Cynical Minds - a review of the book Cynical Theories

Cynical Minds

Cynical TheoriesA book review of Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity - and Why This Harms Everybody
by Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay, Pitchstone Publishing (2020)
ISBN-10: 1634312023, ISBN-13: 978-1634312028.

Cynical Theories adroitly explains a several interrelated concepts including progressivism, postmodernism, Theory, Critical Theory, and Social Justice. The book aptly explains the history and evolution of these concepts in an informative and readable manner. If you want to understand the cultural revolution to which we are being subjected - and which we must confront, read this book. It will be time well spent.


Cynical Theories begins by presenting classic "liberalism" (what Europeans call "social-democratic") as practiced over the last two centuries. The authors note that:

The main tenets of liberalism are political democracy, limitations on the powers of government, the development of universal human rights, legal equality for all adult citizens, freedom of expression, respect for the value of viewpoint diversity and honest debate, respect for evidence and reason, the separation of church and state, and freedom of religion.

Liberalism and its sustaining ideas are at great risk in Western civilization. The authors note that this is due to the fact that the progressive left has aligned not with modernity, but with postmodernism, which resists objective truth. In other words, under postmodernism, subjective truth trumps empirical truth.


The authors describe the features of postmodernism: it seeks its fundamentals of meaning in language itself:

  • Self-identity is shaped by culture.
  • Morality is not based on tradition or religion, but is constructed by choice and dialogue. Postmodernism also mixes "high" and "low" culture, and tends toward globalism.
  • Knowledge and truth are relative to individual cultures, thus there is no objective truth.

The authors state that essentially, postmodernism "is primarily characterized by a rejection of Enlightenment values, especially its values regarding the production of knowledge, which it associates with power and its unjust application." Thus, it expresses four major themes:

  • The blurring of boundaries.
  • The power of language.
  • Cultural relativism.
  • The loss of the individual and the universal - "the notion of the autonomous individual is largely a myth."

The authors note that postmodernism originated in the 1960s and has become one of the least tolerant and most authoritarian ideologies since the decline of communism. They write that:

The postmodern Theorists adopted the critical method, or at least the critical mood, of the Frankfurt School and adapted it into the structuralist context, particularly its view of power. The “critical” goal remained the same, however: to make the problems inherent in “the system” more visible to the people allegedly oppressed by it—however happily they might be living their lives within it—until they come to detest it and seek a revolution against it.

At its core, postmodernism rejected what it calls metanarratives—broad, cohesive explanations of the world and society. It rejected Christianity and Marxism. It also rejected science, reason, and the pillars of post-Enlightenment Western Democracy. Postmodern ideas have shaped what has since mostly been called Theory


In the 1990s, highly politicized Theories developed from applied postmodernism. Thus, Theory is actionable - or radicalized - postmodernism. It defines not what is, but what ought to be.

All kinds of Theories sprouted up, including critical race, queer, postcolonial, gender, and even fat. Each of these Theories is discussed in the book its own chapter.

Each Theory focus on dismantling hierarchies and reconstructing society in an image aligned with "Social Justice," where power balances and prejudices are eradicated. These Theories are not innocuous philosophizing. Rather, as the authors note:

… postcolonial Theory is of considerable real-world concern and poses threats to society that the original postmodernism did not. The drives to decolonize everything from hair to English literature curricula, to tear down paintings and smash statues, and to erase history while opening up revisionist discussions of it, are particularly alarming.

Similarly, when sex, gender, and sexuality are treated as social constructs, whether true or not, they become easier to politicize and use as tools of social change. In other words, Theory is a modern means to deconstruct stable Western society.

Critical Theory

So what is Critical Theory? The authors state that:

A Critical Theory is chiefly concerned with revealing hidden biases and underexamined assumptions, usually by pointing out what have been termed “problematics,” which are ways in which society and the systems that it operates upon are going wrong.

From its original conception, a Critical Theory was to be set aside from a traditional theory, which seeks to understand and explain phenomena in terms of what it is and how it works, including social phenomena. A critical theory, by contrast, must satisfy all of three criteria. First, it must arise from a “normative” vision, which is to say a set of moral views about how society ought to be, and this moral vision should both inform the theory and serve as a goal for a new society. Second, it must explain what is wrong with society or its current systems, usually in terms of “problematics,” which are shortcomings in the system or ways in which it fails to accord with or generate the normative moral view of the theory. Third, it must be actionable by social activists who wish to use it to change society.

Those who subscribe to Critical Theory see the world in terms of power structures. The authors point out that: "A critical theory is chiefly concerned with revealing hidden biases and underexamined assumptions."

Critical race Theory

Critical race Theory developed in the 1970s as an American phenomenon. It is a subset of Critical Theory (or of Theory in general) that refers not to demonstrable prejudice based on race, but rather a pervasive racial bias that permeates society yet is invisible to all who have not been trained in critical methods so as to see it - that is, the "woke."

Critical race Theory is destructive by design. Critical race Theorists Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic write that:

Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.


Intersectionality arose in parallel with critical race Theory and deals with relationships of identity groups. The authors observe that:

Intersectionality accurately recognizes that it is possible to uniquely discriminate against someone who falls within an “intersection” of oppressed identities—say black and female—and that contemporary discrimination law was insufficiently sensitive to address this.

Intense scrutiny of language and identity terminology lead to political correctness, which is in essence a form of censorship.


Marxism was concerned with class conflict, while today's progressives and Theorists are concerned with privilege. Privilege is a more effective, modern way to induce conflict in order to fracture society.

Social Justice

Intersectionality and simplistic group identity, which constitute Social Justice, leave no room for individuality, nor for universality (universal truth). The authors point out that under the auspices Social Justice, "Theory itself can never be denied."

The authors again point out the danger of the Social Justice / Theory paradigm:

Social Justice–based attacks on science and reason are usually open and direct. This is not only because science and reason have an irritating habit of revealing the flaws in Theoretical approaches; it is also because they are universal and thus violate the postmodern knowledge principle and the postmodern theme of centering group identity, around which Social Justice scholarship is organized.

Thus Social Justice and Theory not only actively and aggressively attack American culture, but Western concepts of reason and knowledge. The new Social Justice religion is in essence a tautology which is hostile to reason, analysis, and disagreement. It is not self-skeptical as are traditional liberalism and science, but rather are self-certain. You can't argue with a Social Justice warrior. Social Justice is ultimately aimed at dismantling Western Civilization - which is happening at a stunning pace

What is to be done?

The authors urge a return to classic liberalism, which values individualism, human values, and knowledge that accurately describes reality. Liberalism, under which America was founded, is the antitheses of Theory.

Classic liberalism is not inconsistent with modern political conservativism which strives to preserve America as a Constitutional Republic under the rule of law, and the American way of life.

Liberalism provides for conflict resolution and for self-criticism, which as the authors observe is "the feature of liberalism that critical methods like postmodern Theory exploit to undermine it." They write:

Liberalism’s success can be put down to a few key points. It is intrinsically goal-oriented, problem-solving, self-correcting, and—despite what postmodernists think—genuinely progressive.

It's important that we fight Social Justice / Theory, collectively and individually. It is not going away on its own.

What can you do? The authors say that it can be as simple as saying to a Social Justice warrior: “No, that’s your ideological belief, and I don’t have to go along with it.”


Marxists have completed their "long march through the institutions," particularly the American education system. Their destructive and aggressive agenda is blossoming rapidly for all to see.

One reason for the rapid growth of this agenda is that corporations are jumping on board. Some, such as Woke Coke, have encountered resistance, but for the most part they see increased monopolistic power to be gained as a result of promoting wokeness. For example, Big Tech has gained immense power from acting as the censor for the burgeoning Democrat uniparty.

The new form of Fascism is not yet fully defined. This neo-Fascism may not precisely resemble classical Fascism (as in WWII Italy and Germany), but it will likely involve a marriage of corporate and state interests, one party rule, and some form corporate Feudalism.

James Lindsay, the narrator of the Antonio Gramsci video included below, notes that Gramsci identified cohesive culture as a critical stumbling block to implementing Marxism. Culture must be dismantled in order for Marxism to take hold. This is precisely what we are seeing in America with critical race Theory, queer Theory, etc.

Some have discounted the importance of Theory, while focusing more on the Great Replacement of White Americans. It may be that they do not fully understand the historical context nor the intent to dismantle Western Civilization. Mass immigration and squabbling nationalities are not simply a consequence of politics. They are part of the toolkit being used to deliberately dismantle America.


Learn more about Critical Race Theory

The Truth According to Social Justice - A Review of ‘Cynical Theories’, by Jonathan Church, Quillette, July 20, 2020:

What Cynical Theories expresses is not a paranoid state of mind. It is a genuine concern about the threat that social justice activism, identity politics, and the legacy of postmodernism poses to Enlightenment liberalism and the belief that “disagreement and debate [are] means to getting at the truth.” The book explains how we have arrived at a state in which social justice scholarship treats the principles and themes of postmodernism as The Truth, where no dissent is tolerated, and anyone who disagrees must be cancelled.

Dan Bongino talks about the origins of critical race theory with Dr. Carol Swain, Post Millennial, June 21, 2021.

Videos Antonio Gramsci, Cultural Marxism, Wokeness, and Leninism 4.0

If you want to understand the present moment, especially how similar Wokeness seems to Mao's Cultural Revolution, you have to understand the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci wrote a series of essays and books while imprisoned by the Italian fascists in the 1920s and 1930s that are referred to as his Prison Notebooks. These are the birthplace of Cultural Marxism, which James Lindsay argues has evolved into "Identity Marxism" since. Once you understand Gramsci, you can easily understand what is going on with our society at present and understand more clearly than ever why it must be resisted.

Though he didn't coin the term, the idea fellow communist Rudi Dutschke would name "the long march through the institutions" in 1967 is ultimately Gramsci's roadmap to getting communism to take hold in the West. Gramsci identifies that the "cultural hegemony" of Western cultures prevented communism from having any chance of taking root, so he recommended a strategy that seeks to tear apart and capture major cultural institutions, including religion, family, education, media, and law. Mao understood this clearly and used it to devastating effect. The same thing is happening throughout the West today. Join James Lindsay as he explains the thought and relevance of Antonio Gramsci in today's Woke movement, which he aptly brands "Leninism 4.0."


Video: Hegel, Wokeness, and the Dialectical Faith of Leftism

Is Critical Race Theory Marxist, as many insist, or is it not? What is the relationship between Marxism, neo-Marxism (Critical Theory), and Wokeness? All three criticize one another, and yet all three have a great deal obviously in common. Is there some common underlying thread between these clearly similar yet obviously different worldviews? The answer is yes, and by tracing back to one of the most influential speculative idealist philosophers of the early 19th century, namely George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, we can gain a great deal of insight into how these decidedly leftist movements—the Marxist Old Left, the neo-Marxist New Left, and the intersectional Woke Left—share at least one deeper philosophical architecture in common. From Hegel, the Left since his time has, wittingly and not, adopted several of the pillars of Hegelian philosophy, these including his statism, historicism, and, much more importantly, his dialectical approach and metaphysical worldview. In this episode of the New Discourses Podcast, James Lindsay takes a long, deep dive into the ways that Hegel's philosophy is at the root of the entire "Dialectical Left" since, naming the dialectic the "operating system" of all activist Leftism since the early 1800s.

In this episode, Lindsay takes considerable time explaining Hegel's view of dialectical thought and then reveals in many examples, reaching up to the present day, how consistently the dialectic appears as the functional underpinning of Leftism ever since, at the latest, the 1830s. He makes the case that Leftism since Hegel thinks dialectically, moves dialectically, and applies dialectical thought not just to its targets but to everything, including itself and even its own dialectic. He then switches gears and explains how the dialectic is central to Hegel's underlying Hermetic (or alchemical) worldview and explains his mystical metaphysics so that this long arc of Leftist activism can be understood as evolving denominations within a single religious faith. With this theoretical groundwork laid, he then tackles how Hegel's historicism and statism arise as key features of his philosophy, with both of these characterizing activist Leftism up to the present day. Join him for his longest and most in-depth discussion yet, taking on how Hegel is a key progenitor of communism, liberationism, and ultimately Wokeness, how this philosophy must be understood so that it can be countered, and why it should be thought of in the same way that Hegel thought of it: as a religion in its own right, with its own notion of deity, metaphysical commitments, soteriology, and eschatology.


Video: Herbert Marcuse, The New Discourses Podcast with James Lindsay, Episode 17, Repressive Tolerance Series, Part 1 of 4

We live in a crazy world today that seems to have gone off the rails. That's because it is being driven by a broken logic, and, for all the flaws on the right, that broken logic is centered in the no-longer-tolerant left. The logic of the left today is overwhelmingly rooted in a single essay published in 1965 by the neo-Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse. That essay is "Repressive Tolerance" ( The thesis statement of this essay can be boiled down to "movements from the left must be extended tolerance, even when they are violent, while movements from the right must not be tolerated, including suppressing them by violence." This asymmetric ethic has been the heart and soul of left politics in the West since the 1960s, and we're living in the fruit of that catastrophe now.

To help people understand this vitally important and intrinsically totalitarian essay and its relevance to our present moment, James Lindsay walks the listener through Marcuse's "Repressive Tolerance" in a four-part lecture series. In this series, he reads the essay in full and attempts to make clear how it is the logic underlying the present moment. The goal is to explain the essay as Marcuse would have understood it, in his own context, and to show how his own logic has become dominant and the monster that he believed he was fighting.

In the first part, Lindsay begins by framing the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory to give background on Marcuse. He also explains that Marcuse seems to be attempting to give a solution to Karl Popper's famous "Paradox of Tolerance," which was provided as an aside in his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies, which analyzed how fascism can arise and overtake liberal societies. Marcuse's answer to this conundrum is that a "discriminating tolerance," a "liberating tolerance," must be practiced that offers favoritism to the left and actively suppresses the right, as he defines them (from a perspective of Critical Theory). Join Lindsay as he contextualizes and then brings the first portion of this essay to life...