The Causes of Our Current Discontents
In correspondence with conservative scholar Paul Gottfried.
The conservative scholar Paul Gottfried has had a personal connection to many of the political trends over the past half-century. He was a friend of Richard Nixon, advisor to Pat Buchanan, and, over the course of a long academic career, authored more than a dozen influential books on modern ideological life. Gottfried was also the doctoral student of the Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse, a complex figure who is one of the key subjects of my book, America’s Cultural Revolution.
For this reason, I was interested to read Gottfried’s review of the book in the online magazine American Greatness. Gottfried opens with a note of praise:
Christopher F. Rufo’s America’s Cultural Revolution is a landmark study of America’s radicalization since the 1960s. It is a carefully constructed work full of insights, which confirmed for me the conclusions that I had reached while studying some of the same topics. Rufo shows convincingly that certain radical thinkers, most of whom were American born, affected deeply and perhaps irreversibly American institutions starting in the 1960s. This study clearly avoids an interpretive perspective that I have repeatedly mocked, exemplified by those who pretend that American culture and politics were generally sound up until quite recently, perhaps until the point when LGBT enthusiasts turned from gay marriage to gender transitioning.
And then continues:
Rufo is spot on about the long process by which the cultural radicalism that he explores became incorporated into our public consciousness. Such trends did not start yesterday, and even for someone, like me, who lived through these cultural and political changes, the extent of the revolution that Rufo depicts still seems astounding or dismaying.
A question to which I keep returning in my own studies, and one that Rufo shows is worth asking, is why the US was so susceptible to what his book reveals. Why did universities, shapers of popular culture and government administrators support radicalizing changes for many decades? Why did the affluent, including corporate executives, become intoxicated with cultural revolution, a trend that as Rufo documents hardly started with the death of George Floyd? We are now seeing a continuation of what the late Tom Wolfe in the early 1970s mocked as “radical chic.” White self-hate, and invectives against the “pig police” have now become fused with campaigns against gender distinctions, and the censoring of the unprogressive.
Gottfried reached out to me over email to offer his congratulations, to which I responded with some thoughts about the deeper currents at play. I wrote: