Republicans should defend ordinary Americans, not affluent literati.
How to combat the rising woke regime
Immigrants who, like me, came here from totalitarian nations are warning us: we must open our eyes and realize we no longer live in a free country.
We slid down this slope so swiftly because what happened to us is unprecedented. Although the Biden administration is adding the state’s fat thumb to the Woke side of the scale, much of the Woke Regime’s crackdown to date was engineered by private entities: elite private universities and private corporations in media and in tech. This is a key point of differentiation between the Woke Regime and all the repressive kingdoms and empires in human history. Those imposed their restrictions from above, using the coercive authority of the state itself. We have gotten to the point, however, where large corporations and the groups whose preferences they channel and amplify intrude into every aspect of our lives to enforce the regime’s wishes—a degree of control the envy of any totalitarian tyrant of centuries past.
Yet this Woke Regime has snuck up on us. One by one, core freedoms that were always taken for granted were stripped away:
- We can no longer express what we believe without fear of recrimination.
- In our schools, universities and workplaces, we must pay lip service to ideas we do not hold.
- Many of us are now faced with the prospect of compulsory attendance at workshops and trainings initiating us in dubious creeds with which we disagree.
- Books that express contrarian views, however supported they may be by empirical findings and logical reasoning, will not be published by mainstream publishers, and those already published are being pulled from circulation.
- Videos and social media posts that express similar views are being made to disappear, branded, often on the fly—as “offensive hate speech,” “bullying or harassment,” “medical misinformation,” or breaches of “civic integrity—by faceless technocrats who have no problem resolving questions that have long bedeviled actual philosophers and real scientists.
- Great works of canonical literature are removed from educational curricula because they or their creators are condemned for transgressing the latest dogma, and simplistic didactic texts that readily proffer those dogmas—or whose creators belong to newly favored categories of persons—are substituted in their place.
- History is falsified and retooled to serve political purposes.
- A racial hierarchy has been instituted, with wildly divergent expectations and standards in place, depending on the group to which one happens to belong, and many opportunities for admissions, employment, grants and so on being reserved for those who are adjudged “more equal than others.”
- Our freedom from the threat of harassment and bodily harm is being steadily eroded by the empowerment of the criminal class and the disempowerment of law-abiding citizens and their law-enforcement personnel.
- The rulers have dramatically restricted our freedom of movement and association and our ability to earn a living in the guise of protecting us from a virus, despite a lack of evidence that such extreme restrictions confer any benefit as compared to those areas where such measure were far less prolonged and pervasive.
- Our freedom to make medical decisions for us and our children is being stripped away.
How can we fight this new existential threat that takes aim at human complexity and seeks to emasculate us and our civilization?
Option One: Free-Market Fundamentalism
Faced with a new challenge, we must develop a new ideology. If the Old Right’s ideology was devised to counter the growing power of the state, then a New Right must ready itself to fend off a different, cagier foe, one that, following the model of Jeremy Bentham’s “panopticon” or Michel Foucault’s “discourses” that construct our reality, deploys its power of surveillance and norm enforcement not merely from above but from every conceivable vantage point.
The first option, perhaps the most obvious option for some, is to embrace with renewed vigor the legacy of free-market Republicanism, in which individuals are left to their own devices, free of encroachment from the kinds of forces that would seek to impinge upon their liberties. The obvious problem with this approach, however, is that it was developed to fight against the encroachment of the state, whereas the Woke Regime is, as I have described above, not dependent on state power. Traditional free-market Reagan-style Republicanism—deregulation, low taxes, and so on—cannot possibly rescue us because it leaves a void that is inevitably filled by the biggest bullies on the block, which today are massive tech conglomerates run by coastal elites with Silicon Valley values.
The Woke Regime’s social media machine thrives in that void. Social media feeds into and amplifies the lowest common denominator. It profits off of inciting rage mobs that are largely led by homogeneous white-collar elites and bolstered by impressionable, petulant students, groups that are far more likely to have the time for and interest in spending hours voicing their outspoken views and going after dissenters. One side of the conversation is amplified far and wide by Big Tech’s megaphones while the other side gets drowned out or forcibly suppressed whenever it manages to emit a clear signal above the noise.
While liberals invent and jump on new causes célèbres in the space of a news cycle, conservatives, by their nature, fear change—especiallywhen the change called for is in their own approach to tackling the problems the world throws at them. But in order to preserve existing traditions, one must tirelessly ward off novel threats. Tactics that may have succeeded in fending off a hostile superpower will fail in holding off a loose network of terrorists engaged in guerrilla warfare. Tactics that were intended to combat big-government postracial liberals are not going to work against a Woke Regime that weaponizes racial identities.
Option Two: Conservative Statecraft
If free-market fundamentalism won’t work, what will? In a March 2020 article in The Atlantic, Harvard Law School professor Adrian Vermeule proposed, in contrast to the minimalist constitutional originalism of many conservative jurists, a whole-bodied “common-good constitutionalism” that would reflect “a candid willingness to ‘legislate morality.’” The morality he would propose to legislateis, naturally, a socially conservative morality to be enforced by “a powerful presidency ruling over a powerful bureaucracy” that will, at times, exercise power “against the subjects’ own perceptions of what is best for them,” so long as it promotes social solidarity and traditional institutions.
In another manifesto published in First Things in the spring of 2019—and as further clarified by a subsequent publication in the same magazine by New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Ahmari—a collection of conservative writers articulated a similarly substantive vision of their new, Post-Trumpian world order. As Ahmari explains, contra what he calls the old libertarian “cultural solution” of opposing robust government regulation and leaving such matters to the dictates of individual “autonomous action,” “we should seek to… enforce our order and our orthodoxy,” using “public power to advance the common good, including in the realm of public morality.”
While I may feel sympathetic to many of the individual elements of these proposals for substantively conservative reforms, the problem with such approaches is apparent: the same executive and bureaucratic machinery that must be erected and cranked up to deploy state power in support of conservative causes can just as readily be turned against them. If, moreover, Andrew Breitbart was right in holding that “politics is downstream from culture,” a point on which he would have found ready agreement from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (who argued that the ruling class exerts its hegemony by controlling the channels and content of mass culture), then the problem is still greater in scope.
The Left dominates the cultural sphere—media, academia, the entertainment industry and so on—. This is why the Right is perpetually on the losing end of culture wars. Any hope for the Right to emerge victorious in the political sphere and enforce its preferences on the populace is quixotic. We may secure temporary political victories, but so long as the Woke Regime’s cultural predominance remains, our victories will merely bring on still greater reprisals and depredations. The long-term trend will incline inexorably in the direction of squeezing out every last vestige of traditional culture, both high and low.
A Better Alternative: the Cultural Solution
I have a third way to offer, a cultural solution, to be sure, but one that is more robust than the path of individual autonomy. We must challenge the Woke Regime’s supremacy in the cultural sphere.
Though the technological apparatus the Woke Regime has at its disposal is formidable and increasingly threatens, if left unopposed, to set up a pervasive social credit system that would force the preferences of its unrepresentative elites on us all, if we approach the problem reflectively and strategically, we will see that the Woke Regime’s seeming stranglehold on our culture is far more tenuous than it appears. Old-Left Marxism, for all its flaws, could at least uplift and inspire. It offered a utopian vision of a future city on a hill, a vision of deliverance, unity, solidarity and equality and an end to selfishness, greed and exploitation in the glorious, classless society to come. But there is no solidarity, no deliverance and no imagining possible in the more-for-me politics of the pigsty that the disparate identity factions of the Woke Regime are sowing among us. This is the Woke Regime’s dirty little secret: lacking any compelling, coherent vision of the future, its wrecking, rampaging, and ravaging avatars of resentment can do no better than fulminate against the present and the past.
The most prominent components of the Woke Regime’s program seek merely to negate, oppose and undo, to tear down monuments, remove names, #DisruptTexts, defund police, silence speakers and cancel culture. Their “1619 Project” is just a sinister doppelgänger of 1776, America’s inspired founding inverted into a negative history built on original sin. The most ready-to-hand tools in the Woke Regime’s arsenal are wild-swinging accusations of racism and fascism, but their proponents offer no positive vision, only antiracism and Antifa, defined by what they stand against.
To understand this is to recognize that for all our apparent deficits in the cultural sphere, we have a distinct advantage over the forces of the Woke Regime that, if properly deployed, should be our trump card. In our effort to defend traditional culture, the most powerful tool we have is the Tradition itself. A child exposed early and often to the great monuments of the past will not only think twice before joining in any crazed crusade to destroy them but will also return to them, as to its familial home, again and again for succor and sustenance whenever the transient creeds of the moment lose their luster and fall by the wayside. Surround a child with our beautiful relics, and the sensibility of preservation, whether of pristine natural habitats or of inspired human institutions and artifacts, will follow.
The association between true Burkean conservatives and Milton Friedman-style free market fundamentalists who champion the rights of culture-and-habitat-devouring multinational corporations is only incidental, a product of certain shared interests between these otherwise distinct constituencies, coupled with the restrictive two-party system that has forced them under a common umbrella and shaded out their essential disagreements. The true conservative soul is naturally attuned to the whole of our environment, approaching it lovingly. The conservative soul looks upon its childhood—and those people and places that comprised it—in a spirit of nostalgia and of duty alike.
When we approach it in this way, we come to understand that the conservative sensibility is normal and natural, in that normal, well-adjusted people are naturally conservative. Just as most of us raised by loving parents, however imperfect they may otherwise have been, grow attached and would not exchange them for some better alternative of which our imaginations might conceive, our feeling of fondness, nurtured by prolonged exposure, comes to extend to much of that which is and, by extension, to that which was.
To depart from the conservative sensibility requires resentment taken up and directed by ideology. The radical is angry and bitter, a wounded, broken, red-faced sort mad at the world and eager to blast it to smithereens and start all over again—perhaps why, as research has found, those on the left (17.2%) and far left (33.5%) are significantly more likely to endorse political violence compared to those on the right (5%) and far right (4.2%).
But to turn the radical’s blind fury into a targeted rage for particular sweeping reforms, he needs—like Dostoevsky’s malcontents brought to a boil by radical or nihilistic ideologies—to be possessed by dangerous ideas. This is a large part of the reason that so many of our “intellectuals”—people in the grip of ideas—have their good sense jostled loose and lose their bearings, letting their overdeveloped left brains rationalize them into abandoning all their right-brained attunements and intuitions. That these out-of-sync individuals, out of touch with themselves, are the ones who veer left and bring on social crises and revolutions is attested to by the empirical work of the noted University of Connecticut. Researcher Peter Turchin, who has found that such upheaval is precipitated not, as Marx would have believed, by those in poverty, but rather, by “elite overproduction” of the sort that occurs when a society credentials too many would-be thinkers who have pretensions to elite status but find themselves locked out and alienated by the glut at the top.
This is also part of why our system of education has turned into an engine of left indoctrination: we are educating too many ambitious people who cannot be accommodated in positions befitting their degrees. As a result, we are consistently producing a class seething with resentment at a system that cannot confer upon them the objective hallmarks of value to which they believe themselves entitled. Their toxic resentment is seeping out of every cultural pore, poisoning this country against itself, against its past and against those remaining components of the present system that still work. The spate of recent Woke Regime attacks on the core democratic principle of meritocracy is the most apparent manifestation of this pathology. These people believe that their true merit exceeds their actual station; thus, they conclude, our meritocracy itself must be the problem if they are not being awarded their just desserts.
We will find our way back to greener pastures. In leading the Russian Revolution, Lenin understood that the Bolsheviks had to begin by taking over the channels of communication, which, in those days, meant the post offices, the telephone and telegraph system, newspapers and railways. The rest—the organs of formal administrative and military power—would follow in due course. Today, those channels of communication are still more critical and include traditional media, social media, search engines, and other organs of Big Tech, which have shown their ability to outweigh and even silence the Presidency itself. And conservatives are right to take aim at these by building up alternatives that refuse to take the Big Tech monopolies’ low road of resorting to censorship to short-circuit arguments they cannot win on a level playing field.
But the Woke Regime’s corruption of the young through its takeover of our educational system remains the key piece of the puzzle. Fortunately for us all, this is also the Woke Regime’s weak point, the main channel that we must target to combat its technological leviathan. The education system is in crisis. Beset by financial pressures and growing dissatisfaction at its intolerant ideological atmosphere, the disastrous educational apparatus the Woke Regime has erected is teetering on the brink of collapse. We need only continue to apply pressure, voice and vote our dissatisfaction, exhort alumni to stop giving to elite left universities, keep calling attention to our schools’ forays into critical race theory, trans propaganda, politicized literature curricula and anti-American history and send our kids elsewhere..
In the meantime, however, we must begin to build that “elsewhere,” to organize educational options superior to the ones presently on offer. The money that alumni save on university donations must be joined with contributions of wealthy conservative, centrist and disaffected liberal donors to found a new network of inexpensive, de-politicized schools (ideally, charter schools) that will serve as alternatives in districts where the public school systems have become hopelessly radicalized. These new schools should not be conservative schools to serve as counterweights to liberal ones. They should not be parochial or political at all. Such approaches would only pigeonhole them from the outset, as they would then miss out on the opportunity to attract enrolment and vital support from all the many non-conservative, non-religious families growing increasingly disgusted with the current system.
Instead, these schools should be expressly opposed to the new “Action Civics” curriculum’s goal of “guided classroom discussion of current events and issues” that is being pushed in the bogus Civics Secures Democracy Act percolating in Congress as of this writing. Current affairs are, by their very nature, common currency. They are everywhere. We do not need teachers to tell our kids what is already trending on Twitter and all over the evening news. We need them to dial down the mind-numbing drone of the present moment and introduce our kids to the historical and the eternal.
The schools we create, as suggested above, must adopt a different kind of pedagogy, one based not on hatred and resentment but on love and appreciation. The great 18th century German philosopher Friedrich Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man gives us the roadmap: “[T]o arrive at a solution even in the political problem, the road of aesthetics must be pursued, because it is through beauty that we arrive at freedom,” he tells us.
Let our enemies champion ugliness, vulgarity, depravity, and poverty of mind, body and spirit. We will meet these, where appropriate, with compassion and, where necessary, with condemnation, but we will celebrate, for our part, “the best which has been thought and said in the world,” every species of eternal truth, beauty and nobility through the ages.
Let the Woke Regime raise its children to believe they can stand in judgment over history, to fear their own shadows and to hate their own origins. We will raise our children to respect their elders and their ancestors. We will raise them to know the sublime splendor of the natural world, the grandeur of our temples of worship and of the religious traditions that inspired them, the heartening or heartrending sorcery of our timeless art, music and literature, the awesome wisdom of our most profound philosophers, prophets and sages and the enduring majesty of our uniquely American institutions and their pathbreaking democratic foundations. We will be not merely conservatives but conservationists, fighting against the erasure of our past.
If it must be a battle between culture and anarchy, between civilization and barbarism, then let us fight it on these terms. We will see who wins in the end. One way or the other, we will live or die on the high ground.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.
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