Editor’s note: This interview was originally posted on August 21, 2015; it is re-posted to help mark the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth.
Dr. Paul Kengor is a professor of political science at Grove City College (Pennsylvania) and the author of several best-selling books, including Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century; God and Ronald Reagan; God and George W. Bush; God and Hillary Clinton; and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. Dr. Kengor is widely recognized for his scholarly work about the American presidency, the Cold War, and the history of communism.
His most recent book is Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage (WND Books, 2015), a deeply researched historical study of how radical leftists, for close to two centuries, have worked to undermine and fundamentally change—or even destroy—marriage, family life, and traditional social structures and relationships.
Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, recently corresponded with Dr. Kengor about Takedown.
CWR: Toward the end of your book, in writing about the socialist support in Cuba of “gay marriage,” you note, “As long as the traditional family is reversed, Marxism is advanced.” That’s a fairly succinct summary of your book, isn’t it? Why was Karl Marx so opposed to the traditional family and marriage? What shaped and informed his ideological disdain for both?
Dr. Paul Kengor: There are a lot of factors that go into answering that question, but two stand out: First, Karl Marx showed personal disdain for the institution of marriage. He was unfaithful to his wife and, all around, a poor husband. I don’t mean that to sound judgmental or uncharitable. Sure, those of us who are husbands are all lacking, myself included, but Marx was a bad case. You can read the details in the book, but, among other things, Marx had a sexual relationship with the longtime family nursemaid, who he apparently impregnated, though he always insisted the child was neither his nor his responsibility.
We also can’t neglect Marx’s partner in The Communist Manifesto, Friedrich Engels, who joined him in writing of the “abolition of the family” and held married life in even lower contempt. Marx showed his opposition to monogamous marriage by breaking his vow to his wife, but Engels showed his disregard by simply refusing to marry the many mistresses that wanted him to make honest women out of them. Marx and Engels sniffed that “bourgeois marriage is in reality a system of wives in common.”
Aside from their personal feelings, Marx and Engels rightly called communism “the most radical rupture” in traditional relations. It was nothing short of a fundamental transformation of society and human nature. And to genuinely transform human nature, they realized that you had to take down the most element things: God, private property, marriage, and family.
CWR: You show how the Bolshevik revolution took direct aim at both marriage and Christianity. What were some practical ways in which Lenin sought to destroy both? Is there a direct correlation to how both are being attacked and undermined today in the U.S. and the West?
Dr. Kengor: Lenin and the Bolsheviks immediately went after God/religion, private property, and marriage and family. They radically liberalized all divorce and abortion laws. You weren’t free in Bolshevik Russia to have freedom of religion, press, assembly, speech, or property, but, wow, if you wanted a divorce or an abortion, you were the freest person on the planet! The sky was the limit. And in very short course, Russia soon had divorce and abortion rates unseen in the history of the world. In fact, the abortion rate got so bad that it astounded Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, who took a fact-finding trip to the Soviet Union in 1934, and even stunned Stalin, who, in 1936, was forced to ban abortion out of fear that his country would soon cease to exist. Russian women were annihilating the future generation. This madness had to be stopped or there would be no communist Russia.
As far as the correlation to America and the West today, our rates of divorce and abortion have never been as bad as communist Russia, but they’ve certainly been bad enough. We’ve seen divorce rates near 50% and experienced the extermination of nearly 60 million unborn babies in America since Roe v. Wade in 1973. And in other areas, such as birth control and the condemnation of those who oppose birth control and abortion on moral-religious-political grounds, we in America today stand where Bolshevik Russia stood eight decades ago. In the book, I have a full chapter on Margaret Sanger. Sanger wrote this upon her return from communist Russia in 1934: “Theoretically, there are no obstacles to birth control in Russia. It is accepted … on the grounds of health and human right…. We [in America] could well take example from Russia, where there are no legal restrictions, no religious condemnation, and where birth control instruction is part of the regular welfare service of the government.”
What really strikes one about reading this assertion today is how modern liberal Democrats in America have arrived at Sanger’s Bolshevik ideal, where Planned Parenthood’s services have become, in their mind, “part of the regular welfare service of the government,” just like in Stalinist Russia. If you disagree with today’s “progressives” on funding Planned Parenthood or the Obama HHS mandate or whatever, they accuse you of favoring a “war on women.” In many areas, as I show in the book, today’s liberals are just a few decades behind the communists.
CWR: How committed to communism was Margaret Sanger? Is it surprising that she was actually opposed to abortion when she found Planned Parenthood in the 1920s? How did that institution eventually “progress” to the acceptance of killing of the unborn?
Dr. Kengor: To my knowledge, Sanger wasn’t a communist, though she was very sympathetic and had many friends who were, and she was—generally speaking—far to the left. Yes, she initially condemned abortion. “It is an alternative that I cannot too strongly condemn,” she wrote in the January 27, 1932 edition of The Nation. “Some ill-informed persons have the notion that when we speak of birth control we include abortion as a method. We certainly do not.” She called abortion “dangerous” and “vicious.” And yet, what for progressives began as birth control (and eugenics) needed only a few decades to “progress” to the point of snuffing out life after conception. As with much of what progressives do, where they started was not enough. And, naturally, once legalized abortion came along, it, too, was not enough. Today, progressives tell us abortion must be funded by taxpayers.
This is how their “progress” works. They literally cannot tell you where they will go next. They’ll tell you when they get there. They’re doing this now with marriage. Just 20 years ago, typical progressive Democrats favored marriage as being between one man and one woman; today, they do not. What will their position on marriage evolve to 20 years from now? What new marital arrangements and models will be acceptable to them in the year 2035? They honestly cannot tell you. They’ll tell you when they get there.
CWR: That same chapter (“Margaret Sanger’s Russian Romance”) contains a very important section about how “progressivism offers no clear, definable end,” and you describe how “progress” is, for such people, a sort of moral madness. Why is this the case? And why do so many people seem unable or unwilling to see the inherent hedonism and nihilism involved?
Dr. Kengor: Yes, picking up from my previous answer, the goalpost is always moving for progressives. Their only certainty is change, or progression. With that being the only certainty, then how can their current positions not change or progress again? By what defining standard of change and progression can a liberal/progressive say that these things, or anything, and specifically their definition of unborn life and also of marriage, stay the same? They can’t. So, where is the progressive goalpost for marriage and family? What does it look like? What shape and form? What yard line is it planted on? Progressives cannot answer those most basic questions. They can only tell you that the goalpost will be different from whatever and wherever it is today.
That’s why I always say that this is a maddening, careening, confusing, screaming, bloody train-wreck of an ideology than cannot stay on the tracks. It’s a form of moral madness. It is, in fact, a dictatorship of relativism. And it will only get worse as America increasingly secularizes, and more aggressively so.
Modern Americans are being directly educated to reject the idea of moral absolutes. And that’s precisely what progressivism is all about—moving away from the idea of set, fixed absolutes. In January 1973, the progressive demon came to the door with Roe v. Wade in hand, devising its own, new conceptions of life codified into law as a “constitutional right” in all 50 states. Now, in June 2015, it came to the door with the Obergefell decision, devising its own, new conceptions of marriage codified into law as a “constitutional right” in all 50 states.
Why are so many people unable and unwilling to see and understand? Because they have been miseducated by their public school, their university, their social media, their television set, their culture.
CWR: Your section on Venerable Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) was fascinating, in part because you highlight something that even some Catholics don’t fully appreciate: Sheen’s exceptional philosophical mind and arguments. Why do you think that Sheen’s books, especially Communism and the Conscience of the West, provide some of the “most sophisticated dissections of communism” ever written? And in what ways did Sheen expose communism’s hatred of family and marriage?
Dr. Kengor: Sheen was brilliant. For years, of course, I’ve known of Sheen’s work on communism. I read two of his books, Communism and the Conscience of the West and Peace of Soul, about 10 years ago while writing my biography of Judge Bill Clark, who told me how those books so deeply impacted him, his life, his discernment of the priesthood, his vocation, and his decision to fight communism. But not until I went back and looked at the books recently did I recall how much Sheen had written not merely about the dangers of communism generally, but its danger to the family and marriage in particular. That was eye-opening. There again, Sheen was utterly prophetic. I hope readers will get this book simply to read the chapter on Sheen. Actually, if they do buy it, they must also read the chapter, “Satanic Scourge.” Those are the words of the Catholic Church in describing the danger of communism in the 1937 encyclical Divini Redemptoris. Likewise, I had forgotten how good the Church was not on communism broadly but on communism specifically as a threat to family and marriage.
CWR: How did Marxist and leftist tactics begin to shift and change in the mid-twentieth century? Who were some of the main strategists and why did Columbia University play such a huge role in the spread of their ideologies?
Dr. Kengor: The key here is the rise of the New Left, or the so-called “cultural Marxists.” They switched the fight against the West away from the Marxist class/economic-based revolutionary model to one of culture and sex. Their inability to sell economic Marxism to the world meant that a new means would be needed to bring down the West. Class-based economic warfare would take a back seat to an assault on Western civilization. That was where the rupture had to take place. A primary method would be to saturate Western culture with what Ralph de Toledano called a “miasma of unrestrained sex.” The West’s destruction would come through a form of neo-Marxism, neo-Freudianism, a noxious fusion of the ideas of Marx and Freud, the worst theories of the 19th and 20th centuries. The educational system, especially the universities, would be the “transmission belt” (Lenin’s word) for this fusion of Marxist and Freudian thought. The group that pushed this form of Freudian-Marxism was the Frankfurt School, whose leading theorists eventually made their way to places like Columbia University with the enthusiastic assistance of Professor John Dewey and his destructive Columbia Teachers College and National Education Association.
In all, they generated a toxic brew destined to produce poisonous results for traditional Judeo-Christian culture. And the ‘60s radicals in the universities drank deep from the chalice. It would take them a while—they would need to take over the universities to spread their radical ideas on family, marriage, sex, and gender—but they eventually pulled it off.
Importantly, they’ve been greatly aided by the millions of oblivious Catholic parents who funneled their children into these horrible universities at massive costs both financial and moral. That’s where the takedown was really completed. None of this collapse would have occurred if duped traditional parents hadn’t naively marched their children into the intellectual-moral meat grinder known as American “higher” education. They are complicit. The likes of Lenin and cultural Marxists like Herbert Marcuse and Wilhelm Reich are thanking them from their graves.
CWR: In hindsight, looking back on nearly two centuries of history, was it almost inevitable that “gay marriage” would be made the law of the land by Justice Anthony Kennedy and company? What do you think the near future holds for those who uphold the truth about marriage and family?
Dr. Kengor: The future is grim. A fundamental transformation of the culture has taken place during the Obama years. America is a different and far worse place, especially for religious people who dare to oppose the “gay-marriage” juggernaut. Justice Kennedy, in the classic position of the dupe, thinks his court decision redefining marriage has created love and peace, when, in fact, it has unleashed a long period of bitter persecution against religious people by the culture, the state, and the forces of “tolerance” and “diversity.” Prepare for a jaw-dropping, sickening period of aggressive intolerance by the self-proclaimed prophets of “tolerance,” under the rainbow banner of “diversity.” They will be exhibiting what Herbert Marcuse called “repressive tolerance,” refusing to tolerate those they disagree with—which, of course, isn’t real tolerance at all.
Yes, this was inevitable by “Kennedy and company”. Never forget Anthony Kennedy’s shocking 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. There, Kennedy led the majority with this breathtaking proclamation: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” If Anthony Kennedy interprets liberty to mean that every American possesses the right to define one’s own singular concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of life itself, then why not determine one’s own definition of marriage? Really, redefining marriage is small potatoes once you develop your own meaning of meaning. Again, a dictatorship of relativism.
Obviously, Kennedy’s conception of liberty is absolutely not that of the Founding Fathers and certainly not of the Church Fathers or the Catechism. And Kennedy, of course, is a lifelong Catholic. That is to say that he stands as a poster boy for the Church’s colossal failure in catechizing the laity. He demonstrates just how consequential those failures can ultimately become for a culture and a country.
As sad as it is that the redefinition of marriage was made possible by a Catholic Supreme Court justice in 2015, it is also perfectly fitting. Anthony Kennedy embodies the Church’s mega-failures in teaching. And now, the Church itself will be among the victims.