The problem, however, is that in being so anti-everything-else, we’ve started to become that which we fear. Case in point: the State Board of Education in Texas managed to get this book on Marxism banned from school libraries (and a book for kids by another author with the same name); a few states over in Menifee, California they are considering banning the 10th edition of Merriam-Webster (the dictionary) because it contains entries for “oral sex” (among others). I can’t help thinking that these bannings (or attempts, at least) are the result of an incomprehensible discomfort for those who still think it’s the 1600s. Even so, the problem with this whole picture is that for all its claims of protecting children and preservation of American freedom, it’s doing the exact opposite.
I am not a Marxist. I’m not a capitalist either (not in the current sense of the term). But stifling the dissemination of knowledge, even about controversial topics, is a kind of low-level Orwellian act. We’re not talking about keeping pornography from being in school libraries. We’re not even talking about keeping things like the Anarchist cookbook, which is, if memory serves me, still illegal due to its content (it provides the “recipes” for all kinds of bad things, like bombs). We’re talking about keeping knowledge of a diametrically opposed viewpoint from reaching our children, and I don’t think this is simply because we don’t like those ideas. We’re afraid (or at least weak-minded people are).
Marxism isn’t terrifying because it’s the opposite of capitalism, or because it is connected with communism and a lot of nasty things that have happened over the years. Marxism is terrifying because the more we learn about it, the more we realize that a lot of the things Marx and those that followed him said about capitalism are true. We’ve done a fine job maintaining the status quo in America. To break that by raising children who not only think critically about the way our nation is run, but are also willing to act and implement outside ideas to make changes (for the better, presumably) is essentially to shut down hundreds of years of damn fine brainwashing. Are fascism and communism actually bad? Sure, in a limited viewpoint, but in that same viewpoint our own system is equally as bad (American democracy and modern capitalism are not innocent systems by a long shot; to say otherwise is like saying colonialism never happened). American culture, thus, has become one of exceptionalism, particularly if you’re an adherent of a particularly vocal political right: they offer America an “out” from its “crimes,” while deriding other nations (primarily non-democratic ones) for the very thing we offer up as exceptions. Exceptionalism is equally applicable to the vocal non-political left, who often hold up more “socialist” nations as pinnacles of civilization, criticizing the failures of America, while exceptionalizing the aforementioned “socialist” nations.
The problem of American exceptionalism is that it is too close-minded for its own good. We are incapable of thinking outside of the box because we’ve been conditioned to fear a political other that is not all that terrifying to begin with. What exactly is so frightening about Marxism, Fascism, or Democratic Socialism? Once you begin to siphon off the oft-repeated examples of all that is bad about these things (the last of which gets the short end of the stick because there are actually few, if any, prominent “bad” examples; the result is that it is often associated with Fascism), there really isn’t much to say except, “I just don’t like it.”
Perhaps we need to really think about why it is we love Democracy so much, particularly in its American form. And where it’s weak, maybe we should also question why we are too afraid to criticize it, or only brave enough to criticize those who do the job for us. The one thing we can’t keep doing is looking away from criticism for fear that there might be some truth there in the first place. Marxism may not be correct in principle, but when you dig your heels in you begin to see why it is still so influential in the world and in universities: because it still says something true about the system we’ve all been conditioned to love; acknowledging that truth is a challenge to American hegemony. History, I’m afraid, does not shine too well on America’s reception of challenges.