The argument runs as follows. In the 1950s the West was going well. But a group of European Marxists (the Frankfurt School) had developed a new strategy. Instead of relying on a class war to win power they would instead begin a long march through the institutions. The 60s student rebellion gave these cultural Marxists their opportunity and they began to win influence in the institutions. This has then led to Western decline.
This theory of decline does have its merits. It refers to something real that did have seriously negative consequences in the West. It's worth understanding the particular theories generated by the Frankfurt School and how they influenced university life in particular from the 1960s onward.
But there are problems with the theory as well. And a major problem is the timing. The theory suggests that things were basically OK in the West until the 1960s. I don't think that's true and I'll give just one bit of evidence for that in a moment. Apart from this, the theory also suggests that the liberalism which dominated the West up to the 60s was also OK and that it was only when Cultural Marxists subverted this liberalism that things went wrong. That seems to me to let Western liberals off the hook and to discourage the kind of rethinking of liberal orthodoxy that needs to take place.
So what is some evidence that things were going seriously wrong before the 1960s? In 1941, when the Axis powers were triumphant in Europe, there was a conference of liberal Anglicans in Malvern, England. Led by the Archbishop of York and 23 bishops, these Anglicans wanted to lead "the ordering of the new society" which they were sure would emerge following the war.
How did they envisage this new society? Most notably, they were keen to build a European Union:
After the war our aim must be the unification of Europe as a cooperative commonwealth
There were also debates about dropping the importance of the mass in favour of social activism and of switching from private ownership of property. But what is really noteworthy are the speeches about how the old order must be swept away in favour of a completely new society - and this new society was envisaged in modern liberal terms.
Anyway, in 1942 an even more significant conference took place of American Protestant church leaders. This occurred in March around the time that the Japanese were invading Java (in other words, when the Axis powers were still predominant). 375 representatives of 30 denominations met together at Ohio Wesleyan University. What did they decide?
It was their view that the U.S. should lead the way in creating an international system of government. Here are some of the post-war policies they favoured:
- Worldwide freedom of immigration
- A world government of delegated powers
- Elimination of all tariff and quota restrictions on world trade
- International control of all armies and navies
The ultimate aim to be achieved was the following:
a duly constituted world government of delegated powers; an international legislative body, an international court with adequate jurisdiction, international administrative bodies with necessary powers, and adequate international police forces and provision for enforcing its worldwide economic authority.
So the question to be asked is this: did the churches really need to marched through and captured by cultural Marxists? Or had they already reached a point of post-nationalism under the influence of liberalism as early as the 1940s?
I think it's clear that the rot had already set in. Liberalism had already done the job by the 1940s - there was no need for the cultural Marxism of the 1960s to swing the churches.