America’s racial angst is transforming the politics of the West. The world is watching as Biden’s ambitious “whole-of-government equity agenda” actively repudiates key elements of the American creed. The “equity” agenda conflates equal outcomes with equal opportunities. “Justice” is thus imposed by technocratic elites who, like the apparatchiks of the empire the US defeated in the Cold War, are a class with special privileges. As Vice President Kamala Harris explains, under the new “equity” regime, all Americans will “end up in the same place.”
An unholy alliance of technocratic management and the woke sacralization of historically oppressed groups is creating a new form of American governance: call it “techwokery.” Though it describes itself as a rational movement to address injustice, it more closely resembles a secular theology. Its catechism is equality, inclusivity, diversity: the imposition of equal outcomes, ideological homogeneity and the primacy of group characteristics over individual character.
Techwokery was incubated in the Petri dishes of the social science and humanities departments of the Ivy League, but the virus has now escaped the lab. The high priests of the new dispensation are feeding the boardrooms of woke capital with formulae for banal, Pilate-like virtue-signaling. They are deconstructing the very foundations of the American republic by taking over the curricula of the public schools. They are the official voice of our departments of government and our diplomats. The “original sin of slavery weaved white supremacy into our founding documents and principles,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the United Nations, tells the world. Americans, she says, must “acknowledge that we are an imperfect union and have been since the beginning.”
Meanwhile, the US military’s reprogramming gathers pace. The US Navy’s new fealty pledge commits service personnel to “invest the time, attention and empathy required to analyze and evaluate Navywide issues related to racism, sexism, ableism and other structural and interpersonal biases.” The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, has defended the teaching of Critical Race Theory to the US military and the use of How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi’s CRT “bible”, as a foundational text for service personnel. As our abandoned Afghan allies are hunted by Taliban death squads and Afghanistan’s women are locked up again, perhaps they will draw succor from the hope that the American military now has more time for empathy and evaluating their interpersonal biases.
America’s ideals are often compromised by the grinding realities of international politics, but the democratic world owes an enormous debt for the sacrifices Americans have made in defending freedom. I am increasingly confused about where America is now headed as a country, and what this portends for my country, the UK, and other countries who have tied their fate to America’s.
The United States is becoming a threat to the cohesiveness of the West, and its cultural sneeze has become Britain’s cultural cold. British institutions already show the dangerous effects of the re-racialization of the West, with British progressives as the new “running dogs” of a pernicious form of cultural imperialism. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the UK’s hallowed halls of learning. Universities UK, the umbrella organization for the higher education sector’s entire leadership, recently issued Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education, a masterclass in techwokery. Rather than being bastions of evidence-led research, personal transformation and equal opportunity, it says, British universities are characterized by “white domination” that is “normalized and therefore seen as natural.”
The report’s recommendations are nothing short of revolutionary, and will be familiar to Americans. University leaders need to understand the prevalence of racial “microaggressions” and systemic “white privilege,” and must drive through an effort to “decolonize” university curricula and practices. The preponderance of books written by white scholars on reading lists helps “perpetuate existing inequalities”; these books are “unlikely to reflect the experience or viewpoints of many student and staff body members.” Young undergraduates should audit their professors’ courses to ensure the “representation of diversity within materials used in lectures and tutorials.”
Like the US Navy, Britain’s universities must “incorporate the concepts of white privilege and white fragility, white allyship, microaggressions and intersectionality,” and institute “racialized unconscious bias training.” Building an “inclusive culture and environment by setting the tone and expectations of student and staff behavior,” senior university managers will inaugurate a truly “anti-racist” university. If academics or students resist, or the push for inclusivity is in any way “breached,” managers are asked to “commit” to ensuring “consequences.” Heretics be warned: you may be canceled by the mob.
The effects of this chilling turn are now being felt across the sector. As in America, our most prestigious institutions are not immune; often they lead the way. At Cambridge University, the vice-chancellor helped initiate an anonymous online portal for students to report staff for alleged racial microaggressions. Examples? A professor who raises an eyebrow when talking to a student or inadvertently turns her back while in conversation.
This takes place in the context of a long-running crisis in British universities. White pupils from the UK’s underfunded state school system are the least likely to go to university. The most significant increase between 2006 and 2018 in state-educated university entrance was among black pupils, whose representation rose to 19.6 percent. State-educated white British kids? Just 13 percent. At Cambridge, just over 34 percent of new undergraduates starting in 2020 were drawn from ethnic minorities that constitute only 15 percent of the UK’s population. How can this be evidence of “white domination” that is “normalized and therefore seen as natural?” But why trifle with facts when usinge evidence and data facts are part of the structure of oppression?
The Anglophone world has seen off the racist horror of Nazism, resisted the spread of authoritarian communism and championed multi-ethnic democracies under the rule of law. How has it become so infected with techwokery?
First, there is ethnic corralling. The “old”, pre-Sixties left had a labor politics of class and redistribution. Deindustrialization, the spread of university education and the refusal of the working class to embrace revolutionary Marxism produced the middle-class, moralizing coalitions of the New Left, which corralled new electoral alliances by emphasizing identity and a politics of grievance.
Second, there are the changes in the Anglophone economies. A new moral hierarchy, closely related to the winners and losers of globalization, has appeared in our politics. For the winners, class solidarity means transcending the gauche boundedness of your own nation and joining your economic peers in an amorphous “open borders” supranationalism.
As Christopher Lasch spelled out masterfully in The Revolt of the Elites, our new moral “betters” live vicariously through the real or perceived oppression of others. The uplift of historically oppressed groups reasserts the elites’ decaying moral authority: the elites assume responsibility for “fixing” issues of allegedly burning injustice while abrogating any responsibility for the despised deplorable (often poor white) “other.” The politics of race thus allows for the erasure of class and national solidarity while keeping the corralled “victims” in an infantile state of dependence on their mostly white “saviors.” The popular reaction against this new moral economy partially explains the rise of Trumpism in the US and, though it differs in important ways, the politics of Brexit in my homeland.
Beyond this new moral economy of permanent culture war, there is a more serious threat. The post-1945 peace of the West was underpinned by American leadership and arms. We are now in an interregnum that rests on an institutional order in deep flux and, in many areas, obvious decay. Anti-western states and social forces are on the rise. Though they have their historic rivalries, they share a strategic goal: to deconstruct the American-led liberal order.
China’s civilizational bang has yet to be rendered a whimper by its institutions; indeed, they are successfully amplifying it across Asia and beyond. What great idea can the West now summon to resist authoritarian and, in some cases, genocidal states and social forces?
America remains a great country, but its politics of national repudiation are casting a cold shadow far beyond its shores. If America crumbles, so does the international order that it helped birth from the mire of World War Two. Can the West once again rediscover that sense of purpose and mission and resist the narcissism and darkness that grows within it? Time will tell whether we can blow those embers into flame, or whether, as their precious light is finally extinguished, we are entering a new dark age.
Doug Stokes is a professor of International Relations at the University of Exeter.