How Progressives Perceive the Right-Wing Condition

September 22, 2021 Updated: September 24, 2021


Recent anti-lockdown demonstrations in Melbourne have been met with an array of colourful accusations from authority figures in the state of Victoria, including labels such as “anti-vaxxers,” “conspiracy theorists,” “far-right extremists,” and “man-baby Nazis.”

The labels draw parallels with Hillary Clinton’s notorious 2016 remark that supporters of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump were “deplorables.”

The Melbourne protests, primarily involving blue-collar members of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining, and Energy Union (CFMEU), has sent shivers down the spines of union leaders and Victoria’s state Premier Dan Andrews, who are beginning to see signs of an emerging alliance between unionised workers and right-leaning activists.

John Setka (head of the CFMEU), Sally McManus (Australian Council of Trade Unions), Andrews, and former federal Labor leader Bill Shorten have all tried to downplay the activities, while levelling blame at fringe groups, claiming union members had been led astray by neo-Nazis.

The language being deployed, though, has in some ways let the cat out of the bag on how views outside of prevailing narratives are characterised by progressives—the roots of which can be traced back to the work of the Frankfurt School and its neo-Marxist theories.

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Members of Victoria Police stand outside the CFMEU Office in Melbourne, Australia, on Sept. 21, 2021. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

The School’s Herbert Marcuse is well known for his role in spreading neo-Marxist thought in Western universities. But the same cannot be said of Theodore Adorno, despite his role in spreading another strain of the neo-Marxist virus.

During its early years in Germany, the Frankfurt School was largely driven by the energy of ten core theorists: with Adorno among this group.

Adorno’s (public) spat with the Communist Party of Germany, and the School’s unrelenting criticism of the Soviet Union, set the tone for the Frankfurt School’s evolution into a variety of neo-Marxism that liberals would see as benign.

This helped position the School and lead it to be a catalyst for the arrival of the “New Left,” a U.S.-born strain of Marxism that gained widespread popularity across North America and Western Europe.

Marcuse, the “father of the New Left,” authored the book “One Dimensional Man” that would become the bedrock of the movement, underpinning progressive causes such as feminism, gay rights, abortion, and the hippies.

Marcuse flourished in the United States because he was 100 percent Americanised and could create a version of Marxism that resonated with Western audiences.

However, there was a second route by which the Frankfurt School’s neo-Marxist virus was transferred to America.

This route was via Adorno’s highly influential book, the “Authoritarian Personality.”

Police fire capsicum spray towards construction workers and demonstrators in the gardens surrounding the Shrine of Remembrance during a protest against Covid-19 regulations in Melbourne on Sept. 22, 2021. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

In many ways this second route was more insidious because it leaned more heavily on the works of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, rather than Marx, which meant progressives could easily miss its strong neo-Marxist roots—it would also piggyback on the popularity of Freudianism in the United States and the West.

The Authoritarian Personality was a product of sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld’s Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia University and was funded by the American Jewish Committee who wanted to ensure Nazism (or the far-right) could never rise again.

Lazarsfeld employed both Marxist and non-Marxist refugees from Nazi Germany (himself a non-Marxist Jewish refugee), as well as members of the Frankfurt School.

Adorno’s team was hired to research why people became Nazis. The Authoritarian Personality was their explanation.

From this emerged an idea that became popular with both Marxist and progressives, which was they could use behavioural science to manage and control the population, while the media could be used to promote “good” (progressive) ideas and shut down “bad” ones.

By employing Frankfurt School members, Lazarsfeld’s Bureau opened the door to their ideas entering into mainstream liberal U.S. academia, and facilitated the growth of liberal and neo-Marxist ideas in the West.

So what did the Authoritarian Personality say?

The book suggested that certain “bad” personality types were drawn to “bad” ideas like fascism, nationalism, anti-Semitism, or traditionalism.

Adorno’s book used Freudian “psychology-speak” to conjure up a picture of problematic personality types that needed to be cured and fixed. From this the idea of a therapy state with the right to intervene and fix “bad personalities” and “bad thinking” emerged.

Under communist regimes, the parallel can be found in the Soviet Union’s gulags and the Chinese Communist Party’s forced labour through re-education camps.

In the West, this has manifested through the welfare and nanny state, which has seen government institutions, including social workers or law enforcement, gain increasingly intrusive powers.

The book also suggests those with bad personalities could be easily influenced by rabble rousers, mass media, emotional appeals, and populist propaganda. In addition, individuals are apparently susceptible to all sorts of “wrong-think” such as prejudice, ethno-centric thinking, racism, and belief in traditional social hierarchies and values.

Because such individuals have weak or damaged personalities it made them supposedly want to follow leaders and submit to authority—the same accusation was made against Melbourne rallygoers with claims individuals had been “groomed” to protest, or according to CFMMEU head John Setka, “hijacked” by extremists.

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Protestors are seen marching down the Westgate Bridge as thousands march through Melbourne after State Government announces construction shutdown in Melbourne, Australia, on Sept. 21, 2021. (Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Adorno’s theory states that such pathologies ultimately needed to be cured, presumably by therapists or social engineers trained at the universities where they had learned to think “properly.”

The fallout we see thus far today, is that individuals who advocate for ideas outside of prevailing narratives—including around vaccine mandates or lockdowns—are considered “abnormal” or are characterised as having serious personality or mental issues.

Without realising it, we have allowed the Authoritarian Personality to become the guiding light of Western institutions.

At one level, using the book to pathologise political opponents seems laughable. At another level, there is a real danger of institutions and governments readily intervening in society to “fix the deplorable problem.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Eric Louw
Eric Louw is a retired professor in political communication with a career spanning South African and Australian universities. Prior to that, he was a former activist, journalist, and media trainer under the African National Congress, where he worked on South Africa's transition into the post-Apartheid era. Louw is an expert on affirmative action, and Black Economic Empowerment policies. His Ph.D. was in the study of Marxism and its postmodern developments. He has authored nine books including "The Rise, Fall and Legacy of Apartheid" and "The Media and Political Process."