The Economist’s history of the rise of American wokeism (with prognostication)

September 5, 2021 • 10:00 am

It’s a shame that The Economist doesn’t allow authors of its articles to give their names (I’ve written for them), for then we’d know whether this analysis of American Wokeism comes from England or the U.S. (The site has offices in both places.) But it doesn’t really matter: the longish article is quite astute and also depressing, as it sees no end to the movement it defines as “Wokeism” (see below). It also traces the history of Wokeism, why it’s spread so far in America, and what’s next on its agenda.

Click on the screenshot below:

Since you can get slammed for using Wokeism, as I do, as a pejorative word, it’s important to separate it from classical liberalism. Here’s how The Economist does it:

. . . a loose constellation of ideas that is changing the way that mostly white, educated, left-leaning Americans view the world. This credo still lacks a definitive name: it is variously known as left-liberal identity politics, social-justice activism or, simply, wokeness. But it has a clear common thread: a belief that any disparities between racial groups are evidence of structural racism; that the norms of free speech, individualism and universalism which pretend to be progressive are really camouflage for this discrimination; and that injustice will persist until systems of language and privilege are dismantled.

It also is characterized by certain psychological attitudes (see below). This is certainly not classical or even centrist liberalism.

Why did this become so popular?  The Economist attributes the spread of Wokeism to three factors (my emphasis):

How did this breakout happen? Three things helped prepare the ground: a disaffected student body, an academic theory that was malleable enough to be shaped into a handbook for political activism, and a pliant university administration. Let’s take them in order:

A Disaffected Student Body

How did American college students become so querulous and captious? The article refers to a book we’ve discussed before, and one well worth reading: The Coddling of the American Mind by Jon Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. If you read this site, this is one of several books you should have under your belt (including Cynical Theories, How to be an Antiracist, White Fragility, and The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity. These cover both sides of the issue. John McWhorter’s October-issued book, Woke Racism, is also on the to-read list.

Lukianoff and Haidt trace Wokeism back to overprotective parenting, which has its own sociological explanation. This parenting has caused three mantras to be instilled in young people, and they persist throughout college and then as young adults.

1. “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”

2. “Always trust your feelings”

3. “Life is a battle between good people and evil people”.

This makes a lot of sense. Of course Lukianoff’s theories are untestable (the attitudes above are; whether they account for Wokeism is not). But can see these attitudes instantiated in every act of Wokeism I write about. People are fragile and should remain so, complaining about everything that offends them; feelings trump facts, and “lived experience” overturns all data to the contrary; and above all, Wokeism has a Manichaean view of politics and the world, expressed succinctly in Kendi’s view that if you’re not antiracist, you’re a racist.

You can see the rise of college Wokeism in the chart below, which I assume The Economist took from FIRE’s “disinvitation database”. It shows not only the rise of Wokeism over the last two decades, as reflected by the number of college speakers deplatformed or disinvited, but also, as I’ve emphasized repeatedly, the fact that in American colleges the Left engages in this censorship far more than the Right:

An Academic Theory That Was Malleable Enough to be Shaped Into a Handbook for Political Activism

The Economist implicates, as do many, postmodernism and “critical theory”, which have now been diluted far beyond their original construal:

Many students latched onto a body of theory which yokes obscurantist texts to calls for social action (or “praxis”) that had been developing in the academy for decades. In 1965 Herbert Marcuse, a critical theorist, coined the phrase “repressive tolerance”, the notion that freedom of speech should be withdrawn from the political right in order to bring about progress, since the “cancellation of the liberal creed of free and equal discussion” might be necessary to end oppression. Another influence was Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator whose “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (published in English in 1970) advocated a liberatory pedagogy in the spirit of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in which “the oppressed unveil the world of oppression and through the praxis commit themselves to its transformation”.

The emphasis on race, of course, comes from the two avatars of anti-racism, Ibram Kendi and Robin Di Angelo.

A Pliant University Administration

If you have anything to do with a campus, you’ll be getting inundated daily with diversity, equity, and inclusion material, invitations (or mandates) for diversity training, and you’ll hear or read about student demands for huge changes in the college in response to incidents that are either trivial or not even real. (Some incidents, of course, do prompt righteous anger.)  Colleges don’t want to be seen as nonresponsive to student demands (and remember that the three student mantras above come from parents), and so schools wind up with a bloated and expensive bureaucracy to enforce Wokeism, sometimes even including speech codes and ways to report “bias incidents.”

The Economist:

The embrace of this ideology by students and professors might have remained inconsequential had it not been for the part played by administrative staff. Since 2000, such staff in the University of California system has more than doubled, outpacing the increase in faculty and students. The growth in private universities has been even faster. Between 1975 and 2005 the ranks of administrators grew by 66% in public colleges but by 135% in private ones. As their headcount grew, so did their remit—ferreting out not just overt racism or sexual harassment but implicit bias too. The University of California, Los Angeles, now insists that faculty applying for tenure include a diversity statement. [JAC: I think this is true of all University of California branches, and it’s spreading across the U.S.]

In 2018 Samuel Abrams, a political scientist at Sarah Lawrence College, published data showing that these administrators are even more left-leaning than the professors: liberals outnumber conservatives by 12 to one. For writing about this, Mr Abrams faced a campaign by outraged students aiming to revoke his tenure. Campaigns by a vocal minority of activists have cast a pall on campus life, he says. “Large numbers of people hate this. They just don’t know what to do,” he laments. “They don’t want the mob coming to them.”

An upheaval in mass communication accelerated the trend. On Twitter, a determined minority can be amplified, and an uneasy centre-left can be cowed. . .

Now that colleges are seen as stores that serve customers, and The Customer is Always Right, student demands are rarely rejected. But it happens. The University of Chicago refused to even consider student demands to defund the campus police, and Swarthmore College, whose president is a black woman, also refused to cave in to a long list of student demands.  In general, though, colleges tend to accept even the most untenable demands, for the students are liberal, and if they cause a lot of attention by protesting and calling a college racist, it endangers the college’s reputation and (more important) its income.

The nature of the spread.  The Economist discusses four area to which Wokeism has spread. First, the media:

Newspapers are a prime example. The digital revolution has devastated local newspapers and crowned new online-only champions. As newsrooms adapted by aping the upstarts, hacks who had risen through the ranks thanks to shoe-leather reporting were replaced by younger staffers stuffed with new ideas from elite universities. One prominent journalist argued for replacing “neutral objectivity” with “moral clarity”—making unflinching distinctions between right and wrong.

Changes in newsrooms were also related to efforts to increase demographic diversity, on the assumption that this is the only authentic way to give voice to minorities. But the campus zeal for deplatforming voices deemed offensive and defenestrating those found guilty of violating the ethos has also been imported. (James Bennet, who resigned as editorial-page editor of the New York Times after one such row, now works for The Economist; he was not involved in this article.) Non-journalists on the staff of newspapers, including young engineers, can be even more activist in campaigning against colleagues judged to be producing content at odds with the new vision of social justice.

Second, to the Democratic Party itself. The two graphs below show how white liberals have changed their views over time, the first being about whether blacks are “mostly responsible for their own condition” versus “they can’t get ahead because of racial discrimination.” That question is ambiguous, because racial discrimination in the past is largely why blacks are held back now, and though racism still around, of course, the conditions in which blacks start with grossly unequal opportunity was caused by racism over the past two centuries. As for “structural racism now”, not so much, but the question remains ambiguous. Regardless, a lot more people now think that racial discrimination rather than self-responsibility is the reason why blacks are held back. I just don’t know what to make of this graph:

The graph below also reflects the views of white liberals (the bottom also gives data from moderates and conservatives), and shows, surprisingly that a higher percentage of white liberals than of blacks agree that blacks should be given “special favors” (i.e. forms of affirmative action), even if other minorities didn’t get them. Remember, this graph shows the percentage that disagree with the need for affirmative action:

Third, corporations, which the article indicts for their hypocrisy in being so quick to embrace the woke message. The hypocrisy comes, says the unknown author, from the conflict between capitalism (despised by the woke but a mainstay of corporations) and the Woke message in other respects:

“Corporate wokeism I believe is the product of self-interest intermingled with the appearance of pursuing social justice,” says Vivek Ramaswamy, a former biotechnology executive and author of “Woke, Inc.”. He argues that Big Tech pursues corporate wokeism because appearing to embrace social justice suits such firms’ commercial interests—both in terms of recruitment and appeal to their customers. It performs allegiance to identity politics while simultaneously rejecting the left’s critique of capitalism. “A lot of Big Tech has agreed to bend to the progressive left,” he says, but “they effectively expect that the new left look the other way when it comes to leaving their monopoly power.”

Such hypocrisy is increasingly prevalent. The founder of Salesforce, a tech behemoth based in San Francisco, is known for championing social-justice causes like a surtax to fund homelessness services in the city. Yet the firm itself paid no federal taxes on $2.6bn in profits in 2020.

Fourth and last, Wokeism is spreading to the classrooms, a battle we see fought right now in overheated squabbles about the teaching of critical race theory, attempts to dismantle meritocratic grading and ranking, and changes in curricula, infusing even the most rigorous sciences with antiracist propagandizing:

Wokeness’s next frontier, with the greatest potential to make a mark on the future, will be the classroom. In California’s recently approved ethnic-studies curriculum, which may become a high-school graduation requirement, one lesson plan aims to help students “dispel the model-minority myth” (the idea that to dwell on Asian-American success is wrong). Roughly one-sixth of the state’s proposed new maths instruction framework is devoted to social justice. It approvingly quotes from studies suggesting that word problems about boys and girls knitting scarves be accompanied by a debate about gender norms. Last month the governor of Oregon signed a bill eliminating high-school graduation requirements of proficiency in reading, writing and maths until 2024—justified as necessary to promote equity for non-white students.

As for the future, the article notes some backlash in the form of members of San Francisco’s board of education being under threat of recall elections. But the author concludes, as do I, that there’s no foreseeable end to wokeness given the liberal nature of students, the conformity of people in general, the entry of young college graduates into elite professions, and the bloated bureaucracy being installed in colleges to maintain Wokeism, a bureaucracy that of course will never dismantle itself. The author concludes “America has not yet reached peak woke.”

Perhaps true, but the real backlash against Wokeism may come in the next two elections if centrists, fed up with the excesses of “progressive leftism,” try to re-elect more Republicans or, Ceiling Cat forbid, someone like Trump.

h/t: Paul

50 thoughts on “The Economist’s history of the rise of American wokeism (with prognostication)

  1. Thank you for posting this. The Economist’s article is behind a paywall, so your quotations and analysis are helpful.

    I have a request for Jerry. Would you be willing to post a short annotated bibliography of books that we should all read on this topic? I want to learn more, but much of the available commentary is piecemeal. I know that you’ve cited books and authors before, in the context of your posts, but it would help to have an annotated list of “required readings.” I, for one, would greatly benefit from such a list.

    Thank you!

  2. “Such hypocrisy is increasingly prevalent. The founder of Salesforce, a tech behemoth based in San Francisco, is known for championing social-justice causes like a surtax to fund homelessness services in the city. Yet the firm itself paid no federal taxes on $2.6bn in profits in 2020.”

    I am surprised to hear this “Big Tech hypocrisy” meme from the Economist. Companies are expected, and required by their shareholders, to legally avoid paying taxes. Who donates to the IRS? If you have a problem with them paying zero federal taxes, your issue is with our tax law, not the taxpayers, individual or corporate. Of course, this is legal tax avoidance, not tax fraud.

    Championing causes, especially local ones, is good business for a corporation. Of course, their motivation on specific issues may be questioned but that would be a different issue.

    1. I agree that targetting companies which are legally avoiding taxes is not a good idea. They also have little choice, even if they wanted to pay, as long as the competition avoids paying. The laws should be changed and of course enforced.

    2. I agree it’s the laws that need to be targeted. But the hypocrisy charge is valid regardless. Also, corporations have lobbied and gamed the system to get the favorable tax laws they enjoy with all sorts of special exceptions and loopholes. While individual corporations may of course be innocent, corporations in general are not. This isn’t the fault of the shareholders, that’s just a convenient excuse. The shareholders have had little to no influence on tax law while the corporations have had significant influence.

      1. Why is the hypocrisy charge still valid? Please explain.

        The lobbying and gaming of the system is just like taxes. As long as it is legal, and done legally, the corporations must participate if they’re to survive. Your complaint should be lodged with the government who sets the rules and calls the shots, not the players. For example, blame SCOTUS for telling us that corporations are people too.

        “While individual corporations may of course be innocent, corporations in general are not.”

        I’m not sure what this even means. Surely you don’t expect corporations to choose not to lobby or to ignore loopholes in the tax law. How would that work exactly? Be careful what you wish for. As we know from evolution, the corporations that fail to take advantage of LEGAL mechanisms to further their self-interest will be selected against, leaving us with only the most aggressive corporations. Unlike with nature, we do control the rules of the game in a democracy. The problem is that our democracy isn’t working, not that corporations are bad actors. Unless they break the law, they’re doing what’s expected of them.

        1. Indeed, our democracy is no longer working. The US is ruled by oligarchic rent seekers and corporations who use legislators as their paid puppets, legislators and the executive are now largely even personally corrupt (in on the face of it perfectly legal ways), and wokeism and the “culture wars” are welcome ways to distract everyone from this central problem that needs to be rectified and that hardly even features in the same liberal press that devotes a lot of space on woke themes.

  3. We may very well have not reached peak wokeness. We may also not have reached right-wing Christian nationalism extremism. The left attempts to suppress free speech. The right attempts to suppress the right to vote and hence the bedrock of democracy, the right of women to get abortions, and the right of people to get Covid vaccines. Both groups freely spew out their grievances believing that American society has failed them. One group feels threatened that their power is being taken from them by the other group that feels they never had a fair share of the pie and are tired of waiting. Hate begets hate. The downward spiral to societal collapse continues. There is no shortage of analyses of what is happening. We are bereft of any meaningful proposals to turn things around. The percentage of these groups combined may represent a fairly small proportion of the total population. But, that matters little in regard to the trouble they cause. One group ultimately crushes the other and takes power. History is replete with examples: the collapse of tsarist Russia and pre-Mao China, the Nazis crushing the socialists, the fall of South Vietnam, and the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan to name a few. Unless some bright people come up with solutions, for this country, fascism seems the future and we no longer will be worrying about the Woke.

    1. One big step towards a solution would be to drain money out of US politics, and actually turn the US into a democracy. Admittedly, it would be easier to just colonise Jupiter.

    2. “The downward spiral to societal collapse continues”…and there is nothing we can do to prevent this collapse. Yes, we classical liberals in the First World have been trying to navigate the roiling waters between our present-day Scylla (the authoritarian Left, i.e., Wokeness) and Charybdis (the authoritarian Right, i.e., fascism). “We are bereft of any meaningful proposals to turn things around.” Indeed, we will not be able to turn our ship of state around. Like you, I believe we will be sucked into the Charybdis of fascism, and, since we cannot save our ship from foundering, our course of action now involves steeling ourselves for impact. Only in the aftermath of the disaster can we begin to see what actions are possible for the recovery and restoration of liberal democracy. As I’ve said before in this and other forums, the American Experiment 1.0 has failed. Only after it fails completely can we start to envision and create American Experiment 2.0. Back to the present, let us like-minded old-school and classical liberals seek each other out and lock arms to help each other and liberalism survive the coming crisis.

    3. Fareed Zakaria, on his show today on CNN, mentioned a study that indicates a strong correlation between income inequality and competence in dealing with the pandemic. This correlation held with the US states as well as with countries of the world. Since doing well against the pandemic requires a population that trusts institutions and each other, this is a probably a proxy for general happiness, unity, and the health of democracy itself. So the easy answer to our problems is to reduce income inequality. Jeez, that wasn’t so hard now, was it? 😉

      1. Certainly, reducing income inequality is a worthy goal, which is why Republicans oppose it so bitterly. But, even if by a miracle it should be accomplished, whether it will reduce polarization is something I am not so sure of. However, your mention of the public’s distrust in institutions, particularly the government is extremely important. In an article from last May, Pew Research said this:

        “Currently, 36% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they can trust government, compared with 9% of Republicans and Republican-leaners. Throughout Trump’s tenure, more Republicans than Democrats reported trusting the government, though that has flipped since Biden’s election. Since the 1970s, trust in government has been consistently higher among members of the party that controls the White House than among the opposition party. Republicans have often been more reactive than Democrats to changes in political leadership, with Republicans expressing much lower levels of trust during Democratic presidencies, while Democrats’ attitudes have tended to be somewhat more consistent, regardless of which party controls the White House. However, the GOP and Democratic shift in attitudes between the end of the Trump presidency and the early Biden presidency is roughly the same magnitude.”

        Trust in government is at a record low. If most of the public cannot trust its government then the society is in deep trouble. This fact provides a clue as to why so many Republicans are anti-vaxxers. If the government says to take the vaccine as well as agencies affiliated with the government, such as the CDC, then for Republicans the recommendation is at the best suspect and at the worst an example of government tyranny. They would rather believe the fraudsters than the government. If we can ever reach a point where the vast majority trusts in the government then we will know the crisis is past. Unfortunately, there isn’t the slightest evidence that this will happen before the collapse of society.

        https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/05/17/public-trust-in-government-1958-2021/

        1. It’s definitely not only due to income inequality. Ronald Reagan famously told his voters not to trust government. Why anyone would vote for someone with such an opinion has always been beyond me. It shows that the GOP has been building to their current boil for a long, long time.

  4. Thanks for the summary of the Economist article, and thanks to Paul for the link to Economist’s excellent briefing on the return of the confessional state: very appropriate. When I wrote to my department about their description of Jerry’s blog on the history of Human Genetics as “harmful”, I inquired whether they really meant to return to 1542, when Pope Paul III established the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.

    Here is another speculative explanation for the spectacular rise of utopian, illiberal wokeism: it was the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and all of what it represented.

    No kidding. Up until 1989, there existed a continuing, undeniable demonstration of the outcome of unalloyed utopian ideology—everything from east Germany to the Pacific coast of Siberia. This was, remember, always called “Progressive” by its few acolytes; while its internal behavior, and the Wall preventing escape from it, demonstrated its reality. In 1989-91, that all disappeared: no more object lesson of what a Left ideological/confessional state really looked like. After that object lesson dropped from sight, the adversarial Left could busy itself again: visions of sugar-plum utopia, and fanaticism on behalf of those visions, could be resurrected, first in the asyla of academe, and then beyond.

    1. Written like Cold War Warrior, not even wrong. First, the Stalinist version and its exports through the mechanism of the Cold War aren’t “the Left” and never were, not even at the time.

      We can check this easily and look at what leading leftists said at the time. Here is a short clip with Noam Chomsky on Soviet Russia (1986) a view also expressed by Christopher Hitchens: seeing the takeover by bolsheviek as a counter-revolution that “placed state power into the hands of a highly authoritarian anti-socialist group”. And yes, you can look up what socialism means, and how it was subverted, reified and then used by the US cold war right to demolish unions and so on.

      And that’s the same trick you do here: there are woke authoritarians with their specific demands and posturing, all identity based, but you are using it as ammo to effectively fear monger against say decent health care, decent pay, labour rights, unions, imcome inequality, and so on — i.e. the stuff leftists actually argue about all the time.

      What’s annoying about this is that we also know capitalist and libertarian “utopias” by the exact same reasoning. Say, lawless sub-saharan states, where money and power can buy you literally anything an where you can have a private army if you want to. Or low class USA, a capitalist utopia where people work three jobs, the employer and landlord micromanage everything, and there are zero protections, paid vacation days etc. This is dystopia to more leftist, “socialist” European-nordic states.

      1. “First, the Stalinist version and its exports through the mechanism of the Cold War aren’t “the Left” and never were, not even at the time.” In 1967, you would have had some difficulty explaining this fine point to the Swedish members of the Vänsterpartiet-Kommunisterna (the Left Party —The Communists), which in 1990 changed its name to Vänsterpartiet.

        1. You could list three or ten examples without putting a dent on the argument. Chomsky himself is a counter example, and one is needed to make my point, but there are plenty famous precursors. Actually, Libertarian forms of Marxism were the mainstream, e.g. Luxemburg, Pannekoek etc. before the Cold War and its dual propaganda systems suppressed it. The West was laughed at the “democracy” claims in the East Bloc, but for propaganda reasons accepted “socialism” claims at face value — that was useful to suppress wages, unions etc. The Soviets hitched on both “democracy” and “socialism” (or “communism”) equally for propaganda reasons, even though the USSR was effectively a giant capitalistic firm, with Stalin as the CEO at the top, or a early version of the totalitarian states that would emerge later on multiple times.

          1. Can’t edit, “The West was laughed at the “democracy” claims in the East Bloc” should be “The West laughed at the “democracy” claims coming from the East Bloc” to describe their own systems, which were of course not democratic at all.

      2. “Not real Socialism” is not a great argument. Of course it always devolves into purges and tyranny, because it fails to take human nature into account.
        The essence of socialism, and communism, is taking everyone’s stuff, and then redistributing it in a way that you believe is a fair. Inevitably, people who already have stuff are not going to be keen on that plan.
        When I discuss this part with committed socialists, they always seem to assume that collectivization will be accomplished peacefully, but don’t really have any specific ideas on how that can be accomplished.

        If they bring their revolution here, it will fail in some unexpectedly but uniquely American way, and the survivors will surely tell each other that was not real socialism.

        If you look up “Socialism”, as you mentioned, you will certainly see that the Nordic states do not actually fit any of the key defining features of socialist states. For one thing, they are full of giant corporations. The vast majority of the region’s wealth is privately controlled. They are market economies with strong respect for property rights. Because this has been successful for them, they can afford to spend pretty lavishly on social programs. Starting with the social programs, and assuming that they will lead to wealth, is like the cargo cult people building runways, thinking they will generate aircraft.

        1. I knew exactly what would happen, and that’s why I put socialism in quotes.

          Step 1: people say they want decent health care etc, in not for profit systems (or something close).

          Step 2: US right winger reponds by saying “no! that’s socialism! See Stalin”

          Step 3: works well in “socialist” European states. Note scare quotes.

          Step 4: right winger actually actually European systems are not socialism, actually actually actually…

          Step 5: /facepalm.

          The word games of a similar nature do not interest me. Someone says they want pasta, and they explain it’s a type of noodles, and someone else redefines pasta to mean lutefisk. They say, no, they mean the noodles. Are you then still shoving lutefisk in their face?

          Most developed nations are far more to the left politically than is even possible to vote for in the USA. In the US, the demand is always to move rightwards, even by “moderates”. The tactic used is a form of Lutefisking.

          1. I am not a right winger, by normal standards.
            If the system under discussion is socialism, then we had best all know what that is. Really, any discussion of a specific issue is only possible when we start with an agreed on definition of what the subject is.
            That is harder these days, as woke people tend to work towards changing how things are defined to make their ideology seem more sensible. “Woman” is a prime example.

            Socialism is, depending on your dictionary- “A political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by state.”, or a “transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of Communism”.

            One of the things I often do when talking with modern socialists is to ask them to define the term. I don’t expect the OED definition, word for word, but they should know in broad terms what they are advocating. That is not playing word games, or even pedantic. The answer I usually get is along the lines of “What socialism means to me is a world where everyone is considerate and shares with each other”. If you think lutefisk is a pasta dish with a nice basil sauce, and you order it, you still get a plate of preserved cod. Similarly, when you advocate for a socialist system, you get Socialism. It is a near certainty that the people who expect to be put on the central committee or to be made commissar after the revolution know exactly what socialism is.

            Socialists in the west sell it as a solution to whatever problem is trendy. Pollution, racism, and women’s rights are problems that we are assured will be solved once socialism is accepted. That argument relies on those being pitched not knowing their history, and certainly not having read and holding a good knowledge of the source material.
            Anyone who has spent time living in a socialist state will know that such problems are rarely solved there. Pointing at Denmark and claiming that will be what you get if you vote socialist is dishonest. It would make more sense to point at Algeria.

            As an aside, I have lived in a couple of socialist states, and worked for a Scandinavian company for decades, traveling and staying there regularly. Recognizing the differences between the two systems does not make a person right wing.

            1. The problem with your definition of socialism is that it appears to be an all or nothing proposition. You use the phrase “socialist state” to describe certain countries that actually are capitalist. Instead, socialism (to me anyway) is bringing some aspect of society under control and administration by the government. If, say, someone advocates the government taking the lead role in dealing with pollution, you would accuse them of wanting a “socialist state” whereas they might be making a very reasonable argument that pollution is hard to fight via market forces in an otherwise capitalist system.

              As it has been pointed out by many, some of parts of our society are controlled by the government. Our military and police forces are perhaps the best examples. That’s socialism. This has long been assumed to be the right way to handle military and police. We don’t hear much call to privatize them. Prisons used to be exclusively controlled by the government but in recent decades have often been privatized. Arguably, the government-run prisons worked better though perhaps the private ones cost less. My point is that socializing aspects of society is a reasonable conversation to have. Claiming those who want to have such conversations are calling for a socialist state is hyperbolic
              .

            2. I did not argue here for socialist systems, but made two main claims on that subject.

              (1) I pointed out that wokeness is not “the left”, but that other currents exist. It’s not warranted to dismiss e.g. demands for decent health care on the grounds that both that and wokeness are labeled as “left” and wokeness is unpleasant and authoritarian.

              (2) Equating Stalinism with Progressivism, again, simply pivoting on some word, rather than looking at the pasta, substance. That’s why I cited Chomsky, perhaps the best known leftist, who very strongly argued against Soviet Russia.

              According to Pew, a “majority of Americans continue to say the federal government has a responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage.” When that’s argued for, the “socialist” stamp is quickly at hand, in a transparent attempt to prevent it further. Socialism, the term, has been charged since the Cold War with Stalinist authoritarianism.

              But since it’s used to label stuff that is in place already in European states, a broad movement in the US have now just embraced what was a right wing smear, own it, to describe just those models that work in many European or Nordic states.

    2. You are right in the sense that the woke crowd would have been called decadents in the German Democratic Republic (as was most of western “progressive” youth culture).
      I nevertheless have a completely different take on this. When capitalism no longer had to be more comfortable for the average person than GDR or Soviet style socialism, as the political power of communism had been destroyed, neoliberalization was brought over the formerly very comfy social democracies of Western Europe, with soaring income equality and slashing of worker’s rights, and further disempowerment of workers via ceaseless immigration of eastern labor willing to work for less and without voting rights. European-style social democracy (what Americans call socialism) was capitalism’s defense bulwark against the lures of communist state-owned planned economies with no role for capital.

      If communism was discredited by the 1989 upheaval, so was capitalism.
      The capitalist transformation in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia/Balkans made living conditions worse for the average person.
      The exodus from the ex-Soviet states and the ex-communist states in the Balkans to the West that started after the opening of the iron fence continues unabated to this day. The borders were erected to keep in qualified labor (like engineers and doctors who could have a had a higher standard of living in the west). Qualified labor has left the east in droves ever since travel and also most residence restrictions fell in Europe.
      The development/poverty cline from West to East in Europe dates to long before the Russian revolution, and thirty years of capitalism, and all the EU development funds pumped into the Balkans and the ex-Soviet republics, have done nothing to change it.

  5. A critical, if not the main, characteristic of “wokeness” in praxis is a top-down attack on merit and competency.

    You can see it in all sorts of way: Directly through hostility to academic performance, advanced placement courses, honor rolls, etc.

    More subtly, as example, in something mentioned in Dr. Coyne’s post: the dismantling of the idea of Asians as a “model minority”. Essentially, that is necessary so Asians’ economic and academic success can’t be used as a reference point to interrogate the more ambiguous performance of Blacks and Hispanics. In essence, that’s the beef about “model minorities”.

    (NB: English is my second language and wasn’t really fluent until around 14 or 15 years old. But I do know it fairly well now. Well enough so that my proficiency, because I am Hispanic, upsets and makes some people think I am lying about my not growing up as an English speaker. To almost a person, those people who have become upset and are deeply skeptical have been leftists….I won’t go into why now, but it has to do with something akin to the same thing at play with Asians as “model minorities”.)

    To be blunt, I think the future effect will be an increasingly dumbed-down and ignorant cohort of ostensibly educated people. And how will a hyper first world country which depends on the trust of the world to keep its currency as reserve currency be able to cope with that?

    I just saw this on Andrew Sullivan’s twitter feed:

    “At some point they will have to reconcile their denial of biological sex and this trope about “women’s” rights and abortion. The official Biden position is that men get pregnant and get abortions too.”

    https://twitter.com/sullydish/status/1434565430958596102

  6. Completely different vein, well, not completely…..Great, brief column by Angela Nagle on Gore Vidal:

    “He saw both parties as serving the economic interests of the same illegitimate ruling class and the whole system as “free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich.” His anti-war position ran in the family. Unable to get along with his mother, he was raised by his grandfather, Thomas Gore, of an Anglo-Irish family, who was an anti-war activist and member of the Populist Party.

    One of his major themes was the loss of the republic and its replacement with the empire, the “last self-styled global power, loaded down with nukes, bases, debts.” The welfare of the citizens at home was to be sacrificed to military power abroad. NATO, he argued, “was created so that the United States could dominate Western Europe militarily, politically, and economically.” You can hear a lot of his thinking here channeled today…”

    https://angelanagle.substack.com/p/the-ghost-of-gore-vidal

      1. The point of Nagle’s article is that much of his “cranky” thinking proved more aligned with reality than the worldview of his critics.

  7. I believe wokeness is at least partly associated with feminist “call out culture” which started catching on in the mid to late aughts. I used to be a regular at a lefty blog called Pandagon, which was started by Ezra Klein and another man. When they left they turned it over to feminist Amanda Marcotte. It was in the comments section that I was introduced to feminist call out culture. I even checked out other feminist sites and calling out unfeminist thought and practice was a big thing. It was prenatal Tw*tter mobs.

    1. Yes, it definitely is related, and probably where the appendage “culture” comes from that was attached to “Cancel Culture” and “Woke Culture”.

      “Callout Culture” was a self-affirmative term used by them, too. Marcotte also said that intersectional radical feminism (her terms) were becoming mainstream. All of that also shades into 4th Wave Feminism. Intersectionality is a part of critical race theory. In short, these terms are pointing to the same phenomenon, but each emphasises different aspects.

  8. There’s no doubt that what we regard as “wokeism” nowadays arose on campus among Leftists (or at least people who describe themselves as “Leftists”) and that it remains most prominent among them still. But we should not overlook the extent to which that its attitudes have been coopted by the Right.

    As to the preeminence of feelings over facts, see, for example, the recent handwringing over how the anti-vaxx, anti-masking Trumpist types must be approached on tenterhooks to try to convince them to take a potentially life-saving vaccine. And as for seeing “llfe [a]s a battle between good people and evil people” — well, hell, just tune into the primetime lineup of Fox News hosts any weekday night.

    I first noticed this phenomenon about eight years ago, well before I ever heard the word “woke.” I was struck by it originally in a discussion I was having at that time with a young right-wing women on a legal bl*g, in the comments’ section to a post about same-sex marriage, during the years preceding Obergefell v. Hodges when SSM was a topic of hot dispute. (Given the nature of the bl*g and the topic, I took the woman to be either a law student or a newly minted lawyer.) She had expressed a view opposed to SSM on the basis that nature plainly had designed human beings, man and woman, to engage in P-in-V coitus.

    In response I tried to explain that she was engaging in the “naturalistic fallacy” (and never mind for the moment that, according to gay guys I know, nature had “designed” the human penis to be of just the right length, on average, to pleasurably stimulate a partner’s prostate gland during male-on-male anal sex.) 🙂

    Anyway, in reply to my argument she did two things: one was to claim her position was supported by various “texts” (which, when I looked them up, turned out to be naught but Health & Lifestyle magazines); the other was to accuse me of “sexism” based solely on my use of the word “mankind” in my response to her. (I don’t consider “mankind” a sexist term, even though, in the interests of inclusiveness, I tend to use “humankind” in its stead — as I had in an earlier comment in the same comment thread — though I had forborne doing so in this particular instance because, IIRC, it would have thrown off the rhythm of the sentence in which I had written it.)

    This and similar instances regarding young conservatives at the time convinced me that they had taken shallow draughts from the Pierian spring of their universities — just enough to pick up on that blend of political correctness and postmodernism that we now call “wokeness,” so as to use its memes and tropes to attack their opponents — while not drinking deeply enough to get sober again (with apologies to A. Pope’s “A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing”).

    1. While you may be correct that the Right use some of the same tactics as the Left, but I’m thinking they are taking advantage of the lefties using their own weapons. When the Right suggest that “the anti-vaxx, anti-masking Trumpist types must be approached on tenterhooks”, some are using the Woke’s respect for feelings against them. Classic trolling move. They’ll soon be talking about their “lived experience” telling them not to take the vaccine. It’s hard for the Woke to come back on that.

    2. George Lakoff once catalogued the US liberal side and found five or six different types, among then typical leftists who are concerned with income, liberals concerned with individual freedoms, and also identitarians concerned with giving rights or opportunities to disenfranchised groups. By this approach, wokeness can be seen as a left ideology.

      However, in practice, this type of identity politics is conspiciously paired with traditionally conservative ideology. For example, creating flak with concerned letters, harassing the editor, calls to boycott are typical right wing tactics. Demanding art to be “correct” in various ways, not offensive above all, is also a classic right wing position. Combining art critique with moralism, i.e. art as a corrupting or evil influence, ditto. Law and order politics, that people get found out and punished, and hashly, also a very right wing thing. And so on.

      When it comes to the other leftist elements, above all, class and income equality, the Woke Movement is astonishingly thin, or even opposed. Remember, they were very vocal against Bernie Sanders. Later, and Jerry posted about this, an oped even tried to show how Sanders’ mittens somehow have to do with “white supremacy”.

      It’s also dubious that it arose on Campus. I don’t think that’s correct. It most likely emerged online and emanated from the early social media design, and what it brings about in people, paired with an early community of Very Online People and their particular personality issues. Since everyone underestimated social media, these groups had a sudden and dramatic influence, especially and young people then coming online, which then snowballed from there into Campus and news rooms alike.

    3. I tire…read this today and just wanted to put it out. From HST, his last paragraph of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972. Apropos, as is his way.

      I hung up and drank some more gin. Then I put a Dolly Parton album on the tape machine and watched the trees outside my balcony getting lashed around in the wind. Around midnight, when the rain stopped I put on my special Miami Beach nightshirt and walked several blocks down La Cienega Boulevard to the Loser’s Club.”

      I am very much interested in politics, but I always feel (there are some small wins to be sure) that I always end up at the “Loser’s Club”. Just like you Mr. Thompson, The Edge is impossible to keep.

  9. The writers are tendentious and fail to support their argument. At all.

    Have they considered that the reason right-wingers are being disinvited from campus is that they are anti-intellectual, intellectually dishonest, violent provacateurs like Milo Yiannopolois? Because this is the reason. There are very few equivalently jackassy, worthless people on the “left” (Farrakhan, I guess, can’t think of any others) to disinvite.

    1. Have you looked at the Disinvitation Database to see who was banned?
      I didn’t think so.
      Your knee-jerk comment is taken under advisement, and rejected on the grounds of obtusement.

      Have you considered that you MIGHT LOOK AT THE DATA?

  10. Social media has greatly exacerbated the phenomenon, no doubt about it. But wokeness’s forerunners — political correctness and postmodernism — took root on American college campuses in the 1970s and 1980s, well before the advent of the internet.

    I agree that wokeness is not a “Leftist” ideology in the traditional sense (although I think that, given current circumstances, that argument has a whiff of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy about it).

    1. I like the concept of the “no true Leftman” argument, which reappears over and over. On this view, Lenin said to Trotsky one day “let’s set up a system of state capitalism, call it Socialism to mislead the useful idiots, and include structures that will enable a pipe-smoking chap with a mustache to use it for his own, mysterious dictatorial purposes.” Explains everything.

      1. That was supposed to be in reply to Aneris’s response to my comment above..

        In this website’s current format, I find it difficult to tell sometimes whether I’m replying to the last comment on a thread or posting a new comment. (Other commenters seem to have the same difficulty on occasion.)

  11. In my pre-atheist incarnation as a devout Christian believer, I remember reading and re-reading CS Lewis’s essay “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”, which, while using somewhat different vocabulary, seems very applicable to the themes of this article. The character Screwtape is an arch-devil addressing the graduating class of the College of Tempers. If you replace instances of “democracy” and “democratic” in the following quotes with “equity”, “equitable”, “social justice”, “socially just” and so on, this 50’s-era essay feels very current.

    (I apologize in advance for the length of the quote. I won’t be doing this regularly, I promise..)

    In that promising land (England) the spirit of ‘I’m as good as you’
    begins to work itself into their educational system. How
    far its operations there have gone at the present moment, I
    should not like to say with certainty. Nor does it matter. Once you
    have grasped the tendency, you can easily predict its future develop-
    ments; especially as we ourselves will play our part in the developing. The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and
    idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious
    pupils. That would be “undemocratic.” These differences between
    pupils — for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences —
    must be disguised. This can be done at various levels. At universities,
    examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good
    marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly
    all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or
    wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children
    who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and
    elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to
    do in their spare time. Let, them, for example, make mud pies and
    call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that
    they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense
    they are engaged in must have — I believe the English already use the
    phrase — “parity of esteem.” An even more drastic scheme is pos-
    sible. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artifi-
    cially kept back, because the others would get a trauma — Beelzebub,
    what a useful word! — by being left behind. The bright pupil thus
    remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his
    school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Æschylus
    or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT
    SAT ON A MAT.

    In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of
    education when “I’m as good as you” has fully had its way. All incentives
    to learn and all penalties for not learning will be prevented; who
    are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers — “or
    should I say, nurses?” — will be far too busy reassuring the dunces
    and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching.
    We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable
    conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin
    themselves will do it for us.

    “For democracy” or the “democratic spirit” (diabolical sense) leads
    to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of
    the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to
    snarl or whimper at the first sign of criticism. And that is what Hell
    wishes every democratic people to be. For when such a nation meets
    in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school,
    where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are
    allowed no say at all in public affairs, only one result is possible.

  12. Two apparently contradicting statements can be true at the same time. So blacks can be victim of structural racism while at the same time their attitude causes them not to get ahead. The hard thing to figure out is, what applies to what extent in any specific situation. In many cases, this is a feedback loop. If you are subject to structural racism, you will not try to get ahead. And if you are not getting ahead (and become a criminal, for instance) then you reinforce the stereotype that underpins the structural racism.

  13. As an European, I see this woke-ism as a form of American cultural imperialism. There are probably many causes why it caught on especially in the USA.

    Maybe the inability of the USA to distribute well-being more evenly; widespread racism in large parts of the USA; globalization driven by US firms and governments resulting in open borders; the absence of large wars threatening the safety of the USA; feminism successfully claiming moral superiority for women over men; social media creating the illusion that extremism is on the rise; etc … . I don’t think we can much learn from it, it’s just how things go as a result of many other things, completely beyond our control.

    In the end, I think, the only thing rational people can do against bad ideas is count to 10, point out bad consequences, compromise and make jokes about it.

  14. Begging to differ with the ‘Begging To Differ’ quote:

    Minorities such as Irish, Italian, Jewish, differ from the black-American population in that – yes they did work their way ‘up’ stateside, but they did so within the context of a continuous cultural and personal history stretching back countless generations, and which arguably sufficiently ‘armed’ them to handle the equally old, but insidious, slings and arrows of localised intolerance and ignorance. They came to America as free peoples with an unbroken legitimating cultural narrative.

    The black-American population on the other hand did not. They did not (and still DO not) simply ‘work their way up’ from some politically sanitised lowly position. They were wrenched from the stabilising context of their own legitimating narratives and barbarically imprisoned in a society that immediately and broadly dehumanised them. The black-American population never had the luxury of simply working their way up within the context of a meritocratic job market; they simultaneously have to work against the complacent dehumanisation that would cap their prospects as readily as it did over a hundred years ago.

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