No figure is more associated with the ideological revolution that shook elite American institutions in the Trump era than Ibram So there’s symbolic weight to the news that the Kendi Antiracism Research Center at Boston University, funded by a generous donation from Twitter founder Jack Dorsey in 2020, will be the dismissal of 15 or 20 staff members, confirming the feeling (among many liberals, especially) that “peak woke up” has been left behind and the revolution has continued its course.
Has it? By some definitions, yes. The wave of cancellations, resignations and removals of public monuments has receded. Attempts to use “woke capital” to achieve progressive change have met with strong resistance and corporations are losing enthusiasm for a vanguard role.
Meanwhile, there is now more intellectual and political energy in anti-wokeness, evident not only in the reaction in red states but in this fall’s slate of new books, which includes critiques of the social justice ideology of the socialist lefthe center left and the good. The Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action has created new legal obstacles to Kendi-style progressivism. The environment in elite journalism is less ideologically committed and more skeptical and critical.
But any setback is also distributed unevenly. I have written before about why progressive orthodoxies seem stronger in academia than in the media, but anyone who wants to understand that dynamic should read my colleague Michael Powell’s recent article. report on the so-called diversity statements in higher education. These exemplify a different consequence of the “awakening peak”: not the retreat of ideology, but its consolidation and entrenchment.
Powell’s story begins with Yoel Inbar, a psychology professor who lost a potential job at the University of California, Los Angeles after a group of graduate students protested his opposition to requirements that candidates for academic positions detail its commitment to “diversity, equity and inclusion.” Professor Inbar, a liberal politician, had diligently completed that statement. But from the graduate students’ perspective, mere compliance was insufficient; its principled critique of practice made it ideologically unacceptable.
Inbar’s personal story seems like a classic write-off. But what my colleague’s report makes clear is that the dissemination of diversity statements is not really a mechanism for expelling and canceling nonconformists. It creates conformity more invisibly, by training aspiring academics to announce themselves as ideological team players and by weeding out candidates who don’t fully understand the rules of progressive discourse (who imagine, for example, that announcing their desire of “treating someone”) everyone the same” is an appropriate anti-racist commitment.
The counterargument is that diversity is an apolitical concept: who could be against it? But imagine that nearly half of America’s large universities, in response to ideological pressure groups, began asking job candidates to write a statement affirming American patriotism; friends, simply as an apolitical concept, something we all agree is good. And then imagine that it became clear that some answers – “I think dissent is patriotic” or even “I love America because it is a nation of immigrants” – were often penalized as insufficiently patriotic correct.
Most liberals would consider this outright McCarthyism, or even worse than McCarthyism, since the McCarthy era. loyalty oaths At, for example, the University of California required only a generic affirmation of loyalty to the United States Constitution, not a declaration of positive ideological belief.
However, an equivalent exercise in ideological policing has so far generated strong resistance, primarily from red-state governors, incumbent rioters, and free speech organizations; the liberal faculty has generally accepted it.
There are two points to draw from this situation. The first is about the present: Many free-speech-oriented liberals have been eager to shift from worrying about an illiberal left to criticizing the excesses of red-state governors and school boards. But as long as the bastions of liberal intellectual life are governed by oaths of ideological loyalty, that shift can only be partial, and Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott can always point their fingers backwards.
The second is about the future. In the Trump years we saw that in an atmosphere of political emergency, when fear of populism or authoritarianism organized all left-of-center thinking, many liberals struggled to resist the demands for ideological loyalty made by movements to their left.
Now the emergency mentality has receded and resistance and skepticism are easier. But what if he returns, whether under a Trump restoration or some other form?
In this scenario, the current entrenchment of ideological conformity surely bodes well for the potential executors of tomorrow. If liberals accept loyalty oaths under calm conditions, what will they accept in an emergency? Probably too much, in which case the next peak of awakening will be greater and the next revolution more complete.