False consciousness & the liberal worldview

George F. Will gives useful background on the worldview that looms behind Barack Obama’s contention that Americans are religious, love guns, and want border control because they are economically oppressed. A sample:

The emblematic book of the new liberalism was “The Affluent Society” by Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith. He argued that the power of advertising to manipulate the bovine public is so powerful that the law of supply and demand has been vitiated. Manufacturers can manufacture in the American herd whatever demand the manufacturers want to supply. Because the manipulable masses are easily given a “false consciousness” (another category, like religion as the “opiate” of the suffering masses, that liberalism appropriated from Marxism), four things follow:

First, the consent of the governed, when their behavior is governed by their false consciousnesses, is unimportant. Second, the public requires the supervision of a progressive elite which, somehow emancipated from false consciousness, can engineer true consciousness. Third, because consciousness is a reflection of social conditions, true consciousness is engineered by progressive social reforms. Fourth, because people in the grip of false consciousness cannot be expected to demand or even consent to such reforms, those reforms usually must be imposed, for example, by judicial fiats.

According to Marxism and its neo-Marxist descendents (who apply what Marx said about ecoonomics to other kinds of oppression, such as by race, gender, and sexual orientation), “false consciousness” has to do with the oppressed being manipulated by those in power to co-operate in their own oppression. For example, in neo-Marxist literary criticism (still a big deal on non-Patrick Henry university campuses), Jane Austen is said to show “false consciousness” by having her female characters get married rather than empowering them to be feminists.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    I’ve found marriage to be incredibly liberating! I have a husband who loves and accepts me exactly as I am. I don’t have to worry about bad breath, passing gas or anything else that would give me a heart attack if this were still a date. I’ve been liberated from the terrible uncertainties of dating!

    Those crazy feminists don’t know what they’re talking about.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    I’ve found marriage to be incredibly liberating! I have a husband who loves and accepts me exactly as I am. I don’t have to worry about bad breath, passing gas or anything else that would give me a heart attack if this were still a date. I’ve been liberated from the terrible uncertainties of dating!

    Those crazy feminists don’t know what they’re talking about.

  • Don S

    So, if I understand Will correctly, in his view the liberal elite believes it is necessary to impose its view of the world on the population by fiat because the voters have been brainwashed by American capitalists and are thus not trustworthy voters. It certainly fits their behavior, as they seek to impose new law by court decree and bureaucratic regulation rather than legislatively.

    It seems to me that they are also doing their part to attempt to “reprogram” the population to a different “false consciousness” through their own advertising and propaganda campaigns (like the campaign for global warming reform).

    Such re-programming is a lot easier when you have removed absolute truth as an anchor in your community value system.

  • Don S

    So, if I understand Will correctly, in his view the liberal elite believes it is necessary to impose its view of the world on the population by fiat because the voters have been brainwashed by American capitalists and are thus not trustworthy voters. It certainly fits their behavior, as they seek to impose new law by court decree and bureaucratic regulation rather than legislatively.

    It seems to me that they are also doing their part to attempt to “reprogram” the population to a different “false consciousness” through their own advertising and propaganda campaigns (like the campaign for global warming reform).

    Such re-programming is a lot easier when you have removed absolute truth as an anchor in your community value system.

  • Chris

    “For example, in neo-Marxist literary criticism (still a big deal on non-Patrick Henry university campuses)…”

    Ah yes, good ol’ Frederic Jameson and the seven intellectual dwarves. :)

  • Chris

    “For example, in neo-Marxist literary criticism (still a big deal on non-Patrick Henry university campuses)…”

    Ah yes, good ol’ Frederic Jameson and the seven intellectual dwarves. :)

  • allen

    “Barack Obama’s contention that Americans are religious, love guns, and want border control because they are economically oppressed.”

    He ascribed motive. I would have thought he was smarter than that. Even I know one doesn’t do that.

  • allen

    “Barack Obama’s contention that Americans are religious, love guns, and want border control because they are economically oppressed.”

    He ascribed motive. I would have thought he was smarter than that. Even I know one doesn’t do that.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Allen (@4), would that everyone knew what you do — Obama is not the only one in to ascribe motive. Those who point out his faults around here have been known to do the same. Myself included, I’m sure.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Allen (@4), would that everyone knew what you do — Obama is not the only one in to ascribe motive. Those who point out his faults around here have been known to do the same. Myself included, I’m sure.

  • fw

    wow. would it not be simpler and far more christian to follow on to what Obama said, by parsing his explanations of what he said afterwards?

    THEN we would be most justified in passing judgement on the merits of what he was trying to express.

    I know that when I say something unwise, I am most grateful when people allow me to clarify.

    I feel wronged when people take my words and accept someone elses negative interpretation of those words.

    Just because senator Obama is a public servant, does that remove us from the need to keep the 8th commandment?

  • fw

    wow. would it not be simpler and far more christian to follow on to what Obama said, by parsing his explanations of what he said afterwards?

    THEN we would be most justified in passing judgement on the merits of what he was trying to express.

    I know that when I say something unwise, I am most grateful when people allow me to clarify.

    I feel wronged when people take my words and accept someone elses negative interpretation of those words.

    Just because senator Obama is a public servant, does that remove us from the need to keep the 8th commandment?

  • Susan aka organshoes

    We (some of us) doubt he was actually clarifying, fw, and contend his latter statements were attempts to say something else entirely, thus deflecting criticism–or even changing the subject.
    This isn’t based on a lack of Christian love, but on our continued attention to his words, and to the words of the people with whom he associates (or associated).
    It’s likewise uncharitable to characterize all discernment and criticism as commandment breaking.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    We (some of us) doubt he was actually clarifying, fw, and contend his latter statements were attempts to say something else entirely, thus deflecting criticism–or even changing the subject.
    This isn’t based on a lack of Christian love, but on our continued attention to his words, and to the words of the people with whom he associates (or associated).
    It’s likewise uncharitable to characterize all discernment and criticism as commandment breaking.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Susan (@7), come on. “It’s likewise uncharitable to characterize all discernment and criticism as commandment breaking.” Nobody said anything about “all discernment and criticism” — if indeed that’s all that was. We’re discussing this particular attempt to read between the lines and find that Obama is — or at least is somehow connected to — an elitist, a Marxist, and possibly a marriage-hater. These are the words of Christian love?

    Would Christian love also hold you or me accountable for everything you or I have ever said — despite our attempts to explain it better? Would Christian love hold me or you accountable for the words of my friends, as you suggest? Christians might, but I don’t think love would be the motivation.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Susan (@7), come on. “It’s likewise uncharitable to characterize all discernment and criticism as commandment breaking.” Nobody said anything about “all discernment and criticism” — if indeed that’s all that was. We’re discussing this particular attempt to read between the lines and find that Obama is — or at least is somehow connected to — an elitist, a Marxist, and possibly a marriage-hater. These are the words of Christian love?

    Would Christian love also hold you or me accountable for everything you or I have ever said — despite our attempts to explain it better? Would Christian love hold me or you accountable for the words of my friends, as you suggest? Christians might, but I don’t think love would be the motivation.

  • Don S

    The whole purpose of a political campaign is to vet the candidates, and determine which of them is most suited to serve in the elected position. Politicians tend to try to obfuscate views that they don’t believe will be popular with voters, so when a candidate opens a window to his inner being and motivations it is a revealing moment. It is not the same as your situation, Frank or tODD. If you want to clarify your inadvertent remarks, or apologize, or whatever, I will accept your clarification at face value. I have no reason not to — you are not running to be my president.

  • Don S

    The whole purpose of a political campaign is to vet the candidates, and determine which of them is most suited to serve in the elected position. Politicians tend to try to obfuscate views that they don’t believe will be popular with voters, so when a candidate opens a window to his inner being and motivations it is a revealing moment. It is not the same as your situation, Frank or tODD. If you want to clarify your inadvertent remarks, or apologize, or whatever, I will accept your clarification at face value. I have no reason not to — you are not running to be my president.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Don S (@9), I want so desperately to agree with you*, and yet …

    I can’t agree that humanity can be divided into politicians and everyone else, with politicians being sinful people who want to hide their evil nature from the basically good, honest non-politicians. We’re all sinful inside, and we all want to appear better than we really are. Which of us goes out of his way to convince others he’s as sinful as he is? I don’t. Not as often as I should, at least.

    I’m not saying there’s no room for wisdom here. The problem is that if you presume a malicious motive, you’re going to find it, no matter what. That’s as true for me as it is for a presidential candidate. And that’s why we’re not to presume such motives.

    *The problem is that we keep interacting on political topics. Ask Bror — I’m not always a gadfly!

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Don S (@9), I want so desperately to agree with you*, and yet …

    I can’t agree that humanity can be divided into politicians and everyone else, with politicians being sinful people who want to hide their evil nature from the basically good, honest non-politicians. We’re all sinful inside, and we all want to appear better than we really are. Which of us goes out of his way to convince others he’s as sinful as he is? I don’t. Not as often as I should, at least.

    I’m not saying there’s no room for wisdom here. The problem is that if you presume a malicious motive, you’re going to find it, no matter what. That’s as true for me as it is for a presidential candidate. And that’s why we’re not to presume such motives.

    *The problem is that we keep interacting on political topics. Ask Bror — I’m not always a gadfly!

  • Susan aka organshoes

    But, tODD, we’re contending that we’re NOT presuming motives, but discerning them, and that’s not the same thing, hard as you try to make it so. Again, from past remarks, positions, types of legislation, and personal associations. Not out of hateful hearts or personal prejudices.
    Give us that much at least.
    We’re not ‘reading between the lines’ but hearing his own speeches. He did not refute what he said; he reworded it entirely, then levelled irrelevant accusations against his opponents. That’s called deflecting the issue. Old trick–pay no attention to that man behind the curtain kind of trick.
    Same as he did with Rev. Wright. First he claimed he hadn’t heard Wright, then he made accusations against those denouncing the man, when his very own writings in his very own book back up Wright-like sentiments (some call it theology).
    He wants it both ways. Figuring that out is not rocket science and it’s not presumption.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    But, tODD, we’re contending that we’re NOT presuming motives, but discerning them, and that’s not the same thing, hard as you try to make it so. Again, from past remarks, positions, types of legislation, and personal associations. Not out of hateful hearts or personal prejudices.
    Give us that much at least.
    We’re not ‘reading between the lines’ but hearing his own speeches. He did not refute what he said; he reworded it entirely, then levelled irrelevant accusations against his opponents. That’s called deflecting the issue. Old trick–pay no attention to that man behind the curtain kind of trick.
    Same as he did with Rev. Wright. First he claimed he hadn’t heard Wright, then he made accusations against those denouncing the man, when his very own writings in his very own book back up Wright-like sentiments (some call it theology).
    He wants it both ways. Figuring that out is not rocket science and it’s not presumption.

  • Don S

    tODD, LOL. We do agree on the most important truth of all, that of eternal salvation through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. The rest of this stuff is dross, in comparison.

    Susan’s right on this one (I find she usually is, and very well spoken). A political campaign is a bit like a job interview. You need to take a critical view when you engage a job applicant because you are going to be stuck with him or her for a long time once you have decided to hire him/her. We are not dividing humanity, we are dividing roles. Were I to have dinner with Mr. Obama socially, or in any other capacity than in a political campaign, I would utterly agree with you that I should put the best construction possible on his communication, motives, and the like. But my job, right now, is to evaluate his application to be President of the United States, my President, for four years. The most important job in the world. If he says something that bothers me, or reveals something about himself that is problematic to me, then I am going to call him on it, and I am going to alert others as to what I think he is really about. This is true of the other two candidates as well, and believe me, I have been very critical of McCain in a number of areas.

    Once one of these three folks is my elected President, then he/she will have my full support for the next four years as a citizen of this country. This doesn’t mean I won’t ever be critical of him/her on policy grounds (I’m sure I will!), or that I won’t work against him/her when they are ready to run for re-election, but our roles will definitely be different than they are during this election period.

  • Don S

    tODD, LOL. We do agree on the most important truth of all, that of eternal salvation through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. The rest of this stuff is dross, in comparison.

    Susan’s right on this one (I find she usually is, and very well spoken). A political campaign is a bit like a job interview. You need to take a critical view when you engage a job applicant because you are going to be stuck with him or her for a long time once you have decided to hire him/her. We are not dividing humanity, we are dividing roles. Were I to have dinner with Mr. Obama socially, or in any other capacity than in a political campaign, I would utterly agree with you that I should put the best construction possible on his communication, motives, and the like. But my job, right now, is to evaluate his application to be President of the United States, my President, for four years. The most important job in the world. If he says something that bothers me, or reveals something about himself that is problematic to me, then I am going to call him on it, and I am going to alert others as to what I think he is really about. This is true of the other two candidates as well, and believe me, I have been very critical of McCain in a number of areas.

    Once one of these three folks is my elected President, then he/she will have my full support for the next four years as a citizen of this country. This doesn’t mean I won’t ever be critical of him/her on policy grounds (I’m sure I will!), or that I won’t work against him/her when they are ready to run for re-election, but our roles will definitely be different than they are during this election period.

  • fw

    obama is probably more closely identified as a Christopher Lasch disciple.

    Lasch started out as a marxist. where he ended up probably defies categorizing in terms of our current liberal conservative categories.

  • fw

    obama is probably more closely identified as a Christopher Lasch disciple.

    Lasch started out as a marxist. where he ended up probably defies categorizing in terms of our current liberal conservative categories.

  • Joe

    I find what Obama said ridiculous – I ascribe no motive. I think it was a simple statement of belief. His first reaction to the press stories, I said what everyone knows is true (paraphrase alert), really clarified it for me.

    I don’t think this statement has anything to do with motives or malice, I really just think he has no idea who rural, gun toten, God fearin, Midwesterners are. Why would he? He grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia and went to very prestigious schools – I would guess he did not meet many folks that fit this description in his life.

    As for his policies, I do think his world view begins with the gov’t in charge of most things and regulating everything else. For me that alone is enough not to want him to be my President.

  • Joe

    I find what Obama said ridiculous – I ascribe no motive. I think it was a simple statement of belief. His first reaction to the press stories, I said what everyone knows is true (paraphrase alert), really clarified it for me.

    I don’t think this statement has anything to do with motives or malice, I really just think he has no idea who rural, gun toten, God fearin, Midwesterners are. Why would he? He grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia and went to very prestigious schools – I would guess he did not meet many folks that fit this description in his life.

    As for his policies, I do think his world view begins with the gov’t in charge of most things and regulating everything else. For me that alone is enough not to want him to be my President.


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