Wokeism is a Pick ‘n’ Mix from Evil Ideologies
If you have not read it, you should ideally read Part 1 before reading this essay. Both Part I and Part II are long discussions, so please be patient. I think you will find them worth your time.
In part one of this series, I examine the close ties between the evil ideologies of the 20th Century and presented a case for how they all sit on a bedrock of Marxist anti-capitalism and collectivism. The notions of the hard left and hard right being used to delineate ideologies such as Nazism, Communism, and Fascism is of no value and I proposed we should instead see the ideologies as being placed on three scales; 1) authoritarian versus libertarian, (2) free market versus state-controlled economy, (3) collectivism versus individualism. In the previous essay, I provided this comparison for liberal democracies and Nazism, Fascism, and Bolshevism (the variant of Marxism that won out in Russia). It is very apparent that Nazism, Fascism, and Bolshevism are actually closely tied together. Indeed, in the discussion in the essay, it is apparent that they share the same core of ideology, and each ideology is an adaptation of the same core to a particular context. Furthermore, over time, they tend to follow each other, for example with all of the ideologies adopting racism.
In this essay, I will first examine the situational context in which Wokeism has arisen. I will focus on Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US, as these are likely to provide the readership for markavis.org (see note1). Having done this, I will compare the Marxist adaptation of Wokeism with prior adaptations of Marxism, and show that Wokeism is currently a pick ‘n’ mix of some of the evilest ideologies of the last century. However, before I start, I will so to speak, come to the end first. In the image below, I provide a summary of the comparison, and the rest of the discussion is outlining how this summary was established (albeit some elements are drawn from part I). As you will note, Wokeism does not match any previous ‘ism’. It does, however, lean quite heavily towards Nazism in the respect that it shares so many basic commonalities. There may be some surprises, like the ‘very, very close match’ between Wokeism and Nazism on environmentalism. Read on and this will be explained.
The comparison between Wokeism and previous evil ideologies should be a worry, especially for the many people who have been deceived into believing Wokeism is about justice, good, and right. All of the evil ideologies of the 20th century proclaimed a moral mission, and thus the quote in the header image for the page. It is taken from Solzhenitsyn, a soviet dissident who did much to reveal the evils of the Soviet Union. Masses of people do not wake up one morning saying ‘today I will do evil’, but many will get up in the morning saying ‘I will do good today.’ History has shown us that, when an ideology convinces people that evil deeds are for ‘the good’, people will do evil deeds. Wokeism is just the latest variant of just such an ideology.
The Context of the Rise of Wokeism
As I explain in the first essay, previous evil ideologies arose in a process of evolution, whereby the ideology that eventually won was an adaptation that was effective in the context of a particular country. Thus Bolshevism was effective in Russia, Nazism in Germany, and Fascism in Italy. Therefore, in order to understand Wokeism, it is necessary to see the ideology in the context of Western liberal democracies that exist now. Although Wokeism has been evolving and adapting for a long time (at least from the 1970s), it only seemed to gain significant influence around about 2015. This is, of course arguable, but it seems that this is when it came to popular attention, albeit it was often seen as a university campus issue at that time.
Economics (bear with this section, which is a little bit “dry”)
Economics is a traditional context given for the rise of revolutionary movements (e.g. pre-revolutionary Russia), and it is worth taking a reasonably detailed look at the economies of the selected countries. A common measure of economic wellbeing is GDP growth and Table 1 is taken from OECD statistics and shows GDP per capita. I have provided data for 1970 to give a big picture, 2015 as that is when Wokeism started to be noticeable, and 2019 as the most recent data provided by the OECD. All of the countries have been growing their economies over each period, and positive growth in GDP per capita is unlikely to be the foundation for a revolutionary movement.
Below, in figure 1, we can see data on productivity per hour worked, employment rate, and Gini coefficient between each country. There is nothing in any of this data that might suggest any particular economic factor being at play. One metric that might be seen as a potentially positive factor is a high Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality) but Canada is engaged in the culture wars despite sitting on the exact average for advanced economies. In the opposite direction, pre-pandemic, labour force participation was rising, which would likely be a factor in enhancing stability.
If looking at the change in Gini coefficients over time, this might be a more promising metric for identifying a source of revolutionary radicalism, as there have been increases in the Gini coefficient over time for nearly all of the countries being considered (from the OECD Income Distribution Database). The exception is Canada, which has been falling slightly (0.44 in 2004, 0.427 in 2018). Again, Canada’s exception casts doubt on whether any change in the Gini coefficient is a significant factor in the rise of Wokeism. Another approach to income distribution is seen in figure 2 below, showing change over time for the share of income going to the top 1% over time (figure 2). As can be seen, the English-speaking countries are contrasted with other countries as having seen the proportion going to the 1% increasing. This might be seen as an economic explanation for the rise of Wokeism in the English-speaking countries, but then there needs to be an explanation for why France, for example, is also seeing the start of the same problems of Wokeism.
The last metric I will look at is Median income (figure 3). Unfortunately, it was more difficult to find a single database, but the sources are Australia | Canada | New Zealand | UK | US, with charts for Australia and Canada having been developed from raw statistics. As is apparent, median incomes have been rising in recent years, albeit with some dips for the UK and US.
I have chosen some key statistic which will give a very broad overview of economic conditions in the selected countries, but there are many other statistics that might be added. My aim is not to provide a cast-iron case, but rather to give some numbers which will likely confirm what most people will broadly be experiencing within their own economic environment; the economic situation is not of a kind that would represent a significant driver towards revolutionary movements. For most people, most of the time, the economy is at least functioning reasonably, pandemic notwithstanding. Essentially, we all live in some of the most wealthy countries ever seen in human history and it is thus difficult to argue that economic discontent provides an impetus for revolutionary radicalism. This is the first important contextual factor that has played a role in the particular variant of Marxism that is Wokeism; the economy is of little or no value for attracting a mass of people towards revolutionary change.
Freedom and Rights
I have bundled freedom and rights together as they are overlapping for my purpose here. A useful metric for measuring freedom and rights is provided by the Cato Institute’s Freedom Index. It includes measures such as freedom of religion, rights, and freedoms for minorities, including gender, and sexuality. It, therefore, covers a very broad range of measures and includes measures that related directly to the identity politics of Woksim. An overview of the factors used in the index is given below.
- Rule of Law
- Security and Safety
- Association, Assembly, and Civil Society
- Expression and Information
- Identity and Relationships
- Size of Government
- Legal System and Property Rights
- Access to Sound Money
- Freedom to Trade Internationally
- Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business
The index includes a country ranking whereby a high ranking country is seen as more free, with a total of 160 Countries being ranked; Australia is Ranked Number 5, Canada is 6, New Zealand is in 1st place, and the UK and US tie at number 17. As such, all of the countries being considered are in the top 20 of the freest places and even include, based on this index, the freest country in the world. As such, in addition to being economically stable, and some of the most wealthy countries in world history, the selected countries are also notable for their very high levels of personal and economic freedom. Furthermore, this measure is taken at a point in time where rights have been steadily extended so that now they encompass the legal protection of individuals on the basis of sex, race, and religion, and sexual orientation. This is, in other words, a point in time where liberal values have been embedded in the legal structures of each of the societies we are considering. As an illustration, a timeline for the extension of rights in the UK gives an overview of the overall positive trajectory for rights and can approximately stand-in for all of the countries considered here. However, the situation is moving backward in some respects, for example with hate speech legislation in Britain, which is a response (or capitulation) to pressure from Wokeism i.e. Wokeism is not a response to absence of rights, but the removal of rights can be a response to Wokeism.
The Challenges Confronting New Marxist Variants
It is already possible to see that any new variant of Marxism needed to overcome two very serious challenges; the adaptation had to confront the serious headwinds of stable and wealthy economies, alongside an unprecedented level of freedom and rights. What I have not discussed is the poor reputation of Marxist thought in general. Marxism was closely associated with the failed Soviet Union, and the stories of the horrors of the Soviet system were fully exposed with the collapse of the Soviet Union (e.g. see the Black Book of Communism). The headwinds that lay in front of Marxists were very strong. Indeed, if looking at modern Western societies, it is difficult to imagine a less likely place for a variation of Marxism to take root. The closest historical comparison is Weimar Germany, but Weimar was subject to very significant economic strains and a general standard of living that was not comparable to modernity (albeit relatively high for the period). This leads to the question of how it was possible for Wokeism to adapt so successfully to take root in such unpromising soil.
The first point is vital. Marxists grasped that the working class had failed in following the historical role assigned to them by Marx. The last gasps of any significant working-class radicalism were to die in or shortly after the 1970s (e.g. Margaret Thatcher’s defeat of the miner’s strike). Even during the postwar period up until the 1970s, the radicalism of the working class was not sufficient to ever genuinely threaten liberal democracy. This was an uncomfortable reality for Marxists, and some kind of adaptation of Marxist thought was going to be necessary if the ’cause’ were to succeed. The answer was to be found in the replacement of the working class as the bulwark of revolutionary radicalism with the politics of identity whereby ‘marginalised’ groups could be radicalised into a new variant of Marxist ideology. The new variant was to draw on the Marxist Frankfurt School’s critical theory and French Marxist philosophers such as Foucault to build the foundations of the new ideology (the subject of a future essay).
Note: Before continuing to look at the rise of Wokeism, it is worth noting that I am not proposing a conspiracy taking place in smoke-filled rooms, of Marxists plotting strategies to take over the world, but rather I am describing broad currents of Marxist intellectual thought, and broader trends, which were to see Wokeism adapt into its modern form and allow it to succeed.
The Switch to Identity Politics
The transition from a focus on classes to identity politics was not a “natural” transition. Traditional Marxist thinking rejected the use of ethnicity in their analysis, but there were nevertheless already undercurrents of interest in ethnicity in the 1960s (Gabriel & Ben‐Tovim, 1979). The revolutionary and anti-capitalist potential of identity politics was captured in a polemic from the Combahee River Collective of Black feminist women, which ends by expressing their own revolutionary potential and dedication to the revolutionary cause. Bearing in mind the potentially fertile ground of identity, in 1974, in Marxist academic circles, theorists were starting to make the transition from a class perspective to an identity perspective.
To be sure, most intellectuals still regard common economic circumstance, or “class,” as the principal political and social mode of the twentieth century. One cannot deny that the spell of Marxism is still with us but, as Nathan Glazer noted earlier, it is our contention that political reality around the globe is increasingly bound up with the resurgence of ethnicity. In all but a tiny handful of nations, ethnic, racial and religious divisions have become the focus of profound political conflict. For too long, world affairs have been looked at from the viewpoint of Marxist economics or the traditional balance of power, with little attempt to understand the role of ethnic factors(Glazer et al., 1974, p.33, also see the influential Glazer, N., Moynihan, D. P., & Schelling, C. S. (Eds.). (1975). Ethnicity: Theory and Experience (No. 109). Harvard University Press.)
Just a few years later, it was apparent that ethnicity was seen as an increasingly important factor in academic Marxist analysis (e.g. see Bonacich, 1980). The direction of thought was clear; whilst the working class had failed to heed the call to revolution, perhaps other collective identity groups might do better. Although the idea diverged from Marx, identity offered a potentially pragmatic solution to finding a potentially revolutionary group. However, it was not just ethnic identity that was to provide fruitful new ground. As with the Combahee River Collective, there was also a constituency to be found in extremist feminism and also in gay sexuality. The politics of identity may have had a core based on ethnicity, but was to develop into a coalition amongst a wide range of minorities. In this respect, the Combahee River Collective was a microcosm of what the movement was to be, both in terms of the nature of identity politics and the potential for radicalism. It was Marxism in a new form, with identity grievances acting as a Trojan horse for the introduction of other elements of Marxist thought.
Whilst finding a potential source of anger and disaffection to harness, identity politics was never going to deliver the mass necessary for revolutionary change. As discussed, the period of the 1960s onward saw significant advances in equalisation of rights for each of the identity groups, with reform of legal codes and the initiation of rights-based legislation. This is not to say that everything transformed overnight for minority groups. It is beyond the scope of this essay to examine the claims of Wokeism and the rebuttals of those claims so I will instead just propose that there has been significant debate over how far the various reforms achieved their goals. What is certain is that, if the coalitions that were formed under the banner of Wokeism were to survive, it was necessary to continue to emphasise the grievances of the minority groups. Nevertheless, even if succeeding in holding the coalition of the ‘aggrieved’ together, this was never going to be sufficient to create a mass for a revolutionary change. Identity groups might be enough to sustain Marxism, but were not enough to nurture Marxism to a revolutionary force.
The solution to this problem came with the massive expansion of higher education, which saw an ever-higher proportion of young people attending universities. For example, in my home country of New Zealand, the percentage of the population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher has jumped from 13% in 2001 to 35% in 2020 and similar expansions can be found for all of the countries of interest here (e.g. the US). However, it is not the expansion in university education that was the solution, it was the expansion and the changing shape of the faculty that was key to the change. In contrast to wider society, the universities still had a large number of die-hard Marxists, as well as a majority of faculty who leaned towards socialism. The proportion of those who are on the extreme has only been increasing over time (e.g. see figure 4, from the Washingon Post):
Similar data to the US can be found for the countries of interest for this discussion, including examples where the socialist/Marxist bias is even strong (e.g. see here for the UK). The problem of the overall bias towards socialism in universities is not the whole picture. There is a raft of disciplines in which moderates (and I include here what would traditionally be called the centre-left) and conservatives are now on the verge of extinction, and this covers many of the social sciences and humanities, which also happen to be the disciplines that most benefited from student numbers growth. It was not just the numbers game that made the changing shape of the universities important but also a qualitative change. This was the growth in angry, aggressive, and intolerant activism. Ground zero of the aggression and intolerance are what have been described as “grievance studies“, disciplines promoting Wokeism, such as gender studies and black studies. To a large degree, grievance studies were a springboard which was to launch Wokeism into the broader social sciences and humanities. The result has been a substantive change on campuses that are now so intolerant that moderates and conservatives have formed an international organisation called the Heterodox Academy to defend tolerance and viewpoint diversity on campuses. Having conquered most of the university, Wokeism is now starting to conquer the natural sciences:
Most of the scientists who see the writing on the wall and wish they could do something about it will eagerly tell you precisely why they don’t speak and act against the creeping woke hegemony they know will eventually corrupt their disciplines, possibly for generations. They’re afraid. They’re afraid they’ll be fired. They’re afraid they’ll be blacklisted from jobs, tenure and research funding opportunities. They’re afraid they’ll become thorns in the sides of the administration, especially the Grand Wizards of their institutions’ Offices of Diversity and Inclusion, and targets of the newly minted campus inquisition Bias Response Teams, and never have another peaceful day to get real work done. They’re afraid they’ll be done like Tim Hunt was done.https://areomagazine.com/2018/12/04/are-academics-cowards-the-grip-of-grievance-studies-and-the-sunk-costs-of-academic-pursuit/
The result is what is apparent today, which is that the universities are increasingly foregoing their classical liberal mission. This has led to what has been described as a choice between being a “social justice” (Wokeism) university or a knowledge university (classical liberalism). It is apparent that the former is winning out against the latter. The result of this change in the university system is that they now less and less serve as educational organisations and more like indoctrination factories. Wokeism is therefore spreading through the ‘educated’ young, many of whom are becoming activists or are sympathetic to Wokeism. Worryingly, it appears that many of these young people who are sympathetic to Wokeism do not even seem to understand Wokeism beyond its most superficial platitudes about fairness and justice i.e. they do not see or understand that they are part of a revolutionary movement. As a result of this, a large number of young people are either fully endorsing Wokeism, or are willing to give tacit support to the cause.
In addition to pumping out post-graduates who were to take over other disciplines, grievance studies have long been pumping out ever more radicalised graduates. These graduates, aggressive and intolerant of any dissent from their views, have percolated through society. They have been particularly effective in capturing NGOs to the cause of Wokeism, but have also been successful in cultural institutions and government (e.g. see here). However, they were initially constrained by a lack of mass support. That has changed. The capture of the universities by Wokeism has changed this with waves of new graduates entering into employment who have been indoctrinated into Wokeism. Thus we see so many institutions falling to Wokeism, much to the dismay of genuine liberals and conservatives everywhere. The fall of institutions from liberalism to Wokeism is perhaps best captured in the resignation of Barri Weiss from the New York Times, who was pushed out as a result of a new generation of aggressive Woke individuals attacking her for her views.
The curiosity of this situation is that it is the middle classes (in the British sense) who appear to be the bedrock of Wokeism, and this was captured in the Hidden Tribes study in the US. The majority of ‘progressives’ were white, wealthy, and well-educated (I use the study’s term ‘educated’, but they are not really educated in any meaningful sense of the word). Wokeism is an ideology of the elites in society and it is no coincidence that the most prestigious universities appeared to be the earliest to succumb to Wokeism. As such, Wokeism is now constructed from a minority of radicalised individuals from minority groups, a mass of middle-class graduates, and an elite of graduates and post-graduates from the most prestigious universities. It could not be further from a working-class movement.
The Decline of Organised Religion
I should declare at the start of this section that I have been an atheist since I was nine years old, and remain one today. I never viewed religion in a very positive light, but that view started to shift in recent years. One reason for the change is that it is becoming apparent that human psychology seems to have evolved in a way that requires/seeks something like a religious belief system (e.g. Atran & Norenzayan, 2004; Barrett, 2000). Another reason is that it seems that moderate religions (e.g. traditional Anglicanism) are preferable to what can be seen to be replacing them. Over each of the countries of interest, there has been a very dramatic decline in Christianity (e.g. see here for the UK). The result in this decline in traditional organised religion has been to leave a vacuum, and that vacuum has been filled with either Wokism or vaguely determined new age paganism. And this new paganist direction connects tightly with the ideas of Wokism (e.g. see Meskell, 2005, for connecting paganism with radical feminism).
However, the most significant connection between Wokism and modern paganism has been what Garreau (2010) describes as Carbon Calvinism. Garreau observes how environmentalism has grown into a religious movement and one that has filled the hole that was left by traditional religions (in particular for the urban middle class). He makes his case by noting how closely environmentalism maps to the structure of traditional religions, and even how traditional Christian ideas have appeared in revised form in environmentalism e.g. medieval indulgences versus carbon offsets. One interesting point in his discussion is the story of how Lovelock’s Gaia thesis (the Earth seen as a singular organism) has been taken as literal and has become a part of a pagan belief system, rather than the metaphor it was intended to be. This example captures the tension between science and those who have adopted environmentalism as a new religion; Garreau observes that this now constitutes an element of a wider culture war.
Indeed, the rise of Wokism has always been tightly linked with the religiosity of environmentalism, and this is an important feature that has supported the rise of Wokism. A key facet of the environmentalist religion is anti-capitalism, and this is captured in a Guardian article, with a headline saying “Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism. Have we got the stomach for it?” The subheading goes on to say :
Policy tweaks won’t do it, we need to throw the kitchen sink at this with a total rethink of our relationship to ownership, work and capital
The more radical fringes of the environmentalist movement echo the same sentiments and is reflected in the discourse of the Green Anti-Capitalist Front. In addition to advocating for direct action for the environmental cause, it is no surprise to find the following on the website:
We are against all forms of exploitation and oppression including but not limited to those based on class, race, sex, sexuality, gender or ability, and we support trans and sex-worker inclusive feminism
The connection between environmentalism and Wokism is not limited to a few cranks on the margins but can be found at the heart of ‘mainstream’ politics. As just one example, the US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed a Green New Deal that tightly meshed environmentalism and the identity politics of Wokism. Environmentalism, and particularly religious environmentalism, has become a Trojan horse to allow anti-capitalist thinking to enter into middle-class discourse. It is one of the more powerful adaptations of Wokism as it provides a means of attacking capitalism in a way that is palatable to the middle classes, even as they have hugely benefited from the wealth that capitalism has given them.
Note: In a curious twist to the story of the decline of Christianity, Wokism is now running rampant within the Christian religion, most notably in the Anglican Church. For this particular twist in the story, I can see no obvious explanation (thoughts/comments welcomed). However, it does constitute another extension of the reach of Wokism.
For the purpose of this essay, it was necessary to give a broad-brush overview of the context that shaped Wokism. I hope that, at least, it is a sufficient discussion to give some sense of the “how” and “why” of the Marxist adaptation that is Wokism. The explanation thus far does leave out the powerful influences that were to shape Wokism in the universities, the arrival of postmodernism, and the work of the Marxist Frankfurt school. These deserve closer attention than I give here. Instead, I have focused on some particular contexts which created significant challenges for the success of Marxist-derived ideologies; unprecedented wealth, freedoms, and a strong and strengthening culture of human rights. The working class was failing to live up to Marxist expectations, for the simple reason that capitalism was largely delivering on its promises and life was good and improving. In this context, there were two key changes in society that offered new ways to revive Marxism. The first was to refocus attention away from the working classes and towards identity groups. These would provide the core of a new Marxist movement, a “vanguard” if you like. Alongside this, the massive expansion of university education coincided with an aggressive takeover of much of the university sector by Wokism ideology. Add in the falling away of traditional religion, and a growing and increasingly religious environmental movement allowed for anti-capitalist discourse to become acceptable amongst the middle-classes. Wokism thus became an adaptation of Marxism that might flourish in what would otherwise have been barren ground. In the section that follows, I will show that there is nothing that is wholly new in the Marxist adaptation that is Wokism, albeit it has a ‘logic’ that has created some odd outcomes.
Wokism and Previous Evil Marxist Ideologies
One of the most striking aspects of Wokism is the relentless focus on race and racism. Of course, this reflects the origins of Wokism in identity politics in the 1970s. This in turn has given Wokism one of its most bizarre features, which is the growth of anti-white racism, whereby followers of Wokism will use anti-white racism, even though directed at themselves. This aspect of Wokism has been the source of much puzzlement but, in the context of Wokism’s foundations starts to make an odd kind of ‘sense’. By necessity, those who adhere to Wokism must support the idea of grievance for minorities, or the structure of a key foundation of Wokism would collapse. In particular, Wokism replaced the working class as being oppressed by a capitalist class with the idea of minorities being oppressed by a capitalist system run and built by a white, heterosexual, male majority. These were the new class of oppressors.
Disturbingly, the focus on race has seen the emergence of a structure of belief that mirrors that of the Nazis. The most obvious connection has been the rise of antisemitism on the so-called left of politics. This can be seen most vividly in the Labour party in the UK but is also appearing in US politics, from the very woke Ilhan Omar, a congresswoman. Further, the anti-white racism, whilst an oddity, is increasingly mirroring Nazi views of the Jews (e.g. see Landes, 2007). In particular, the rhetoric of institutional racism, white privilege, and so forth, mirrors the idea of the Nazis that Jews were a hidden force behind all of the problems of society (e.g. see Fay, 2019). In place of the Jews, White people are painted in Wokism as sinister, filled with racism, continually working to oppress minorities, and are responsible for all of the ills of society, both past, and present. And the current world is founded upon these evil and sinister people who exercise power through systems and institutions that have the purpose of maintaining white supremacy. It is an entirely deranged conspiracy theory and is so similar to the ravings of Hitler that it is quite startling. For example, when reading sections of Hitler’s Mein Kampf (a tedious/unpleasant task as it really is a terrible book, in every way), this is the same kind of raving conspiracy theory that Hitler applied to Jews.
Whilst the conspiracy theory is bad enough, the discourse of anti-white racism in Wokism is starting to use genocidal language and metaphors. I have written about two recent incidents elsewhere, of high profile psychoanalysts using genocidal language applied to white people. The speed of the transition from racist notions such as white privilege to outright genocidal language is both startling and shocking. The increasing racialisation of society, the attacks on Jews and white people, is not just similar to Nazism, it is a replay of the racist thinking of the Nazis. Further, just as the Nazis sought to embed their racist doctrines in schools, we can see the same process playing out today with the introduction of critical race theory in schools (e.g. see here).
Up until recently, there has been a fundamental problem in the way that Wokism was understood. Wokism portrayed itself as anti-racist, and the attacks on white people were discombobulating. Racism in Western countries had been so closely associated with white racism towards minorities, it was hard for people to process the idea that it was possible for racism to flow in the other direction. Furthermore, the fact that white people were using racist rhetoric against themselves was even more bizarre. This has created a long period of confusion, and it is only recently that Wokism has begun to be seen for what it is; a fundamentally racist ideology. This change of thinking is artfully captured in a satirical video from Ryan Long (see below), but also conservative commentators such as Douglas Murray are increasingly clearly describing Wokism as a racist movement.
Another defining feature of Wokism has been the desire to tear down much of the past, whether that is books, statues, street names, etc. This exactly mirrors the Cultural Revolution in China, which saw a sustained attack on what was described as the ‘four olds‘, which were old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. The process of the Chinese cultural revolution was a vicious process of violent upheaval that came close to full civil war in China (Mao started to lose control). Mao’s purpose for attacking the four olds was to entirely unmoor the Chinese people from the past so that they would more readily and devotedly adopt his own variant of Marxism. The same goal is being pursued by the Woke, and this is most apparent in the movement to decolonise the curriculum in universities. This means the removal of ‘dead white men’ from the curriculum, which would notably also include removing most of the philosophy of classical liberalism, and the intellectual history of the Western world. Alongside the destruction of the olds, the aim is to replace the old thinking with a new revisionist past, whereby Wokism is embedded in all. The 1619 project is an obvious example of this, as the project seeks to reconstruct US history based on Wokism ideology. Within liberal democracies, there are still constraints on this attempt at cultural revolution, but the potential for violence is always there, for example with the violence surrounding the toppling of statues (e.g. see here). Given the history of the cultural revolution, it should be no surprise that Chinese people who fled the Cultural revolution are speaking out against Wokism.
One of the striking aspects of Wokism is that it is so widely supported by the intellectual and cultural elites, in particular in the universities. This was true of socialism in pre-revolutionary Russia, but this was a context where the country was run by an autocrat. A better comparison is with Germany, which had been a liberal democracy during the days of the Weimar republic and where the university system was seen as the best in the world (comparable to the US today). At this time, university education was still limited to a tiny proportion of the population. Despite this, the leading ranks of the Nazis were stuffed not only with university graduates, but also Ph.D. graduates (Ferguson, 2012). This was particularly true for the SS and Einsatzgruppen, the most murderous element of the Nazi regime. Aside from Jewish and ‘leftist’ academics (about 15% of faculty, MacGregor, 2003), university faculty were either supportive of the Nazis or willing to accommodate them. This, for example, is research examining Nazism and academic history in the German universities:
Above all, it is my contention that attempts to salvage `true research’ from a `regrettable but only superficial involvement with the Nazi regime’ are flawed. Historians and their work were not simply abused by the regime. Historians were not simply naive and mistaken about the true character of the regime. On the contrary, historians at German universities actively and voluntarily helped to legitimize Germany’s claim to European hegemony. Furthermore, the directions of historical research and the interpretation of its results were to an extraordinary extent influenced by the new paradigms of the time.(Schönwälder, 1997)
A more general picture of collaboration is painted by the historian Noakes:
The title of this article was chosen to indicate the beleaguered state of German universities in the Third Reich, under pressure to conform to the ideology and goals of the Nazi regime. However, an equally appropriate title might have been ’Treason in the Ivory Tower’, a ’trahison des clercs’ in Julien Benda’s phrase.’ For, arguably, the most striking feature of the history of universities in the Third Reich is the relative ease with which they adapted themselves to the new order. Indeed, many German academics – for a time at least – actually welcomed and eagerly co-operated with a movement and a regime that was blatantly at odds with the traditional values of their profession. This article seeks, first, to explain how this ’treason’ occurred and then to examine the impact of the Nazi regime on the universities.(Noakes, 1993, p.371)
This is from Victor Klemperer, dismissed from his university for his Jewish ancestry, discussing the collaboration of academics with the Nazis:
If one day … the fate of the vanquished lay in my hands, then I would let all the ordinary folk go and even some of the leaders, who might, after all, have had honorable intentions … but I would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest; they would be left hanging from the lampposts for as long as was compatible with hygiene.(Quoted in MacGregor, 2003, p.8, in reference to collaboration with Nazism)
Strong words from Klemperer, but unsurprising given his suffering under the Nazis. In all of the accounts of academics under the Nazis, the collaboration is due to an ideological commitment to the cause, careerism, or an unwillingness to speak out. The same is true of the universities and Wokism now; many of the faculty positively welcome Wokism, and those that do not largely remain silent. After all, it is not good for your career to oppose Wokism (e.g. here).
Wokism and Anti-capitalism
This is one of the most difficult comparisons to pin down, as Wokism is still an emerging power in liberal democracies and followers are still facing limits to action from liberal democratic norms. There are also differences depending on what is focused on. For example, if looking at activist organisations like Black Lives Matter, they openly profess their anticapitalist stance. However, if looking at followers of Wokism in mainstream politics, the ideas tend to look more like the corporatism of the early days of Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany; we will leave you alone, but only provided you endorse and support Wokism. For sure, anticapitalism is a part of the ideology, and it seems that how far any individual will go on the topic is a question of political strategy. As discussed in the first essay, the nature of what might replace the current capitalist system is left opaque, and this is a feature, not a bug, of the ideology. Pure anticapitalism, at this stage, would potentially frighten away too many supporters. Thus, the Green New Deal can be seen as corporatist and anticapitalism ‘lite’ as can the growing alliance between big business and Wokism.
Environmentalism and Paganism
For this section, I will rely on the historical analysis of Staudenmaier (1995):
Weimar culture, after all, was fairly awash in such theories, but the Nazis gave them a peculiar inflection. The National Socialist “religion of nature;’ as one historian has described it, was a volatile admixture of primeval Teutonic nature mysticism, pseudo-scientific ecology, irrationalist anti-humanism, and a mythology of racial salvation through a return to the land. Its predominant themes were ‘natural order; organicist holism and denigration of humanity: “Throughout the writings, not only of Hitler, but of most Nazi ideologues, one can discern a fundamental deprecation of humans vis-a-vis nature, and, as a logical corollary to this, an attack upon human efforts to master nature:’(Staudenmaier, 1995, p.26)
This conceptual constellation, especially the search for a lost connection to nature, was most pronounced among the neo-pagan elements in the Nazi leadership, above all Heinrich Himmler, Alfred Rosenberg, and Walther Darré. Rosenberg wrote in his colossal The Myth of the 20th Century: “Today we see the steady stream from the countryside to the city, deadly for the Volk. The cities swell ever larger, unnerving the Volk and destroying the threads which bind humanity to nature; they attract adventurers and profiteers of all colors, thereby fostering racial chaos:
Such musings, it must be stressed, were not mere rhetoric; they reflected firmly held beliefs and, indeed, practices at the very top of the Nazi hierarchy which are today conventionally associated with ecological attitudes. Hitler and Himmler were both strict vegetarians and animal lovers, attracted to nature mysticism and homeopathic cures, and staunchly opposed to vivisection and cruelty to animals. Himmler even established experimental organic farms to grow herbs for SS medicinal purposes. And Hitler, at times, could sound like a veritable Green utopian, discussing authoritatively and in detail various renewable energy sources (including environmentally appropriate hydropower and producing natural gas from sludge) as alternatives to coal, and declaring “water, winds and tides” the energy path of the future.(Staudenmaier, 1995, pp. 28-30)
I think I need to add nothing more to the quotes above except to say there is considerable detail in the discussion that makes the comparison with the modern environmental movement compelling. Of course, this history is largely unknown.
The New Man
I discussed the New Man concept in my first essay. The essence of the idea was to shape the population into a new collective form, which would act as an ideologically defined improvement of humanity. As part of the Nazi ideology, the state promoted ‘healthy’ and ‘positive’ behaviours with propaganda and policy, with academia providing the foundations for the campaigns. The topics are exactly the same ones that we see today encompassed under, for example, social marketing and public health policies (Proctor, 2000). It does not take much to see that Wokism is not alone in this, but also that Wokism is particularly positive about using the state to create the new man, albeit that they do not use the term ‘new man’. We can see where the logic leads in the leading academic journal for Marketing, the Journal of Marketing, in which the author considers using ‘carrots, sticks and promises’ to enforce eugenic sterilisation i.e. one option is to use state power to forcibly genetically test, then punish ‘harshly’ anyone who does not comply with sterilisation (Rothschild, 1999). To date, I have seen no criticism of this article and it was later republished in a book on ethics and social marketing.
I discussed street thugs in Germany in my previous essay. The thugs fighting on the streets were Nazis and Bolsheviks. In the case of the Bolsheviks, they named themselves Antifa, short for anti-fascists. Of course, the same Antifa movement has popped up all over the Western world and uses the same violent tactics in the name of anti-fascism. Notably, today, nearly all of the violence is taking place in absence of any ‘fascists’, and often involves violence against people and businesses that have no plausible relationship with any evil ideology. Of course, as I have pointed out, where there are any fascists, the fight is with just a competing adaptation of Marxist ideology. The goal of the violence is clear. It is there to intimidate the population, create a sense of crisis in the general population, and intimidate anyone who dares push back against Wokism.
I have looked at some of the most evil ideologies from the 20th century, and sought how these compare with Wokism. If we think of the context in which Wokism emerged, it is far closer to Weimar Germany than pre-revolutionary China or Russia. In particular, Germany was an advanced economy, with high levels of education, liberal democracy, rights and freedoms, but also with an economy that went through a series of crises. As such, it is not surprising to see that the pick ‘n’ mix from previous evil ideologies seems to find the closest analogy with Nazism. However, that is not the whole story. For example, Wokism diverges sharply from other variants of Marxism in some limited areas, such as the support for gay sexuality and transgenderism. However, these are just following the logic of identity politics, the assembling of a coalition of the aggrieved.
There are also other elements that are from what is more traditionally viewed as ‘Marxist’, such as the oppressor/oppressed notion of collectivism, internationalism, and the use of cultural revolution strategies. Also, it is apparent that Wokism is not yet a unified ideology, but is instead split over different actors, from mainstream politicians to street thugs. Furthermore, unlike previous adaptations of evil ideologies, we are yet to see a leader who is powerful enough to enforce any kind of unity on the varied groups following the ideology. This final point raises a great concern; how long until such a leader emerges? It is a quite terrifying question.
At the very end of this discussion, I would like to end with a reminder that those who have fallen for the ideology of Wokism are not inherently evil (or mostly not). It is the nature of evil ideologies that advocates for the ideology fool people into believing they are on the side of the good. This does not remove all responsibility from the Woke, but it should also temper our response to those who follow the ideology.
Note 1: I do not include Ireland as I would be worried that at least some Irish people would not want to be lumped into this group. However, perhaps I am wrong in this. Comments welcomed.
Note 2: To gather the statistics, I did a custom query for 1950 to 2019 (pre-pandemic) but the statistic provided was only from 1960, and some countries only showed data from 1970. The use of GDP is a bit of a blunt tool as it measures economic activity, not wealth generation. For example, a government can increase borrowing and the spending will create activity in the economy, and thus increase GDP. Similarly, despite the wealth destruction involved, a rebuild after an earthquake will increase activity and thus increase GDP. However, it is a widely used measure and will be sufficient for the limited purpose of its use here.
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