Bravo to The Economist — and classical liberalism, part II

By Claude Barfield

In my last piece, I shared a number of thoughts regarding the lead analysis of The Economist’s September 4 issue titled “The threat from the illiberal left.” Here, the focus will be on central points the authors address in the subsequent “briefing” section — where, though aware of charges of reaction and racism, the authors tackle such issues as fettered speech and “safetyism,” the raising of some groups over others in the name of social justice, a corporate diversity fetish, and an obeisance to identity politics.

First, the writers describe and take aim at the most deleterious impacts of “wokeism,” stemming first from (mostly elite) universities and abetted by a huge increase in supine university administrators. (Outraged letters are sure to deluge the magazine on these issues.) Within the confines of this blog, here are a few of the most salient and biting points.

via Reuters

There are several radical academic sources, including the 1960s leftish guru Herbert Marcuse, who championed the idea of “repressive tolerance” and argued that “the liberal creed of free and equal discussion” should be sacrificed to end oppression. On what the writers identify as the “expansive” universe of racism, they look at more recent theorists such as Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, who argue that all policies should be judged on their racial results and implications. The writers explain, “In Mr. Kendi’s Manichaean worldview actions are either actively narrowing racial gaps, and are therefore anti-racist, or they are not, in which case they are racist.” They then share Kendi’s conclusion, “Capitalism is essentially racist; racism is essentially capitalist.”

Beyond the halls of academe, wokeism has infiltrated a generation of journalists, some of whom espouse replacing neutral objectivity with moral clarity — unflinchingly judging right and wrong. Additionally, the authors chronicle the rise of wokeism in the Democratic Party with statistics on race-based policies (e.g., aid to Black farmers over others) and the growing support of reparations for the US Black population in recompense for slavery and other past injustices. “Joe Biden, an avatar for Democratic consensus, won by taking positions far to the left of Mr. Obama, including on matters of identity politics,” the piece states.

Finally — and with specific implications for technology policy — the authors predict the corporate community will be a real test of wokeism’s reach. Here, the picture is mixed. While many corporations — including tech firms — have introduced wide-scale diversity programs and even quotas, they still struggle to satisfy the demands of younger employees and social activists. Particularly with Big Tech, there are internal contradictions in that the companies espouse the vagaries of wokeism while ignoring the illiberal left’s adamant opposition to capitalism. In the words of AEI’s Jenna and Benjamin Storey and The Wall Street Journal editorial-page writer Barton Swaim, “Even corporate leaders — who until yesterday could be counted on to champion patriotism and hard work — eagerly recite the maxims of idiots.”

In the end, The Economist is only moderately optimistic, urging classical liberals to “rediscover their fighting spirit” and “take on the bullies and cancelers.” Still, the editors admit:

Aspects of liberalism go against the grain of human nature. It requires you to defend your opponents’ right to speak, even when you know they are wrong. You must be willing to question your deepest beliefs. Businesses must not be sheltered from the gales of creative destruction. Your loved ones must advance on merit alone, even if all your instincts are to bend the rules for them. You must accept the victory of your enemies at the ballot box, even if you think they will bring the country to ruin.

“To be a genuine liberal,” the piece concludes, is “hard work.”

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