James Lindsay is probably the best critic of totalitarian humanism that I know of in terms of dissecting its intellectual roots and orientation. Lindsay is not a “conservative” but a Dawkinsesque atheist and a standard-issue progressive who considers the Scandinavian countries to be model societies. The main difference between his approach and mine is that I try to place this kind of analysis within a wider geopolitical, economic, technological, cultural, and statecraft framework. This isn’t even a left/right issue. Right-wingers are opposed to totalitarian humanism for obvious reasons, but it’s possible to formulate a far-reaching critique of this stuff from a “far-left” perspective.
For example, totalitarian humanism is rapidly becoming the ideological superstructure of the ruling class. The class base of totalitarian humanism is the rising coterie of the newly rich, bourgeoise bohemians, tech-oligarchs, global financiers, new class technocrats, and urban cosmopolitan elites that are displaying the “old bourgeoisie” and even the 20th-century managerial elite.
The technological/materialist base of all this is the globalization of capital and the digital revolution. The economic structural framework in which this is taking place is neoliberalism and its results, which amounts to “neo-feudalism.”
The cultural dimension is rooted in the concentration of “wokesters” in the ideas industries, and the professions and institutions that establish the moral framework of the wider society (from journalism to mainline churches to universities to Hollywood to Madison Avenue). These values disseminate through the wider society through the “culture industry” and cultural hegemony of totalitarian humanism, which fits perfectly with both a Frankfurt School (Adorno and Horkheimer, in particular) and a Gramscian analysis.
The Frankfurt School critique of scientism is also relevant on many different levels, along with postmodern critiques of the use of science, medicine, and psychiatry as instruments of social control.
Ordinary folks increasingly absorb these values through osmosis because of the cultural and institutional hegemony of totalitarian humanism, and because of the instinctive conformism of most people and the desire not to be an outsider (Zimbardo, Milgram, Asch, Meerloo, Koestler, etc).
The statecraft dimension involves the relationship between the public administration state, the Weberian bureaucracy with Kafkaesque characteristics, and the “new class” technocrats that comprise the managerial apparatus of the state and its institutional counterparts in the private sector.
Of course, the geopolitical aspect is obvious. The foreign policy aspect of totalitarian humanism is simply liberal imperialism or the “white man’s burden” reworked in the form of “liberal internationalism,” “benevolent global hegemony,” or the “duty to protect” (the “human rights imperialism” of folks like Samantha Power).
Finally, a critique of totalitarian humanism is the natural descendent of traditional left-wing anticlericalism. “Wokesters” are the “new clerisy” (Kotkin). As Max Stirner said, “Our atheists are very pious people.”
James Lindsay is a US academic with a background in maths and physics. He co-authored the book Cynical Theories which takes a deep dive into the woke movement and its academic roots. Lindsay was also involved in the Grievance studies affair where a group of academics submitted fake papers for peer review to shine a light on poor standards and postmodernist ideas. Lindsay speaks to The Sun’s Steven Edginton for Burning Questions.
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