This May marked the fiftieth anniversary of the “Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution,” which shattered Chinese intellectual and academic establishments. Professors and scholars who were deemed “reactionary and capitalist elements” were harassed, arrested, and tortured. This orgy of violence was an effort by Chairman Mao to restore his brand of communism to a dominant place in China, and reshape the culture of China along communist lines by destroying the four olds: old custom, old culture, old habits, and old ideas. Many of these attacks were perpetrated by students, the Red Guard, who were mobilized by Mao and the Communist Party to harass and denounce their teachers and destroy what little remained of traditional Chinese culture.
America is currently undergoing its own cultural revolution which, while usually less violent, is no less insidious than its Chinese predecessor, and is aimed at the same end: the complete restructuring of society and culture along new, progressive lines.
During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, traditions and ideas deemed anti-Communist, such as religion—both traditional Chinese religions and Christianity—and historical and literary works that ran counter to the Communist Party line were brutally suppressed. During this time ancient temples and palaces were destroyed and priceless books were burned. On many campuses today this is being repeated. Though trigger warnings and banning books deemed objectionable do not have the appearance of being nearly as drastic as book burnings, they stem from the same desire to eliminate that which runs counter to what is “politically correct.” More importantly, today's suppression of dissenting thought mirrors the Cultural Revolution by creating an atmosphere of fear for those who disagree, which in turn leads to self-censorship. In many ways, this is more dangerous than the suppression of active dissent, for it keeps that dissent from arising in the first place. And if those who disagree are the agents of their own censorship, the roots of tyranny become much more difficult to purge.
The Cultural Revolution was primarily the product of students, motivated by ideology to destroy all that opposed their vision of utopia. This too is paralleled in the current culture of hyper-rampant political correctness. The students at Missouri University, Claremont-McKenna, Yale, and others seek to establish on their campuses, and eventually in the culture, their idea of a perfectly diverse and tolerant utopia, and will crush anyone who opposes them. This has been demonstrated both on faculty and students, as protestors demanded the resignation or firing of faculty who dared question the ends of the protests, and as students who spoke out were marginalized, with reports of harassment by the protestors against students who refused to join.
The current college protests demanding safe spaces and the systematic intolerance of any idea deemed intolerant does not have the same outward appearance as the physical violence of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. However, it is motivated by the same belief that formed the foundation of the Red Guard’s fanatical Maoism that led them to round up their former teachers for imprisonment and torture. It is the belief in the religion of progress, that man must move Forward, whatever the cost, that all values are relative to their historical period, and all who claim to stand for things transcendent and eternal are reactionaries slowing the path of progress who can rightfully be trampled. It is against this tide, old in its newness, that those who still see value in the permanent things must stand, to prevent the current climate of political correctness from reaching a greater expression in a new Cultural Revolution.
Dennis Clark is a student at Ashland University.