Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Weakness of Conservative Anti-Wokeness

American Affairs Journal

REVIEW ESSAY
Woke, Inc.:
Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam
by Vivek Ramaswamy
Center Street, 2021, 368 pages

In our political culture, there is no issue quite like wokeness. The conversation it provokes tends to be about everything and nothing at the same time. It is central to our politics because Republican resistance to it is perhaps the single greatest force binding the American Right together. And while the mass messaging of Democratic politicians tends to focus more on health care and jobs, in institutions that the Left con­trols, like academia, it punishes opposition to wokeness more stringently than any other heresy.

At the same time, the conversation is, in a sense, not actually about anything. CPAC can hold entire conferences on the theme of “cancel culture” without producing any real policy suggestions. Although at the state level, politicians will occasionally address narrow issues, like whether to ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, there is no concrete anti-wokeness agenda that conservatives hope Republicans will implement the next time they return to power in Washington.

While voices on both left and right have argued that the United States is going through a cultural revolution more extensive than anything we have seen since the 1960s, it remains a kind of background noise to our political culture. Into this debate steps Vivek Ramaswamy with Woke, Inc., a book that combines features of an autobiography, a work on policy, and a cultural critique.

As a practicing Hindu, a son of immigrants, and a successful biotech founder—but also a conservative—his is a uniquely American story. And it is an endearing one, written by an author who is widely rumored to have a future in politics, with the kind of résumé and background that Republican strategists dream about. Indeed, as the party suffers a long-term brain drain among both its leaders and its voters that has only accelerated since 2016, intelligent conservatives should hope Ramaswamy has a future in their party. Unfortunately, however, when Ramaswamy puts forward policy suggestions for responding to our cultural drift toward identity politics and more stringent forms of speech restriction, he re­veals the larger shortcomings of the anti-wokeness movement.

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