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Mark Levin’s Mistakes Hurt Conservatives

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.

Since Levin is a TV entertainer, it wouldn’t be surprising that he would not be aware of all these facts, but one might expect his editors to have noticed and corrected his more embarrassing errors. One does not have to be a trained research scholar to pick them up. As Salon points out, a search on Wikipedia would have turned up Levin’s more egregious bloopers in a few minutes. It seems the now familiar combination of self-importance and intellectual vulgarity that characterizes conservatism as media entertainment may be what lies behind this botched work. These performers should limit themselves to what they do best, which is entertaining, for they are neither equipped nor predisposed to pursue scholarly research.

Contrary to what Levin claims, I’m not sure why escalating racial tensions in the U.S., largely stirred up by white elites, prove that Marxism is gaining ground. These tensions can be explained without recourse to garbled histories of Marxist movements in the U.S. Racial animosities are real, and the woke left is doing all that it can to make sure that this hatred can be further inflamed.

Levin charts a tortuous course in trying to clarify how Marxism produced our present problems, but once again falls short. How for example did the Progressive educator John Dewey, who is one of Levin’s bête noires, contribute to our present woke insanity? Although Dewey was at least initially enamored of the Bolshevik Revolution—but later became quite disenchanted—and fathered the unsavory idea that public education should serve social engineering purposes, it is hard to see how Dewey caused or exacerbated our racial conflicts. Incidentally, Dewey was also never a Marxist.

Perhaps a more relevant case of what Levin is talking about is the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. This is not said to demean King’s courage, but as an example of prominent leftist political figures who associated with Communists and preached socialist ideas. King surrounded himself with Communist advisers, as his admiring biographer David J. Garrow documents with detail in Bearing the Cross. King also filled his letters and diaries with defenses of socialism. In King’s case we are also dealing with a civil rights revolutionary, who loudly scolded white racism.  

But I’m not at all convinced that King would qualify as a Marxist. He appears to have been a Christian socialist who thought his Communist colleagues shared his indignation about what he perceived as social injustice. It is entirely possible to understand King’s career just like the activities of the present left without ascribing a Marxist lineage to either.

Thus, we come back to Levin’s expository problem of proving a connection between two forces that he finds objectionable, namely, the antiwhite woke left and Marxism. Although a connection between these two entities may be present, Levin certainly does not show that one exists. Meanwhile, Levin’s millions of fans will read the book and, confident in their knowledge, will debate with friends and family—only to be easily discredited.

Paul Gottfried

Paul Gottfried

Paul Gottfried is editor in chief of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is also the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years, a Guggenheim recipient, and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.

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Mr. Gottfried has spent a lifetime studying these characters – I’ll trust his judgment over internet blowhards. I don’t know if the criticism is motivated by a desire to push back against the implication of the (significantly) Jewish origins of cultural/biological Marxism. I’m confident Mr. Gottfried isn’t a virulent anti-semite. “Since Levin is a TV entertainer….” He’s awful at that. His show is even more boring than Hannity’s. The wife and I have a joke that if we are having trouble falling asleep, we put on Hannity. Levin’s show will put you in a coma. We enjoy Tucker. He’s not deep but he’s entertaining.


I have never read a book by Levin (or Carlson, or even Prager, who I find to be the most insightful of them all). I agree that they are mainly entertainers and also fill the role of professing the conservative message in a manner that the average person can grasp. That said, when I heard that Levin referred to the Frankfurt school as the "Franklin" school, I had to laugh and cringe simultaneously. How any editor could miss such a glaring error is beyond me! Still, I would not downplay the impact of someone like Marcuse. His biographer, Robert Marks, in the 1970 book "The Meaning of Marcuse" demonstrates how influential his fusion of Marx and Freud was on not only the university, but the popular culture. He was, after all, the "Guru of the New Left" and the Father of the Sexual Revolution. Also, if Dr. Gottfried knows a lot about the Frankfurt school and Marxism in America, I would expect to see a few more concrete examples of where Levin fails in his book. Getting the name of the Institute for Sociological Research wrong is certainly one thing, but, if this is a popular level book (which I imagine it is), obviously there is going to be nuance that is missed. I think one can make a good case that Marxism is and always will remain a vibrant and viable worldview. In his 1968 book "Marxism and Christianity" Alasdair MacIntyre demonstrates why this is the case; because Marxism is the religion for modern man. If Christianity is false, then what else could play the role of stand-in religion other than another ancient religion, e.g., Islam, or Marxism? I think nothing else comes close as a replacement to orthodox Christianity.


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Mr. Gottfried's mistakes hurt our culture and civilization even more than Mr. Levin's mistakes. Mr. Gottfried is clearly ignorant of Frankfurt School being marxism 2.0, rushed into political arena in the 1970s and the 1980s, especially with the leadership of Altiero Spinnelli in the European Parliament, as a replacement for the failed marxism 1.0, i.e., marxism-leninism. The objective of marxism remains unchanged: The objective of marxism is to restore the happy, peaceful and prosperous tribal society that existed 5000 or more years ago. And yes, I am being sarcastic in this definition, but also very, very, very serious. That definition of marxism is the only one that stood the test of time, and that defines it purely and completely.


Paul studies this for a living and lived with these people in academia for 50 years. Levin is a left wing blowhard who wants to spread “American values” overseas who had his book refuted in these articles.