An Author Interview from Books At a Glance
Greetings – I’m Fred Zaspel, and welcome to another Author Interview at Books At a Glance.
Something over a year ago Melvin Tinker came out with an excellent little book from Evangelical Press entitled, That Hideous Strength: How the West Was Lost. I noted its arrival here in a brief Book Notice and mentioned then what a helpful, accessible, and important little book it was in terms of alerting Christians to the thought structures that drive our contemporary culture. The book received considerable attention, and very soon there was a call for him to expand the book and give us more. He’s done that now under the new title, That Hideous Strength: A Deeper Look at How the West Was Lost. It is a very important book and could not be more relevant to our circumstances today. We’re glad to have the author, Melvin Tinker, with us today to talk about it.
Melvin, welcome, and congratulations on your new book!
Thank you, Fred; it is good to be with you.
I want to get into specifics regarding cultural Marxism, critical theory, and other concepts that inform our contemporary culture, but let’s start with a broader look. Explain your title and especially how C.S. Lewis’s book provides such a helpful background story for your study. What did Lewis foresee that in our day has become the reality?
There is an interesting story behind this book. I was asked to give a lecture on Marxism at a conference. In the middle of the night, Lewis’ title came to me, “That Hideous Strength.” I started to read Lewis’ book the next morning, and I was struck by how perceptive Lewis was in 1947 in seeing how a small group of intellectuals together with the right sort of technology, particularly getting into higher education, can influence and change the outlook of a whole generation—entire sways of people.
In his day, the big issue was scientism. We can remake man into whatever image we want with the right technology. That was basically his thesis behind that. He gave a lecture which he published as the “The Abolition of Man, “Men without chests,” the idea being that there is a medium between the head and our guts. What you get with this kind scientism, which was developing more and more in his day, was the removal of morals, the aesthetic, etc., and only cold, clinical ambition. Cultural Marxism adopts and adapts the same process to influence and capture culture.
Explain for us also how Genesis 11 and the Tower of Babel episode helps to shape a biblical perspective.
I looked to Lewis, and I owe him a big favor on that one because “That Hideous Strength,” the title, actually came from a poem about the Tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel episode is the coming together of humanity with Promethean arrogance to domesticate God. In Genesis 1:28, God gives the cultural mandate to fill the earth and subdue it, and that is reinforced in Genesis 9 with Noah.
Here humanity is coming together on the plain of Shinar in direct disobedience to make a name for themselves. This large tower was to be seen for miles. It was some kind of ziggurat. The ziggurats were not so much, as many people think, a sort of religious temple-like structure, reaching up into the stars to rise up to conquer the heavens. It was much more like a portal, like science fiction these days, from the heavenly places into the present to bring the gods into our presence to do our bidding. This is a sort of reshaping all of reality. It seems that we have the desire to shape reality, we can call the shots, and that is when you get in Genesis 11 with the Tower of Babel. It is horrible arrogance.
Okay, you may need to take some time with this: What is cultural Marxism? You call it a “strategy for bringing about a revolution by changing and capturing the culture of a society.” What is it all about? How is this related to the older Maxism? And how did it come about?
With older Marxism with Marx and Engels, they drew their philosophy from Hegel. He believed in a sensitive self-consciousness that was manifested in religion. Marx threw out the supernatural altogether and ended up with materialism. He said that he believed that man’s consciousness is determined by his social existence. He is basically saying that it is the social and economic structures within a society that shape our existence. There is the classic conflict between what he described, the working class of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie owned the means of production and because of that, the proletariat, the workers, feel alienated from the means of production, the fruits of production, and also from themselves as human beings. He saw that there is an inevitable conflict coming through the dynamic at work in history when the industrial working classes would overthrow the bourgeoisie, and then the communist Utopian state would appear.
Violence was central to achieving this. After the first World War, there is a strange situation that the Marxists committee had to grapple with. Why didn’t communism happen in Britain? The second question was how can we bring communism not just to Russia but the western nations?
One man was key in many ways. Antonio Gramsci was a founder of the Italian communist party. He was the founder of the Communist Party in Italy in 1921. He was then imprisoned in 1926, and that the trial prosecutors said, “We must stop this mind from working for 20 years.” He was considered to be a very subversive and dangerous man; he remained in prison until his death in 1937.
His key idea was that of “hegemony,” that a dominant class can exert and maintain its influence over a populace by noncoercive means, through schools, the media, and marketing. They work through schools, the media, and marketing, and you eventually get people to start thinking differently, speaking differently, and seeing things differently. This is the way you do it.
Therefore, it is through changing culture, that change is achieved and so “the revolution.” Summing up the Gramscian strategy, the 1960’s German student radical Rudi Dutschke coined the phrase, “the long march through the institutions.” They eventually got people in these key institutions. Unlike Congress or Parliament, universities tend to be very stable with foundations and traditions and not subject to the usual democratic political process of change that governments have. Therefore, if they can get people into education, they start to capture the minds and hearts of future generations.
To help us get a handle on all this, explain some important concepts that you discuss – the cultural Marxist idea of hegemony, hegemonic structure, oppression, intersectionality, social justice, and so on.
The grand scheme strategy includes important elements. The first is called positive tolerance. Building on the work of Gramsci, they said what the left needs to do is to establish their own hegemony. Not only do you have the working classes, but there are also lots of different groups, lots of minority groups to harness to bring social change. The idea is that capitalistic societies are inherently racist, patriarchal, and sexist. Somehow they need to harness the energy of the different “victim” groups needed to be brought together, cease being critical of each other, and so harness their collective energy to bring about a change in power.
Second, zero-tolerance occurs with anybody on the right because they do not deserve to be tolerated. The third thing is getting into those key positions in the judiciary or in academia or whatever. The fourth element was one of the most influential of the critical theorist that was the destabilization of language. Marcuse argued that it was necessary to “break the established universe of meaning.” This allowed for the destabilization of communicating ideas and passing on tradition. They wanted to change meaning to create instability. The obvious example is tolerance. The old tolerance is the acceptance of what is different and that different views exist. They have completely redefined this word to tolerate ideas they like and silence everyone else.
Fifth, they assign value to people according to their group identity; this is what is called identity politics. There is a big problem with categorizing people according to gender, race, etc. What you then end up with is the abolition of particulars and individual responsibility. What really matters is not you as an individual—which is the classic liberal position—but to which group do you belong? Are you part of a victim group or oppressor group? If you belong to an oppressive group, for example, privileged white male, you become guilty simply by association with the group, regardless of how virtuous you may have been as an individual.
These shifts result in continued conflict that will never end. Intersectionality is the idea that people do not generally belong to one group of victims because they can belong to several groups, and it is a sort of interlocking of these differences. People who find themselves within multiple groups are even more oppressed. In an extreme case, if someone is a black lesbian who is disabled and a feminist, then she will be more oppressed than some white college-educated New York banker. That person is automatically considered to be much more of the victim.
Make some distinctions for us. Terms like freedom, liberation, and equality have a different meaning under cultural Marxism. And how does cultural Marxism differ from classical liberalism?
Classical liberalism contains notions of freedom: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom to assemble. All three matter. When you have important thoughts, then you want to share them for progress in attaining what is true. You need to be able to hear opposing views, and they need to hear yours, and then together, you may make your way to producing a better society. Classical liberalism did not question equality based on skin color or ethnicity or sex or gender, and classic liberalism did not argue that people should not be treated less favorably or more favorably because of their differences. That is the classical situation.
Cultural Marxism contains a totally different understanding of freedom. This goes back to Marx’s idea that there is no such thing as a fixed human nature, and this was then worked out even more in the Frankfurt School in the 1930s by Eric Fromm and Wilhelm Reich. Basically, we need to be free from all restraints and rules at any institution that could possibly be considered to be repressive, what Marcuse called repressive tolerance. That would include institutions like the church and particularly the family.
That is not true freedom; it is a toxic philosophy. Isaiah Berlin’ used to teach that there are two types of freedom: the freedom to do what you want, and freedom to do what you ought. The Marxist version of freedom is delusory.
How do the contemporary gender and sexual agendas fit in all this?
The gay movement has this drive that goes back to the original stonewall riots. This lifestyle was certainly not tolerated before, but now homosexuality within society in general but also within the church and is positively affirmed under Obama. You have the pink house. We have had pride month now in this country. How did that happen?
Neo-Marxist tactics were employed, and the two men who did this particularly brought in were Kirk and Madison. They aimed to turn America away from being a gay-hating society to a gay-affirming society, which is precisely what happened. There are three tactics. First, there is desensitization, for example, having positive images of gay people. These images make others think gay people are just like them.
The second stage is ‘jamming’ getting people not to want to associate with white supremacist groups, but distance from anything homophobic and gradually become homo-affirming. This creates a kind of “cognitive dissonance.” The final stage, which is acceptance, and that the stage we are in now.
The trans issue can trace its origin right back to cultural Marxism and again the works of the Frankfurt school their notion of absolute freedom/liberation, to become whatever you want to become and be whatever you want to be. If there is no fixed human nature, as Marx and Fromm argued, then if you are a biological male, then why not become a female?
You say that in the cultural Marxist agenda “truth is at a discount” and that “truth is sacrificed on the altar of ideology.” How so? How is it when we might attempt dialogue that truth and facts don’t matter?
Truth matters. The idea of Critical Theory is to subject everything to radical and relentless criticism according to the principle that everything is relative. Telling outright lies is also not rules out since the end justifies the means. Thus, for Hungarian neo-Marxist Gyorgy Lukacs, Fichte was quoted with approval when he said, “If theory conflicts with facts, so much the worst for the facts.”
Okay, what are the means by which cultural Marxists hope to pull off their revolution? And how is it right to describe it as totalitarian?
That is absolutely right, and what Gramsci did was make a very important distinction between what he called the war of position and the war of maneuver. The latter is the classic picture of the revolution, storming the centers of power and government and taking over. Gramsci argued that one had to get people in positions of cultural influence first to prepare it to make it much more ready for the revolution when it comes. And that is what has been happening, and that is why you got a target, the institutions, particularly education from kindergarten to universities and colleges.
The media is very strong in this regard now, of course. Social media is as well. The power of Silicon Valley, for instance, with Google has a strict selection process for those who want to go work with them. Basically, if you are not a cultural Marxist, you will not get in, and this is the way in which totalitarianism is showing itself.
Consider what has happened recently with “Black lives matter” in your country and mine. This is an avowedly Marxist movement whose aim is to “dismantle imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and the state structures.” And yet politicians on the right as well as the left blithely support it, not realizing in some cases the true nature of the beats. But this is a classic Marxist tactic, “piggyback” on a noble issue –anti-racism- to forward their own Marxist agenda.
If there any criticism of it, if there is anything that was politically incorrect, a Maoist term, then we get canceled. They will shut down your Twitter account, Facebook account, etc., and you get a pile of abuse. It is interesting how they advertise positive tolerance, and then to see how that really works out. It is interesting to see what is now happening between the second third-wave feminists and the proponents of the trans. We see this in the case of JK Rowling; she is quite a feminist and an atheist. She believes there is a biological difference between men and women, and then she gets abuse because people consider her to be transphobic. Other people lose their jobs, publishing opportunities, and their positions in the media.
That is as near as the fascist’s state as you can get, that you can be frightened to speak out. That is the point of this, to make sure that you remain silent. People must affirm certain things, or else. Now firms must have on their products that they are anti-racist even police are called to “take the knee.” It is not enough not to be racist—you must positively state it. That is a very insidious situation.
Is it not ironic that this all is happening under the banner of tolerance?
Exactly, but this again gets back to Marcuse. He said that what was considered to be liberal in a classic liberal tolerance was not tolerant anyway and, therefore, cannot be tolerated, he called this “repressive tolerance.” He called this “repressive tolerance.” Hence we have microaggressions in your country and mine. We have demonstrations that are basically deranged people in the crowd screaming and shouting at policemen. The weird situation is that now so-called “micro aggressions” are real aggressions, whereas “hurling abuse and stones and considered to be one-aggressions if the objects are considered to have forfeited any rights by virtue of their political identity.
You have an addendum in your new book written in view of the very recent Black Lives Matter protests. Can you summarize for us what you have to say there?
We have a very interesting situation with the cultural Marxism strategies are already outlined his assorted collective soft approach. You gradually occupy the high points in culture to exert your influence, especially for conflicts. This is a classic and revolutionary situation often associated with Marxism keeping a safe condition until things are just right.
What we have here in your country and mine with the COVID-19 situation has provided the perfect storm. People are fearful. Fear is very much in Britain. There is a lot of frustration and pent-up energy combined with fear. Then into this perfect storm, you have the dreadful killing of George Floyd and this is the trigger for the chaos and violence that follows. Who would have thought that from one incident in the US, riots, and abuse against police should take place in the UK?
Now what is interesting here is that prior to this, if anyone was gathering publicly, it was considered to be illegal, and it would be dispersed. But simply in this case, it is okay. So, we now have the situation when a cause is beyond reproach and trumps even a serious viral outbreak and public health. No politician here would have allowed violent demonstrations as well policemen being chased. But that is what has happened because of neo-Marxism. There comes a point when the neo-Marxist tactic of non-coercion gives way to the more classical Marxist tactic of violent coercion.
How does all this affect the Christian? And how best can Christians respond to all this?
If you want to see the endpoint of cultural Marxism, then look at what is happening in Portland, for instance, with people acting as vigilantes. That is where it will eventually go. Ultimately, it is destructive. Although there is some vague idea of utopia around the corner, it never realizes. That is something that Christians need to understand first.
The second is that we do not buy into the narrative. That also means being careful about the language we use. The archbishop of Canterbury made a public statement that “we repent of white privilege,” a very debatable concept. When you use terms like that, you validate their largest concepts, you actually reinforce that particular concept, and you actually weaken your own.
From what I can see in the States, some evangelicals need to be really careful on this one, with the various lamentations published online. We must examine ourselves to put our in house in order, to use biblical lenses, not a neo-Marxist lens.
We must demonstrate that there is a better way. We understand reality as it is because we have it revealed in Scripture. General revelation demonstrates that human beings can flourish and more than any anywhere else, we need to be promoting the family, preserving the family, and as a Church, we need to demonstrate that to a watching world. God’s kingdom is a good kingdom, and that if you want true unity and diversity, people should be looking to local churches. They will show that as they seek to live in light of the gospel.
The church in every generation must be careful to understand the current thought-forms of its society in order to present its unchanging message effectively. This book is a much-needed and very helpful aid to that end, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Certainly every Christian leader today needs to be aware of what this book has to offer. The title again is That Hideous Strength: a Deeper Look at How the West was Lost, by Melvin Tinker. Buy a box of them and distribute them widely!
Melvin, thanks so much for your faithful and helpful work, and thanks for talking to us about it all today.
Fred, thank you very much for inviting me.
Buy the books
THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH: A DEEPER LOOK AT HOW THE WEST WAS LOST, AN EXPANDED EDITION EXAMINING THE CANCER OF CULTURAL MARXISM IN THE CHURCH, THE WORLD, AND THE GOSPEL OF CHANGE, by Melvin Tinker