I was happy to see on the GAlist some vigorous discussion of Chronicle 747, where I proposed an analysis of Wokeness as the form of the epistemology of resentment/victimary thinking/Left ideology that reflects the assimilation of Francis Fukuyama’s thesis that the West’s victory in the Cold War in 1989-91 marked the End of History of (national) political systems. I proposed that it was the illusion of having reached this utopian state that has led to Wokeness’ apotropaic adoption of our “victims’” resentment and the consequent deterioration of our national pride and military readiness, hopefully not beyond repair.
Thinking that one is at the End of History means taking the Western victories in WWII and the Cold War as signaling the end of the very possibility of major wars. Instead, the world would henceforth no longer be dominated by national rivalries but by peaceful economic exchange from which all parties would benefit.
This point requires some further clarification. Woke repentance for superiority, whether economic or military or any other kind, is apology, not repudiation. On the contrary, the quasi-religious stance so egregiously illustrated by the congressional leaders’ kneeling in honor of George Floyd in June 2020 is a way of compensating objective defeat by an attribution of moral superiority that only makes the reality of the objective situation more obvious—whence the “soft bigotry of low expectations” referred to by George W. Bush in his 2000 speech to the NAACP. In the international arena, it has the perverse effect of inciting the recipients of apology, perceiving this “soft bigotry,” to still greater hostility and more arrogant demands (the Palestinian “peace” negotiations with Israel provide the clearest example of this), while at the same time lulling the apologizers into the illusion of that by their gesture they have come to share, and in effect reverse, the moral superiority of their presumed victims/beneficiaries.
Even 9/11, followed by our lack of success in “democratizing” Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with the growth of China as an increasingly authoritarian economic and military power, have not yet dislodged the key element of the End of History thesis from the minds of the Davos set. In the absence of a direct threat to Western hegemony, the troubles in the Middle East and even the Russian invasion of Ukraine have not aroused a sense of urgency appropriate to the realization that open conflict between major powers is no longer inconceivable. In its focus on domestic rivalry, the Biden administration has let the US military fall behind in a number of areas in the face of the growing consolidation of a rival camp that has steadily gained military strength, while continuing to expand its influence throughout the Third World.
Wokeness, enthusiastically implemented by establishment figures, is driven by the younger generations, particularly “Gen Z,” who were born in a world with no countervailing power to that of the US and its allies. In sharp contrast to the situation of the campus New Left in the 1960s, today’s university officials are all too happy to treat the young radicals as uncorrupted bearers of the true faith, often concurring as well with their newfound hostility to Israel as a “colonial” state. Each manifestation of Woke Western guilt serves to preserve the End of History illusion among those who should know better.
The West’s turn toward open repentance for its hegemonic position began in 2009 with Obama’s Cairo speech. The new administration, having witnessed the manifest failure of Westernization in Iraq and Afghanistan, was no longer motivated to continue seeking to extend the “End of History in one nation” into a liberal-democratic global marketplace. Instead, Obama espoused the post-colonial appeasement of the West’s “victims,” notably Iran, less despite than because of its violent denunciations of the US and its Arab allies and above all, Israel. A key result of the Democrat victory in 2020 was the return to this policy, including the current attempt to revive the JCPOA, in contrast with Trump’s rejection of the latter and reinforcement of the alliance with Israel by taking the first steps toward an “Abrahamic” Middle East that would isolate Shiite Iran from the Sunni-majority Islamic world.
The “irrational” hatred of Trump for rejecting the End of History thesis continues not merely to addle the Left, for which it is a rational strategy at least in narrowly political terms, but also to sustain an increasingly shrill “never-Trumpism” on the Right, the key feature of which has been from the beginning its steadfast refusal to recognize and denounce the incipient Wokism of the Left’s victimary thinking. Trump’s 2016 primary victory over the many other Republican hopefuls was clearly due to his being the sole candidate, along with his future HUD Secretary Ben Carson, to recognize that what was still called “political correctness” had become the ideological core of the Democrat opposition. And this foregrounding of the difference between tolerating racial prejudice and espousing what would become Ibram Kendi’s “antiracism” was the one thing that the never-Trumpers never forgave him.
As a demotic New Yorker, Trump had always been at ease with the city’s multi-ethnic composition and never felt the need to pander to any group—as a majority of Hispanics and a growing percentage of blacks have become aware. While not explicitly supporting what would become Wokeness, the never-Trumpers perceive Trump’s refusal to compromise with it as uncomfortably close to the “white supremacy” with which his opponents have regularly tarred him, not realizing that what they really are opposing is his patriotic defense of Western values.
Never-Trumpism has been particularly egregious in the former bulwark of conservative thought, the National Review, which had already published a special anti-Trump issue in January 2016. Six years later, here is an excerpt from this year’s August 15 issue, mocking and declaring victory over Trump’s erstwhile conservative supporters:
America’s newspaper of record—we mean the [conservative] New York Post, of course—has had enough of Donald Trump, and the Post’s fancier colleagues down the hall at the [conservative] Wall Street Journal . . . have landed on the same conclusion: Donald Trump is utterly unfit to be president of these United States again. The “again” is superfluous: Trump was utterly unfit the first time, as observed in these pages and elsewhere . . . (p. 4)
The vulgarity of this “I told you so” rant, which reduces Trump’s four years in office to his failure to prevent the January 6 “insurrection” whose only fatality was an unarmed female demonstrator shot by a policeman, reveals for all to see the failure of a considerable sector of America’s conservative intelligentsia to appreciate the crucial value of Trump’s largely successful attempt to strengthen the Western system of alliances while cautiously scaling back excessive commitments—in striking contrast to Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Obama-Biden coddling of Iran is no miscalculation; it embodies the essence of Woke leftism: Western apology to its post-colonial “victims.”
The End of History, revisited
The residual evidence for Fukuyama’s thesis consists of two persistent characteristics of the postwar era. The first is the failure so far of the Chinese, Russians, et al to demonstrate the ability to create a more attractive society than the West. This by no means shuts the door on such possibilities, but we must remain skeptical that a fully mature Chinese economy and polity would be able to function without either continuing to increase its authoritarian nature, as has been the case under Xi, or evolving in the direction of Western freedoms, as seemed to be occurring in previous administrations, thereby reducing its enmity with the US to a manageable condition of essentially peaceful rivalry.
The second “post-historical” characteristic of our era is far more fraught with danger. The world cannot afford another all-out war on the model of WWII. Any future war between major powers, and certainly any use of nuclear weapons, even if it does not lead to the final demise of the human species, risks creating a world incommensurable with our own—one in which, the sacred deferral that produced human culture having proven inadequate to its task, humanity’s ability to build and use deadly weaponry can nonetheless not easily be forgotten.
Hiroshima and Auschwitz, the twin maxima of the last war, defined limits that for a time made such things inconceivable, but they are so no longer. Leaders have emerged whose resentful power drive, nourished by the long American/Western postwar hegemony, is if anything more absolute—and less irrational—that that of Hitler and Tojo. What would we do, what could we do, if and when China decided to absorb Taiwan? Or if Russia, a far weaker power, finally defeated Ukraine and began attacking Estonia?
In this context, we must recognize that domestic Wokeness and its follies are a mere distraction. Arguing over whether “transwomen” can use ladies’ rooms is as unserious as permitting, as happened on August 15 in a minority neighborhood of Los Angeles, a “flash mob” to strip a 7-11 with impunity. Freedom is neither enormity nor disorder.
The “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” promised to us cannot permit such nonsense, nor the shouting down of conservative speakers and harassment of Zionists on university campuses, nor the drastic undermining of the electoral process by indiscriminately distributing and “harvesting” mail ballots.
Today, the residual decency of American life, which still allows most of us most of the time to live in security and confidence, can no longer be taken for granted even for the immediate future. It was the voters who chose those Attorneys General in California, New York, and elsewhere who refuse to indict petty criminals; it was the voters of California who passed Proposition 47 in 2014, leading to near-impunity for thefts under $950. As the End of History nears its sell-by date, it spawns ever more absurd corollaries, as though insisting on these could serve to fend off rather than merely distract us from the real dangers from without. The panicked withdrawal from Afghanistan and the persistent JCPOA negotiations have served the same function.
None of this is new, but it remains supremely necessary to remind ourselves that Wokeness is in essence an attempt to convince the world, through the West’s ostentatious self-humiliation, that despite all the evidence to the contrary, the End of History to the West’s advantage is still alive and well. Let us hope that the conduct of this fall’s US elections will be equitable enough to permit the American public, as a model for that of other Western democracies, to clearly repudiate this critical delusion.