August 9, 2022 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 402

Out With The 'Olds!' In With The 'News!'

August 9, 2022 | By Amb. Alberto M. Fernandez*
China | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 402

One of the many initiatives in the Chinese Cultural Revolution that began in 1966 was a repudiation of the past. The "Destroy the Four Olds and Cultivate the Four News" campaign aimed at destroying old ideas, culture, habits, and customs that had survived the Communist takeover of the country 17 years earlier and replacing them with "new" doctrines more in line with Chairman Mao.[1] The extremely bloody (more than a million victims) Cultural Revolution itself was less a grassroots effort by an underclass than it was a plot to consolidate power from above. Mao was to remain in charge, but it was a messy, confused affair, as "anti-rightist" groups struggled to fill the vacuum in the various institutions of political power that had been ravaged by the purges led by the Red Guard.[2]

2020 attempt to topple statue of President Andrew Jackson in front of the White House

The U.S. today is undergoing its own Cultural Revolution. It is a "soft" and slow revolution, far less violent than China in the Sixties, but still sweeping in its scope and ambitions. In an echo of Mao's strategy, it seems to aim at keeping many of the same people in charge at the top while replacing "the Olds" of American society, politics and culture. This decades-long shift was potentiated by reaction to the presidency of Donald Trump. Coming out of leftist university campuses and activist communities and spreading across the culture, media and politics, the New Ideology is largely powered by the most progressive demographic of the political spectrum – white, Democratic Party, upper class to wealthy – that already holds near monopolistic dominance in education, media, and culture.[3]

This demographic is a numerical minority (6% of all Americans) but punches far above its weight because of its wealth and privilege. This fascinating reality is often vividly illustrated on social media, as white, comfortable academics and journalists denounce "whiteness" or "white supremacy" in what seems like a type of political performance art. They carry out such acts while remaining precisely in the exalted positions they already hold. It is mostly white, wealthy and privileged Americans who say they want to demolish American institutions and rebuild them because of "racial bias."[4]

The New Ideology has profound implications for those traditional depositories of the old ways of thinking about the nation, the family, and belief. As far as religion is concerned, "fifth columnists" (as Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand called them) inside the Western Church look to remake traditional religion along modernist lines while aping the latest progressive enthusiasm.[5] The West is steadily becoming post-Christian, with belief increasingly residing in an emerging syncretism in an arranged marriage with progressive political stances. 

On the family, the ideology of the moment has moved far beyond the issue of gay rights (now broadly accepted and almost old fashioned and quaint these days) to a radical gender theory[6] seeking to redefine what a man or a woman is, and increasingly exotic demands about sexualizing and indoctrinating children as early as possible in state-run schools.[7] Who would have thought a decade ago that the cause of equal rights for all would morph into pushing for radical surgery and drugs for minors and beyond?[8]

The principles of sexual libertinism seem to constantly advance onto the next mountain to climb, having no fixed endpoint but increasingly endorsed by the state.[9] Both what it means to believe and what it means to be human seem to be increasingly up for grabs in the West in a technologically enhanced brave new world of infinite possibilities and no limits.[10] The dream of perfection and utopia augurs to be a very special kind of nightmare.

As for the nation, that too is seems to require radical surgery. It seemingly began with Confederate statues and has moved on to questioning the founding of the nation and its historical narrative.[11] While the concept of nation is subverted in order to be reinvented, the state and its national security and coercive powers are constantly enhanced while also being ideologically "reformed."[12] The trend is toward less privacy and more surveillance as the tools for digital monitoring are perfected.[13] It all sounds like something out of a bad dystopian sci-fi movie – a "nation" dissolved of meaning, a state omnipresent and growing.

German pro-abortion public art: "My bloodline ends. With me."

This contested new domestic American reality has had a tangible international dimension. Both the George Floyd protests of 2020 and the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 were issues sufficiently evocative to cause public protests in the case of the former and high-level political criticism by European leaders in the case of the latter.[14] It is as if the Global American Empire already encompasses Europe and seeks to, and must, spread beyond. A West that seems to despise its own legacy still seeks to fashion the world in its new image.

The "liberal world order" used to mean democracy, free markets and a rules-based international framework. Now the ambitions seem much greater, with a "homogenized supranationalism" coupled with America's own domestic culture wars projected onto an international stage.[15] So these markings of progressive elite culture are how its members differentiate themselves from the globe's (and the American hinterland's) Neanderthals. Yesterday, diplomatic missions proudly raised rainbow pride and BLM flags alongside Old Glory; tomorrow there will be new flags and new causes. Right-wingers recently mocked progressive Democrat politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when she gushed to some drag queens that they were "patriots," but one wonders who it is exactly that has their finger on the winds of change – the Bronx congresswoman or her scoffers?[16]

How will this develop in the years to come, especially on the international stage? While some hope for a right-wing "Thermidorian Reaction" to this new Cultural Revolution, that powerful nexus between entrenched privilege, its corporate allies, and radical progressivism will be hard to overcome. No doubt, a political reaction will come at the ballot box in the West, but will this be enough to push back against institutions that have been thoroughly subverted and refashioned along progressive lines? This seems unlikely absent the long-term retaking of key cultural, media and educational spaces back from the Left.

It is far more likely that a "progressive" American foreign policy will be increasingly institutionalized and engrained in the international affairs body politic. The Foreign Service, professional government bureaucracy, and think tank world draw heavily if not exclusively from the same academic and cultural pool as the progressive activists. Outside the U.S., likeminded cadres are to be seen in the conference rooms of Davos and the offices of the UN and EU bureaucracies.

Some on the Right may hope that a progressive, intrusive America will be rejected by a world that is far more traditional than the worldview of our cultural mandarins. Others on the Left will see what is happening in the West as the vanguard of that famed and inevitable "arc of history" memorably described by Martin Luther King, Jr. It is an interesting question, as both novelty and tradition have their attractions. Certainly, a West that deconstructs itself only to remake itself while seeking to maintain its hegemony is a bold social experiment. The only thing that, perhaps, comes close in the modern era was a Soviet Union that both repudiated Tsarist rule while remaking itself in its own image. It was an empire and remained an empire.[17] 

In a historical twist from Cold War years, it is America that positions itself as the ideological revolutionary power against the retrograde Other throughout the world, wherever they may be. This can be small European or African countries that somehow fall short on key social issues, or authoritarian Russia and communist China, reactionary ethno-nationalist empires. Russia's aggression against Ukraine and China's against Taiwan are not just empire building but attempts at destroying "Westernized" versions of themselves.[18]

Even more striking could be an increasingly ideological U.S. at precisely the same time that its economic, military and political power could be waning. A wealthy, dynamic nation promoting revolution is one thing, revolution coupled with internal dysfunction is far less attractive. But dysfunction won't arrive tomorrow as long as the cash continues to flow. In the immediate future, the West may find itself woke, broke, and yet still looking for new foreign dragons to slay. Both on the global stage and at home, our new visionaries still dream of new conquests and new worlds of infinite possibility.

*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.


[1], May 19, 1971.

[2], December 14, 2016.

[3], November 9, 2021

[4], November 9, 2021

[5], August 3, 2022.

[6], August 4, 2022.

[7], August 3, 2022.

[8], August 4, 2022.

[9], July 18, 2022.

[10], May 27, 2020.

[11], June 25, 2020.

[12], June-July, 2022.

[13], March 2, 2020.

[14], July 7, 2022.

[15], April 8, 2022.

[16], accessed August 9, 2022.

[17] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 400, Russia's Revival Of The Soviet Past, August 2, 2022.

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