Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Susan Neiman On The Leftist Case Against Woke

The philosopher gives a qualified but powerful defense of the Enlightenment.

Susan is a philosopher and writer focusing on the Enlightenment, moral philosophy, metaphysics and politics. She was professor of philosophy at Yale and Tel Aviv University, and in 2000 assumed her current position as director of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam. She’s the author of nine books, including Evil in Modern ThoughtMoral Clarity and Learning from the Germans. Her new book is Left Is Not Woke. We hit it off from the get-go.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app — though Spotify sadly doesn’t accept the paid feed). For two clips of our convo — on why being an “ally” is misguided, and on the Nazi philosopher, Carl Schmitt, whose work has influenced woke thinking — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: the tension between universalism and tribalism in her Jewish upbringing in Atlanta; her mom’s work desegregating schools amid night calls from the Klan; Susan joining a commie commune; making it to Harvard as a high-school dropout; the legacy of Kant; Montaigne on how the West could learn from other cultures; the views of Voltaire, Rousseau, Wittgenstein and Rawls; the dialogue between Socrates and Thrasymachus on justice and power; the cynical faux-sophistication of postmodernists; the impact of Foucault and Carl Schmitt on wokeness; truth and reason as mere instruments of power; the woke impulse to deny progress; evolutionary psychology; Jesus rejecting tribalism; the Enlightenment rebuking clerical authority but respecting religion; Anthony Appiah and universalism within African and Indian cultures; anti-colonialism; the Iraq War and the hypocrisy of a liberal democracy using torture; the transition from Obama to Trump; and the Afropessimism of Ta-Nehisi Coates and others.

Browse the Dishcast archive for another discussion you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety). Upcoming guests include Mark Lilla on liberalism, Nigel Biggar defending colonialism, Tabia Lee on her firing as a DEI director, Chris Stirewalt on Fox News, Ben Smith on going viral, and John Oberg on veganism.

Here’s a listener on the episode with Robert Kaplan on the tragedy in geopolitics:


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