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A small debate on-line was kicked off by this post from the venerable Paul Gottfried regarding the topic of Wokism. Gottfried pointed out that it is an error to confuse this new ideology with Marxism. While many of the thinkers who laid the groundwork for what we presently call Wokism were Marxists or came out of the Marxist intellectual space, this new ideology is not Marxism. Marxism and Wokism operate in separate intellectual domains and traditions.
This did not sit well with those in the bourgeoning industry that revolves around verbal antagonism toward Wokism. James Lindsay felt it necessary to call Paul Gottfried an idiot while dismissing his post entirely. Lindsay makes his living these days peddling the idea that Wokism is “Marxist-Fascism” which is completely nuts, but it appears that he has been driven insane in his effort to make sense of the material within post-Marx culturalism that informs this new ideology.
It needs to be said that Paul Gottfried’s dog probably knows more about this topic than Lindsay will ever know. Given Gottfried’s connection to Frankfurt School theorist Herbert Marcuse, he is as close as we get to an expert on the forerunners of this new ideology gripping the minds of the ruling class. Gottfried is also a world-renowned expert on fascism as an intellectual concept. Paul can be an idiot like everyone else, but on this topic, he knows more than most.
That said, there is a tendency of people on what we call the Right to engage in the same binary thinking we see with the people we call the Left. That means playing the old game of linguistic guilt by association. Since Lindsay’s intended audience has been trained to hear “Marxism” and “Fascism” as scare words, he associates Wokism with those two words to stimulate his audience. Wokism, Marxism and Fascism just mean “bad” to the people in that scene.
On the other hand, there is a segment of the civic nationalist space that insists everything can be reduced to money and power. Their theory is that the people with all of the money and power are doing this Wokism thing because they want even more money and power. In other words, there is no reason to think too much about these novel cultural fads. The people behind them do not really believe that destroying whiteness leads to the promised land.
There is another camp that has chimed in on this topic, mostly in response to those who chant about liberalism being the only antidote to Wokism. The claim from this camp is that liberalism or some aspect of liberalism, like individualism, is responsible for the phenomena we call Wokism. Some say Wokism is just the full expression of liberalism, while others say liberalism is the manure that fertilized Wokism. Either way, this weird new ideology is the result of Western liberalism.
There is an interesting contrast here with the Hazony camp, who argue that Wokism is just a new form of collectivism. He says the antidote to this collective ideology is nationalism, which he defines as a collective defense of the tradition, culture, and history of a people. Those blaming liberalism, however, think the answer is a dictator acting on behalf of the people to defend their traditions, culture, and history. Put another way, the answer is either “good” nationalism or “bad” nationalism.
The result of this debate is a muddled picture of Wokism that mostly serves as a platform for whatever is being promoted as an alternative. They all agree that Wokism is bad, but they do not agree on what it is or why it exists. Everyone agrees that the 20th century was a disaster, giving birth to this bizarre mind virus called Wokism, yet everyone agrees we have to go back to the 20th century to reanimate one of the dead ideologies, but which one is the point of contention.
Interestingly, there is little attention to the word “woke” and why it became the preferred label of the people in this new ideology. The generally accepted explanation for the term is that it broke out of black politics into the broader Left as shorthand for being aware of the reality of the system. That reality was oppression, first in the name of white society, but then in the name of the abstract concept of whiteness. Awareness of the reality behind this false reality is what it means to be woke.
Not only is there nothing Marxist about the origins of the term, but there is also nothing liberal about it either. If anything, the root is paranoia and delusion. To be woke is to dismiss reality as a trick by white people. You must substitute your own reality, your lived experience, as it were, for the false reality. This is the sort of thinking that used to be associated with conspiracy theories. At essence, Wokism is simply awareness of the great conspiracy that lies behind reality.
This strikes most people as insane, but there is a logic to it. The core assumptions of the people we call the Left are egalitarianism and the blank slate. They assume that all people come into this world with the same potential. People are shaped by family life, society, and experience. The great variation we see in people is due to these social forces molding people during their life. You are a product of your environment, which means inequality is the result of those social forces.
Obviously, if some people benefit from the rules and others suffer, then there must be a reason for the rules benefiting one group over another. From a black identity perspective, this is a much better answer than biology. The condition of blacks in America is no longer a product of biological reality and instead the result of a system that harms them to the benefit of white people. This not only justifies questioning the system, but it also justifies attacking the system.
Of course, this framing can work for any identity group, real or imagined, that views themselves as oppressed. Anti-Semites use the same logic to explain why Jews run the world, despite being a tiny minority. Reality itself is a part of the great trick being played upon the oppressed. The people behind this false reality use it and their control over the systems of power to benefit themselves as an oppressor class at the expense of whoever is feeling oppressed at the moment.
This is something the “blame it on Marx” camp has right. Wokeness has borrowed the idea of class conflict and applied it to identity politics. For Marx, the proletariat was the only legitimate class, but for the Woke, every identity group is legitimate, no matter how obscure, except for the oppressor class. This is why white people, especially white males, are not allowed to be “allies” unless they either adopt some novel identity or fully confess their sins as a member of the oppressor class.
Of course, the anti-liberals can point to the business about oppression and claim it comes from liberalism. Liberalism has always conceded that coercion is a necessary part of every society. The goal of politics should be to reduce coercion, which is the argument for both popular government and cooperative government. Taken to its logical conclusion, the goal should be a society free of coercion, which by definition is a society that is free of all oppression.
Wokism would amount to nothing more than bourgeois decadence if not for the fact that rich white people are acting on it. Striking the radical pose has been around since the birth of the American empire. Things like black identity politics or novel sexual movements have always been popular with the bourgeois radical, but it never amounted to much in terms of policy. What is new is that it is aggressively embraced by the ruling class, which should fall into the oppressor bucket.
That is the key to understanding the reality of Wokism. Why all of a sudden are oligarchs investing in things like Black Lives Matter, which raked in billions and did nothing but set cities on fire? Why is the Secretary of State lecturing Saudi Arabia on their intolerance of crossdressers? America puts the sodomite flag up on its embassies during homosexual month. We now have months dedicated to various identity groups, real and imagined.
In this regard, the reductionists are correct in that this new ideology does something for the people embracing it. They get something from it. The reductionists are wrong, however, in assuming it gets them money and power. They have money and power, so the last thing they should want is to undermine the system that provides them with all of the money and power. They are getting something from this new way of thinking, but it is not the stuff they already possess to excess.
That is the key to understanding Wokism. It is not so much what it is but what it does for the people who embrace it. For the managerial elite, it provides a sense of legitimacy to their place atop the social hierarchy. For the climbers dreaming of a perch at the top and those who gain satisfaction aping those at the top, it provides an ever-changing set of cultural fashions. Primarily, Wokism provides a way to distinguish who is inside and who is outside the dominant social group.
This is why you see the convert-adherent dynamic within Wokism. For some people, delving into the esoteric thought that underlies Wokism is a revelation that cuts them off from their old life and sets them off into a new life. For most, it is just the thing they need to do to operate within their social class. These are the adherents. They are often the most aggressive at enforcing the moral code because they connect it with their own standing inside their social class.
Of course, all elites have two primary concerns. One is the peasant revolt and the other is the palace coup. Wokism provides a defense against the former by putting the peasants on their backfoot, always defending themselves against an evolving set of moral codes that violate their sense of decency. Like the corporate HR department, Wokism is always ready for a new initiative to change the culture by preventing the people from discussing the current culture.
The other side of Wokism is it enforces discipline withing the managerial elite by demanding the converts and adherent focus on the moral code. Those people with Ukraine flags on their Twitter profile used to have a syringe and before that a mask and before that a BLM badge. From the entry level to the C-suites, the managerial class spends more time keeping track of the current thing than they do in performing whatever task they are assigned in the system.
This is not as much of a novelty as it seems. In the court of Louis XIV, the people in Versailles often participated in humiliation rituals. A part of who they were was their willingness to degrade themselves. It is an elite version of the Theodore Dalrymple observation about communist societies and political correctness. “A society of emasculated liars is easy to control.” Wokism provides a necessary enforcement mechanism to maintain elite solidarity.
What Wokism does is fill the role of religion for the ruling elite. If you go back and examine the language of abolitionists or New Deal reformers, you will find that the language is not particularly different from the language of Wokism. The main difference is the overt references to God and Christian morality. It is not hard to imagine the grievance studies departments singing a Woke version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic before every staff meeting.
Every elite needs a sense of legitimacy. This is what authorizes their use of force to coerce the people into compliance. “Because we can” is never enough. Elites must operate from “because we must” and Wokism not only provides the moral force behind their actions but justifies their position at the top. Their commitment to these social causes, to the liberation of man from the human condition, is proof that they deserve their position at the top, as leaders of the people.
Finally, we are left with the question of why this ridiculous collection of beliefs has filled the elite’s need for an organizing purpose. One reason is timing. The radicals that fled Europe in the middle of the last century arrived when the elite of the new American empire was in need of a new organizing ethos. Protestantism was no longer a good fit as Jews took up positions in the managerial elite. A new elite needed a new ideology, and the new radicalism was there to supply that need.
The necessity of the Cold War, however, limited the growth of this new religion among the elites, as the threat of nuclear war required serious men. When the fate of the world is on the line, you cannot afford to humor the man in a dress. Of course, the conflict with the Soviets provided all the required villains for the ruling class. In fact, a radical complaint in the Cold War was that anti-communism sucked all of the air out of the room, leaving no space for the new ideas.
The end of the Cold War removed that constraint. It also left a void in the ruling elite that what we now call Wokism was ready to fill. Now that we have reached the end of history, the ruling elite of the empire could get on with the project of liberating mankind from the oppression and unfairness of the human condition. Wokism is the new religion of this new ruling elite that exists to liberate humanity. From the war on Islam to the current war on Russia, Wokism is about freeing the world.
Many have noted that Wokism sounds like Gnosticism. That is because embedded in human experience is the desire to transcend this life. That sense becomes acute for those who rise to the top of society. If you possess God-like power over your fellow man, why not take the final step? Our managerial elite embraces Wokism because it promises to give them power over the human condition. When you can turn boys into girls, you have become a god.
In the end, this is where most of the critics of Wokism fall short. They cannot accept that vagueness as the answer. They insist that the Woke know why they believe what they believe or that they know it is all nonsense. None of this matters. Beliefs exist because they serve a purpose. For our present elites, Wokism fills a need, so they do not have to think about the logic behind it. If the time comes when Wokism stops filling the needs of the elite, they get a new religion, or we get a new elite.
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