Are we witnessing the rebirth of Radical Chic? That was the term coined by Tom Wolfe in his 1970 essay about the party given by Leonard and Felicia Bernstein for the Black Panthers at their 13-room penthouse apartment on Park Avenue. It described a weird trend, beginning in the late 1960s and peaking in the early 1970s, whereby the crème de la crème of New York’s moneyed elite embraced radical left-wing causes, such as the anti-war movement and black power. They did so without irony, seemingly oblivious to the absurdity of trying to ‘stick it to the man’ while living on trust funds established by their robber baron forefathers. It was a way for them to enjoy the fruits of capitalism without stooping to defend it, to have their cake and eat it — or, rather, their Roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts, which is what the Bernsteins served at their party.
I’m thinking, in particular, of the progressive posturing of Teen Vogue, which, in spite of being owned by a man with a net worth of $11.6 billion, recently ran a sympathetic profile of Karl Marx to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth. ‘You may have come across communist memes on social media,’ it began. ‘The man, the meme, the legend behind this trend is Karl Marx, who developed the theory of communism, which advocates for workers’ control over their labour (instead of their bosses).’ It went on to explain, in the same breathless, upbeat tone, that capitalism only emerged as a result of violent exploitation: ‘Some examples of violence that aided in the establishment of capitalism in the United States include stealing the land of indigenous people and trafficking Africans through slavery.’
When I first read this, I thought it must be a joke, like the recent mock-up of a Huffington Post article headlined: ‘We need to talk about the problematic, toxic masculinity of the Thai Navy SEALs.’ Could Teen Vogue – a publication that depends for its advertising revenue on gulling teenage girls into spending hundreds of dollars on tat produced in Mauritian sweatshops — be anti-capitalist?
But then I noticed other pieces that have appeared in it recently, such as ‘Donald Trump is Gaslighting America’ and ‘Women’s March Street Style: See the Photos’. As with the Bernsteins’ chi-chi party, there’s no irony here. The online fashion bible for adolescent air-heads really does think of itself as a revolutionary magazine. It’s like Oz for young millennials, except instead of being produced on Richard Neville’s kitchen table it’s being published by the same stable as Vanity Fair, Tatler, Bon Appétit and Golf Digest. Man the barricades, comrades — and make sure you bring Daddy’s platinum American Express card in case you need to take a break from throwing Molotov cocktails to do an Ashtanga yoga class with Gwyneth Paltrow.
Of course, the allure of left-wing politics to the rich and fashionable has never gone away, but there’s a difference between Radical Chic and champagne socialism. It is one thing for limousine liberals to make common cause with the exploited masses as a way of signalling how ‘woke’ they are, but quite another to actively promote those who want to destroy them. If you re-read Tom Wolfe’s essay, what’s most striking is that, as part of their fundraising pitch, the Panthers talked about wanting to forcibly redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, and how they planned to release every black man serving time for violent crime, including homicide, to help them do it. The millionaire socialites in the Bernsteins’ living room lapped it up and whipped out their chequebooks afterwards in the hope of bringing forward this day of reckoning.
The same lack of self-awareness is detectable in Teen Vogue. For instance, in the piece on Marx, the magazine approvingly quoted George Ciccariello-Maher, the hard-left academic who was forced to resign from Drexel University after he sent a tweet saying: ‘All I want for Christmas is white genocide.’
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Teen Vogue is celebrating the intellectual architect of a movement that has resulted in the unnecessary deaths of 110 million people if it happily gives a platform to a man calling for the murder of the world’s billion or so white people. Or did Ciccariello–Maher just mean the 197 million whites in America? Who cares! Just as long as he’s wearing this season’s must-have Balenciaga trainers when he pushes the button.