Eric Kaufmann Explains How Woke Conquered the World

Wokery is a characteristically modern scourge, laying waste all before it in pursuit of a utopian Year Zero where all ‘oppression’ of minorities is expunged. But where did it come from? Eric Kaufmann, a ‘cancelled’ Canadian academic and now Professor of Politics at Buckingham University, has written a new book trying to answer that question, and Kathleen Stock has reviewed it for the Times.

Stock begins by setting out the “contrast” account offered by Jordan Peterson, “effectively an adherent to a new version of the ‘Reds under the beds’ scare that gripped America in the 1950s”:

He believes that the repressive state of many so-called progressive institutions owes a significant debt to the ideas of the early 20th-century communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Frustrated by the failure of economic Marxism to take root in the West, Left-wingers supposedly decided to take a cue from Gramsci and wage a cultural ‘war of position’ instead, covertly infiltrating universities and other public organisations to disseminate their radical ideas and undermine traditional social structures. ‘Wokeness’ is allegedly the result: a garbled melange of postmodernism and neo-Marxist ideas now enjoying a great vogue. The main thrust is that Western categories and values inevitably encode oppressive power relations in favour of dominant white and heterosexual interests, which therefore all must be dismantled in favour of the victimised, colonised and dispossessed.

Yet, “to anyone familiar with the chaos and corporatism of the modern university, this all sounds far too well organised”, says Stock.

Kaufmann’s rival account rings truer: wokeness, understood as the “sacralisation of historically disadvantaged race, gender and sexual identity groups”, derives from a basic emotional impulse of compassion towards the victimised underdog and guilt at past misdeeds. In other words it stems from fairly ordinary Left-liberal motivations.

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