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Wokeness Is (Almost) Forever

A lot of conservatives are excited to think that the Woke have gone too far, and are going to reap a bitter harvest in the fall election. While I certainly hope for Republican victories, and believe that we should fight the Woke at every opportunity, it is beyond delusional to think that this is just a passing fad. One of the best Substack newsletters out there is The Upheaval, written by an analyst who uses the pseudonym N.S. Lyons. Today’s issue is the blackest of blackpills. Lyons explains why we are going to be fighting against the Woke Revolution for many years to come. Lyons cites a raft of conservative columns and op-eds speculating that the End of Wokeness draws nigh. Wrong! He writes:

One would think that by now all these anti-woke conservatives and moderate liberals would have learned at least some of the bitter lessons from the last decade about how political power and cultural change actually work, but I guess not. They could have taken note of all the fundamental factors driving this ideological belief system, all of which had to be painstakingly uncovered, layer by layer, even as it swept through every institution. But they have not. (Like, do they even read the pages and pages of erudite Substack anthropology on the topic? No?) They could have recognized by now that this is not a simple political issue with a political solution, but they have not.

Look, honestly I really didn’t want to have to do this. Come the New Year I had resolved to focus on the positives and all that crap. But I haven’t seen anyone else do it, so guess I have no choice and the duty falls to me to deliver the pessimistic news: no, the Revolution is far from over.

So, in what might also serve as a handy tour guide to the vast depths of the ideological abyss, catalogued at length here – in convenient listicle format! – are twenty reasons to get woke and despair.

Here are a few of my favorite ones. Lyons constructs his argument in such a way that one point follows from the previous one. I’m just going to quote the first four of his list, because you need to read them all in order to take in his argument:

1. One does not simply walk away from religious beliefs. What is called “Wokeness” – or the “Successor Ideology,” or the “New Faith,” or what have you (note the foe hasn’t even been successfully named yet, let alone routed) – rests on a series of what are ultimately metaphysical beliefs. The fact that their holders would laugh at the suggestion they have anything called metaphysical beliefs is irrelevant – they hold them nonetheless. Such as:

The world is divided into a dualistic struggle between oppressed and oppressors (good and evil); language fundamentally defines reality; therefore language (and more broadly “the word” – thought, logic, logos) is raw power, and is used by oppressors to control the oppressed; this has created power hierarchies enforced by the creation of false boundaries and authorities; no oppression existed in the mythic past, the utopian pre-hierarchical State of Nature, in which all were free and equal; the stain of injustice only entered the world through the original sin of (Western) civilizational hierarchy; all disparities visible today are de facto proof of the influence of hierarchical oppression (discrimination); to redeem the world from sin, i.e. to end oppression and achieve Social Justice (to return to the kingdom of heaven on earth), all false authorities and boundaries must be torn down (deconstructed), and power redistributed from the oppressors to the oppressed; all injustice anywhere is interlinked (intersectional), so the battle against injustice is necessarily total; ultimate victory is cosmically ordained by history, though the arc of progress may be long; moral virtue and true right to rule is determined by collective status within the oppression-oppressed dialectic; morally neutral political liberalism is a lie constructed by the powerful to maintain status quo structures of oppression; the first step to liberation can be achieved through acquisition of the hidden knowledge of the truth of this dialectic; a select awoken vanguard must therefore guide a revolution in popular consciousness; all imposed limits on the individual can ultimately be transcended by virtue of a will to power…

I could go on, but the real point is that these are faith-beliefs, and ones capable of wielding an iron grip on the individual and collective mind. And they have a strong civilizational resonance, because they are in fact not arbitrary but deeply rooted in a metaphysical struggle that effectively stretches to the very beginning of Western theological and philosophical thought. In other words, “Wokeness” is much more than just a political program. And that’s unlikely to change anytime soon, because…

2. The void of meaning still hasn’t been filled. I mean, did the gaping hole of meaning in people’s lives created by the uprooting forces of secular liquid modernity get resolved in some alternative way while we weren’t looking? You know, the spiritual void that this creepy chimeric faith-ideology and its romantic political crusades rushed to fill in the first place? Has there been some kind of genuine, organized religious revival? Has decadent nihilism stopped being the defining sentiment of the age? Did the young even become hyper-nationalists or revolutionary Marxist class-warriors instead? Have they found an alternative passionate heroic narrative to act out in some new Davos slide deck? No. And in fact, meanwhile, it also seems that…

3. Social atomization hasn’t reversed. It sure seems like the kind of robust communities, civic associations, and “little platoons” which once served to fortify society against the revolutionary (per Burke) and totalitarian (per Arendt) forces that thrive on atomization haven’t suddenly been rebuilt from the ground up. In fact even the most basic such unit, family formation, appears to be continuing to decline precipitously. And that may be because…

4. Atomization is probably the inevitable byproduct of liberal modernity. That is: liberalism made the autonomy of the individual its highest good. To maximize individual autonomy, the state therefore found itself obliged (being unable to resist claims that it must enforce an expanding array of rights) to exercise its power to help progressively liberate the individual from all limits and constraints, including from tradition, religion, geography, community, family, and nature itself. (This is certainly deserving of more argument than I have space to recap here; see “Four Big Questions for the Counter-Revolution” for a bit more.) Liberalism has thus acted as a centrifugal force, severing all the centripetal counter-forces that once kept individuals connected to recognizably human communities and launching them outward towards solitary orbits where they can drift cold and alone in their pods.

From this perspective it is more obvious why the amorphous ideology referred to as “Wokeness” so often seems mixed up and chaotically self-contradictory: it is the confused response to two opposite instincts. On the one hand it is actually a kind of anti-liberal reactionary movement, a blind, emotional scramble to grasp desperately for collectivism in the most basic, tribal sort of community seemingly still available: in identity groups, and in fixed racial identity in particular. But, on the other hand, it simultaneously attempts to continue embracing the boundless autonomy of individual choice as its most sacred principle, celebrating an individual’s right to self-define everything about themselves without limit, up to and including their own concept of material reality. (This cognitive dissonance has never been much more than an ideological speedbump, however – don’t get your hopes up.) And this hyper-individualism has now collided head first with the technological revolution, which increasingly positions itself as offering hope for the boundless potential necessary to escape from any natural limits whatsoever, including by fracturing any solid definition of what we once thought it meant to be human.

Read it all — and subscribe.Seriously, this is a terrific analysis. Oh, here’s one more:

10. All the institutional high ground is still occupied. Have the top universities already been retaken from the woke, or replaced? (No, one still imaginary university in Austin doesn’t count.) What about the elite finishing schools? The accreditation companies? Most mainstream news media? The social media companies? The publishing housesHollywood? The major foundations? The non-profits and the think tanks? The consulting and accounting companies? The investment banks? The NASDAQ? The digital service providers? The HR departments of the Fortune 500, and most of their boards? The law schools? The Bar Association? The permanent federal bureaucratic state? Heck, even Halliburton? No, at such a ludicrous suggestion the Cathedral merely echoes with the mocking laughter of the new woke high clerisy.

The hard truth is that we are living through radically transformative times. Wokeness, as Lyons discerns, is a response to the collapse of Christianity. In what I think is his best insight, Lyons points out that wokeness is a response to the failures of liberalism’s atomization and destruction of all the unchosen structures that made life livable and meaningful, and it is pursued most adamantly by people who still refuse to turn on the core of liberalism: radical individual autonomy.

I received this afternoon from a pastor friend a letter from one of his congregation. I can’t share it with you, though I might try to rephrase it to protect this writer’s identity. The pastor wrote me asking for my advice, because so much of what the congregant writes has to do with The Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies. These are Red State people living through the collapse of Christianity, of society, and of the family. The Sexual Revolution, in the form of genderqueerness, is devastating her family. She wrote in great detail, and lamented that the churches aren’t saying much useful about any of this. She was begging for help. I need to think about what I’m going to say to my pastor friend, but I will tell you all this right now: if you are not now in a church where the leadership and the community are reading the signs of the times, and preparing themselves for what is here now, and what is to come, now is the time to find just such a church. And if your church is not that kind of place, by all means do whatever you can to make it one. The crisis is upon us now, and it is not going to go away anytime soon. Read N.S. Lyons, now and in the future.

UPDATE: A reader writes:

Wokeness is indeed forever, with these kinds of trends:


Of course, trends can always reverse – they did before. But, since 2000, the 18-29 Left-Right gap has become a country-mile wide. It doesn’t even matter if voters, individually, aren’t Woke – if you vote for the people who espouse Wokeness and give it institutional power, is there a meaningful difference?

Voters can always become less left-wing with time. What concerns me is that this is the 18-29-year-old. If we were talking 18-22 (college-aged students), I’d be less concerned, but we’re talking about the entire cohort of adults under the age of 30. How much do people change their political views, anyway? And, as I said, it doesn’t matter what their views actually are. The problem is that they keep voting left-wing.

This is why I think we haven’t even seen the Left at its strongest yet. Our only hope is that age demographics will result in an increasingly older body politic and, in America, older voters = more right-wing voters. But, again, is there any chance today’s 18-29 will quit buying the Left’s utopianism?



about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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