The Corner


‘Wokeness’ Smothers Higher Education

Banner outside New York University in 2009. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

There are new stories every day on the ways zealous social-justice warriors who are ‘woke’ to all the world’s ills make life miserable for anyone who disagrees with them. There is, however, at least one apostate from the mob — former NYU professor Michael Rectenwald. For most of his life, he subscribed to leftist beliefs, but about five years ago turned away in revulsion.

He has written a book entitled Beyond Woke and in today’s Martin Center article, David Clemens reviews it.

He writes, “Rectenwald defines ‘woke’ as ‘the political awakening that stems from the emergence of consciousness and conscientiousness regarding social and political injustice.’ If that sounds familiar, it’s because woke and social justice are quasi-religious concepts. ‘Woke’ evokes epiphany while ‘social justice’ is best thought of as a whole new (god-free) religion, complete with original sin, confession, saints, and martyrs.”

Most religious converts have the decency to leave you alone if you say “no thanks” to their pitch, but not the ‘woke.’

Rectenwald began his journey into pariah status with some tweets that criticized common practices at his university such as making students declare their gender and preferred pronouns. He was immediately attacked by his former comrades. Clemens explains that “Rectenwald was shunned, harassed, and investigated. A final denunciation came from NYU’s Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group, which concluded that ‘The cause of his guilt is the content and structure of his thinking.’”

Nothing gives the woke such delight as punishing people whose thinking is wrongly structured. We have reached the Orwellian point where only one opinion is permissible.

Clemens concludes that if our author is correct, “maybe parsing the tangled skein of woke and social justice rhetoric is simple. Perhaps the woke virus isn’t novel at all. Thomas Sowell noted in The Quest for Cosmic Justice, ‘Envy was once considered to be one of the seven deadly sins before it became one of the most admired virtues under its new name, ‘social justice.’ Maybe all the holier-than-thou sanctimony and bafflegab of wokeness and social justice is actually just smoke and mirrors meant to conceal good old envy, sloth, anger, and greed.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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