Woke Progressivism Will Crash and Burn -- and Here's Why
Wokeness is an offshoot of Christianity. So historian Tom Holland argues in Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (2019). If he had followed his argument to its logical conclusion he would have arrived at the same conclusion I did -- that woke progressivism will crash and burn.
This is because the adherents of woke progressivism find it impossible to live up to their utopian expectations. Sooner or later the cognitive dissonance of living in a state of self-contradiction will become translated into a burning desire to punish others for not being perfect also. At that point the reactionary response will ensure their destruction.
Holland offers numerous examples of Christian sects following this pattern. One, the Taborites, were a Christian community who in 1419 established a utopian settlement outside Prague. It was a communistic society: no ranks or authority, everyone was equal, everything was shared, and the primary focus was to pay witness to Christ. Whilst claiming to be peaceful and compassionate and spreading God’s love to all, the Taborites decided that those they identified as the enemies of the Lord should be put to the sword, which they proceeded to do with great enthusiasm. Not surprisingly they provoked fear and hostility and in 1434 were decisively defeated by an army of more moderate Hussites.
But Holland does not apply this lesson from history to the woke progressives of today.
His final chapter -- entitled ‘Woke’ -- ends lamely, because he doesn’t say whether he views wokeness as being good, bad, or merely irrelevant to the challenges we face as a civilization in the 21st century.
Nonetheless I’m convinced that Holland is right about the origins of wokeness: it has developed from a secularized version of the Christian values of care and compassion and the righting of injustice and oppression.
But wokeness is not a reflection of Jesus’ teachings as witnessed in the New Testament. Which is to say, the kind of Christianity which aims to bring out the best in its followers and to foster the best in those who have not yet seen the light, through not only preaching the good news but living their Christian values to the full. This is not what wokeness is about. It is evangelical in outlook, but not in a Christian way, because woke progressives are not spreading the word of Jesus but disseminating an ideology that is essentially secular.
The distinction between the secular (saeculum) and the religious (religio) was a first made by St Augustine, to distinguish Godless times from the age of Christianity. In time this came to mark a distinction between the worldly life of believers and the kind of life lived by the clergy. Moving on through history, the distinction then came to be applied to worldly authority compared to the Word of God.
This final transition is probably marked best by the views on tolerant, pluralist government as set out by William Penn (in his four Frames of Government) with regard to the state named after him, and John Locke’s concept of the liberal secular pluralist state in his Two Treatises of Government. Penn believed that a separation of church and state was the best way to ensure religious freedom, but he also believed that the state would need constitutional checks and balances to prevent the development of tyranny. Locke put his trust in the sovereignty of an elected Parliament and the consent of the governed. Both men believed that the primacy of individual conscience would suffice to enable Christian values to suffuse the affairs of state, and that keeping politics out of religion was the best way of ensuring freedom of conscience. But for today’s woke progressives the idea of freedom of conscience counts for nothing. All that matters to them is their belief in their own infallibility and their obsession with imposing their will on everyone else. The woke progressives are actually regressive in expecting that everyone dance to their tune.
Tom Holland tells of repeated struggles between those Christian believers who wished to return to something closer to what they viewed as the fundamental teaching of Christ and a church hierarchy which viewed its mission as the imposition of an orthodoxy arrived at by wise men who decided such matters on the delegated authority of God. And through all this those who took upon their selves the Divine Right of ruling over their dominions felt justified in imposing their religious beliefs and practices on their subjects, until the Peace of Westphalia (1645) after the Thirty Years’ War established the principle of freedom of religion. But the idea was around a lot earlier than that.
The very first reformatio occurred in the 13th century with St Francis of Assisi, whose vows of poverty and chastity were buttressed by one of obedience, which allowed for a solution which pleased everyone: the Pope awarded St Francis a monastic Order of his own and let it be known that this was part of a new orthodoxy. Attempts by subsequent reformers were to have less happy endings. By the time Martin Luther stood trial for heresy in 1521 and was excommunicated by the Roman Church the idea that a believer was answerable to his or her own conscience was attractive to many who no longer believed that the Church authorities were acting with the authority of God. Those who came to be called Protestants were asserting their right to the primacy of individual conscience, but when in 1525 the Peasant’s Revolt challenged the authority of Luther’s powerful protector, Friedrich of Saxony, Luther himself sided with Friedrich in the brutal suppression that followed.
The non-conformist versions of Christianity survived as movements and organizations only because they resisted the temptation to become uncompromising and totalitarian and kept faith with the primacy of the individual believer’s conscience, and also abstained from challenging worldly authority. Those variants which resorted to the more primitive methods of enforcing conformity either moderated their approach or crashed and burned.
And that is exactly the choice facing woke progressives today. Those who moderate their zeal and who recognize the primacy of personal sovereignty and individual choice may preserve something of their influence and leave their unpromising beginnings behind them. But those woke progressives who remain uncompromising and totalitarian in their demands and practices will eventually crash and burn for the same reasons that the repressive puritanical Christian sects of old crashed and burned: because their hypocrisy and barbarity will arouse so much antipathy and hostility that the great mass of ordinary people will begin to hold them in contempt and take steps to confine them to the pages of history.
The woke progressives now dominate the political, intellectual, social and cultural elites of the West, but what matters is that they can go only so far in their totalitarian tendencies before they cease to be useful to the globalist economic elites who currently exploit them. At that point the antipathy and hostility of the great mass of ordinary people will be harnessed to destroy woke progressivism and it will crash and burn.
Wen Wryte is the pseudonym of a retired teacher of philosophy who now leads a life of quiet contemplation.
Image: Monica Showalter, personal photo