After posting my blog on George Will and Obama's Leninism and reading Carol Platt Liebau's post today on "Political Correctness vs. Religion," I would like to tie these two together--that is, what is the relationship between communism, political correctness, and the Judeo-Christian religions?
First, we must take a look at the last few centuries, where “religion” has taken on the additional connotations of dedication to abstract principles or ideals rather than a personal being. The French Enlightenment, with its worship of Reason is a prime example of this kind of religion. The god is no longer personal, but abstract, though it may be personified in art or ritual. Hence, modern dictionaries include definitions relating religion to impersonal principles rather than persons. The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary widens the definition to include: “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held with ardor and faith.” Meaning “religion” in only this broad, even purely metaphorical sense, the atheist may bristle at the notion that his “religion” entails anything other than adherence to his core principles, whatever they may be. Yet two movements of the last century, one explicitly atheist and the other vehemently secular if not outright atheist, exhibit many striking similarities to those of more traditional religions.
Until recently, the most notable example of a secular movement that was, for all practical purposes, a religion, was Marxism. During the global expansion of Marxism in the twentieth century, many critics noted its religious and quasi-religious characteristics. For example, Marxism had dogmas, core teachings that all Marxists embraced. Among these were “economic determinism,” the doctrine that politics, culture, and ethics were necessary extensions of economic relations; and the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” a necessary historical stage in the inevitable transformation of capitalism into socialism. Such dogmas were laid out in Marxism’s canonical scriptures, which included Das Kapital, The Communist Manifesto, The Collected Works of Lenin, The Collected Works of Stalin, The Little Red Book of Mao Tse-tung, and other official Marxist-Leninist works of the mid-twentieth century.
Marxist orthodoxy was safeguarded by its “priests” and “theologians” who taught the requisite dogmas and presided over the “ritualistic observances,” principally workers’ strikes, especially general strikes. Within Marxist regimes, ideological police and government censors saw that the dogmas found their way into factories, neighborhood organizations, and newspapers. In academe, professors promoted adherence to dialectical materialism as the common creed.
Deviations from dogma (i.e., “heresies”), needed to be suppressed. Things associated with the two great heresies, traditional religion and capitalism, were banned and demonized. Traditional religion, the “opiate of the masses” in Karl Marx’s famous phrase, had to be abandoned in favor of the foresight and “five year plans” of state- controlled hierarchies. Orthodox Marxists had meticulously to avoid such “sins” as expropriating “surplus value” from an army of oppressed workers, preaching rewards in an afterlife to the proletariat, or settling into the life of a conspicuous consumer removed from the struggles of workers. The wayward were corrected in mandated “reeducation” camps; those found intractable to correction were frequently subjected to excommunication from the party, exile, and even execution.
There was even an eschatology: After the earlier evolutionary stages of capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, the “end times” would come, characterized by a new state of consciousness in “communist man,” who would live in a cooperative, crime- free, international community, without any vestiges of dehumanizing labor; and a hagiography, which included generally accepted revolutionary saints, such as Marx, Engels, and Lenin, as well as some venerated by select or local groups such as Bakunin and Trotsky.
Not all Marxists, of course, had sufficient ardor and faith to qualify them as “religious” in the wide sense. In the West during the Cold War, there were many persons partially influenced by progressive ideals of worker solidarity and a new socialist order, but who took their Marxism with a “grain of salt.” So also now, in the twenty-first century, there are many people working for social justice, human rights, international solidarity, and other causes commonly regarded as liberal without an ardent or unbending ideological commitment. But there are also those for whom their political views have become a life commitment (i.e., those on the Left), held to with the same ardor and faith as Marxism was for its strongest adherents. These men and women of the Left do not have an obligation to spread Christianity through faith in Jesus Christ, or want human beings to believe in ethical monotheism by following Judaism, or become communist by reading the works of Karl Marx.
Today’s Left relies on political correctness to further an array of race, gender/sex, cultural, political, and ideological agendas pursued in the name of such concepts as “tolerance,” “diversity,” “equality,” “peace,” and “human rights” among others. Religious Jews and Christians as well as “religious” Marxists and Leftists share and have shared two things in the twentieth century: a platform to push their agendas and the means to do so. What they have not shared is the same mode for producing converts. The “mode” used by leftists is called political correctness.
At the heart of political correctness is the war over Judeo-Christian moral absolutes, and thus an attempt to end the dialogue between one claiming that he has the Truth and allowing a new “truth” to take its place. Ironically, postmodernists see no contradiction in their claims of having the “truth.” Even those claiming there are not moral absolutes are contrarily making such a claim. After trashing moral absolutes, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, postmodern leftists and academics are free to advocate anything and, indeed, transform their new “truths” into absolutes. The tool that allows such a thing becomes political correctness.