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OPINION | BRADLEY GITZ: The source of 'woke'

by Bradley Gitz | February 22, 2021 at 3:00 a.m.

The French have finally found a more appropriate American import to resist than McDonald's and Disney World, to wit the campaign to keep American "woke" cancel culture out of their realm.

As reported in The New York Times (somewhat ironically, given its ongoing transformation into our woke Pravda) President Emmanuel Macron kicked off the French resistance a few months back when he warned that "certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States" were encouraging separatism in his country. The source of the contagion was made more specific when Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer referred to "an intellectual matrix from American universities," and when 100 French scholars and public intellectuals signed an open letter warning of noxious ideas "transferred from North American campuses."

It's a bit peculiar when the Jacobins sound the alarm about Jacobinism, but the French should still be applauded for nicely highlighting the primary source of the woke malady -- the woke might dominate our legacy media, the entertainment industry, publishing, philanthropic foundations and just about every other political socialization mechanism, but it is their near-monolithic control over higher education that drives all the rest.

If radical left ideas move so rapidly into the mainstream these days, to the point of becoming parts of a suffocating orthodoxy enforced with increasing ruthlessness, it is from the campus that that movement begins. What the radical left is talking about the rest of us soon will be, but all radical left talk begins in academe.

It has become nearly axiomatic that the more prestigious and expensive the college, the further left it leans, the more mono-cultural its administrators, faculty and curricula, and the less likely it is for alternative ideas to penetrate. It isn't just that such mono-cultures contradict everything that education should stand for, but that the very nature of that culture, of woke cancel culture, denies the legitimacy of other ways of seeing things, thereby creating an insular, hermetically sealed world in which obliviousness and the crushing of dissent is reinforced by assumptions of moral superiority.

The biggest problem with woke academic monocultures is that the woke don't think they're a problem; to the contrary, they interpret such conditions as evidence of heightened enlightenment and virtue.

For the academic world, being "woke," or at least muting any criticism of woke, has become necessary for career advancement every step along the way (or at least perceived as such, with much the same effect) and it is the rare dean or college president who will risk their careers by refusing to publicly endorse woke positions or consent to sweeping demands from woke students and faculty.

Some of us have been fortunate to work at colleges that still respect the marketplace of ideas, but few newly minted Ph.D.s with aspirations for tenure would write a column like this one; rather, there would probably be a fairly fierce (if insincere) competition to see who could most vehemently denounce its contents.

As Jonathan Chait, no vehement right-winger, recently noted (regarding the fate of the host of "The Bachelor"), the woke have already moved from guilt by association to "guilt by refusal to join in condemnation."

The woke academy stays woke by patrolling its turf vigilantly, ensuring the casting out of heretics and the exertion of a chilling effect on the rest. Such environs might have become stultifying for the intellectually curious, but are useful avenues to power for bullies and reasonably comfortable for those who don't mind being told what to think.

Woke ideas flow from academe, but so too do those indoctrinated with them, into prestigious media organs, publishing houses, law firms, and corporate HR departments. The inmates take control of the asylums and transform The New York Times, Google, Random House, and Hollywood with wokery.

Thus the key to understanding the left's broader dominance of our political culture can be found in its more specific and even greater dominance of academe; along with the incubator role that the campus plays for all other opinion-forming institutions.

As higher education has become more important over the decades, and a college degree a minimal pass key for entry into the professions, the left's control of it means it reliably instills leftist ideas in those who go on to control just about everything else, including, increasingly, a corporate America that was once a bastion of capitalism.

There was a time when American ideas like democracy, liberty and equality swept the world because of their intrinsic appeal to human dignity, and when Americans faced the world confident of their values and proud of their institutions. We had, after all, created the most democratic, free, and prosperous society in the history of the world, providing inspiration for everyone else.

But America's future elite are now being dogmatically instructed that America has been a baleful influence on the human experience and that the classical liberalism that undergirds our experiment in self-government is only a façade for white supremacy to be denounced rather than cherished and sustained.

American college campuses have now become the most illiberal places in America. They have also become by far the most influential.

That combination does not bode well.


Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.


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