Kengor Writes . . .
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and the executive director of The Institute for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College, in Grove City, Pennsylvania. These essays are republished from The Institute for Faith and Freedom, an online publication of Grove City College, and The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is the author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007), and The Communist — Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink 2012).
Why Not Cancel Karl Marx?
In a cancel culture targeting everyone from Confederate to Union generals, Columbus to Winston Churchill, Francis Scott Key to even Abraham Lincoln and all of Mt. Rushmore, and where the racial statements and attitudes of every historical figure are scrutinized, it’s funny who gets a pass.
A 16-foot-tall bronzed Vladimir Lenin stands unscathed in liberal Seattle, and a new monument to the Bolshevik godfather just went up in Germany. Particularly curious, one wonders, why Karl Marx goes untouched.
Remember: the Left’s standard for canceling a historical figure is bigotry. And really, it often takes only one offensive statement from an entire lifetime. That being the case, why hasn’t Karl Marx been canceled?
There are monuments to Marx in Europe, one just erected in 2018. In the United States, there’s a handsome profile of Marx carved in porcelain at one of the Smithsonian museums and a flowery painting at the Guggenheim. In 2018, for the bicentennial of his birth, one of America’s top colleges, Carnegie Mellon University, held a yearlong celebration of Marx, including an accompanying art exhibit dedicated to the man. And who knows how many busts of Marx sit in professors’ offices, safe from protesting college students with spray cans.
Of course, the reality is that Marx gets a pass from the Left because he’s of the left. Leftists ignore or try to separate him from the ideology bearing his name that helped produce over 100 million deaths in the 20th century alone. The dread “dead white European male” tag conveniently eludes Karl Marx, nor does he raise the needle on the Left’s bigotry meter. But alas, he should.
Karl Marx was, after all, a bigot. His attitude toward blacks and Jews alone (not to mention women) would stun Stonewall Jackson. Ugly racial-ethnic stereotypes are littered throughout Marx’s writings.
Consider how Marx spoke of his own son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, husband of his daughter Laura. Paul came from Cuba, born in Santiago, and Marx thus viewed him as marred by “Negro” blood, and denigrated him as “Negrillo” or “the Gorilla.” Karl never let up his ridicule of poor Paul. In November 1882, 14 years after Lafargue and Laura married, Marx still complained to Friedrich Engels, his Communist Manifesto partner, that “Lafargue has the blemish customarily found in the negro tribe — no sense of shame, by which I mean shame about making a fool of oneself.”
Marx had a friendly audience for such views in Engels. Engles, a proud Darwinian, averred that Paul possessed “one-eighth or one-twelfth n_____ blood.” In 1887, Lafargue had been a political candidate for a council seat in a Paris district that contained a zoo. In an April 1887 letter to Paul’s wife, Engels cruelly opined, “Being in his quality as a n_____, a degree nearer to the rest of the animal kingdom than the rest of us, he is undoubtedly the most appropriate representative of that district.”
It is no wonder that Marx’s son-in-law had such low self-esteem. One day in November 1911, Paul ended it all. He killed himself in a suicide pact with Marx’s daughter. In fact, two of Marx’s daughters killed themselves in suicide pacts with their husbands.
Karl Marx freely dispensed with nasty epithets aimed not only at blacks but at Jews. Biographer Jonathan Sperber notes that Marx’s correspondence is “filled with contemptuous remarks about Jews.” Even his admiring biographer Francis Wheen, who habitually defends nearly everything about Marx, admits that he “sprayed anti-Semitic insults at his enemies with savage glee.”
Of one contemporary, Marx blasted his “cynical, oily-obtrusive, phony-Baronial Jew-manners.” Particularly loathsome to Marx was anyone he suspected of part-Jewish and -African roots. Marx referred to his fellow German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle as a “greasy Jew,” “the little kike,” “water-polack Jew,” “Jew Braun,” “Yid,” “Izzy,” “Wily Ephraim,” “Baron Itzig,” and “the Jewish N_____.” In a July 1862 letter to Engels, Marx confidently observed of Lassalle, “It is now perfectly clear to me that, as the shape of his head and the growth of his hair indicates, he is descended from the Negroes who joined in Moses’ flight from Egypt.” Lassalle’s “cranial formation,” detected Marx, was the giveaway. Marx did, however, allow for an exception: “unless his mother or grandmother on the father’s side was crossed with a n_____.” Marx chortled, “This union of Jew and German on a Negro base was bound to produce an extraordinary hybrid.” He also hastened to add, “The fellow’s importunity is also n_____-like.”
One of Marx’s worst expressions of anti-Semitism was his painful 1844 essay “On the Jewish Question.”
“What is the worldly cult of the Jew?” asked Marx. His answer, “Haggling. What is his worldly god? Money.” He growled, “Money is the jealous god of Israel before whom no other god may exist. . . . The bill of exchange is the actual god of the Jew. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange.” The Jew, Marx snarled, had become “impossible.” The German chillingly concluded, “The emancipation of the Jews, in the final analysis, is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.”
In his seminal edited volume on Karl Marx and religion, Saul Padover said that Marx — who was, ironically, an ethnic Jew — had “learned to despise and hate the people from whom he originated. This was an expression of what the Germans call Selbsthass (self-hate), a trait which Karl Marx displayed throughout his whole life.” Padover was taken aback by “the extent and virulence of his anti-Semitism.”
Karl Marx summed it up plainly in a letter to his longtime friend Arnold Ruge in 1843: “the Israelite faith is repulsive to me.”
Much more could be said. This is far from a full testimony of Marx’s awful attitudes.
Remember: the Left’s standard for canceling a historical figure is bigotry. And really, it often takes only one offensive statement from an entire lifetime. That being the case, why hasn’t Karl Marx been canceled? Why aren’t angry mobs staging sit-ins outside professors’ doors insisting their busts of Marx be tossed to the ash-heap of history? Why do universities celebrate the man? And where’s Black Lives Matter on this one?
We know the answer. Karl Marx is an icon to the Left. Just like progressives’ calls for tolerance and diversity, their calls for canceling and removing are highly selective — or, more bluntly, highly hypocritical.
Marx on Christianity, Judaism, and Evolution/Race
“If someone calls it socialism,” said the Rev. William Barber at an August 2019 conference of the Democratic National Committee, “then we must compel them to acknowledge that the Bible must then promote socialism, because Jesus offered free health care to everyone, and he never charged a leper a co-pay.”
The Rev. Barber is not alone in that sentiment. There are flatly too many people right now praising or sympathetic to socialism and/or Marxism. Some attempt to make an explicitly Christian case for Communism, as seen in a stunning article in July 2019 by the leading Jesuit publication, America Magazine, titled, “The Catholic Case for Communism,” as if Christians have common cause with Karl Marx and his atheistic-materialist philosophy.
Having just published a book whose title suggests just the opposite, namely, The Devil and Karl Marx, it pains me to see that anyone would believe that Communism is compatible with Christianity specifically or religion generally. Such a notion is astonishing not only given the church’s longtime intense opposition to Communism, but also given the intense opposition to Christianity by the founders and disciples of Communism. Those founders exhibited an intense opposition to Judaism as well, and they harbored some ugly views of Jews and, still more, of blacks. Those latter views were based in part on an atheistic-materialist commitment to Darwinian evolution that made those founders quite racist.
Where to start? Well, for Marx, the starting point was religion.
“Communism begins where atheism begins,” said Karl Marx. “The criticism of religion is the beginning of all criticism.”
Marx framed man as not edified or uplifted by religion but in a “struggle against religion.” This is a “struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.” This is why people crave religion as a kind of drug: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions,” averred Marx. “It is the opium of the people.”
And again, for Marx, it all begins with religion. That’s the foundation that must be razed. Religion was among the things he wanted to abolish, along with property, family, “all morality,” and more.
As for “social justice” Christians who invoke Communism as somehow consistent with Christian social teaching, well, Marx begged to differ. “The social principles of Christianity preach cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submission, humility,” scowled Marx. “The social principles of Christianity are hypocritical.”
Georg Jung, a Marx contemporary and close friend, said that “Marx calls Christianity one of the most immoral religions.” Jung viewed Marx as a theological-philosophical revolutionary who was attempting to overthrow the entire social system, not just an economic system.
Indeed he was. Marx, in the Communist Manifesto, said that Communism represents “the most radical rupture in traditional relations,” and seeks to “abolish the present state of things.” Imagine that. That is no small objective. And neither is this rather grandiose goal stated at the close of his Manifesto: “They [the Communists] openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.”
Note the utterly revolutionary ambition: “the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.”
Marx and Engels closed their Manifesto with this exhortation to future revolutionaries:
“Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.”
That objective has been seized by Marxist revolutionaries still today, whose desire seems to be to tear down rather than build up.
Obviously, this has no resemblance to Christianity — as Marx and friends knew. In fact, Marx’s partner, Engels, acknowledged that. One contemporary said of Engels: “He held, of course, that Christian socialism was a contradiction in terms.”
Of course. That was part of the creed of Communism. Vladimir Lenin declared that “any worship of a divinity is a necrophilia,” insisted that “there is nothing more abominable than religion,” and demanded: “Everyone must be absolutely free to . . . be an atheist, which every socialist is, as a rule.”
Nikolai Bukharin, founding editor of Pravda, stated: “A fight to the death must be declared upon religion to take on religion at the tip of the bayonet.” According to Bukharin, “Religion and Communism are incompatible, both theoretically and practically. . . . Communism is incompatible with religious faith.”
To Marx and Engels, Darwin was the figure to look to, not God — who, after all, didn’t exist. God was dead. In fact, when Marx died in March 1883, Engels looked to Darwin. Staring at Marx’s cold coffin, which bore not a cross but two red wreaths, Engels in his eulogy invoked not God but Darwin, hailing the scientist for dealing such a grand blow for materialism and atheism. He would likewise hail Darwin in his eulogy for Marx’s wife, Jenny: “The place where we stand is the best proof that she lived and died in the full conviction of atheist Materialism,” averred Engels, soberly staring at a pile of dirt. “She knew that one day she would have to return, body and mind, to the bosom of that nature from which she had sprung.”
Engels exhorted the atheist faithful to take pride and joy in their shared conviction that the vivacious Jenny was now reduced to mere worm food.
And yet, Darwin was hailed by leading Marxists in god-like language.
“Darwin destroyed the last of my ideological prejudices,” Leon Trotsky triumphed. Trotsky said the “facts” about the world and life and its origins were established for him via this “certain system” of evolutionary theory. “The idea of evolution and determinism,” he wrote:
“. . . took possession of me completely. Darwin stood for me like a mighty doorkeeper at the entrance to the temple of the universe. I was intoxicated with his . . . thought.”
Trotsky historian Barry Lee Woolley explained: “Trotsky took up the faith of Marx and Darwin. The conversion experience was genuine and thorough.”
This is what we would expect of an ideology that fashioned a golden calf, a material idol, forged and focused on money, property, gold. It was not about the soul. The key to the Communist-Marxist utopia would be economics. Solve the economic problem, Communists believed, and you would solve the human problem. They speak as if man truly does live by bread alone (Christ corrected Satan on that one). As Pope Benedict XVI said, the fatal flaw of Communists and socialists is that they had their anthropology wrong. They did not adequately understand man. As Augustine said, we all have a God-shaped vacuum that God alone can fill; not a dollar-signed vacuum. We crave the divine manna of heaven.
Alas, the Marxism that Karl Marx bequeathed is very much a reflection of his impoverished worldview. This materialistic-atheistic ideology would beget over 100 million deaths in the 20th century alone, not to mention a war on faith, family, property, and more. It still rages. And religious people should certainly reject it.
Remembering and Teaching 9/11
Editor’s note: This first appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review in 2018.
This year’s remembrances of September 11, 2001 were odd for me. Consider: Did you ever think you’d live to see a time when the new generation doesn’t remember 9/11?
Well, I’ve reached that point with my students.
For 20 years, I’ve taught Middle East Politics at Grove City College every fall. In the late 1990s, and into my syllabus for the fall 2001 semester, I included a lecture on some grisly fellow named Osama Bin Laden, and an attempt to blow up one of the World Trade Center buildings back in 1993. I wanted my students to know about this diabolical terrorist who ought to be on their radar. The events of the morning of September 11, 2001 (my class would meet later that afternoon) took care of that. Osama and his minions were on our radar, loud and clear. My students, and every student, got a quick tutorial on this sinister Osama dude.
But as for my students this current semester, fall 2018, well, the course has finally reached a point where none remember 9/11. I asked them how many recall the horrors of that morning. I got a room full of blank stares. I’m pretty sure one of the freshmen was actually born after September 11, 2001.
Imagine that. Think about trying to teach what had to be lived to fully comprehend. How do you teach it? How do you memorialize it?
One place that tries is the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville. I stopped there last March, for the first time, while off the Turnpike taking a different route home from Washington, D.C. — which had happened to be the destination of Flight 93. The people on that plane stopped a catastrophe in the nation’s capital, where the aircraft was on its way to the Capitol Dome or White House.
The day I stopped by was windy and bitter cold. I walked along complaining to myself about the chill. It was a stupidly selfish reaction in the face of what those victims had endured and sacrificed.
Few visitors were there that cold afternoon, and the actual exhibition center was closed. I walked to the overlook and glimpsed where the plane hit. It’s a strange experience. You expect something dramatic, eerie — a ghastly crater of some nasty sort that oozes blood from the very ground. It’s not like that. If you were flying over the area today, you’d never even know the spot was anything but a farmer’s field. It’s amazing how our earth mundanely absorbs something like that — literally, barely a dent.
I told a friend about my visit. He had been there before and was disappointed. “I wanted to leave that place mad as hell,” he told me, with righteous indignation. He wants young people who visit, who didn’t live through 9/11, to come away with that feeling.
Hate and rage aren’t good things. But anger properly placed, especially in light of what happened that morning, is understandable — perhaps even necessary, critical. Young people need to know that what transpired was pure evil. Evil does exist. It has been on the prowl since the dawn of humanity. Few modern moments embodied that reality so obviously as September 11, 2001.
Remember that. Teach that.
Tear All the Statues Down?
Editor’s note: This article first appeared at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Last weekend I overheard two recent grads (both musicians) discussing America’s greatest composers. The usual names were raised: Copland, Gershwin, Bernstein, Sousa . . . Foster.
“Who?” said one.
“Stephen Foster,” replied the other.
Only one knew who Foster was, and neither knew he was from Pittsburgh. Both grads, ironically, recently spent a lot of time where the Stephen Foster statue once stood outside the Carnegie.
That statue, depicting Foster above a banjo-strumming Black man, representative of his song “Uncle Ned,” was removed in April 2018 after a contentious debate. The massive statue designed by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti in 1900 was hauled away one morning to a “city facility.”
“So, who was he?” the one young person asked.
I shared what little I knew, which had developed slowly as I passed that statue countless times during my years at Pitt. The Pittsburgh native composed songs like “Oh! Susannah” and was an early master of marketing pop music.
I tried to explain what people found offensive about Foster, the statue, the “Uncle Ned” character. (My limited understanding is that “Ned” was a fictionalized slave in what some say was an anti-slavery song.) This turned into a teachable moment. In fact, that’s the task of all of us: to teach these things. You learn about past mistakes to avoid repeating them.
Consider Confederate statues.
I’ve always detested the Confederacy and how it ripped apart this nation in the attempted preservation of an evil institution. I’m a native Pennsylvanian, a Union guy, a truly Lincoln Republican, great-great-grandson of the local Flinn family that fought Stonewall Jackson. I teach students that slavery was an abomination that violated all precepts of basic dignity and humans created in the image of God.
And yet, as a historian, I want these things to be learned. I don’t know why people can’t turn them into teachable moments. I’ve written content for museum exhibits of historical figures. At the base of these statues, there should be descriptions detailing the crucial, painful history that must be remembered.
Of course, what started with Confederate generals has now extended to statues of Union generals, even Ulysses S. Grant, who (ironically) defeated the Confederacy before battling the KKK and fighting for black Americans’ right to vote. Now targeted are everyone from George Washington to Teddy Roosevelt to St. Junipero Serra to even Lincoln himself and all of Mt. Rushmore.
What outrages me is the selectivity — namely, those exempted from outrage.
I’ve written incessantly about Margaret Sanger, her racial eugenics, the “Negro Project,” her May 1926 speech to the women’s chapter of the Silverlake, N.J. KKK. Black pastors have complained about her bust at the Smithsonian. And yet, as the founder of Planned Parenthood, she’s an icon to liberals. Her memorials remain untouched.
Currently, we’re focused on race, but what about allegations of how certain icons mistreated women, from Alexander Hamilton, and Ben Franklin, to John F. Kennedy, and even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?
We’re all flawed, we’re all sinners.
Here’s my proposal: If you want to go down this road, then be willing to take them all down, from Jefferson to Sanger, from Columbus, to the 16-foot-tall bronzed Lenin in Seattle. If we’re going to do this, do it equally. *