The father of Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg was a Marxist professor who spoke fondly of the Communist Manifesto and dedicated a significant portion of his academic career to the work of Italian Communist Party founder Antonio Gramsci, an associate of Vladimir Lenin.
Joseph Buttigieg, who died in January at the age of 71, immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s from Malta and in 1980 joined the University of Notre Dame faculty, where he taught modern European literature and literary theory. He supported an updated version of Marxism that jettisoned some of Marx and Engel’s more doctrinaire theories, though he was undoubtedly Marxist.
He was an adviser to Rethinking Marxism, an academic journal that published articles “that seek to discuss, elaborate, and/or extend Marxian theory,” and a member of the editorial collective of Boundary 2, a journal of postmodern theory, literature, and culture. He spoke at many Rethinking Marxism conferences and other gatherings of prominent Marxists.
In a 2000 paper for Rethinking Marxism critical of the approach of Human Rights Watch, Buttigieg, along with two other authors, refers to “the Marxist project to which we subscribe.”
In 1998, he wrote in an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education about an event in New York City celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Manifesto. He also participated in the event.
“If The Communist Manifesto was meant to liberate the proletariat, the Manifesto itself in recent years needed liberating from Marxism’s narrow post-Cold War orthodoxies and exclusive cadres. It has been freed,” he wrote.
“After a musical interlude, seven people read different portions of the Manifesto. Listening to it read, one could not help but be struck by the poignancy of its prose,” he wrote. The readers “had implicitly warned even us faithful to guard against conferring upon it the status of Scripture, a repository of doctrinal verities.”
“Equity, environmental consciousness, and racial justice are surely some of the ingredients of a healthy Marxism. Indeed, Marxism’s greatest appeal — undiminished by the collapse of Communist edifices — is the imbalances produced by other sociopolitical governing structures,” Buttigieg wrote.
Paul Kengor, a professor at Grove City College and an expert in communism and progressivism, said Buttigieg was among a group of leftist professors who focused on injecting Marxism into the wider culture.
“They’re part of a wider international community of Marxist theorists and academicians with a particular devotion to the writings of the late Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, who died over 80 years ago. Gramsci was all about applying Marxist theory to culture and cultural institutions — what is often referred to as a ‘long march through the institutions,’ such as film, media, and especially education,” Kengor told the Washington Examiner.
Pete Buttigieg, an only child, shared a close relationship with his father. In his memoir Shortest Way Home, Pete called his dad a “man of the left, no easy thing on a campus like Notre Dame’s in the 1980s.”
He wrote that while he did not understand his parents’ political discussions as a young child, “the more I heard these aging professors talk, the more I wanted to learn how to decrypt their sentences, and to grasp the political backstory of the grave concerns that commanded their attention and aroused such fist-pounding dinner debate.”