Today’s Marxism has little to do with Karl Marx. Marxism in its purest form is an attack on capitalism, not culture. Once workers united against their capitalist exploiters, so the argument goes, the inevitability of Communism would be realized, and everyone would be equal with no exploitation.
During the panel discussion that I participated in at Liberty University during the Falkirk Faith Summit with Eric Metaxas, Mark David Hall, and Jay Reynolds, Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and co-author of Privileged Planet, we discussed biblical worldview issues. Dr. Reynolds mentioned Antonio Gramsci and Herbert Marcuse in passing. I’m sure most people missed the significance of his statement. But it’s Gramsci’s ideas we are seeing being implemented at the highest levels of society, not those of Marx.
Gramsci (1891–1937) believed it was incumbent on his followers to “enter into every civil, cultural and political activity in every nation, patiently leavening them all as thoroughly as yeast leavens bread.” To change the culture, Gramsci argued, “would require a ‘long march through the institutions’—the arts, cinema, theater, schools, colleges, seminaries, newspapers, magazines, and the new electronic medium [of the time], radio.”
Roger Kimball captures the principles of the tactic well in his book The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America: “The long march through the institutions signified in the words of [Herbert] Marcuse, ‘working against the established institutions while working in them’. By this means—by insinuation and infiltration rather than by confrontation—the counter-cultural dreams of radicals like Marcuse have triumphed.”
Gramsci’s enemy was not capitalism. It was Christianity. Gary North (1942–1982) explains that “Gramsci in the 1930s acknowledged that Western society was deeply religious, and that the only way to achieve a proletarian revolution would be to break the faith of the masses of Western voters in Christianity and the moral system derived from Christianity. He placed religion and culture at the base of the pyramid. This means that the mode of production is secondary.”
Christianity used to be cultural. There was a time when Christians believed that Christianity was transformative. Gramsci understood this.
After a discussion with a friend who I had not seen in 32 years, I began rereading James Orr’s book The Progress of Dogma, a series of lectures that he delivered at the Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1897.
Orr sounds very much like Gramsci, but with a twist. He believed that Christians should engage the culture at every level. The following is from the last few pages of The Progress of Dogma. Note the bold text.
“[Philosophical Agnosticism’s] effect on theology is that Christianity comes itself to be regarded as part of a larger whole. God’s purpose for His world is one and all-comprehensive; and to understand Christianity rightly is to understand its place in that purpose, as exhibiting its goal, and giving the key to its meaning….
“I trust, that, as the result of this survey in which we have been engaged, I have succeeded in some degree in making it apparent that there is a true meaning and progress in the history of dogma, and that some glimpse even has been obtained into the law of that progress. I close by reiterating my conviction that the outlook in theology, if not all bright, is assuredly not all dark. There are, indeed, not wanting signs that we are on the eve of new conflicts, in which new solvents will be applied to Christian doctrines, and which may prove anxious and testing to many who do not realise that Christian faith in every age must be a battle.
That battle will have to be fought, if I mistake not, in the first instance, round the fortress of the worth and authority of Holy Scripture….
If, however, I were asked in what I think the distinctive peculiarity of twentieth-century Christianity will lie, I should answer that it is not in any new or overwhelmingly brilliant discovery in theology that I look for it. The lines of essential doctrine are by this time well and surely established. But the Church has another and yet more difficult task before it, if it is to retain its ascendency over the minds of men. That task is to bring Christianity to bear as an applied power on the life and conditions of society; to set itself as it has never yet done to master the meaning of “the mind of Christ,” and to achieve the translation of that mind into the whole practical life of the age into laws, institutions, commerce, literature, art; into domestic, civic, social, and political relations; into national and international doings in this sense to bring in the Kingdom of God among men. I look to the twentieth century to be an era of Christian Ethic even more than of Christian Theology. With God on our side, history behind us, and the unchanging needs of the human heart to appeal to, we need tremble for the future of neither.
“All flesh is as grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of the grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth; but the word of the Lord abideth forever. And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you.” [1 Pet. 1:24–25] (352–354)
The Unknown History of the 20th Century
Join Dr. Gary North as he explores the key events and figures of the past century and the unknown social, political, ecclesiastical, cultural, even conspiratorial forces that have made America what it is today. Dr. North brings it all together, helping us understand where we have come from, where we are now, and where we should be heading as a nation.
History 101: Lessons from the Past
History 101 is an overview course designed to help Christians understand their place in the historical timeline. With study materials in audio, video, and print, History 101 will give the student of history much to think about. This course will point the way forward by revealing how we got where we are. You will be thrilled and encouraged by the stories from ancient and not-so-ancient history.