Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Limitations of Anti-Woke Critics

By Keith Preston March 25, 2023

The fact that many, if not most, “right-wing” critics of “woke” are idiots does not mean that “woke” does not exist as a cultural, intellectual, socioeconomic, psychological, and political phenomenon.

Not all liberalism or leftism is “wokeness” per se. Not all wokeness is totalitarian humanism. Wokeness is liberalism/leftism fused with a particular intellectual/psychological/cultural paradigm. Wokeness fused with institutions, particularly the state, is totalitarian humanism. Kyle is right that “progressive” wokeness and right-wing authoritarianism often mirror each other. That is an important aspect of my own critique of totalitarian humanism. It merely replaces “faith, family, and flag” or “duty, order, and obedience” with faux liberal pieties.

Otherwise, it’s the same system of statism, imperialism, capitalism, only with various cultural, demographic, economic, generational, technological, and partisan changes. Not all ideas associated with “woke” are original. Many pre-date “woke” and have simply been adopted, co-opted, or modified by the wokesters. Not all wokesters have the same views on all topics. There are multiple denominations of wokesters.

To be fair, not all wokesters are totalitarian humanists. Some wokesters are critical of state, capital, and empire to varying degrees. Wokeism and related phenomenon constitute a continuum rather than absolute categories. Right-wing critics of “woke” often conflate woke with all liberalism or leftism, even Communism (which is absurd). Some Ancaps and “tankies” conflate wokeism with fascism, which I don’t think quite holds either.

There are ways in which “woke” resembles past forms of totalitarianism, such as Maoism or interwar fascism and national socialism. But “woke” is a unique phenomenon of its own, not simply a reworking of these old ideologies. “Woke” as a general cultural current more closely resembles Levantine religion than modern totalitarianism. Totalitarian humanism is a modern parallel to classical theocracy, the fusion of what is essentially a religion with institutional authority.

Nor can “woke” be attributed to minorities, many of whom are decidedly unwoke about many things. Nor are “LGBTQ” people inherently woke. Blaire White is clearly not woke, nor is Caitlyn Jenner, or Camille Paglia. Woke most closely parallels digital capitalism as a materialist base and the professional-managerial class as an expression of class identity and an instrument of class power. But these aren’t absolute categories, either.

I also have to disagree with Marxists who see woke merely as a capitalist tool to obscure class antagonisms or who apply various Marxist definitions of fascism to the woke phenomenon. This is too narrow of an analysis. Woke can be considered a religion like Christianity and Islam. The factions of woke are sects/denominations. Woke appeals to some classes and economic sectors more than others in the same way traditional religion is more popular with some classes.

Like church denominations, “woke” has its liberal-ecumenical, centrist, “conservative,” fundamentalist, and ultra-fundamentalist wings. Like traditional religion, woke is often utilized to convey legitimacy on established institutions, including the state. Woke has its “deadly sins” (the laundry list of Isms, Archies, and Phobias). It has sacraments (for example, gay marriage). It practices shunning like the JWs. It has the consecration of the “body as a temple” (though within a therapeutic rather than theocratic context).

Woke has its own eschatology and apocalyptic prophecies (e.g., “climate change”). It has its martyrs, prophets, and saints. Greta Thunberg is a Joan of Arc like figure for the woke, which is why she was given an honorary doctorate in theology. Woke has its own examples of redeemed sinners who have repented of particularly heinous sins: Derek Black, Megan Phelps-Roper, Nate Phelps, Frank Schaeffer, and Kelvin Pierce.

Woke has its own seminaries (humanities departments), its own televangelism (e.g., MSNBC), its own recovery groups (e.g., organized atheism), and its own “family values” crusaders (SJWs). In some instances, Woke overlaps with old-school moral crusaders (e.g., smoking bans). The present-day hysteria over “sex trafficking” comes from three primary sources: the religious right, LARPer fascist-wannabe Alt-Right types, and the woke. So do the majority of calls for censorship in various forms.

Most wokes and anti-wokes alike have only a very limited, shallow understanding of what wokeism is, and its material, cultural, technological, intellectual, psychological, historical, and political foundations.

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