B. Spence, ibid., p. 3.

6Andrew Woods, ‘A Secret Invasion…’

7Bolton, Revolution from Above, (London: Arktos Media Ltd., 2011), p. 108, cited by Woods, ibid.

8Woods, ibid.

9Woods, ibid.

10Jack Jacobs, The Frankfurt School, Jewish Lives and Antisemitism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 43-44.

11Bolton, p. 9, cited by Woods.

12The New School, Board of Trustees.

13Public Seminar, ‘Sponsors’.

14The New School, Board of Trustees, op. cit.

15The New School, ‘Success Stories’.

16Woods, op. cit.

17David S. Brown, Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 79.

18David S. Brown, p. 82.

19Bolton, Revolution, op. cit., pp. 138-141.

20David S. Brown, op. cit., p. 82.

21Richard Hofstadter, ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’, Harper’s, November 1964, reprinted February 6, 2020.

22David S. Brown, op. cit., p. 89. When alluding to the ‘New Right’ at this time, this was not Nouvelle Droite as understood in Europe since 1968, but classical liberalism.

23Brown, pp. 89-90, quoting Hofstadter’s most prominent protégé, Christopher Lasch. Lasch, having been a Freudo-Marxian, heavily inferenced by the Frankfurt School, by the 1970s had become critical of the Left’s progressivism, and of the subversive impact of capitalism on the family and other traditional institutions.

24C. Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York: Norton, 2018 [1979]), chapter V.

25Lasch, Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (New York: Norton, 1994).

26Woods citing Revolution from Above, p. 101.

27Ibid., p. 108.

28Bolton, Revolution from Above, p. 107.

29The New School, ‘About Us’.
Emphasis added.

30Patrick J. Buchanan, The Death of the West (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002).

31Woods, ‘A Secret Invasion’, op. cit.

32Emphasis added.

33The New School, ‘Our History’.
Emphasis added.

34The Memorial was consolidated into the Rockefeller Foundation in 1929.

35Rockefeller Foundation digital history, ‘Social Science Research Council’.

36Ibid.

37Ibid. Emphasis added.

38Rockefeller Foundation, annual report, 1934, p. 12.

39The Asia Society was founded by John D. Rockefeller III in 1956 to promote the economic penetration of the Asia-Pacific region.

40Social Science Research Council, ‘Board of Directors’.

This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Dear Dr. Bolton,
    I wanted to ask you an admittatly provocative question. After reading some of the works of the Frankfurt school I was astonished about the various incidents I found myself agreeing with the discontent, the despription of the problem and its analysis (not the overall goal setting of course).
    Especially Adorno’s sceptical take on the enlightement and technology as well as his hatred for the commercialisation of culture in the US were quite astonishing to me.
    Why are these aspects of the Frrankfurt school so much ignored by the left-leaning parts of academia?
    Or is the historical influence of the Frankfurt not over-estimated at all, if these aspects are utterly ignored ?

    1. Good points.

      I also find myself agreeing with those aspects of precisely what you are referring to.

      I think it is a matter of the oligarchy having co-opted these ideas for their purposes, and that this was readily done the same way that Leftism was from an early stage co-opted, because while the critique of the Left is often sound, the remedies are flawed, and converge with the aims of the professed opposition: capitalism. Why does one so often find capitalist subsidizing the ideas that are ostensibly devoted to their overthrew?: because they act dialectically . Also, as I am documenting in an upcoming book, the social sciences were funded by the oligarchy and remain so. When we see the response of people such as Andrew Woods, a budding ‘scholar’ who will be cited as an ‘authority’ on such matters by the media, they are more obsessed with combating the impending world triumph of Fascism, than in any self-introspection about why they are subsided by capitalism.

      One scholar that emerged from that milieu who rejected the Left but was not able to find a genuine conservatism in the USA at that time, was Christopher Lasch, who should be adopted with gusto by today’s Right.

      1. Dear Dr. Bolton,
        I was wondering, do you also think that the anti-red / anti-Marxist pawlowesk biting reflex many on the the Right show, is holding us back from harvesting what might be fruitful insights of the left?
        Isn’t Marx in a way drescribing the inner dysfunctionalities from his Dialectical and Historical Materialist point of view, what Julius Evola calls the Kali Yoga from his meta-physical point of view?
        And isn’t Marcuse’s one-dimensional man not just a more precise version of Nietzsche’s Last Men?
        What authors would on the left would come to your mind to be harvested?

        1. Agreed on the first point; albeit reading the Left is a chore . I agree with what you say about Marx, and have written on a ‘rightist view of the Communist Manifesto’. The Critical Theorists have valuable insights but lead nowhere, and the critiques are generally marred. From that milieu however came Christopher Lasch, whom I think could be adopted as a fundamental philosopher of the Right ( in his own time having rejected the Left and looked unsuccessfully in the USA for ‘true conservatism’). Also the movement in the USA of ‘communitarianism’, even the faction that calls itself ‘liberal’.

          Writers on the Left – Proudhon in his post-anarchist ‘mutualist’ phase; Henri de Man. Some of their writings are readily findable with a google search.

  2. Dear Dr. Bolton,

    Are you familiar with the ‘HLvM’ concept elucidated by the French theorist of Power, Bertrand de Jouvenel? Jouvenel argues that the High tends to ally with the low/peripheral groups in society against the intermediate powers located between them. There are structural reasons for this. Intermediate powers are the ones which most directly circumscribe the low’s freedom. Likewise, the high’s scope of power and ability to project power in society is limited by the middle’s power. The middle is also the actor which is most capable of displacing the rule of the high. It would be in the mutual interest of both the low and the high to converge on the middle in a pincer move, destroying the powers which oppress the former and limit the latter. Historical examples of this power-conflict include the Tsar freeing the peasantry to undermine the nobility, and subsequently the anti-Tsar sentiment among the Freemasonic Nobility in Russia. The Federal government’s support of the black minority during Brown v Board of education to undermine whites and individual states. The Rockefeller patronage of Martin Luther King.

    I’m aware that you’ve written a book, ‘Revolutions from Above’, dealing with the patronage of leftist groups by international capital, which certainly accords with the patronage of the low by the High to undermine traditional intermediate structures. I haven’t read Jouvenel yet, but I did read ‘Nemesis: The Jouvenelian vs the Liberal model of Human Orders’ by C.A Bond – Arktos did a podcast with him. Jouvenel was a Libertarian; C.A Bond rejects Jouvenel’s liberalism whilst salvaging his cardinal insight into power politics.

    C.A Bond’s twitter: https://twitter.com/CBonduk?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

    His book: https://www.amazon.com/Nemesis-Jouvenelian-Liberal-Model-Orders/dp/0648690512

    His Journal: https://thejournalofneoabsolutism.wordpress.com/

    In his Journal, there’s an especially interesting post by another author named Bouvard dealing with the theory of Generative Anthropology, which argues that the origin of language (and the Human) was a fundamentally sacral event: https://thejournalofneoabsolutism.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/the-anthropoetics-of-power/

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