If there is allowed only one word to describe the Left, the wanton adherence to hypocrisy, self-destruction, entropic egalitarianism, aimless rebellion against all forms of establishment, anti-life, anti-love, and its anti-order ethos, that word is “Satanic.” Acclaimed writer Michael Walsh is unafraid to denounce the Left for what it is in his recent book, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West, a largely literary investigation into the death of the West’s unified culture and artistic sensibilities.
Walsh begins his thesis with an analysis of the satanic. Milton’s Paradise Lost, Goethe’s Faust, and Wagner’s Siegfried and Percival feature heavily throughout his book, alongside the biblical Genesis narrative that each draws its moral and metaphysical frameworks from. The violent urge toward radical individualism, arrogance, and pride is made manifest in the figure of Satan, to such a degree that he turned his powers toward He that made him. The original rebel—as pointed out by Saul Alinsky and referenced by Walsh in chapter thirteen—sought not a kingdom for himself in Hell, despite that being what he got; he sought the dethronement of God in Heaven. Hell was his punishment, not a reward. When the host of Heaven proved insurmountable, as Milton’s opus narrates, he turned his covetous gaze toward Eden. The entirety of the Left’s ethos can be found there, in the pages of Genesis and Milton, with its history to be found in Goethe and Wagner: power-hungry, mad with jealousy, psychotically self-destructive, corrupting, and ultimately doomed to a Hellish existence of suffering and confusion.
As the subtitle suggests, the organized takedown of Western thought known collectively as Critical Theory is the locus of Walsh’s analysis. Despite engaging in biblical and satanic rhetoric, Walsh remains committed to explicating the destruction that the Frankfurt School wrought upon philosophy, literature, music, and art, emphasizing the self-righteous and agonizingly indulgent aspects of Leftist thought. The failures of political and economic Marxism, the second world war, and the post-enlightenment fallout of the nineteenth century contributed to Frankfurt School’s intensely anti-Western connivances, in addition, no doubt, to the personal grudges of the specific professors involved. The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, however, is less about the dramatis personae of the Frankfurt School itself—for that, Sir Scruton’s Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left is more suited. Instead, Walsh dedicates his thesis toward explaining the anti-narrative that the Frankfurt School proposed should supplant the story of Western civilization.
This is the reason for the distinctly literary approach that Walsh takes in putting forth his argument. For the Frankfurt School, Critical Theory asserts the fundamental meaninglessness of the external world and the importance of relativism. As such, lies become rebranded as alternative narratives: history itself is turned from a sequence of events into the story at whose root rests some form of conflict (between classes, genders, races, ages, you name it). Interestingly, Walsh does not deny this approach to understanding history, and rightly so. The issue at heart, however, is that the Frankfurt School, typical of its Marxist background, misdiagnosed the conflicts and the problems. History has not been a struggle between the rich and the poor, the men and the women, the blacks and the whites, or the young and the old. It has been a struggle between the Holy—between God’s will—and the ever-corrupting influence of Satan. By intentionally obscuring that, and by intentionally pitting Man against himself, desecrating the holy and obscuring the divine, bribing him into closing his eyes and then whispering in his ear that the darkness on the inside of his eyelids is the only knowable truth to an unilluminated existence, Critical Theory’s satanic foundations are made abundantly clear. Critical Theory is no mere confusion of facts in service to a flawed worldview, it is an outright denial of reality in service of a worldview antithetical to Christian and Western existence.
What Walsh brings to the table with The Devil’s Pleasure Palace is, admittedly, nothing particularly new. Critiques of Leftism vary in scope and in form, and the attack at Leftism’s ideologies from distinctly religious viewpoints are gaining more traction within the non-academic reading public. What Walsh succeeds in is appropriately identifying the tendencies of the Left as satanic at their very core. The ur-narratives, as he calls them, are the stories written not just in the pages of the Bible and Milton or recounted in the operas of Wagner, they are the stories imprinted upon human consciousness, the same stories whose pieces were identified by Carl Jung as the archetypes of unconsciousness. They are the stories by which history itself operates, the story of good versus evil, heroism against darkness, and light shining on in the abyssal void of unknowing, jealousy, and fear. As Critical Theory sought to deconstruct these narratives, misattributing heroism to villainy and virtue with vice, it attacked the fundamental premises of Man’s own unconscious actions. There is a reason why all Leftist systems fail so catastrophically: they are not actually designed for human beings.
With The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, Walsh sets himself apart from his contemporaries. He not only identifies the ideological cancer that is Critical Theory, but by properly contextualizing it within the struggle against sin and the demonic, he reframes the war with Leftism as one of a fundamentally spiritual sort. Other thinkers that came before him have done the same, but the audacity to frame the debate as such in today’s public sphere is worth attention. How many conservatives today are even willing to admit that the “argument” waging across the American continent between the Right and the Left is a war of ideas, rather than a civil debate? How many are willing to even acknowledge that this war is turning violent in the form of riots and protests, and that most (if not all) of these are instigated by people higher than the malcontents on the ground? How many conservatives are willing to argue from their religious backgrounds, a wholeheartedly reject the entire secularist framework that the Left vehemently enforces at every turn? Even those that do acknowledge all of this have a tendency to do so only fetidly. Toleration of evil begins when it is not called out for what it is. “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled,” says Kevin Spacey’s character from The Usual Suspects, “was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.”
This gives Walsh’s book something of a refreshing air, his obvious breadth and depth of knowledge notwithstanding. This isn’t a book for everyone—the more secularly-inclined right-wingers and libertarians in particular may find his religious argumentation strained, if not tiresome, though that’s not from a lack of taste on Walsh’s part. It is a book, however, that summarizes the problems that confront America and the West today: the crumbling of the Christian narrative means the rise of the Satanic alternative. And Satanism has no center that can hold.