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The Woke Consolidation Phase
British academic Neema Parvini, whom I believe is a Shakespeare scholar, is also a dissident right type writer under the name “Academic Agent.” He recently published a Substack post arguing that Anglo-American elites are getting ready to put the woke* away. He argues that declining trust in institutions threatens the integrity of the system, especially military recruitment. He also claims that Tony Blair has been pushing and implementing this very thing in the UK Labour Party. And lastly, he claims that US elites prefer to operate as “foxes” rather than “lions,” relying on soft power rather than overt power displays. Yet they’ve made a number of hard power moves recently, such as Covid lockdowns, that he think presages a pendulum shift back to their normal operating style. As an example, he notes that YouTube just changed their official moderation practices to once again allow people to question the 2020 election results.
I believe that elites drive society, but I don’t think there’s some cabal of Inner Party types that meet in secret to turn the woke switch on or off. At the same time, I do believe the generally center-left American establishment type elites are very interested in curtailing far left political activism and power.
One reason is that they actually want the US to succeed. After all, they lead it and profit from it. A country too badly damaged by political polarization and extreme politics is bad for them. Military recruitment challenges is only one example. Elite dominated big city downtowns are also really struggling post-Covid, and the rise of aggressive far left activism is one of the key barriers to reviving them. These civic leaders do not want their downtowns turning into ghost towns. They would be very happy in a world where the activist class was defanged so they could start rebuilding their urban centers (and doing business the old way). It’s notable here that we heard relatively little about the recent third anniversary of the killing of George Floyd.
It’s similar for CEOs, who mostly operate from a “chamber of commerce Republican” perspective. They are generally libertarianish to liberal on social issues. At the same time, they see the way their activist employees are harming their companies, and would like to be able to dial back. In fact, we are seeing that companies have dialed DEI back a little bit. It’s been noted that corporate celebration of pride month this year has been more matter of fact than the previous over the top. Just today in the Wall Street Journal there’s an article about how CEOs want to steer their companies away from politics and controversial social causes. The Bud Light boycott and conservative pressure campaigns have provided these CEOs with leverage to do what they already wanted to do anyway, which was to focus more on business.
Additionally, at the national level
we face major challenges, domestic and foreign, such as geo-strategic political competition with China. We have to be able to do things like build more housing, build more factories, build more infrastructure. That requires more room to actually accomplish things, which activists get in the way off. The generally center-left US elite would love to be able to focus on something like supply side progressivism (sometimes called the “abundance agenda”), shorn of some of its more radical elements. This requires disempowering the far left. It’s notable that the left pundits who promote this, like Matthew Yglesias, are often seen as at war versus the extreme progressives.
Then there’s the fact that both the public and, crucially, establishment elites largely reject some of the more extreme elements of today’s sexual liberationist movements, especially child gender transition. Europe is starting to ban medical gender transition for minors. And the NYT has been running stories questioning it. And even the dullest knife in the drawer knows that biological men who transition to female are unfair competitors in women’s sports. There’s a reason that people don’t get cancelled for saying “men have penises, women have vaginas,” and that many very liberal types have taken this line. Lesbian liberal Bari Weiss has built a career out of this position, for example.
And, of course, there’s an election in 2024. American elites and the Democratic party believe - and I think they are right on this - that disorder, crime, and radical left politics plays into the hands of a Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, or other Republican. Hence they would want to create something of a sense of normalcy, exactly like they did in dropping Covid measures like a hot rock when Russia invaded Ukraine, conveniently timed for the 2022 election season.
Then there’s also the fact that “true believer” type movements and extremist politics tend to burn themselves out, giving way to a consolidation phase. The terror came to an end, and relatively rapidly, at some point in the French Revolution. In 1970 (I think that was the year), the campus unrest of the 60s simply disappeared. China reversed gears on the Cultural Revolution.
Each of these represents something of a retreat from the goals of the extremists. Yet, apropos of my podcast yesterday on culture warring being obsolete, this doesn’t represent a genuine rollback, but rather the entry of a consolidation phase from which, at some point, further vanguard type action will emerge.
We saw this happen in the late 1970s, when American leaders embraced reform. The extremist politics of the late 60s and early 70s were rejected. Deregulation of industry was promoted. In urban environments like New York, leaders worked to bring the city back from the brink of bankruptcy with a financial control board, public private partnerships to renew Central Park and clean up Times Square, and Broken Windows policing. From Reagan (really the second half of the Carter admin) through to Clinton, we entered a consolidation type phase. Note that this did not involve a fundamental rollback of the changes of the 60s around, say, family or civil rights law. Rather, it was about making the core of those changes actually function in society.
Then, things started to go haywire again with Bush and his ill-advised wars, the rise of wokeness in Obama’s second term, etc. Now, with problems and politics reminiscent of a previous era, it could be time for another consolidation phase.
I can’t guarantee it will happen. As I said, I don’t believe that a group of core elites is pulling all the strings in the country. But I do believe that a large group of top 1% types (CEOs, foundation presidents, billionaires, college presidents, top media people, etc) feel that the current politics is becoming destructive and threatening their core assets and interests. They are sympathetic to activist aims, but thinks those activists have been going too far. They’d be very open to another consolidation phase around something like the supply side progressivism agenda, trying to revitalize cities, etc. Crucially, this would leave the core of the post-2012 social changes intact.
The “consolidation phase” lens is one way for us to evaluate events that we see playing out in front of us. It might not play out that way, but this is one of the frameworks we can be evaluating as a hypothesis of the future.
* I tend to use the Merriam-Webster definition of woke as “politically liberal (as in matters of racial and social justice) especially in a way that is considered unreasonable or extreme”