Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The WASP Roots of the Social Justice Movement

I am skeptical as to whether “social justice” fundamentalism could have developed outside of the context of WASP culture. And “totalitarian humanism” generally seems to be the most heavily entrenched in historically Protestant countries (the Anglosphere, Germany, the “Lowlands,” and Scandinavia). It seems to be a substitute for or a descendent of Protestant pietism.

“If America had an intellectual class, it would spend a lot more time wondering why Catholic-origin countries like Spain, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Hungary, and Croatia are not witnessing a takeover of woke philosophy, but the same cannot be said about the Anglosphere cultures now running on the fumes of the Protestant ethic.”

By B. Duncan Moench, Tablet

The rise of identity politics authoritarianism has led to scenes that look like something out of a pulp horror flick like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Lobotomized hordes now control a staggering number of key American institutions: the legacy media, most of higher education, Hollywood, most wealthy coastal cities, and last—but not least—the human resources departments of nearly every major corporation in America. These HR managers demand all employees attend reprogramming sessions dubbed “sensitivity” and “implicit bias” training. Acting out the ethos of the HR managers, wealthy college students demand segregated housing—in the name of racial justice. Aging liberal politicians don kente cloth scarves, kneel, and genuflect to the new idol of “justice.” And in the background of the frame, cities burn while CNN declares the riots are “fiery but mostly peaceful protests.”

The images of violence and chaos pouring in almost nightly may be shocking but they are not unfamiliar scenes from American history. Our ongoing moral panic is merely the repetition of a continual pattern deep within the country’s ancestral roots. However, woke culture also represents something genuinely new within that pattern—it is no less than the first fully formed authoritarian political movement to originate from the modern Anglosphere.

The idea that “woke” social justice thought is something alien to Anglo cultures, advanced by conservative scholars like Roger Scruton—and now more recently by the critics of critical race theory, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay—has a basis in fact. It is also far from complete. Anglo Protestant culture has always had a tendency toward political hysteria, but today’s hysterics now express themselves in the accepted vernacular of the culture’s “post-Protestant” stage of liberal development. Confusing, I know. Allow me to explain.

Culturally speaking, America is—and always was—a LASP nation. Liberal Anglo Saxon Protestant. I prefer this moniker to WASP. First because, scientifically speaking, “race” is a fiction. It is a made-up category derived from 19th-century pseudoscience, which has been discredited by pretty much the whole of the 20th-century biological sciences—so the sooner we stop reifying it, the better. Second, replacing the word “white” with liberal connotes the fact that American political thought remains trapped in the early British liberalism of John Locke and Adam Smith—an obsession with the self, individual rights, respect for freedom of religion (but mainly for Protestants), solicitous concepts of rebellion, private property accumulation, and a fundamentalist brand of market worship even Smith himself would have opposed.


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