Cultural Revolutions

By The Reader's Turn
The Reader's Turn
The Reader's Turn
September 1, 2021 Updated: September 1, 2021

As someone who has dedicated much of my life to the study of history, and as someone who acknowledges that changes are constantly taking place, I offer the following observations.

Our country is currently experiencing turmoil eerily reminiscent of developments in other countries in dark times. Power-hungry forces have all too frequently generated movements categorized as “cultural revolutions.” Totalitarian regimes have prospered in the face of weakness. China in the days of Mao Tse-tung comes immediately to mind, but the USSR and Nazi Germany, among others, have had their own versions. A brief survey of these cultural revolutions reveals some remarkable, relatively common characteristics that can be instructive.

  1. They conduct purges of social and political leaders and look to install their own, all the while claiming they are doing it for the good of the people.
  2. They disparage and harass influential cultural figures and members of the regime they despise.
  3. They destroy, dismantle, remove, or vandalize monuments, statues, and cultural sites.
  4. They ban heretofore acceptable literature, artwork, and music.
  5. They justify violent rebellion against the establishment.
  6. They rewrite history and revise educational curricula.
  7. They shun and shame established business and social institutions.
  8. They demand conformity of society.
  9. They want family and friends to report nonconformity, and they call for punishment and/or reeducation of those who do not conform.
  10. They encourage criticism of self, teachers, family, and friends to reveal “cultural faults.”
  11. They insist on speech control and mount propaganda campaigns using their politically approved language.
  12. They pit various elements of society against each other favoring one group and discriminating against others.

These are important signs. Some of them can be for good. For example, at the end of World War II, the victorious allies required the removal of statues and the changing of street names that honored Nazism, and the anti-Semitic books produced by the Nazi state were discarded. The goal then was to further democracy, and it succeeded. Change is inevitable, and change can be worthwhile. But change needs to be viewed through the lens of history whenever possible. I suggest we need to be concerned about what is happening today.


Dewey A. Browder, Ph.D.