I’ve spent most of today reading How Woke Won by Joanna Williams. Williams is a core member of the RCP/Spiked! crew that have done a lot to push the war on woke into public consciousness. I’m starting to think my article will focus on how this network of journalists, pundits, politicians and academics perform acts of censorship in their publications and events. These performances constitute acts of resistance against the suppression of ideas and demands to conformity imposed on them from woke elites.
How Woke Won hasn’t told me anything I didn’t already know about how this lot think. At its worst, it ventures into conspiratorial arguments about a shadowy, disorganised yet ubiquitous group who shape public consciousness to reflect their values. These ‘woke’ values are the antithesis of ‘traditional’ values. Williams spends little time defining the latter (probably because this would risk revealing her rightwing inclinations and undermine her grudging support for the ‘real’ working class) but it’s a good overview of how the war on woke relies on producing images of a normative culture under siege from outsiders.
‘The woke cultural elite is contemptuous of the masses for their alleged ignorance and incorrect beliefs’
‘Where students once demanded freedom of speech, woke students want freedom from speech’
‘Woke anti-racism…rejects everything Western societies have traditionally stood for’
In all of these quotes we see a populist inflection of the people against the elites. The people in this formulation possess an essence of authenticity conferred by their non-elitist status. Their beliefs and values are unquestionably good and worth preserving because they do not threaten established ideas on history, race, gender, identity, and class. Woke people on the other hand are setting about upending established knowledge, including what constitutes emancipation, freedom and creativity and how they may be achieved, practiced and maintained over future generations.
Williams’s argument that what is already known must be imparted to children and young people as truth whilst institing that today’s students are refusing to engage with new ideas highlights a rightwing orthodoxy that knowledge can only legitimately flow from a seat of authority. The people as such have no voice so must be voiced by authority, and by implication be performed as an authority on a subject through the vehicle of sources of power. Williams shares with Douglas Murray the view that institutions, especially universities, have lost a sense of their purpose and moral mission. Woke fills the void by providing a new meaning to education. The only way to fight the war on woke from the right is to consolidate definitions and expressions of legitimate knowledge to ensure power remains a unidirectional flow.