America is entering its very own Mao-like Cultural Revolution. The iconoclasm of the left’s culture war isn’t a side effect, it’s the point.
Dr. Seuss has been cancelled. Some of his work has been deemed racist, and we can’t have that. On Tuesday, the entity that oversees the estate of Theodor Seuss Geisel announced it would no longer publish six of Geisel’s books because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”
Among the works now deemed unfit for children are Geisel’s first book under the pen name Dr. Seuss, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” published in 1937, and the much-beloved, “If I Ran the Zoo,” published in 1950. The former depicts a “Chinaman” character and the latter shows two men from “the African island of Yerka” in native garb.
There’s not much point in quibbling over whether these and other such illustrations in the condemned Dr. Seuss books are in fact racist or bigoted, or whether Geisel held racist or xenophobic views. By all accounts he was a liberal-minded and tolerant man who hated Nazis and, as a political cartoonist, mocked the antisemitism that was all-too-common in America during World War II.
He was also a man of his era. Later in life, he regretted some of his political work during the war that stereotyped Japanese Americans, which, as jarring as it might seem today, nevertheless reflected attitudes that were commonplace at the time.
But context and nuance don’t factor into the inexorable logic of the woke left, which flattens and refashions the past into a weapon for the culture wars of the present. What’s important to understand is that this isn’t simply about banning six Dr. Seuss books. All of Geisel’s work is, in the judgment of left-wing academia, an exercise in “White supremacy, paternalism, conformity, and assimilation.” It might be easy for conservatives to laugh that off as nonsense, but they shouldn’t, because this isn’t really even about Geisel.
The Left Is Carrying Out a Cultural Revolution
To grasp how a man known as much for his messages of tolerance as for his artistic genius could be canceled for racism, you have to understand what’s actually happening here. The left’s war on the past, on long-dead authors like Geisel, isn’t really about the past, it’s about the future. It’s about who gets to rule, and under what terms.
There’s a predictable pattern to what we’re seeing now. It’s predictable because it has happened before in much the same way it’s happening now. During China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and ‘70s, the Chinese Communist Party, at the direction of Mao Zedong, called for the destruction of the “Four Olds”: old customs, old culture, old habits, old ideas. All of these stood in the way of Mao’s socialist ideology, so they had to be destroyed.
Children and students were encouraged by the communist government to inform on their parents and elders, to shame and condemn them in public. The guilty were forced to recant in “struggle sessions,” during which they were mocked and humiliated, sometimes tortured, sometimes murdered. Before it was over, millions were dead.
We’re obviously not there yet, but the woke revolutionaries who now run our elite institutions and exert outsized influence in the corridors of power are following this same pattern.
First, they come for the monuments, destroying the icons of the past and re-writing history to turn even our national heroes and Founding Fathers into enemies. The animating ethos of the mobs pulling down Confederate statues is the same as The New York Times editors who gave us the 1619 Project. And because there is no limiting principle to iconoclasm, they have moved on from Confederates.
The City of Charlottesville, for example, having removed or tried to remove every last Confederate monument, is now pleading for someone, anyone, to haul away a giant statue of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The 18-foot-tall bronze statue, which was erected in 1919 and depicts Lewis and Clark with Sacajawea crouched behind them, is free for anyone who can prove he knows how to move it safely—although at this point it’s a wonder the city doesn’t just dynamite the thing to rubble, Taliban-style.
Then they come for the books, destroying any ideas or literature that challenges their ideology—like Ryan Anderson’s 2018 book on the dangers of transgenderism, which Amazon summarily canceled last month. Even seemingly unobjectionable books can be targeted, if not for their content then for the race of their author. Just ask Jeanine Cummins, whose novel “American Dirt” drew the ire of the left last year simply because Cummins, who is white, wrote a book about Mexican drug cartels. The list goes on and on.
So much for statues and books. At some point, the left will come for actual people, because the ideology of revolution demands that dissent—and therefore dissidents—be silenced, by force if necessary.
If you think that’s an exaggeration, recall what happened all across the country last summer when Black Lives Matter “protesters” took to the streets. They didn’t just march and chant, they rioted. They attacked businesses, destroyed entire city blocks, and carried out a campaign of intimidation, harassing, and in some cases attacking random people if they didn’t kneel and repeat the slogans of the revolution. Dozens of people lost their lives in the chaos and violence that ensued.
The people behind the statue-toppling, the digital book burnings, and the street violence won’t stop until all three of these things—history, ideas, and dissidents—have been destroyed. These are all impediments to their cultural revolution, and they mean to eliminate them.
So forget about Dr. Seuss. Forget about the statues and the books. Those things are just the beginning. It could easily get much worse. The woke revolutionaries of the left can’t be bargained with or appeased. They believe this is a zero-sum game, that one side will win and one side will lose. And they’re right.
John is the Political Editor at The Federalist.