Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Woke Liberalism?

Earlier this month, an article I had just published in Chronicles, “Marx Was Not Woke,” received unexpected publicity. This happened after my essay elicited a heated response from popular controversialist and blogger extraordinaire, James Lindsay. My critic described me on Twitter as a deservedly “unknown” “idiot,” who was clearly out of his depth writing about liberalism. Let me explain this complaint.

My essay was written partly in response to Yoram Hazony’s identification of wokeness with Marxism in Conservatism: A Rediscovery. Although I disagreed with this linkage, I thought Hazony made a serious argument for his side. I also agreed with his description of “liberalism” as a spent force, which is no longer a match for woke totalitarians. This may have caused Lindsay to go after me, given his assumed role as a defender of liberalism against the anti-rational Left and a presumed ally of conservative establishmentarians.

Lindsay’s remarks about me produced at last count more than 200,000 electronic responses, and most of them focused on the inappropriateness of Lindsay’s rude dismissal of my scholarly credentials. If I am “unknown” in those circles in which Lindsay moves, that is certainly not due to my ignorance of Marxism, cultural Marxism, wokeness, or Western liberalism. I have rattled people in power who prefer not to deal with me or with the controversies I’ve aroused.

But that hardly proves that I don’t know what I’m talking about as a scholar. Some of the respondents were astonished that Lindsay seemed, at least implicitly, to question my knowledge of the Frankfurt School. After all, I had been a student of Herbert Marcuse, written for Critical Theory magazines in both English and German, and even produced entire chapters of books dealing with Marxism and (what for want of a better term) is called “cultural Marxism.”

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