Will American Wokeness Destroy the Rest of the West?
"Julian Reichelt is dethroned." So cheered the Berliner Zeitung a few days ago after it was revealed that Bild, Europe's largest newspaper, had been forced to sack its editor — and one of Germany's most popular journalists — following allegations made in a Ben Smith New York Times article of affairs with junior colleagues. The piece also suggested that Axel Springer SE, the German publishing giant that owns Bild, is out of touch with today's woke and #metoo values. Moreover, a few weeks earlier, Springer announced it was going to purchase Politico, the U.S. politics website, for about $1B — the German publisher's largest-ever investment. One more reason to adopt the new values that now dominate American capitalist culture. After all, as Ben Smith put it, an American manager would have been fired for as little as five percent of the allegations Reichelt faces.
All in all, we can say Springer has sacrificed at the altar of woke capitalism an excellent newspaper editor — or, in Springer boss Mathias Döpfner's words, "the last and only journalist in Germany who still courageously rebels against the new GDR authoritarian state."
Meanwhile, the debate is raging throughout the country about gender-neutral and inclusive language. Unfortunately, the whole matter is made more and more complicated by German grammar.
In France, the discussion is even more heated. Prominent French quarterly magazine Le Spectacle du Monde ran a few weeks ago a cover story titled "The Suicide of America." It blamed the U.S. retreat from Afghanistan on "a woke dictatorship" and questioned whether the American "empire was collapsing." In the same issue, an article faulted American universities as islands of extremism, where even students' Halloween costumes are policed, citing Yale University as a place where "offensive" costume-wearers are punished.
Emmanuel Macron's government, in turn, is making the fight against woke theories a cornerstone of its electoral strategy — the French presidential election will be held in April 2022. "Our country has become a target of the woke movement," said Pierre Valentin, an expert at the new think-tank Le Laboratoire de la République, headed by French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer. "If there was a vaccine against the woke virus, it would be French and the leaders of the movement know that." Le Laboratoire de la République is tasked with combating what the minister calls U.S.-imported wokeism. "The [French] Republic is completely contrary to wokeism," Blanquer said in an interview with Le Monde. "In the United States, this ideology provoked a reaction and led to the rise of Donald Trump." He added: "France and its youth have to escape that."
Needless to say, the initiative has sparked controversy. "It's McCarthyism," said Rim-Sarah Alouane, from Toulouse Capitole University. "A minister is using a private entity to block discussions on these themes. He's saying 'this is my responsibility and I'm going to impose the state's vision on these topics.'" In an interview with Elle magazine last summer, President Macron himself complained that U.S.-imported "woke culture" is "racializing" France and creating more division among minorities. He was obviously criticized by progressives, but several members of his government, such as the delegate minister for gender equality and diversity, Elisabeth Moreno, a Black woman, have also shared anti-woke views. "The 'woke' culture is something very dangerous, and we shouldn't bring it to France," she said in an interview with Bloomberg News early this year.
"No, the woke is not a 'reaction' fantasy; it is a cultural revolution in progress," French journalist and essayist Brice Couturier wrote in Le Figaro on October 25, responding to those who deny the reality of woke activism and attribute his denunciation only to the conservatives. Couturier is the author of the recently published book Ok Millennials!: Puritanisme, victimisation, identitarisme, censure...L'enquête d'un « baby boomer » sur les mythes de la génération woke (Ok Millennials! Puritanism, victimization, identity, censorship... The investigation of a "baby boomer" on the myths of the woke generation). This new cultural revolution is not from China, he says, but from the United States. And it is devastating.
The "warriors of social justice," he argues, are our new red guards. "This book is devoted to piecing together the history of what has come to be known as the 'woke' revolution," the author declares in the introduction. "It focuses on recent American cultural history, where this 'esprit' was born and where it has already wrought havoc, and which is still far from having reached its peak in France. With us, it remains confined to the fringes of society. In the U.S. it conquered power, without ever winning a majority. By simply seizing cultural hegemony." L'Oréal bans the terms "white" and "bleaching" from its catalogs, Evian apologizes to Muslims for an advert posted on social media on the first day of Ramadan, LEGO is canceling its advertisements representing police officers in solidarity with Black Lives Matter...who can still claim that wokeness remains folklore for North America?
Britain is also facing hordes of radicals trying to tear the country apart. Who doesn't remember when a statue of prominent merchant and trader Edward Colston was torn down and thrown into a river by Black Lives Matter activists? Or take the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, which renamed itself The Churchill Fellowship and released a statement explaining that the change was due to Churchill's views on race. And what about the University of Edinburgh's recent efforts at "decolonization"? Let's recall that the college told its computer science staff to "avoid using predominantly Western names such as Alice/Bob," as the school "must challenge and rework the current pedagogy, which was rooted in imperial and colonial ideas about knowledge and learning." The terms "master/slave" to represent computing agents are also being discouraged in the faculty's courses, with staff urged to "instead use coordinator or workers."
It definitely seems that there's a sickness emanating from the United States that seeks to contaminate all of Western civilization. The debate is open.
Samuel Robert Piccoli is a blogger and the author of the books Being Conservative from A to Z (2014) and Blessed Are the Free in Spirit (2021). He is Italian and lives in the Venice area. http://www.aninfiniteidea.org/
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