A devastating leftist critique of Mark Levin’s bestselling book American Marxism was posted by Zachary Petrizzo at Salon the other day. After reading Petrizzo’s remarks, I am left wondering about the colossal foolishness of Levin, who set out to write a book—which his celebrity would push to the top of the New York Times best seller list—on something it seems he never bothered to study.
Petrizzo notes that Levin refers to the Frankfurt School—which he attacks as the main source of American Marxist pollution—as the “Franklin School.” Levin also seems to be blissfully unaware that this school of radical social theory that he purports to be investigating developed in the German city of Frankfurt, not Berlin, after World War I.
Furthermore, Levin blames my former professor Herbert Marcuse for “hatching” this dangerous radical theory, which turned Marxism into a racially divisive ideology. But as Petrizzo notes, the Critical Theory in question was constructed by multiple theorists going back to the 1920s; in its earlier, more traditional forms, it had nothing to do with black/white confrontations in the United States.
Marcuse’s contribution to Frankfurt School theory was hardly foundational, as one learns from reading Rolf Wiggershaus’s massive study of this enterprise, which is now available in English. Marcuse achieved prominence as an exponent of Frankfurt School theory mostly after World War II, and his strongest influence was in the United States, whither he immigrated in the 1930s.
Moreover, the peculiar blend of Marxism and Freudianism produced by the Frankfurt School in Germany, and then in its American diaspora, offered not a traditional Marxist interpretation of history, but a psychological-cultural critique of bourgeois capitalist society. What came out of this interwar German institution and its reiterations can hardly be described as orthodox Marxism. Indeed, traditional Marxists in America and Europe regarded the Frankfurt School blend of ideas, with its emphasis on erotic deprivation, as a glaring departure from Marx’s socioeconomic critique of capitalist society.