Thanksgiving Reflections: ‘Critical Theory’ Impairs Our Capacity for Gratitude 

Positive feelings of gratitude are disappearing in the wake of a compelling intellectual infatuation with what Marxist academics call “Critical Theory.”
Thanksgiving Reflections: ‘Critical Theory’ Impairs Our Capacity for Gratitude 
(Elizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock)
William Brooks
10/23/2023
Updated:
10/24/2023
0:00
Commentary

There was a time when gratitude was regarded as the essence of our humanity. The Roman statesman and scholar Marcus Tullius Cicero once said, “For this one virtue [gratitude] is not only the greatest, but is also the parent of all the other virtues.”

Psychologists say that people who make a conscious effort to count their blessings generate shared feelings of well-being. Throughout history, human communities offered prayers of thanks for good harvests, deliverance from plague, recovery from natural disasters, victory in war, and lasting periods of peace.

Life for the common man is seldom easy, but regular folks are generally inclined to express thanks for blessings received from family, friends, benefactors, ancestors, and divine providence. Good fortune calls for rites of thanksgiving that are observed in religious services and other solemn gatherings.

In North America, formal celebrations of thanksgiving go back to the early 17th century, when English colonists received life-sustaining planting, hunting, and fishing skills from local indigenous peoples and thanked God for their survival in the new world.

In Canada and the United States, we still look forward to thanksgiving holidays on our civic calendars. Our capacity to express thanks demonstrates an ability to maintain a positive state of mind that moves us to appreciate the good things that come our way.

The Demise of Gratitude

Saying thank you is a practice in steep decline. Positive feelings of gratitude are disappearing in the wake of a compelling intellectual infatuation with what Marxist academics call “Critical Theory.”

Progressive critical narratives support the proposition that democratic capitalism produces a permanent state of conflict between “oppressors” who have privileged access to property and education, and the “oppressed” who are excluded and marginalized by the existential structures of Western societies.

Postmodern literary critics almost always focus on social and political debates that are intricately connected to Marxist and neo-Marxist themes. Critical ideologues are especially adept at combing through history to find hurtful attitudes or policies that can be blamed on the descendants of alleged colonial oppressors. The narratives they develop are prone to be anti-Christian, anti-white, anti-nationalist, and anti-Western.

Readers may recall a 1987 protest at Stanford University at which student activists chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go.” They objected to the university’s choice to introduce studies in “Western Culture,” which critical theorists say is replete with exploitation and injustice.

By present-day standards, the noisy protest at Stanford was a walk in the park. More recently, books such as “Cynical Theories” and “The Marxification of Education” by American scholar James Lindsay have exposed the corrosive influence of academic theories that produce violence on our streets and fracture the cultural solidarity of North America.

With regard to the impact of critical theory on young people, Mr. Lindsay points to the enormous influence of the late Paulo Freire. The Brazilian liberation theologian’s early 1970s book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” eventually set the tone for teaching in schools and universities throughout the West.

Freire discounted the importance of formal literacy in favor of “political literacy,” which guides students along a path to permanent revolution and prepares them for an active role in ensuring that history evolves toward its intended Utopian end.

Mr. Lindsay asserts that in Freirean schools “all education becomes a political education, with educators as facilitators into (critical or Marxist) consciousness, so that all knowledge becomes political knowledge understood on Marxist terms.”

The absurdity of cynical postmodern narratives can be mind-boggling. Some two weeks ago, Hamas terrorists crossed the Israeli border to murder and kidnap innocent Jewish men, women, and children. Purveyors of critical theory in our universities and other formative institutions immediately took to media platforms and the streets to portray Israelis as aggressors and Palestinians as their victims. If critical theorists turned their attention to the Old Testament, they would transform David into the oppressor and Goliath into the oppressed.

Thank God for Small Favors!

Critical theorists have spent more than half a century teaching that there’s absolutely nothing in the North American “settler legacy” of family, faith, and nationhood that calls for gratitude.

From the Soviet Comintern of the mid-20th century to the present era of identity politics, Marxist intellectuals have contrived class, race, and gender conflicts that poison the wells of human flourishing. Critical theory is like an acid that dissolves the bonds of nationhood and leaves citizens in a perpetual state of resentment and ingratitude.

Joseph Stalin is credited with saying that “gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” Yet even in difficult times, ordinary people find reasons to thank God for small favors.

In this thanksgiving season, one of the few things beleaguered people might be grateful for is opinion polls indicating that we may be about to turn our 21st-century disciples of Marx and Freire out of the halls of power. Should this occur, there’s reason to hope that our children and grandchildren will have a great deal more to be grateful for than we do today.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
William Brooks is a Canadian writer who contributes to The Epoch Times from Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.