Andrew Breitbart was not a typical culture warrior in the mold of Rick Santorum, Pat Buchanan, or Pat Robertson. A Los Angeles native raised in a largely secular Jewish household, former board member of GOProud, and former web producer at E! Online, he was a pop culture aficionado unafraid to let fly with the occasional expletive. It’s tempting to point to him as a model for the social media virtuosos and modern, culture savvy commentators in the Beltway Right. The truth is that Andrew Breitbart was a reactionary culture warrior and I mean that in the best possible sense.
Breitbart spoke about his foe as “Cultural Marxism,” a curious term for those more familiar with “liberalism” or “statism.” He gave a valuable insight into his politics when he tweeted just before the New Year that, “These 2 videos – as funky & dated as they are – explain crux of my argument against The Left.” He then linked to positively ancient videos by the once prominent Free Congress Foundation detailing a program of cultural subversion by “The Frankfurt School,” an intellectual grouping which saw American culture as inherently racist, sexist, and authoritarian.
Cultural Marxism holds that in order to bring about socialism, the conservative culture first had to be destroyed, and “political correctness” was simply another way of describing an enforced left wing cultural order.
Frankly astonished to see anyone – let alone Andrew Breitbart – tweeting old videos about the “Frankfurt School” that echoed Buchanan’s Death of the West, I had the opportunity to ask him about it when we both spoke earlier this year at an event for Americans for Prosperity in Michigan.
Having deliberately censored myself from really mentioning cultural issues at an economic forum, I was astonished afterward to watch Breitbart launch into a scathing attack against the Left wing media, which, he bluntly informed the gathered conservatives, “hates you.” He went on to bash free market activists for being “too nice.” The crowd went crazy. Afterward, I asked him about the videos. While laughing at the quality, he enthused, “It’s all there! They know exactly what they are doing.
Who are “they”? It’s not that a group of left wing intellectuals from decades ago literally spawned a secretive ruling class. The larger truth is that culture is as much of a battleground as politics, with victories and defeats as concrete and easy to identify as election results.
Andrew Breitbart almost always focused on culture as the primary battleground and understood the cultural shifts we see don’t just happen, but are the result of activism and action. The “Institutional Left,” or “the Complex,” as he called it, compromises specific people and organizations who use their vast resources to push a cultural agenda through the media, academia, and lastly, and perhaps least importantly, politics. He got that, and all too many conservatives worried about the next primary simply don’t.
It is almost a cliché for young conservatives to declare themselves as “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” and use it as a way to avoid inconvenient conflicts with the hard Left.
What made Breitbart unique is that he actually was a social liberal in many ways, but he understood why the Left operated the way that it did. He saw that conservatives could not use accommodation to buy even a limited peace. The Left’s social attack was a necessary preliminary to their economic agenda, and culture was the most crucial battleground.
More than that, Andrew Breitbart was utterly fearless in intellectually and even physically confronting the Left and speaking in the bracing terms of “their side” and “our side.”
The Left always knows the Right better than the Right knows itself and they turned on Breitbart with undisguised hatred for calling them out. Accusations of racism and (of course) repressed homosexuality were typical attacks.
Characteristically, Breitbart turned it into a joke, retweeting his enemies’ attacks to further his own case of left wing intimidation. In some ways, Breitbart was playing a very inside game.
I’ll never forget the confused looks a few spectators exchanged at CPAC when Andrew Breitbart railed against “Touré” or “that punk Tim Jacob Wise” who accuse conservatives of “dog whistle politics” and appeals to racism. For politicos studying electoral votes and delegate counts, these were strange and almost random targets for criticism. For a culture warrior, it was more important than anything else said that day.
Breitbart wasn’t some sort of extremist right-winger issue by issue. He simply recognized that what was happening to this country wasn’t an accident and conservatives actually had to fight against it to make it stop. He called the Left what they are – in his words, “totalitarian freaks.”
That’s why they hated him, and that’s why we loved him. Breitbart didn’t ask for doctrinaire conservatism or ideological rigidity. He simply asked us to fight back against the people who hate us.