The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.
-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
In his latest work, Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left has Sabotaged Family and Marriage, Paul Kengor argues that twenty-first century Americans, with their unprecedented decision to redefine marriage, have unwittingly given to leftist radicals a kind of superweapon with which to finally dispatch their longtime mortal enemies, the family and the Church.
The road to homosexual marriage, says Kengor, has been a long and twisting one. Ever since the mid-1800s, “the far left had its sights on the family, with marriage at the epicenter.” He stresses, however, that his work is not meant to expose some grand conspiracy for homosexual marriage that has been incubating for centuries. On the contrary, yesterday’s anti-family Marxists would be shocked—though thoroughly delighted—by the enthusiasm with which mainstream America has in remarkably short time embraced a truly revolutionary position of which none of them could have ever dreamed.
The majority of Takedown’s pages are dedicated to tracing the course of the long war the radical left has waged against marriage and the family, and the author does an excellent job chronicling this conflict. He begins with early experiments in “free love” and communal sexuality, such as the nineteenth-century Oneida commune of John Humphrey Noyes. After this, he thoroughly discusses the anti-marriage stances of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, explaining that “it was widely understood that communist ideas were antagonistic toward the family.” This ideology would have concrete ramifications with the coming of the Russian Revolution and the rise of the U.S.S.R. The decades that followed saw the ripening of the bitter fruits of communism. In Soviet Moscow, the ideals of marriage and family were completely obliterated. In 1934, there were three abortions for every live birth, and by the 1960s, it was not unusual for a Muscovite man or woman to be divorced and remarried 15 times.
In his chronicling of Marxism’s early influence in the United States, Kengor documents the hostility to the family and the sexual libertinism of early American radicals like Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and the famed anthropologist Margaret Mead. Still, he says, many American communists at this time remained very traditional in their views on marriage and the family. That would change as the twentieth century progressed, especially with the coming of cultural Marxism via the Frankfurt School’s relocation from Germany to Columbia University during the rise of Adolph Hitler.
Takedown’s greatest strength is arguably the historical insight Kengor provides on this topic of the cultural Marxists’ infiltration of the American education system. With the financial backing of the Rockefeller Foundation and the enthusiastic support of American education theorist John Dewey (himself an ardent admirer of the Soviet education system’s success in usurping the traditional roles of the family), America welcomed such anti-family German radicals as the sadomasochist Wilhelm Reich, who coined the phrase “sexual revolution.”
From their comfortable nest at Columbia, Reich and his Frankfurt School comrades set about indoctrinating future generations of American teachers and leaders with cultural Marxism, an effort which has born tremendous fruit all the way up to the present day. Time and again, Kengor traces the radical, anti-family agenda of the American far-left to Columbia, a point which is especially relevant when one considers that Columbia was the premier school for the training of future American educators and is also the alma mater of our current president, Barack Obama.
Another Columbia radical to whom Kengor devotes significant attention is Herbert Marcuse, sometimes called the Father of the New Left. Kengor writes of Marcuse in colorful language, explaining that his 1955 book Eros and Civilization became a sort of bible for the student radicals of the 1960s. Marcuse’s descriptions of traditional morality as oppressive and even “sadistic” inspired not only the hippies but also the Weathermen, who were notorious for their terrorist activities as well as the absolute sexual hedonism in which they engaged in pursuit of their crusade to “smash monogamy.”
Despite the undeniably great successes the cultural Marxists enjoyed in breaking down traditional moral barriers, Kengor says they were never quite able to totally subvert the institution of marriage itself. They never achieved their goal of so radically altering marriage that it would cease to exist as the foundation of Western society. But now, he explains, courtesy of the American people and the U.S. Supreme Court, the cultural Marxists have a powerful new club to wield.
The rapid advent of homosexual marriage would have stunned any of the radicals mentioned earlier, claims Kengor. While he argues that such anti-marriage leaders as Noyes, Engels, Wilhelm, and Marcuse would have found the idea of homosexual marriage as absurd as any 1950s conservative, he shows how their leftist descendants have recently discovered that it fits nicely into their intergenerational campaign to obliterate the traditional family, the longstanding bulwark of “bourgeois” Western civilization.
It is important to mention here that Kengor does not attribute the radical redefinition of marriage to malicious intent on the part of most homosexual-marriage advocates. He seems to agree with G.K. Chesterton, who said that “most mistaken people mean well.” Unfortunately, says Kengor, the mistake in this instance is one which will likely have a profound and devastating impact on society, as the cultural Marxists prepare to use the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision to make marriage mean everything, which is to say that it will also mean nothing.
To assure the reader that he is not merely scare-mongering with his talk of the coming destruction of marriage as an identifiable institution, Kengor references the Beyond Marriage campaign, started in 2006 with the purpose of winning legal recognition for a dizzying variety of relationship types. Beyond Marriage is not a mere fringe group, either. One of the most prominent leaders of the campaign is Chai Feldblum, President Barack Obama’s EEOC commissioner. In an official statement, the campaign declares that “the struggle for same-sex marriage rights is only one part of a larger effort.” The end goal is to so broadly define marriage as to make it mean almost anything. The results of this should be obvious. As Kengor puts it, “When marriage becomes everything to everybody, it ceases to be marriage, and likewise for the family.”
This, Kengor explains, has always been the goal of the radical left, though anti-family activists of the past could scarcely have imagined that they would ultimately achieve their end by means of Main Street America’s unwitting support for the wholesale redefining of an institution that has existed for thousands of years.
Not only was homosexual marriage not on anyone’s radar until the past decade or two, but oftentimes Marxist organizations and regimes were themselves extremely hostile toward homosexuals. Kengor details some of the intense persecution they faced in places like the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Even in the United States of the 1940s and 1950s, the Communist Party expelled homosexual members and used anti-homosexual slurs against its opponents.
How then, did organizations like Communist Party USA come to wholeheartedly embrace the cause of homosexual marriage in the twenty-first century? Kengor supplies a couple of answers. First, again like Chesterton, he points out that the end-goal of progressivism is always changing. A progressive cannot say definitively what he is progressing towards. So while progressives of just a few years back vehemently denied that they would ever force others to accept homosexual unions as valid marriages, a look at the lawsuits in courts around the country today will reveal that they have since progressed beyond that position. Additionally, says Kengor, they discovered just how useful a tool homosexual marriage could be for dismantling the family.
On a similar note, Kengor argues that the radical left has also recognized the value of homosexual marriage not only for undermining traditional marriage, but also as a weapon to use against those who defend traditional marriage—specifically, the Church. From the very first days of communism, its proponents found the Church to be a powerful and determined enemy, with the first papal condemnation of their system coming in 1846. Now, says Kengor, the Far Left descendants of the communists are well on their way to enlisting the heavy hand of the American state in their fight against the Church, with the passage of such laws as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which pointedly does not allow for religious exceptions.
If Kengor’s assessment of the situation is correct—and he has provided much evidence to show that it is—then the United States and Western Civilization as a whole are facing a dire problem. What can be done? Unfortunately, not much, Kengor says. He sees the true solution as “nothing short of a major religious revival.” He emphatically states that his book will not be nearly enough to reverse the course on which the nation is now heading. It is for diagnostic purposes only. As a diagnostic device, however, it is a work of significant value.
Nicholas Kaminsky teaches history at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota, and is author of “Church Control or Birth Control”: Margaret Sanger’s Propaganda Campaign against the Catholic Church (2015).