Postmodern pessimism gives way to Utopian yearnings

In today’s WaPo, Stanley Kurtz argues that socialists from the ’60s primed millennials to Feel the Bern:

Classic socialism is commonplace in academia, yet the many neo-Marxist approaches to gender, race, ethnicity and the environment are more influential. Marx saw religion, individual liberty and the rule of law as masks for the interests of the capitalist class. He aimed to puncture the proletariat’s belief in these comforting myths by exposing the exploitative nature of the system. Thus disillusioned, workers would seize power by force.

Marx’s intellectual descendants in the academy write off individual liberty and the classic American narrative as masks for the power of wealthy white European males. They point to “systemic oppression” to justify group preferences and their attacks on the free speech of the “privileged.”

Postmodern thinking expands this debunking critique. Yet knowing of socialism’s despotic tendencies, postmodernists have abandoned Marx’s Utopian vision. They drift toward nihilism and paralysis instead

So while Sanders’s millennial supporters may not be able to define socialism or recount its despotic legacy, they have absorbed its debunking critique of our democratic liberties and are drawn to the hardball tactics of its organizer-activists.

Sixties socialism was a phenomenon of affluence. Amidst a fraying social fabric, the first generation that could afford mass higher education was pulled from family and community at the brink of adulthood. Leftist protest movements served as antidotes to the alienation. The Vietnam draft was a factor, but the ’60s ethos also spread through Europe, where there was no draft.

Economic stresses are a factor today, yet socialism remains a creature of affluence and alienation. Years of postgraduate education and delayed marriage drive isolation and secularism, and also the yearning for a substitute secular faith. It was only a matter of time before postmodern pessimism gave way to Utopian yearnings once again.

The upper-middle-class climate-warriors at the heart of Sanders’s movement imagine themselves victims of a world-destroying capitalist conspiracy. Incremental nationalization of the energy industry is their path to global salvation; nor is the silencing of climate dissenters too high a price to pay. Other Sanders socialists aim to shut down Trump rallies. This is not democracy but a return of authoritarian socialism, the most seductive secular religion that history has ever known.

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