Seven ways in which the left is now the right
Wokeness, as I’ve noted before, is distinct from other strands of leftism, such as old-school Marxism or traditional left-liberalism. (Which is an important reason why the term ‘woke’ ought to be retained.) One major way it’s distinct from those other strands is that it has adopted many ideas that are fundamentally right-wing or conservative. This is something of a paradox, given that many of the woke are so intolerant of the other side they aren’t even willing to have conservatives as friends. In any case, here are seven ideas that used to be right-wing but are now left-wing.
1. Adopting things from other cultures is bad
People on the right tend to be more ingroup oriented those than on the left. Indeed, believing that you belong to a certain group with a culture worth preserving is one of the hallmarks of conservatism. Unlike leftists, conservatives want to keep cultures relatively separate, so as to prevent them being changed or diluted. Some traditional cultures in history took this to extreme lengths. In Japan, the Tokugawa shogunate pursued a policy of Sakoku (“locked country”) for 264 years. Overseas trade was heavily restricted, and practically all foreigners were banned from entering the country.
Today, however, it is the woke left who believe adopting things from other cultures is bad. They even have a name for this: “cultural appropriation”. Of course, the prohibition is not applied consistently. White people are forbidden from adopting the practices of non-white cultures, but non-white people are free to adopt those of white cultures. For example, a Chinese person wearing a business suit is not “cultural appropriation”, even though business suits were invented in Europe. Yet a white person wearing traditional Chinese dress is “cultural appropriation” because white culture is “dominant”.
2. What your ancestors did matters
Though somewhat less common nowadays, conservatives in the past were obsessed with people’s ancestors. Barons, Earls, Viscounts and others (who made up the senior ranks of Britain’s Tory party) were constantly bragging about whom they were descended from. Some even argued they had a hereditary right to rule. And in many traditional societies – from medieval Europe to ancient India – your station in life was largely determined at birth. When social systems based on heredity were criticised during the Enlightenment, it was generally conservatives who defended them. (The very word ‘right’ refers to the royalists during the French revolution, who sat on the right of the National Assembly.)
The notion that a person should be judged on his own merits, and not on the basis of which class he was born into, has always been a liberal one. Yet in the Current Year, it is the woke left who insist on judging people by what their ancestors did. This is true in a general sense: white people have “privilege”, whereas non-white people are “oppressed”, regardless of their incomes or life circumstances. (High-achieving Asians are the exception, which has given rise to terms like “white-adjacent” and “person of colour minus Asian”.) But there are also specific cases. Last year, the English poet Ted Hughes was included on a list of figures “with links to the slave trade” because of what one of his ancestors did 300 years earlier.
3. Large corporations can be a force for good
Until recently, the right always had a cosier relationship with big business than the left. Social democratic parties got their money from labour unions, while right-wing parties got their money from business lobbies. Large corporations were praised by right-wing intellectuals for driving economic growth – their size indicating how much value they were creating for society. This view was summed up by the libertarian economist Milton Friedman, who wrote an essay titled ‘The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits’. Meanwhile, leftists railed against “corporate greed”, which they saw as responsible for practically all of society’s problems.
Today, things are quite different – at least in the US. Most large corporations donate substantially to both parties. And tech firms, which include some of the country’s most profitable, generally donate more to Democrats. While there are still leftists calling for an end to capitalism, as there always will be, we hear far more about things like “systemic racism”. And rather than just sitting by and increasing their profits, America’s largest companies are enthusiastically supporting this crusade. In one particularly amusing example of the woke “bootlegger-baptist coalition”, Nikole Hannah-Jones of the 1619 Project led an event in Texas titled ‘Emancipation Conversations’. The event was sponsored by Shell Oil.
4. Some religions shouldn't be criticised
Almost by definition, conservatives are more religious than those on the left – religion being the main source of traditional morality. Hence they’re fond of saying things like “God, King and Country”. In traditional societies, religion was taken so seriously that people were often punished for the crime of blasphemy. (This still happens in the most conservative countries, like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.) During European history, liberal and leftist reformers sought to strip power away from the Church, which they saw as corrupt and backward. French Revolutionaries even replaced it with a short-lived Cult of Reason. The leftist view was summed up by Karl Marx, who described religion as the “opiate of the masses”.
Today, however, leftists are reluctant to criticise one religion in particular, namely Islam. This is due to the fact that most of its adherents are non-white, and therefore “oppressed”. So while it was perfectly acceptable for Charlie Hebdo to publish cartoons mocking Christian symbols, its caricatures of Islamic symbols were considered offensive and “Islamophobic”. Likewise, many leftists laughed along when Richard Dawkins poked fun at evangelical Christians. Yet when he held Islam up to ridicule, Dawkins was deplatformed as an “Islamophobe”. Rather than seeing Muslims as fellow citizens who might be persuaded to change their beliefs, leftists see them as victim class whose religion must be protected from criticism.
5. People should be addressed by their titles
Conservatives in the past were obsessed not only with people’s ancestors, but also with their social rank. Commoners were expected to address members of the nobility by their proper titles – which varied from Baron, to Earl, to Viscount, to King. And those who refused or forgot were punished, sometimes severely. Today, correct forms of address still play a role in all the most conservative institutions, such as the military and the Catholic Church. Which makes it rather strange that leftists have recently begun enforcing the use of titles too.
After a cheeky op-ed was published in the WSJ, calling on First Lady Jill Biden to drop the “Dr” before her name because she’s not an MD, outraged women PhDs sparked a campaign to add “Dr” to their names on Twitter. And if you do see someone with “Dr” or “QC” in their name, more often than not it’ll be a leftist. For the woke, affirming the achievements of already privileged people is more important than opposing social hierarchy. Using titles might make the less successful feel bad by reminding them about their lack of achievements. But that’s small price to pay so that Twitter personalities can feel empowered.
6. Academics need to sign loyalty oaths
Conservatives in America have not always placed free speech among the most important societal values. During the so-called Red Scare, anti-communism was more pressing. This was the era in which Senator McCarthy went around persecuting those he suspected of being communist sympathisers. Amid the atmosphere of fear and repression, California passed a law that required all state employees to sign a “loyalty oath” explicitly disavowing the Communist Party. 31 tenured professors refused to sign on grounds of academic freedom, and were summarily fired. (Though most of them eventually got their jobs back.)
Budding scholars no longer have to disavow communism to land a job. Now they must pledge fealty to a different ideology, that of “diversity, inclusion and equity”. Colleges across the country require applicants to submit “diversity statements” in which they explain how they will contribute to “diversity” on campus. Several California universities have given such statements precedence in the hiring process: candidates who do not meet some minimum threshold are eliminated before anyone’s even glanced at their academic work. And if you dare point out the similarities between “diversity statements” and “loyalty oaths”, you may find yourself the target of a petition.
7. Profanity should be removed from TV and radio
Until quite recently, leftists were seen as the irreverent and rebellious ones, while conservatives were the stuffy old bores trying to uphold “public mortality”. This distinction was laid bare at the trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover, when Penguin Books was prosecuted under the “Obscene Publications Act” for publishing the uncensored version of D. H. Lawrence’s novel. At the trial, counsel for the prosecution provoked laughter by asking the jury, “Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?” And who can forget conservative Christians going after dastardly “rock and roll” artists like Marilyn Manson?
But in the Current Year, it is leftists who demand the expurgation of “problematic” content from the airwaves. TV shows that everyone considered funny just a few years ago (like Scrubs and The Office) have been purged of scenes or episodes depicting blackface, which we’re now told definitely isn’t funny. One popular song that’s been censored is The Pogues’ Christmas classic ‘Fairytale of New York’. It features the terms ‘slut’ and ‘faggot’, which younger listeners might be “particularly sensitive to”. For the woke, free speech and artistic freedom are less important than making sure “marginalised” people don’t feel offended.
Image: Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of King Charles I in his robes of state, 1636
The Daily Sceptic
I’ve written four more posts since last time. The first summarises a recent study arguing that vaccine escape mutations “will become a major mechanism of transmission”. The second notes that case numbers are not correlated with the Google mobility index in Sweden. The third summarises a study finding that natural immunity protects better against infection than the AstraZeneca vaccine. The fourth notes that England’s age-standardised mortality rate was 8% above the five-year average in November.
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