The Grand March: Chinese propaganda poster showing Mao Tse-Tung (Mao Zedong), Chinese Communist leader, with peasants during the Cultural Revolution of 1966. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
If you haven’t read this new Quillette essay by Eric Kaufmann, a political scientist at the University of London, you must. Kaufmann argues that this woke moment we’re in now is not normal, but something truly revolutionary, at least at the cultural level. It’s not just theory with him, but relies on data. Excerpts:
Statues toppled, buildings renamed, curricula “decolonized,” staff fired. The protests following George Floyd’s killing have emboldened cultural revolutionaries in America and Europe. The iconoclasts are changing minds, and could be in a position to enact a root-and-branch reconstruction of America into something completely unrecognizable to its present-day inhabitants. Imagine a country whose collective memory has been upended, with a new constitution, anthem, and flag, its name changed from the sinful “America” to something less tainted. Far-fetched? Not according to data I have collected on what liberal white Americans actually believe. Only a renewed American cultural nationalism can resist it.
Kaufmann argues that data show that far from riots driving the public toward Nixonian law-and-order reaction, the public is actually moving toward embracing the unsupported claims of Black Lives Matter.
The political scientist discusses here the way some of our perception of the world is socially constructed. As the “left-modernists,” to use his term, has marched through our institutions of liberal democracy — academia, the media, and so forth — they have catechized people in left-modernist sacred values:
Let’s apply this lens to the sacred values of left-modernist ideology. Is a white woman wearing a Chinese prom dress complimenting or insulting the Chinese? Most Chinese would probably take the former view, but a left-modernist ideological entrepreneur can spin this as cultural appropriation and white colonialism. In effect, the left-modernist socially constructs “harm” and “racism,” spinning something positive into a negative and seeking to sensitize Chinese people to the “fact” that they should feel insulted rather than proud. Those inducted into the religion of antiracism get the message and signal their virtue online, helping to propel people toward the new norm. If this were to catch on in China, the emotions Chinese feel when seeing the image of a white woman in a cheongsam would flip from pride to anger.
The same sensitizing dynamic works for history, literature, film, statues, and even words. Like Red Guards with a hair-trigger sensitivity for sniffing out the bourgeois, today’s left-modernist offense archaeologists outdo each other in trying to reframe the world as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and so on. Turning the principle of charity on its head, they insist on the most suspicious interpretation of a person’s motives when the subject matter is associated with their canonical totems of race, gender, sexuality. A Hispanic man flicking his fingers outside his truck window gets fired because this was photographed, tweeted, and spun as the “OK” white power sign. The result is an atmosphere where inter-personal trust is as low as humanly possible while discursive power flows to the accuser. The new cultural revolutionaries have constructed our emotional and conceptual reality.
Once “harm”, “racism” and other concepts become unmoored from reality, more of the world is remade. Statues which were long ignored become offensive. Complex historical figures like Jefferson or Churchill, who embodied the prejudices of their time, or elites like Columbus or Ulysses Grant, whose achievements had both positive and negative effects, are viewed through a totalizing Maoist lens which collapses shades of grey into black and white. If a historic personage transgressed left-modernist sacred values, their positives instantly evaporate and activists myopically focus on their transgressions.
Suddenly, an entire Orwellian world opens up: place names, history books, statues, buildings. When you’re equipped with the anti-racist hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. In this brave new world, it doesn’t matter whether a symbol like the Rhodes Scholarship has acquired a completely different meaning, or whether a statue has become a symbol of something completely different. All must be levelled to bring forth utopia.
Kaufmann did some research to find out the extent to which self-identified American liberals would accept radical de-Europeanizing of US culture. His results are shocking, and they reveal the extent to which the left-modernist cause — specifically the intersectional agenda at which Black Lives Matter is the center — is really about destroying America as we know it. What Kaufmann did was ask to what extent they would support absurdly radical things, like tearing down old buildings and remaking maps because they represent the old order, etc. And a lot of people said fine, let’s do it. Kaufmann:
Powerful collective memories and symbols always exclude, selecting from a wide palette of historical material. Their emotional appeal is enhanced by focusing on unity, excellence, and authenticity. This is why tourists visit old monuments, not modern buildings; why they like the architectonic unity and history of Paris or Shibam in Yemen, not modern high-rise jumbles like Tokyo.
The dynamics of cultural attractiveness mean that when it comes to national identity, people privilege the patina of age, which is associated with both native or settler origins, and moral archaism. The more indigenous and morally troubling past is favoured over the tolerant and superdiverse present; core nation-building regions like Tuscany over deprived peripheries like Sicily; and elite scribes like Socrates and buildings like the Acropolis more than the slaves and peasants who sustained and built them. All offend modern sensibilities. If today’s left-modernist puritans looked behind UNESCO’s world heritage sites to see how the sausage was made, they would dynamite our precious heritage. The only reasonable aim is to strike an accommodation between culture and equality, one that preserves the past while making space for alternative interpretations.
In Orwell’s 1984, obliterating the past becomes the first task of the socialist regime:
Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.
Substitute “racist” for “bourgeois,” or “white supremacist” for “capitalist roader,” and you find an analogous process of ironing out the particular in favour of the universal. Immanuel Kant’s crooked timber of humanity must be made straight, and the fundamentalist vision of societal perfection imposed on an imperfect past.
This is what is happening right here, right now.
Notice, says Kaufmann, that all this is happening even though there is a man in the White House who ostensibly opposes all of it. This cultural revolution does not need to be led by a politician. He is irrelevant. The revolutionary commissars have taught us all well. You go to the website of the major media (newspapers and broadcast), and the catechism is laid out every day, with vigor. I have come to believe that in terms of cultural revolution, the media are now playing a role like Rwanda’s Radio Mille des Collines, the radical broadcaster whose anti-Tutsi messaging helped drive the genocide. No, I do not believe we are talking in America the killing of human beings. I do believe, though, that the elimination of our traditional American culture by teaching people to despise it as evil is exactly what The New York Times, the Washington Post, the networks, NPR, and the others are seeking to do.
If you had suggested this two me as recently as two months ago, I would have thought it extreme. Not anymore. Here is a relevant passage from my forthcoming book Live Not By Lies, which is full of advice from people who endured communism, on how to resist the soft totalitarianism coming to us:
Kundera says that what makes a leftist (of any kind—socialists, communists, Trotskyites, left-liberals, and so on) a leftist is a shared belief that humanity is on a “Grand March” toward Progress: “The Grand March is the splendid march on the road to brotherhood, equality, justice, happiness; it goes on and on, obstacles notwithstanding, for obstacles there must be if the march is to be the Grand March.”
If progress is inevitable, and the Communist Party is the leader of society’s Grand March to the progressive future, then, the theory goes, to resist the Party is to stand against the future—indeed, against reality itself. Those who oppose the Party oppose progress and freedom and align themselves with greed, backwardness, bigotry, and all manner of injustice. How necessary—indeed, how noble—it is of the Party to bulldoze these stumbling blocks on the Grand March and make straight and smooth the road to tomorrow.
“There was constant propaganda about how communism was changing the village for the better,” recalls Tamás Sályi, a Budapest teacher of English, of his Hungarian youth. “There were always films of the farmer learning to improve his life with new technology. Those who rejected it were [depicted as] endangering their families. There are so many examples about how everything old and traditional prevented life from being good and happy.”
Thus does the Myth of Progress become a justification for exercising dictatorial power to eliminate all opposition. Today, totalitarianism amounts to strict, forced regimentation of the Grand March toward Progress. It is the method by which true believers in Progress aim to keep all of society moving forward toward utopia in lockstep, both in their outward actions and in their innermost thoughts.
If you’re not willing to join the Grand March, pre-order the book here. I swear, you are going to need it.
How do we stop this? Kaufmann calls for a revival of “cultural nationalism,” by which it seems that he means a rededication to traditional symbols and narratives of American nationhood. It’s hard for me to see how that works, to be frank. To do that would mean, in the construal of our revolutionary media, a form of white nationalism. To be very clear: I do not at all agree that traditional American identity is “white nationalism”! But these are the terms in which the left-modernists have taught, and are teaching, Americans to see our own country. This is why the mobs are defacing and tearing down statues not just of Confederates, but of U.S. Grant, Francis Scott Key, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. It makes no sense to many of us, but it makes perfect sense if you assume that any expression at all of the old order is intolerable, and must be erased from the earth.
In China today, the Beijing government is making an all-out effort to eliminate traditional Uighur religion and culture. They are using concentration camps as part of their strategy. I don’t think it will come to that here, but I am less confident of that now than I once was. I am reminded this morning of Solzhenitsyn’s warning, with which I begin Live Not By Lies:
“There always is this fallacious belief: ‘It would not be the same here; here such things are impossible.’ Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth.”
Anyway, once you understand the logic of this ideology, you see that whether you mean it to or not, any defense of traditional sources of American identity will be construed by the ideologues as racially offensive. Traditional American nationalism, in their malicious view, is white nationalism. This is why although I strongly encourage you to read it all, I am rather skeptical of Kaufmann’s strategy for recovery. I do not doubt his good intentions at all, and in fact I share his view that absent a powerful Christian revival, only a strong cultural nationalism might stand a chance of defeating this evil. But I do not believe that the left-modernists will fight us on our own terms. They will insist that our beliefs amount to race hatred. How can you have “cultural nationalism” when the left believes that the nation itself is irredeemably racist and bigoted?
Look at The 1619 Project, which openly seeks to “reframe” American history around slavery as the founding event of the United States. If that is true, then the entire American project is hopelessly compromised. Nikole Hannah-Jones, the black New York Times writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for her role in conceiving and writing for the 1619 Project, was accused last week on Twitter of being behind the rioting, which the critic on Twitter called “the 1619 riots.” She tweeted back that she proudly accepts the designation.
There you have a prize-winning New York Times writer choosing to brand rioting against the existing social order after the Times’s signature project. Did these earn her a rebuke from the same bosses who fired James Bennet for publishing an op-ed by a Republican senator in which he called for troops to be sent in to stop the riots? Of course not. These are the 1619 riots, after all. In fact, today the Times publishes a long piece by Hannah-Jones saying we won’t have justice in America until white people transfer part of their wealth to black people.
(Look, can American liberals please just shut their mouths when they criticize Viktor Orban for refusing migration to Hungary? He is trying to prevent what is happening here now from coming to his country: the dismantling of the nation and its institutions via race consciousness and hatred. America had been a model for how to live pluralistically, in relative peace and order. No more — the American left has seen to that.)
This is what I mean by comparing our media to that Rwandan radio station: they are preparing this country for racial violence. I won’t say “genocide,” though that’s what some right-wing radicals say. But I will call it racial violence. By conceiving of any defense of America’s traditions, its history, its great men and women, and its culture as “racist,” the left-modernists foreclose any way out.
I fear that there will be blood. I hope and pray that there won’t be, and I will be looking for any way to avoid it. But given the logic of the left, their neo-Maoist fanaticism, and their capture of the main institutions of American life, I am finding it hard to see escape routes. If there is blood, then the state will stop the bloodshed by making the totalitarianism harder and more explicit. Most Americans will want peace at any price — including the price of submitting to the surveillance state, and a Social Credit System. Watch.