A Note on Wokeness and The Western Thaw.
One of the greatest handicaps of contemporary political commentary that seeks to offer alternatives to the ‘postwar consensus’ has been a failure to contextualize certain contemporary maladies as historical phenomena. In his review of Danny Goodwin’s Values, Voice, and Virtue, J. Sorel provided an apt description of failure: “Goodwin, above all else, does not treat the era he is writing about as a real period in human history. He does not imagine that the conflicts which have dominated past ages could ever be replicated in our own. He denounces many of the current values, but rules out their destruction.”
We see this in the lazy, pseudo-Spenglerian determinism that says that the values of the contemporary west are the values inevitably adopted by all civilizations in decline, and that they will only end with the destruction and replacement of our own civilization. We see this in the use of the phrase “Successor Ideology,” which attributes an undeserving novelty and vigor to a belief system that has been hegemonic in the West since the Kennedy Administration at the very latest (when CIA men were engaging respectfully with the work of Frantz Fanon while undermining European colonial powers). We see this in descriptions of a “Turbo America” supposedly inextricably married to wokeness and all-conquering at the same time. It tends to breed in its adherents either a frantic apocalypticism or a certain slacker fatalism (the Salo Forum Nemets style “America a Bantu-Asian Imperium by 2045, British civil war between Sikhs and Hindus, LOLZ!, ugh, don’t you get it? Our beliefs will just never be High Status.”)
There’s a historical theory related but not necessarily stemming from this worldview which sees the end of the Cold War not as a victory for the Free World, but as the inauguration of a new and virile form of leftism. The least sophisticated versions of this theory articulate a sub-Marxian narrative of “free market capital” working through egalitarianism to commodify all life on earth until the end of humanity as we know it. The more sophisticated proponents will point out that the nineties marked the acceleration of a process begun in the sixties where leftist intellectuals jettisoned their alliance with the working class in favor of aggressive advocacy for lifestyle concerns and sharper-edged antiracism. The amplification of lifestyle and antiracist advocacy married to a tacit acceptance of the free market, so the argument goes, was a truly winning combination, and it has given contemporary Leftism a position of full-spectrum dominance in the West from which it swats down ‘populist’ challengers. These people point to the ubiquity of rainbow flags and affirmative action leadership to argue that you live under “an occupation regime,” and that you are a conquered people and will presumably remain so until you’ve gone to enough Palladium seminars to cultivate a new elite or something.
J’accuse has done good work effectively challenging both of these tendencies. There’s a passage in the review of Simon Kuper’s Chums which rings very true and gets nowhere near the attention it deserves:
Kuper envisages a future where the Dumb Money can swan off to ghastly American “postgraduate colleges” and “research universities” while the middle and working class labour under six year degrees, staying in university till their 30s just to get entry level jobs in the bureaucracy.
The benightednesss of such a solution is not atypical of the deep history of Britpoppery. In the late 20th century, the fruits of the 1960s cultural revolution were contested. Licio Gelli as much as Hayek was in the limelight when the USSR collapsed. What ought to have followed was a second cultural revolution where the collection of ‘dissident’ theories replacing them could be unified into a new worldview; a “paradigm shift”. Instead, the outdated ideology of the 60s radicals survived as an empty, pseudo-religious public doctrine; while the novel advances in various fields were fragmented into ‘postmodern’ zaniness without a unifying grand narrative. The welfare state ought to have been refocused to selecting and patronising those identified as having inborn talent, instead it was simply dismantled except as a rent-seeking operation on urban decline.
This is a succinct description of a counter-narrative to the popular historical narrative I described above. When I read it I found it immediately rang true both to my own reading of postwar history, as well as certain gut impressions I’ve formed about my leftist peers and professors.
The Western Thaw
J’accuse has previously pointed out that everything against which the youth of the 1960s “rose up” against was already bereft of institutional authority. The youth of the generation of protest were agitating for values only slightly sharper-edged than the ones already held by the men in the boardrooms and government offices under which they marched in New York and Washington D.C. When protesters shook their fists at someone like McGeorge Bundy in the name of racial equality or sexual freedom, they were only insisting he be more exacting in implementing values they both happened to share. Though legally the American government still practiced white supremacy, and superficially appeared unchanged from Progressive Era days of closed borders and eugenics, its commanding heights had quietly fallen into the hands of men with completely different values.
The 1960s were the real period of leftist dominance; when egalitarian statesmen laid down new laws with ferocious energy and with the eager encouragement of armies of youth activists around the world. The words of Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 inaugural captured a genuine feeling of euphoria: “Ours is a time of change--rapid and fantastic change--bearing the secrets of nature, multiplying the nations, placing in uncertain hands new weapons for mastery and destruction, shaking old values and uprooting old ways.”
The egalitarian Postwar Consensus bore the mantle of scientific legitimacy. Dubious “social progress” seemed inextricably wedded to the undoubtable technological progress of the time. To normal people, incredible feats like the Space Race and Nuclear weapons seemed to emerge from the same scientific establishment that produced pseudo-scientific inanities like “the authoritarian personality” or the spurious social science about playing with dolls that was used to support Brown V Board. This was a naive and uncritical era, the period when affluent westerners passively absorbed their news through the TV, and the great news channels assured them that race was only skin deep and that men and women were the same.