Persuasion Wars

Hard Left

Sam Adler-Bell, who I first encountered as co-host of the Know Your Enemy podcast, has a very good article at the New Yorker: ‌Unlearning the Language of ‘Wokeness’. He opens acknowledging that today’s use of “wokeness” is false to the historical usage, but continues:

I’m going to offer — God, forgive me — another definition of “wokeness,” one which bears at least some resemblance to the way it is deployed in our jaundiced contemporary discourses.

Here it is: Wokeness refers to the invocation of unintuitive and morally burdensome political norms and ideas in a manner which suggests they are self-evident.

This idiom — or perhaps communicative register — replaces the obligation of persuading others to adopt our values with the satisfaction of signaling our allegiance and literacy to those who already agree.

Since Adler-Bell is a radical who actually wants to change things instead of living purely in an echo-chamber, he argues for changing the communicative register, while acknowledging that intelligibly advocating radical change to people in the mainstream is, by necessity, always going to be difficult. And I think Adler-Bell has nailed the central off-putting mannerism of wokesterism, and even of progressivism more broadly.

I found Adler-Bell a bit hard to read (it was sultry, and I was sleepy), but it was worth reading in the end, especially since some guys on the Right are consciously not making the wokesters’ mistake.

Postliberal Right

Having seen the workings of institutional conservatism firsthand for several decades, we believe that the best way to understand the contemporary conservative intellectual movement is by examining the material interests that underwrite its workings and shape its mission. Those material interests aren’t all perfectly in agreement with one another, which is why the organizations in question don’t always play nice together. There are disagreements at the margins. But the North Star of all is rule by large corporate and financial power, and support for militarism and cultural aggression abroad.

In his farewell address, in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned his compatriots about just this threat: the rise of a military-industrial complex that shuts out the primacy of public order and the common good to secure the economic commitments of corporate entities. This is what the conservative movement became, the jackals of Mammon. And it is what threatens the common good of the nation.

Sohrab Ahmari, Patrick Deneen, Chad Pecknold, ‌We Know How America Got Such a Corporate-Friendly Court

I know the larger postliberal agenda of these men. I even subscribe to their substack. But isn’t this opinion piece right on target?

I expect to see more and more opinion pieces from these guys and their compadres, chipping away bit-by-bit, by persuasion, at insouciant think-tank “conservatism.” Intelligibly advocating radical change to people in the mainstream is always difficult, but they’re doing it — which is exactly what the progressive Left is not doing.

I wish the progressive Left would try. We’ve been in a period of patent political ferment since the run-up to the 2016 Election. I’m a lifelong “conservative,” but conservatism already is so changed, and the label so debatable, that my self-identity isn’t really much use any more. I’m open to well-reasoned voices from many perspectives.

But the progressives are simply forfeiting the debate to the postliberals.

Do you know of anyone else persuasively arguing an alternative to our polarized stalemate?


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