- Hardcover: 280 pages
- Publisher: Encounter Books; First American Edition edition (August 11, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 159403768X
- ISBN-13: 978-1594037689
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 185 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Devil's Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West Hardcover – August 11, 2015
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The core of Walsh’s book is an attack upon the Frankfurt School and its “Critical Theory.” The Frankfurt School was a group of Marxist German scholars, many from Goethe University’s Institute For Social Research in Frankfurt, who fled to the US before and after World War II, and then proceeded to repay this country’s generosity by deliberately destroying its culture. These men included Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse. They also include, in Walsh’s telling, indirectly, men like the Communist Antonio Gramsci (famous for calling for a “long march through the institutions,” though he did not use those exact words, to combat bourgeois “cultural hegemony”) and Georg Lukács, the Hungarian Communist (not to be confused with the writer John Lukács). The key principal of the Frankfurt School was that the existing culture of the West must be destroyed and replaced, because it is irrational and oppressive, originating in and containing nothing good.
Walsh’s premise is that the philosophy collectively promulgated by these men, Critical Theory, was a departure from earlier American liberalism, and a pernicious departure, that has since infected all America with its poison. This infection was accomplished through the adoption and application of the Frankfurt School’s social theories by legions of American-born radicals embedded throughout the key institutions of the West. To Walsh, Critical Theory is merely “cultural Marxism.” And, like economic Marxism, its goal is the destruction of the current society and its replacement by something new, better, and totally different. But instead of the workers being the driving engine, the educated classes would be. “They had been let down by the grubby, unwashed workers of the world, who largely rejected the great gift they had been offered; now they would approach their equals in the intelligentsia, a far more receptive and persuadable audience.”
Among other core ideas of the Frankfurt School much in evidence today, for example in the frenzied demands for political correctness on campus and in the workplace, and in reactions to Donald Trump, is Marcuse’s “repressive tolerance”—the idea that real tolerance consists of intolerance of incorrect views. Or, as Wikipedia summarizes the idea, “Revolutionary minorities hold the truth and the majority has to be liberated from error by being re-educated in the truth by this minority. The revolutionary minority are entitled to suppress rival and harmful opinions.” But Marcuse’s idea is only one of many dubious gifts bestowed on modern America by the Frankfurt School—nearly any organized modern attack on American traditions is at least in part a result of the machinations of the Frankfurt School and its acolytes.
While the degree and emphasis of Critical Theory was new in America, and its impact heightened by other cultural changes, the idea that the existing culture must continuously justify itself to reason and be replaced if rationally determined to be deficient, is as old as America, as seen in the debates between Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke. Attempts to undermine and destroy a society’s culture are nothing new in the post-Enlightenment world, though the Frankfurt School has been uniquely successful in having their corrosive ideas adopted through internal corruption rather than imposed by external force or actual revolution. True, what distinguishes adherents of the Frankfurt School is their nihilism, in that they are less interested in what the new society will be than in destroying the old. This is well covered by Walsh, but he does not tie his discussion to longer-term currents of American political thought, which would have made his analysis stronger.
But linear discussion about the Frankfurt School is actually a small part of the book, and not particularly well developed. My summary above is pieced together. The rest of the book is a rambling series of asides relating political points to classical music, H.P. Lovecraft, Milton, movies from Chinatown to “The Wild One,” and numerous operas (the name of the book is from a Schubert opera). Many of these asides are mildly interesting, and what Walsh is trying to do is, through an artistic lens, tie the evils of Critical Theory to its opposition to the traditional “heroic narrative” of the West. However, the net result feels like a fairly confused mishmash—neither political analysis nor clear social commentary. There is certainly no clear exposition and refutation of the Frankfurt School, which is why I read the book to begin with. And, while most of the book is heavily pessimistic, oddly, Walsh concludes his book on an optimistic note. “No political victory is ever permanent,” and Walsh apparently believes that by returning to the heroic narrative and the explication of virtues, American conservatives can ultimately defeat the poison of Critical Theory. He doesn’t really say how, or develop this throwaway optimism, though. It’s just a jarring conclusion to an ambitious, but ultimately largely incoherent, book.
Like Walsh, I am involved in the music industry and can see the deleterious effects of cultural Marxism. Ironically, Theodor Adorno, one of the Frankfurt School's leading exponents of atonal music, hated popular culture. Yet, as Walsh and others point out, the secularization of Western culture due to the pervasive influence of pop is a major problem. This is an important and insightful book (as is Roger Scruton's new book on the "frauds" of the new left) if one should want to more fully understand "Critical Theory," its proponents, its influence and its origins. Bravissimo!
Mr Walsh sets up his argument as a battle between Good and Evil, and quotes Milton's Paradise Lost in several places. He makes it a battle between God and Satan. Then shows the philosophy that supports that argument. He explains German Opera, and ties it in with the Good v Evil. (Yes, I know that the political left labels their opposition as evil, racist, oppressors. That's the whole point behind Critical Theory. Turn everything upside down. Good is bad, bad is good.)
The only place where the Author lost me was the chapter on the twelve tone music system. Went right over my head.
If you have the time, and are interested in philosophy, political ideology, and believe in the heroic battle between good and evil, this book may well explain why we are having the political arguments we are having today, and why those arguments are so acrimonious.
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Dense in a good way. Incredible detail.Read more