How Cultural Revolutions Die—or Not

Unlike coups or political revolutions, cultural revolutions don’t just change governments or leaders. Instead, they try to redefine entire societies. Their leaders call them “holistic” and “systematic.”

Cultural revolutionaries attack the very referents of our daily lives. The Jacobins’ so-called Reign of Terror during the French Revolution slaughtered Christian clergy, renamed months, and created a new supreme being Reason.

Mao cracked down on supposed Western decadence like the wearing of eyeglasses and made peasants forge pot iron and intellectuals wear dunce caps.

Muammar Kaddafi’s Green Book cult wiped out violins and forced Libyans to raise chickens in their apartments.

The current Black Lives Matter Revolution has “canceled” certain movies, television shows and cartoons, toppled statues, tried to create new autonomous urban zones, and renamed streets and plazas. Some fanatics shave their heads. Others have shamed authorities into washing the feet of their fellow revolutionaries.

But inevitably cultural revolutions die out when they turn cannibalistic. Once the Red Guard started killing party hacks too close to Mao, it began to wane.

If toppling Confederate statues is required, what then about Nancy Pelosi’s own mayor father, who once as Baltimore’s mayor dedicated honorific statues to Confederate generals?

If racists understandably do not deserve their names on national shrines, what to do with the iconic liberal graduate program at Princeton, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs? It was named for a president who did more to further segregation and racial prejudice than any chief executive of the 20th century.

Stanford and Yale, coveted brand names of the progressive professional classes, are named after what protesters now deem racists.

It is easier to target Fort Bragg, the iconic military base named after a Confederate general, racist, and military mediocrity than to see one’s MBA or Ph.D. lose its Yale luster, or to confess that a liberal presidential icon perpetuated racism.

Once a cultural revolution gets going, there can be no contextualization of the past, no allowance for human frailty, no consideration of weighing evil vs. good.

Eventually, the architects of cultural upheavals always make two miscalculations.

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