Left but not Woke
a sticky wicket
If you say “I'm a leftist and a socialist and have always been” how do you deal with the Woke? That’s the position of Susan Neiman in her book Left is not Woke. She is interviewed by Maarten Boudry at Quillette.
Neiman encounters lefties appalled by wokism that say “I guess I’m not Left anymore.”
But at a certain point I begin to say: no, they are the ones who are not left anymore, the woke crowd. So I wanted to break down this binary between the so-called woke Left and the Right, untangle the confusion and reclaim certain positions for the Left, such as universalism and belief in moral progress…
I'm a leftist and a socialist and have always been.
OK. Let’s stop right there. I do’t believe in “universalism” and I don’t believe in “moral progress.”
Whatabout racism and colonialism?
Look, the Enlightenment invented the critique of eurocentrism… The Enlightenment thinkers absolutely condemned colonialism and racism… The fact that Kant and Voltaire didn’t go as far as we would today, for example in condemning racism, should be something to be glad about, because it shows that there’s progress.
Yeah. Back then the Negro slave wan’t on the radar. Probably because the Enlightenment thinkers had more of a beef with European feudal lords than with Southern US planters.
One thing they absolutely didn’t get was sexism. Why didn’t these people, who wrote about universality and human rights across cultures, accord the same rights to the women living right next to them?
OMG. The Horror! Then there’s Foucault.
Whether it’s schools or mad houses or prisons or other institutions, Foucault argued that what you think is progress is actually a much more subtle form of domination and control.
I’d say that whether it’s Lefties or Wokies, the name of the game is “domination and control.” The great challenge, I’d say, is to have hierarchy — that is inevitable — but to dial down the domination and control as much as possible.
The interviewer raises the question of Western hegemony.
but isn’t it true that Westerners want to impose their values and norms on the rest of the world? For instance, don’t we want the whole world to embrace democracy?
Neiman answers with a question: who would support female genital mutilation or suttee?
Not to mention who would support men in the women’s restroom. But then, whatabout MAiD, the Canadian policy to normalize “medical assistance in dying” for people past their sell-by date?
OK. Whatabout Marx?
I should say that I’m a socialist but not a Marxist. For a few reasons, but mainly because Marx was a class reductionist, at least in his later writings… People don’t only do things based on their class interest, to put it mildly.
Well, maybe, but I’d say that anyone on the Left is at least a moderate class/race/sex/gender reductionist, exploiting differences to power politics.
Isn’t the real problem for the Left that Wokism is driving people to the right?
I’ve met people who are so put off by woke ideas that they say they’re moving towards the center or the center-Right. But what’s more common is that people who would be on the Left are getting out of political engagement, because they feel that the Left has been captured. I end the book by reminding people how the fascists came to power in 1933: if leftists had formed a united front against fascism, the world would’ve been spared a terrible war.
But then if Leftists had formed a united front against reparations against Germany in 1919, then maybe Germany wouldn’t have experienced hyperinflation and Hitler would never have been a Thing.
I guess it all comes down to what you mean by “universalism” and “moral progress.”
By universalism I would propose that as much as possible we honor in humans a universal right to mind their own business with minimal interference from the best and the brightest.
By moral progress I would understand a progress among our educated class that their advanced ideas about morality might not work as well for ordinary middle-class people and ordinary workers.
But your mileage may vary.