Dancing With the Woke: Time for Liberals to Change Partners

Dancing With the Woke: Time for Liberals to Change Partners
The bust of Karl Marx, known as Karl Marx Monument, is seen in Chemnitz, Germany, in a scene from the documentary "Karl Marx City." (Courtesy of TIFF)
William Brooks

“Woke” is one of the presently accepted terms employed to celebrate the presumed superiority of the neo-Marxist “social justice warrior.”

“Wokeness” is a particularly useful ideological brand for Western Marxists because it allows them to disassociate themselves from inconvenient historical labels such as Bolsheviks, Nazis, Fascists, and Maoists, and confuse opponents by adopting more flattering appellations such as reform liberals, progressives, democratic socialists, anti-fascists, anti-racists, environmentalists, multiculturalists, and so on.

The fundamental premise of the woke is that the non-woke lack the purity of heart and intellectual acuity to understand the unjust nature of our present society or to imagine a design for a more perfect future. A century ago, a remarkably similar movement referred to itself as the “Vanguard of the Proletariat.”

Today, wokeness is highly contagious, especially among narrowly educated, impressionable intellectuals. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, many thought the Marxist disease that had claimed so many innocent lives throughout the 20th century was behind us.

But, a short 30 years on, it's back in the form of a variant ideology that has infected almost all of the formative institutions in Western societies.

Conservatives and Liberals Before ‘The Awokening’

Both conservatism and liberalism have deep roots in the culture of the West.

From Medieval Christendom to the Age of Enlightenment, Europeans and the peoples of the world over which Western Civilization achieved some form of influence lived their lives within both conservative and liberal frameworks.

The conservative zeitgeist first developed in an atmosphere of Christian piety and loyalty to hereditary leaders; kings and queens ruled by Divine right. People were equal only in the eyes of God and only destined to realize that equality in the afterlife. Conservatives generally demonstrated a preference for restraint and caution. They viewed mankind as flawed by original sin and resisted prescriptive schemes for the development of human perfection.

As early as the 13th century, challenges to conservative custom began to shake the foundations of the old order. From the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, Anglo-American liberal reformers sought to replace the norms of absolute monarchy and hereditary privilege with representative democracy, human freedom, and equality under the law.

The British philosopher John Locke is often credited with shaping “liberalism” as a distinct tradition, based on a social contract that argues that each man has a natural right to life, liberty, and property, and governments must not violate these rights. By the 19th and early 20th centuries, traditional conservatism had ceded a great deal of cultural territory to Enlightenment liberal thought.

But conservatives and liberals were seldom as far apart as some imagine them to be today. Political conservatives generally recognized value in traditional institutions, practices, and customs, but so did many political liberals. Many conservatives adopted liberal positions on democratic governance and economic issues, while many liberals held conservative views on moral and cultural matters.

It's crucially important to understand that, up until the ascendance of revolutionary Marxism in the 20th century, liberals and conservatives weren't habitually in the business of trying to cancel or eliminate one another. Neither side of the liberal–conservative debate saw philosophical opponents as entirely “illegitimate” actors who must be “resisted” by any means necessary.

Accommodating Marxism

Anyone who arrived at the age of maturity around the 1960s is apt to have noticed that, throughout their adult lives, civilized liberal–conservative discourse has been under considerable strain.

It is, however, worth considering that the rupture between Western liberals and conservatives might be less attributable to incompatibility and due more to the injection of Marxist ideology into the liberal bloodstream over the course of the past 60 years.

Writing in Quillette during the troubled summer of 2020, Israeli scholar Yoram Hazony noted that liberal custodians of Western institutions have all but given up hope of restoring the protocols through which we used to agree to disagree on issues of civic policy, morality, and justice. In fact, principled liberals have been increasingly relegated to the remote outer rings of the West’s fashionable intellectual circles.
Hazony suggests that establishment liberals are “adopting a policy of accommodation” to the ascendance of the woke. That is, they have attempted to appease neo-Marxist apprentices by giving in to their demands in the hope of retaining their institutional positions long enough to retire, with considerable relief, on well-endowed pensions.

The Allure of the Neo-Marxist Woke

Hazony also has important insights into the allure of wokeness. He points out that liberal societies have proven to be exceptionally vulnerable to Marxist thought because Marx captured "certain aspects of truth that are missing from Enlightenment liberalism."

We forget, says Hazony, that Marxist analysis isn't entirely wrong. Marx’s description of the human condition as a struggle between oppressor and oppressed and the view that people form groups that exploit one another to the extent that they have the power to do so contains an element of truth.

People have always been inclined to form cohesive identity groups or tribes. Various groups invariably seek advantage over others, and a managerial state may choose to function as an instrument of a particular oppressor class. That's what liberal declarations of rights were designed to prevent.

Many argue that progressive administrations in Western countries are now promoting the abstract principle of “equity” over “equality” in order to redistribute wealth, power, and positions from some political tribes to others in order to garner support for reelection. Such tactics are clear signs of what Polish scholar Ryszard Legutko has called “The Totalitarian Temptation” and a dangerous drift toward the one-party state.

Liberalism’s Never-Ending Dance With the Left

Driving a wedge between traditional conservatism and Enlightenment liberalism and the reconstitution of society around a woke, liberal-Marxist alliance has, so far, proven to be a successful tactic for the postmodern left.
Hazony describes the strategy as “the endless dance of liberalism and Marxism,” which proceeds as follows:
"1. Liberals declare that henceforth all will be free and equal, emphasizing that reason (not tradition) will determine the content of each individual’s rights.

2. Marxists, exercising reason, point to many genuine instances of unfreedom and inequality in society, decrying them as oppression and demanding new rights.

3. Liberals, embarrassed by the presence of unfreedom and inequality after having declared that all would be free and equal, adopt some of the Marxists’ demands for new rights.

4. Return to #1 above and repeat." This four-step waltz has gone on for the past 70 years, and every time the mutually infatuated partners return to step No. 1, their moves become more extreme and more violent. Progressive elites, who choose their dancing partners like their clothes, according to the fashion of the day, are in the mood for revolutionary transformation.

Today, too many liberals appear to share the Marxist tendency to set aside inherited tradition and rely entirely on ideological abstractions. But reason alone never settles all disputes. It's only within a framework of trusted customs and practices that different interests can be balanced against one another and resolved for the common good.

Marxism is enticing because in every society, there are people—even in well-paid positions—who feel oppressed or exploited. Those obsessed by the idea of oppression end up using it as a justification for outrage, violence, and the oppression of others.

The notion that every hierarchical relationship in society is akin to slavery is dangerously flawed and enormously destructive to a nation’s social capital. There is no society in which all men and women are free and equal in every way.

Will the Woke Ever Wake Up?

Can the predicted suicide of the West be prevented? Will European and North American nations ever restore the harmony that supported some of the freest, most-tolerant, best-ordered, and prosperous nations on the face of the earth?

Over the past few decades, we have ushered in an era in which the woke almost completely control our schools, universities, media, entertainment industry, major corporations, and much of mainstream religion. Liberals have been enticed to sever all bonds of affinity with conservatives, who are vindictively caricatured as fascists, racists, climate-change deniers, homophobes, and so on.

In the political arena, Marxists are seeking to persuade liberal legislatures to abandon freedom of speech and fair election practices in favor of measures that would all but ensure permanent one-party majorities for the left.

In a worst-case scenario, we appear to be headed toward some form of what the late Hungarian-born, Australian-Canadian psychophysiologist John J. Furedy called “velvet totalitarianism.” But it's highly unlikely that the woke will ever wake up. Most appear to be blissfully ignorant of the horrors that have transpired in Marxist regimes over the past 100 years.

Choosing a Better Partner

On a more optimistic note, old-school liberals still exist throughout the West, and many are discovering that they have more in common with traditional conservatives than they do with the woke. Some are developing a distinct inclination to change partners.

Many liberals have been shocked by Marxist cancel culture, tech censorship, street violence, and political corruption. Others still imagine that there are moderate leaders within their ranks who will tame the extremists, restore the liberal-democratic order, and reunite their nations.

“But it isn’t true,” says Hazony. He points out that, at this point, “most of the alternatives that existed a few years ago are gone.”

Liberals have only two options to choose from: Either they will dance to the tune of the Marxists and help bring Western democracy to an end, or they will seek to develop a pro-liberty alliance with conservatives.

There are simply no other good choices left in the ballroom.

William Brooks is a writer and educator based in Montreal. He currently serves as editor of “The Civil Conversation” for Canada’s Civitas Society and is an Epoch Times contributor.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
William Brooks is a Canadian writer who contributes to The Epoch Times from Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.