If there’s one medical-journal doyen who stands out as a parrot of the ideology of the Authoritarian Left (also called “wokeism”), it’s Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet. Time after time he’s jumped the medical shark and simply published pure ideology in what was once Britain’s premier medical journal (see my posts here and here, for instance), with the second one the subject of a new response by a reader that I’ll put below.
And don’t forget that Horton is responsible for perhaps the most cringeworthy cover of any medical journal in the last three decades:
Here’s that second editorial again, which I criticized at great length in May. Click to read:
Below is Horton’s money quote which is disputed further down. Horton uses the example of Antonio Gramsci to assert that revolutionary change didn’t come about in Europe because the “dominant group uses culture to exert its controlling influence.”
Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) was arrested by Mussolini’s police in 1926. Imprisoned, he used his time to fill the pages of 33 notebooks. Gramsci sought to make sense of his experience in the vanguard of Italian politics. One question in particular occupied his thoughts. Why did every effort to bring about revolutionary change in Europe fail? His great insight, one largely forgotten today, was to recognise the way in which the dominant group uses culture to exert its controlling influence. If the ruling power can persuade people to share its social, cultural, and moral values, the motivation for radical political change will wither. The culture wars suggest that it is not the economy, stupid. If populist governments can win over the public to their beliefs, progressives have little chance of electoral success. It was this cultural hegemony, according to Gramsci, that explained the resistance to progressive political change in the aftermath of World War 1. And it is the modern struggle for cultural hegemony that explains today’s bitter disputes over race, sex, and gender. For those who wish to advance a more hopeful, compassionate, and liberal vision of the future, we must recognise that the culture wars are not peripheral matters. They are the ground populists have chosen to fight to protect their power and interests. Gramsci, using the military metaphors of his time, called this struggle a “war of position”. It is a war we must not be afraid to engage in.
Here Horton apparently sees the “populists” (read: Tories and Trumpites) as holding back the “progressives”, causing revolutionary change to inevitably fail. He includes the U.S. in his list of places holding down progressivism, apparently forgetting not just the American Revolution, but also revolutions in Europe, like the rise of democracy in eastern Europe in the late 1980s. As I wrote at the time:
So here we have the editor of The Lancet advocating “radical political change” and demonizing “populists” (he’s not specific about who they are, but apparently sees the ruling powers in Britain as members). At the same time, he proclaims his virtue, for he takes pains to assure readers that he is on the side that wants a “more hopeful, compassionate, and liberal vision of the future,” while his populist enemies apparently want the opposite.
Lordy be, the journal just published a response from a reader and colleague, and it’s rational!
Click to read:
A few excerpts:
The culture war is not a Manichean object; it needs a highly differentiated analysis. People with left-wing beliefs can be critical of both right-wing and left-wing identitarians. Susan Neiman defends this position (from the left) vigorously, and her recent book should be obliged reading for all. Furthermore, [Horton’s] fragmented and ill-structured piece contained a multitude of mixed-up topics, such as immigration, Sinophobia, and the identitarian movement.
. . . .I am aware that right-wing radicals try to capture the anti-woke movement. These people are alien to enlightened, rational individuals—as is the woke, regressive, capitalist, authoritarian left wing—and must be vigorously opposed. My advice is to focus on publishing first-class medical research, which would do much more to serve the common good. A 2023 article echoes this sentiment, reporting that the general public is losing trust in science when too much politicising and ideologising is published in scientific and biomedical science journals.
Leading medical and scientific journals should focus on what they do best—publishing first-rate, high-quality research. They should deal with political issues only when such issues directly affect medicine and science. They should not express unrelated political opinions and beliefs.
Were I editor of The Lancet, or other science magazines or journals captured by “progressives” (I’m talking to you Scientific American), I’d see my brief as publishing science or medicine, not emitting gusts of hot air about my personal politics. What puzzles me most is that Horton has been editor of The Lancet for a long time, and nobody can apparently stop this Hindenburg from leaking toxic gas. Since when did medical journals turn into venues for reforming society along the lines of the editors’ own ideologies?
Horton is an embarrassment to both his journal and to medicine.