Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) Resident Fellow Mary Grabar reviewed The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West by Michael Walsh (Encounter Books) for the Summer 2016 issue of Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars (NAS).

Grabar writes that Walsh “aims to describe the history and effects of the ‘Frankfurt scholars,’” the Marxist exiles from post World War II Europe–Theodor Adorno, Wilhelm Reich, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, and Max Horkheimer–who “poisoned academe with the nihilistic ideas of Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukács.”  These professors and writers greatly influenced the New Left, and thereby degraded art and academic inquiry.  She writes that it is in large part due to the teaching by “intellectual descendants of the New Left” that today’s students come to see themselves as “super ‘critical thinkers’ and morally capable of discerning ‘microagressions.’”  They imbibe such pernicious ideas as Marcuse’s concept of “repressive tolerance” (defined in his 1965 essay, “A Critique of Pure Tolerance), which Walsh aptly and humorously summarizes as “’tolerance for me, but not for thee.’”

Such use of “jaunty, often funny prose” is a strength of the book, but the mingling of high and low culture “ranging from Goethe’s Faust and Milton’s Paradise Lost to musical compositions by Wagner and Schubert to such movies as Roger Rabbit and Fatal Attraction” in quick succession limits its range. Walsh’s book introduces the important subject, but a more sustained treatment is needed, Grabar concludes.

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