Woke in action is perfectly compatible with capitalism…
Hossam el-Hamalawy: Free Speech Movement Cafe, UC Berkeley, California, USA, 2007 (CC)
A Woke takeover of what, with apologies to President Dwight Eisenhower, can fairly be called the Academic-Cultural-Philanthropic Complex in the United States and throughout the so-called Anglosphere is now all but complete. This should be both surprising and unsurprising: surprising, because the dominant—that is to say establishment—conceptions of the purposes of education, culture, and even language itself have been transformed in such a short period of time; but also unsurprising, because Woke is an extremely powerful, coherent, and for many morally attractive, not to say morally imperative, worldview, especially to the young, which is something most of its critics can’t seem to bring themselves to fully acknowledge. And almost wherever you look, from K-12 teachers’ unions, to library associations, to museums, to, perhaps more surprisingly, medicine and other STEM disciplines, Woke’s inherent appeal—above all, its immensely seductive moral urgency—is being institutionalized by a bureaucracy whose reason for being is precisely to consolidate this worldview’s cultural hegemony. In these conditions, what will be surprising is if this new cultural system fails to prevail.
All that said, there is increasing resistance to Woke. Some of that resistance—above all, from conservative governors and state legislators—appears more powerful than it actually is, while other centers of opposition—above all, from elements of what remains of an anti-identitarian, class-focused left—are likely to prove strong and more resilient than they appear at first glance.
Before going any further, it is important to be precise about what wokeness is and what it isn’t, and, especially, to be careful with analogies. Somewhere between 500,000 and 2 million people died during the Chinese Cultural Revolution; millions more were stripped of their professions and livelihoods and deported from cities to the countryside, where they remained for as long as a decade. By contrast, not a single person has died from the insaturation of wokeness and of Ibrahim Kendi-style critical race theory in cultural and academic institutions. To insist on the point isn’t to say that ruined careers, forced early retirements, and self-censorship brought about by wokeness are of no importance. They are hugely important, above all, to the fate of the culture and the life of the mind. But it is a plea to keep things in proportion: Just as the McCarthy era, vile and, as with Woke, culturally and intellectually repressive and censoring as it was, wasn’t a reign of fascism, so this era isn’t a new reign of the Khmer Rouge.
The mainstream right simply doesn’t have the intellectual tools to fight a battle of ideas. And the integralists and other dissident conservatives really will need a miracle to prevail.
That leaves the non-Woke left. By that, I mean the editors and writers associated with Jacobin and Dissent magazines, the Trotskyists with their attacks on the 1619 Project, and, above all, the growing number of academics who initially were dismissive of the idea that Woke was something that needed to be confronted, but who have now realized that this ideology is leading the culture in a disastrous direction. That is because, unlike the right, this left understands that despite Woke’s emancipatory boilerplate, an ideology without class analysis and without any economic ideas is radical all right—but it isn’t left. And unlike the mainstream right, the non-Woke left genuinely cares about culture and can field a critique of Woke that isn’t just reactive. When Adolph Reed, Jr., writes that the real project of Woke is to diversify the ruling class, and little else, in a sentence he has described the essence of the new cultural system.
“Only the Economic Left Can Beat the Woke”, David Rieff, Compact