Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Book Review: The Devil's Pleasure Palace: the Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West

Posted By on Tue, Sep 22, 2015 at 4:11 PM

There is a way to tell if a book is a well written polemic by a conservative author. I call it “The C Clue.” If you look up a book on Amazon, you will see a horizontal bar graph. This graph depicts the relative numbers of the different star ratings. A conservative polemic will have a large number of one star ratings with somewhat fewer two star ratings. They represent the work of those from the other side of the political spectrum who wish to suppress the book. The book will have few three star ratings, but many four star, and still more five star ratings from conservatives who love a well written polemic. So, when the graph looks like a “C,” you may assume it to be arguing from a conservative political perspective.

Such a book is The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West, by Michael Walsh (as of this writing, this book is more of a capital E, but you get the idea).

To get a good perspective on this book, one should take a look at the author. Walsh graduated from the Eastman School of Music in 1971. He worked as a reporter for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, then became its classical music critic. He later became a music critic for the San Francisco Examiner, then for Time Magazine. Around the turn of the century he was a Professor of Journalism and Professor of Film & Television at Boston University. He wrote for National Review, and had a weekly column at the New York Post. He helped Andrew Breitbart launch Big Journalism.com, and became a featured journalist at PJ Media. He has authored over a dozen books both fiction and nonfiction. In short, he is a bit of a Renaissance Man.

It would be an incomplete presentation of the author if it did not include the fact that he is a devout Catholic with a deep understanding of Christianity and Biblical scripture. In fact, he often uses religious terms in his argument. The reader should not be offended by this since terms such as “satanic” and others are idiomatic. For example, the author defines “satanic” in this way, “Again, we must use the word ‘satanic,’ which, rightly defined, means the desire to tear down a longstanding, even elemental, order and replace it with...nothing.” Walsh also attempts to reassure the reader by saying, “I make no apologies for the explicitly Christian context of my analysis; as a Catholic, I would be foolish to try to tackle the subject from any other perspective. Nevertheless, I am not relying on the fine points of dogma or any particular set of teachings (other than right=good, wrong=bad). The moral principles from which I shall proceed are found across all cultural divides.”

What Walsh does is to trace the decline of the West not simply by connecting the political dots, or citing bad art, but by weaving the threads of politics, religion, and literature, into a compelling fabric. Walsh describes it this way:

This eternal conflict, then, is the essence of my religio–cultural argument, which I will view through the triple prisms of 1) atheist cultural Marxism that sprang up amid the physical and intellectual detritus of Europe after the calamity of World War I, and it’s practical, battering-ram application, Critical Theory; and 2) the Book of Genesis, from which our cultural self–understanding flows, and Milton’s great explicative poem, in which a God who reigns supreme is also a strangely absent and largely off stage Prime Mover; and 3) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s emblematic reworking of the man caught in the middle between Heaven and Hell, between God and Mephistopheles: “Faust”.

Walsh does explain his perception of “This eternal conflict”. It is the classic story of the hero, a lesson for Western man in story form that has been retold from the Odyssey to Star Wars. A common person (our hero) is called to fight evil in some form, rises to the occasion, achieves victory, and is transformed in the process. It is significant because it is the story of every person. Everyone is subject to challenges, including, at times, fighting evil. These battles transform us into better people. This is the purpose of this world - to fulfill our human destiny. Walsh punctuates this notion by suggesting that it was a good thing that Eve took the apple and gained knowledge of good and evil and was kicked out of Eden - it was necessary for humans to fulfill their destiny. This is consistent with the Eastern notion of the serpent as a symbol of the latent spiritual Kundalini energy that resides in a person until awakened, beginning the path to enlightenment.

It is not necessary to be even remotely familiar with the works of art employed by Walsh. He describes in detail the aspects of Paradise Lost and "Faust" and the rest that are relevant to his discussion. You might say that the education in these works of art is the icing on the cake.

This is an extraordinary book that will reward any reader open to it.

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About The Author

Jonathan Hoffman

Jonathan Hoffman moved to Tucson from Connecticut in 1977 and never looked back. He attended the UA, ran for City Council Ward III in 2001, and made regular contributions to the Guest Commentary section of the Tucson Weekly for over five years. He helped launch the Southern Arizona News Examiner. He is a former...
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