Chris Rufo is at the forefront of exposing critical race theory, DEI, and the radical Left’s agenda to undermine traditional American values. His new book, “America’s Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything,” is a history of the Left’s key figures and its playbook for infiltrating America’s institutions and indoctrinating our children.
The book, which debuted at No. 14 on The New York Times’ bestseller list Wednesday, profiles four figures who shaped the Left’s thinking and strategies: Herbert Marcuse, Angela Davis, Paulo Freire, and Derrick Bell. Rufo’s detailed reporting and meticulous research paint a far different picture about them than you’ll find in corporate media.
Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, spoke to The Daily Signal about his motivation for documenting the Left’s game plan. He also offered his perspective on the counter-revolution that he hopes will ultimately prevail. Listen to our full interview on “The Daily Signal Podcast” or read a lightly edited transcript below.
Rob Bluey: Your book provides one of the most comprehensive stories of the Left’s long march through institutions. I appreciate how you tell these stories and focus on the different people and players involved. But before we get into the content, why was it important for you to put this together in one package in the form of this book?
Chris Rufo: For me, personally, it was a process of working backward. And many of The Daily Signal readers probably know me as the preeminent critic of critical race theory. I did the reporting exposing CRT in our institutions. I did advocacy work with former President [Donald] Trump and state legislators and governors to get critical race theory out of the curriculum and out of so-called [diversity, equity, and inclusion] training programs.
But while I was running that campaign and doing that journalistic work, I really wanted to go deeper and understand, where does this come from? How did our institutions suddenly seem like they were all captured by this ideology? And how did this ideology work through over the decades to gain power?
And so the research for this book and then the writing of this book was really designed to answer those questions and to show the full scope of this long march from its beginnings in 1968 to its conclusion or culmination in that summer of 2020 with the George Floyd riots, when it seemed like everything, from the schools to the corporations to the government to the media organizations, were all in the grips of the [Black Lives Matter] and critical race theory-style ideology.
Bluey: Certainly so, and that’s one of the things that I think we obviously spotted as well. One of the things that I think readers can expect when they pick up your book is you tell these stories, but you also document everything thoroughly. The pages of footnotes at the end of the book are probably a point of pride because it’ll show to the Left and those who may criticize your work that you have documented it accurately.
Let’s talk about the approach that you took. You divided the book into four different parts: revolution, race, education, and power. You tell a story about an individual in each of those different parts of the book. Let’s start with the father of the revolution. Can you tell us about who he is?
Rufo: The beginning of the book, it opens with a biographical portrait of a German-American philosopher named Herbert Marcuse. And Marcuse is not discussed a ton today, but he was really at the time the father of the New Left.
Student radicals were marching in 1968 all over the United States and all over Europe, sometimes carrying banners, “Marx, Mao, Marcuse,” and they said that Marx was the kind of the God or the prophet, Mao was the sword who had revolution that was violent, and then Marcuse was their translator for the modern West.
He was the philosopher for their time and so his work is useful in understanding that moment. His work is also useful in a philosophical and theoretical sense because he developed the concepts, the vocabulary, and even the specific phrases that are still used today that still characterize and define the modern American left wing.
And so the process of writing the book is to weave together these biographical portraits, weave together some political analysis, and then showing how these ideas conquered the institution. So bringing in some historical evidence, and then using the investigative reporting that I’ve been doing for the last few years to show exactly how far these ideas have traveled and actually revealing them in our institutions today.
So the writing, I think, is really engaging for readers because it’s a very lively, very spirited, very well-documented combination of all of these elements and it’s not like a typical political book that just makes a straight-ahead logical argument, “This is my thesis, here’s why you should believe it’s true, and here’s my conclusion.” It’s really a narrative nonfiction portrait of a movement over the period of time. And while, of course, I embed arguments within the narrative, it reads more like a story than it does a logical proof or a kind of philosophical tract.
Bluey: Some of the most captivating stories are about Angela Davis. I don’t think, frankly, our culture really understands the radical nature of what she was preaching, the fact that she was wanted by the FBI, tried for conspiracy to murder, all of these things that you go through and document in vivid detail.
Tell us about Angela Davis—somebody who’s still living and who’s had a profound impact on the New Left.
Rufo: Angela Davis is really, in some ways, the key figure in the book and it was so shocking when I was doing the research.
She, of course, wrote a very famous autobiography when she was still very young after her trial and acquittal, but there wasn’t much else out there about Angela Davis. There was really no deep kind of scholarly biography on her life that was available that shed light on some of these questions.
And so all that was there was really her self-definition and her autobiography and then all of the hagiography, all the praise pieces from magazines and newspapers over the last 50 years.
But Angela Davis is important. She was the student of Herbert Marcuse. She was a pioneer in black American communism. She was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party USA. She gave them the 50 cents to register with the Communist Party.
She was a pivotal figure in academia, really anticipating and laying the foundation for critical race theory, which emerged in subsequent decades. And then she was the personal mentor and the philosophical inspiration for the Black Lives Matter movement founders.
She has a personal relationship and then was, of course, celebrated with these splashy magazine articles from Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, and other publications in that summer of 2020.
So even the Left, not just me, but even the Left, acknowledged that Angela Davis was really an inspiration, if not the inspiration behind BLM.
And yet, there was really nothing about her, certainly from a conservative perspective, so I had to dig into the archives, I had to dig into primary source material, I had to dig into a vast number of sources to get an actual picture of Angela Davis that was not distorted through the praise and admiration that she got from the Left over the last 50 years.
So I think even just for that, not even showing how her ideas influenced the kind of modern Left, I think even just for that, it’s quite valuable because you get a sense with these personalities, these heroes of the Left that actually, once you look into the facts and the evidence of their biographies, it’s quite a different picture that emerges. It’s something not of these idealistic heroes, but in some sense, these cynical operators who’ve unleashed havoc and destruction on the very people that they claim to be helping.
Bluey: You’re absolutely correct, and it’s amazing to me the picture that has been painted of Angela Davis by the broader media compared to what you document in your book, “America’s Cultural Revolution.”
One area where you have had a profound effect on American politics and policy is the education system. During the COVID lockdowns and post-COVID, we saw a number of educational institutions move sharply to the Left in terms of their practices, including K-12 schools. You document that this is an area where the Left has concentrated its focus and attention. Why has the education system been so important for them in order to capture the next generation of Americans?
Rufo: It’s because of a very basic insight that goes back to the ancient Greek philosophers who recognize it very clearly. Plato in his way and Aristotle as well were in agreement that the education of children is a core function of a society, of a republic, and that children must be educated into the political regime. That is the paramount duty of a society, of educators, of citizens.
And I think what’s happened in recent decades, unfortunately, is that conservatives forgot about that insight, and certainly, after the victory of the United States and the West over communism and the Soviet Union, it almost seemed as if conservatives relinquished control over education, relinquished their interest in governing the education system, and simply were satisfied that the public schools, if they were not perfect, were at least neutral, vaguely patriotic, and were administering education toward these quantifiable metrics, so toward test taking and toward test outputs.
And so the focus of so much conservative education advocacy in my mind and my reading of it was that, “What can we do to improve scores?” But they paid, actually, relatively little attention to the content of the curriculum, to the virtues and values embedded in that curriculum, and I think that this was an immense mistake.
So, while I of course think that we should improve educational attainment, while we should fight for charter schools, which we’ve seen some success with lately—partially and due to the exposure of CRT—I think conservatives are finally remembering and certainly Heritage Foundation’s great education team with whom I’ve worked closely over the years is really leading the way and saying, “Hey, wait a minute. It’s not just about test taking. It’s not just about these quantifiable metrics. It’s actually about the values and virtues and content that we bring and it’s actually about cultivating successful citizens and shaping successful citizens.”
And the Left has known this the whole time, and in fact, they’ve deliberately and very strategically and very successfully captured the institutions that train teachers captured the institutions that then teach children in the K-12 public schools and they’re now trying to shape those children in accordance with their political ideology.
My point that I make over and over to conservatives is that institutions are never neutral, institutions will always be guided by a set of values. The only question is, which values and who is administering and governing the transmission of those values? And so those are the two key questions that I show very clearly in the book. It’s the wrong values administered by the wrong kind of people and I think it’s a wake-up call for conservatives to really reengage.
Bluey: One of the things that I found alarming were the stories you captured in the book, particularly on the West Coast, and just how radical the policies are that these school administrators are foisting on students.
We as conservative always point to school choice and alternatives like homeschooling, but somewhere close to 90% of students in America are in public schools.
Rufo: That’s right.
Bluey: So why does it matter, at the end of the day, when so many of our students are in these environments and a captive audience?
Rufo: So conservatives are having this debate, we’re debating amongst ourselves, but the actual answer is very, very, very simple. It has to be a both/and strategy.
I am an absolute kind of diehard advocate for school choice. I’ve worked closely with legislators and activists like Corey DeAngelis and The Heritage Foundation team and political leaders to get school choice into the law books. In state after state, we’re seeing massive traction there for the first time. So I see my fight against CRT as really contributing and I try to channel that energy into the legislative fight for school choice.
But even in those states like Arizona that now have universal school choice, parents are opting into that system. Ninety percent, approximately, of the kids are still in public schools. So those schools and the curriculum in those schools are going to shape the experience and the worldview for the large majority of American kids for the foreseeable future, no matter how successful school choice programs are.
So you cannot merely say, “As long as I can opt out, my kids will be fine.” I mean, thank God for that. That is a baseline minimum that we should have. But we should also make sure that we don’t just relinquish the responsibility to govern the public institutions that will be providing the education for most kids because at the end of the day, our society will be shaped by education for the great majority of students that until now and for the foreseeable future will be in the public K-12 school system.
So we have to fight simultaneously on both fronts. We cannot give up, we cannot just retreat. Although the construction of alternatives is essential, it is essential, but not sufficient for the fight ahead.
Bluey: I’m so glad you brought up some of the legislative work and the accomplishments that conservatives have been able to achieve. What states, as you assess this environment, are doing the best? You mentioned Arizona. Are there other places that Daily Signal listeners maybe want to look to as a model or an example for who’s getting it right?
Rufo: Yeah, I mean, I think that, really, we have to talk about Arizona first and foremost. And I got to know [former Arizona Gov. Doug] Ducey during his time in office and spent significant time with him. I mean, he is a really stellar leader and example of exactly how to do it.
Really, those on the right who are more Reaganite, a bit more traditional conservatives, kind of more business-oriented conservatives, Gov. Ducey is very much a amenable and very much a supporter of that kind of economic freedom message. He has been a longtime diehard champion for school choice. He tried to get school choice throughout his eight years in office.
But as he explained to me in very blunt terms, he said that he was never able to get it done until those final years. And what really tipped the scale for him was COVID, the school lockdowns and masking and really exposing the public schools for not putting the interest of kids first and then critical race theory and gender ideology. Those are the two issues that I’ve been working on exposing in the public schools.
He said that was really the last straw for so many parents to say, “Hey, we need alternatives.” And then he was a very shrewd negotiator with the legislators and actually increasing funding for the K-12 schools by a billion dollars to negotiate with some of those holdouts, even among rural Republicans.
And he said to me, he said, “Look, I’m a small government guy, but writing that billion-dollar check to increase funding to get those last votes that were necessary is worth it because now we’re kickstarting and we’re really spearheading this incredible systemic reform to our education system.”
Simultaneously, though, Gov. Ducey was one of the first governors to ban critical race theory in their K-12 public schools and to actually fight for a better curriculum and to implement civic education in the K-12 schools in Arizona.
And so, to me, while I love governors like [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis—who is a kind of a swashbuckling cultural conservative, fighting on these issues, getting all of those headlines, I’ve been working with him and he’s a wonderful, immensely talented leader—I think Gov. Ducey, at the end of the day, was really the kind of leader who was putting the people first, putting parents first, and governing with the kind of responsible message of saying, “We’re going to get universal school choice. We’re going to negotiate to make that happen, but we’re also going to make sure that we have a good, solid, civic-minded kind of anti-CRT curriculum in those public schools.”
Bluey: There are so many opportunities, including in Texas, hopefully later this year, to do some really good work on education freedom and school choice. So that’s an area that we’re keeping a close eye on here at The Daily Signal and The Heritage Foundation, and so thank you for the work that you’ve done and the advocacy on behalf of so many parents and students in states.
In the last chapter, you talk about the counterrevolution. So what do you see happening next? You’ve outlined this detailed analysis of the Left’s march through these institutions, but what is the counterrevolution?
Rufo: The counterrevolution, to me, is a term or a concept that signifies seriousness and purpose and depth of analysis because if you believe, as I think more and more conservatives are truly believing and understanding in visceral terms in their own lives, that we are going through America’s cultural revolution, the solution cannot be incrementalism or reform around the edges. It has to meet the revolution with as much seriousness of purpose and as much ambition of policymaking.
And so what I propose is a kind of radical and audacious program of counterrevolution and I think that if you look at the history of the West over the last few hundred years, the thing that has always haunted Marxist revolutionaries is always a counterrevolutionary movement that erases all of their gains and then reconquers territory and reorients it toward a different system of values.
And so the antidote, in my view, to what I would think of as the revolution of 1968 is the principles of the revolution of 1776. So if we hold these principles side by side, in my view, the principles of 1968 or the principles of 2020, the George Floyd revolution are not compatible with the principles of 1776 and the principles of Abraham Lincoln and the 14th Amendment.
So we will either have this system or the other system and so we have to fight with the seriousness and with the commitment and the conviction and the passion and the ambition that is necessary for the principles of 1776 to triumph.
Bluey: That’s so true. Thank you for putting it so bluntly and succinctly. Hopefully, that is an inspiring message to all of the people listening to this interview, to make sure that they’re doing their part to live up to those ideals and to fight back.
A couple of final questions for you. You have faced your share of criticism from the Left and increasingly, it seems, from some quarters on the Right, as you alluded to in a previous answer. So what motivates you? What keeps you going every day?
Rufo: Look, this is politics. The criticism is part of it. Gov. DeSantis told me something very interesting when we were working on some higher education reform together. He said, “Chris, if you’re not driving a massive number of hysterical attacks from the media against what you’re doing here, you’re not doing the job.”
And I appreciated that because I think that the governor understands better than anyone that to do the right thing in the current media environment will drive a massive amount of criticism in the media, but ultimately, the people can see through the criticism and the people will reward conservatives who stand on principle, who fight the good fight, and who actually accomplish tangible goals for the people that they represent.
So he’s done that in the state of Florida, really, in my mind, better than anyone, and so I use him as a model for that.
And in actuality, I really have learned to enjoy the criticism, enjoy the debate, enjoy some of the sparring, and actually turn it to my advantage. So I think that conservatives, look, we’re outnumbered 500-to-1 as far as the broader media ecosystem, and so we have to get very comfortable with these kind of lines of attack, and we have to develop the strategies and tactics to turn them to our advantage.
And more than anything, to be honest, just from a personal point of view, you have to be able to hold them a bit outside yourself and not internalize them, and if you can maintain that distance, that personal and psychological distance, and not internalize some of those headlines, I think that’s how you can really survive and that’s how you can keep waking up every day and having fun and pushing and fighting and experimenting and always moving forward.
Bluey: Thank you, on behalf of so many other conservatives, for fighting on the front lines and sometimes going into enemy territory, to make the points that you do so articulately.
In addition to the book, you are also a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and working on a critical race theory project. What’s next on your horizon? What can we expect from you in the future?
Rufo: The book really lays out the problem. It documents America’s cultural revolution over time. And in the very last chapter, it suggests some of the, in broad strokes, what a counterrevolution might look like.
And then in the coming weeks, the next probably four to six weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of essays and a policy symposium with Manhattan Institute that are going to outline in more concrete terms what a counterrevolutionary conservative agenda will look like.
So I hope that this book lays a narrative foundation for, let’s say, the upcoming presidential campaign, but also starts to get the concrete policy agenda into the conservative ecosystem, certainly into the public conversation, so that those candidates, whoever the candidate might be at the end, will be armed with a policy agenda that can reverse and overtake this counterrevolution that has really plagued this country.
Bluey: Excellent. We’ll certainly look forward to reading more about that. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug the fact that we published an excerpt of the book on The Daily Signal last week, specifically about how the Left conquered The New York Times, which I found to be a fascinating story in and of itself.
Final question for you, where can our audience follow your work? Where can they pick up a copy of the book?
Rufo: Yeah. “America’s Cultural Revolution” debuted as the No. 1 bestseller on Amazon last week. It’s available anywhere books are sold. There’s also an audible audiobook version available. And then you can find me on Substack at rufo.substack.com. That’s where I publish all of my articles, essays, podcasts, videos, films, everything. It’s totally free to subscribe, so make sure you do so.
Bluey: Chris Rufo, thank you again. The book is called “America’s Cultural Revolution.” It’s an excellent read. I have listened to the audiobook on my commute and encourage our Daily Signal audience to support you, pick up a copy, and they’ll learn a great deal about the Left if they do. Thank you again for joining us on “The Daily Signal Podcast” today. We appreciate it.
Rufo: Thank you.
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