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Left Is Not Woke

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While profitable, the term “woke” is also a galvanising force to push specific right-wing narratives into the public consciousness.

Foucault’s critique of modernity, while it has long been criticized for robbing individuals of agency and leading to cynicism or even despair, was not merely an academic one. Thomas Jefferson may have enslaved some 600 human beings, but at least he did it with a guilty conscience.She urges them to renew the values articulated by Enlightenment thinkers: not to confine human beings by ancestry or biology, not to settle for merely replacing one oppressive regime of power by another, not to abandon the hope of genuine human progress. All these genealogical roots are held together, so Neiman alleges, by a rejection of “Enlightenment” values. It is all well and good to avoid “scholarly investigation”, but even non-scholarly books list a few examples of the very object of criticism now and again. Otherwise, we are just left to assume that in a neat feat of dialectics, the “woke” left is simply the unacknowledged mirror image of the identitarian right (i.

Because the concept is so ridiculous, most serious thinkers haven’t wasted much energy on it (leaving aside the reactionary centrists who have turned complaining about “the woke revolution” into a veritable cottage industry). Neiman’s response to the use of Enlightenment rhetoric to justify and exculpate global violence against non-Europeans rests on a hypothetical appeal to an imagined guilty conscience: “Rousseau and Diderot and Kant would have seen through the scam – and wept to watch their own ideals turned into ideology”. What these groups do share is the certainty that if we have any hope of confronting the future—of even surviving into the future—we need new ways of thinking. At its best, Enlightenment thought teaches us to be skeptical of received wisdom, to question sources of power and structures of domination.Neiman takes issue in the first chapter with the putative left’s fascination with fascist thinkers such as Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger, and subsequently tackles the continued influence of Michel Foucault and the contempt for reason that many such thinkers exhibit.

Her clarity of thought and expression, coupled with her beautiful prose, means that this must-read book should be read by everyone concerned with equality and justice. Neiman’s distinction between a “genuine” and “fake” universalism serves to open up a series of key questions that remain unanswered in the book.Susan Neiman's aim in Left Is Not Woke is to remind the left of the importance of universalist values. Neiman’s response is brief: “Critical understanding can arise from powerlessness, but does it always do so?

Furthermore, and more insidiously, snarl words are frequently the language of the status quo, the epithets politicians and media personalities daily hurl at their targets. She envisages a progressive movement drawing from the full range of the human family, from people of all classes, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual identities. I even agree with her on some points—loud music at restaurants is annoying—but the condescension doesn’t illuminate anything. The fictitious right-wing media persona Titania McGrath published Woke: A Guide to Social Justice (2019); current US Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy authored Woke, Inc. Thus did white supremacists march at the Arkansas state capitol in the late 1950s holding signs that read: ‘Race Mixing Is Communism.

Without clear descriptions, definitions, or examples of “woke”, and without quoting any “woke” thinkers at any point, it may seem Neiman is battling a series of straw-people. And the “woke” with whom she disagrees “do not realize how heavily they are weighed down by the theoretical views they hold. In this nuanced and impassioned plea for universalism she has done a public service for readers of every political stripe.

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