Woke Conspiracies and Zionist Ones

People on the American Right sincerely seem to believe that “woke” ideology is so terrible and pervasive a phenomenon that it can be compared to a conspiratorial form of totalitarianism sweeping the country.

David Brooks, in The New York Times:

My friend Rod Dreher recently had a blog post for The American Conservative called “Why Are Conservatives in Despair?” He explained that conservatives are in despair because a hostile ideology — wokeness or social justice or critical race theory — is sweeping across America the way Bolshevism swept across the Russian Empire before the October Revolution in 1917.

Dreher, quoting himself in The American Conservative:

The social justice cultists of our day are pale imitations of Lenin and his fiery disciples. Aside from the ruthless antifa faction, they restrict their violence to words and bullying within bourgeois institutional contexts. They prefer to push around college administrators, professors, and white-collar professionals. Unlike the Bolsheviks, who were hardened revolutionaries, SJWs get their way not by shedding blood but by shedding tears.

Yet there are clear parallels—parallels that those who once lived under communism identify.

Like the early Bolsheviks, they are radically alienated from society. They too believe that justice depends on group identity, and that achieving justice means taking power away from the exploiters and handing it to the exploited.

Social justice cultists, like the first Bolsheviks, are intellectuals whose gospel is spread by intellectual agitation. It is a gospel that depends on awakening and inspiring hatred in the hearts of those it wishes to induce into revolutionary consciousness. This is why it matters immensely that they have established their base within universities, where they can indoctrinate in spiteful ideology those who will be going out to work in society’s institutions.

Dreher, commenting on the preceding quotation:

This is happening to us right now! And these radicals, in power in institutions and corporate suites, are advancing their illiberal revolution, within the formally liberal rules of our society. 

Brooks again, in the Times:

The people at the C.I.A., Disney, Major League Baseball and Coca-Cola aren’t faking it when they perform the acts we now call woke capitalism. They went to the same schools and share the same dominant culture and want the same reputational benefits.

Neither Brooks nor Dreher are kidding about the view they hold. Wokeness on their view is totalitarian in content and totalitarian in aspiration. It aims to destroy our freedom, aims to control all of life, and aims to do so insidiously, by infiltrating both the commanding heights and nooks and crannies of our society–government, corporation, small business, street corner. Its insidious nature is what makes it a conspiracy. It aims to subvert our society by discreetly and covertly, not by open insurrection.

Imagine that I said the same thing about Zionism. Let’s try it, making appropriate changes.

A hostile ideology — Zionism — is sweeping across America the way Bolshevism swept across the Russian Empire before the October Revolution in 1917.

The Zionist cultists of our day are pale imitations of Jabotinsky and his fiery disciples. Aside from the ruthless people who actually run the Israel Defense Forces, they restrict their violence to words and bullying within bourgeois institutional contexts. They prefer to push around college administrators, professors, and white-collar professionals. Unlike the Bolsheviks, who were hardened revolutionaries, Zionists get their way not by shedding blood but by shedding tears.

Yet there are clear parallels—parallels that those who once lived under communism identify.

Like the early Bolsheviks, they are radically committed to a belief in their own victimization. They too believe that justice depends on group identity, and that achieving justice means taking power away from terrorists and giving it to the terrorized.

Zionist cultists, like the first Bolsheviks, are intellectuals whose gospel is spread by intellectual agitation. It is a gospel that depends on awakening and inspiring hatred in the hearts of those it wishes to induce into Zionist consciousness. This is why it matters immensely that they have established their base within universities, where they can indoctrinate in spiteful ideology those who will be going out to work in society’s institutions.

This is happening to us right now! And these radicals, in power in institutions and corporate suites, are advancing their illiberal revolution, within the formally liberal rules of our society.

The people at the C.I.A., in Congress, in state legislatures, and at major corporations, aren’t faking it when they perform the acts we now call Zionized capitalism. They went to the same schools and share the same dominant culture and want the same reputational benefits.

Now, suddenly, the whole thing sounds crazy and anti-Semitic–a twenty-first century rendition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The idea of a “Zionist conspiracy” is the paradigm of all tinfoil hat theorizing, the kind of thing that marks you out as a crackpot the minute you utter the phrase, regardless of the content of what you say, or the context within which you say it. There are no Zionist conspiracies. Only racists and fools believe in them.

Here is the problem. We need not describe the influence of either woke ideology or Zionism in conspiratorial terms. Other, more plausible explanatory schemes are readily available. But if we insist on having a conspiracy theory, then, of the two conspiracy theories laid out here, only one approximates genuine empirical warrant–the Zionist one. In their 2007 book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt painstakingly and (to my mind) conclusively establish that the Israel lobby literally controls US foreign policy at a fundamental level, does so with adverse overall effects for the conduct of our foreign policy, and does so in a basically insidious way, exploiting charges of anti-Semitism to define the acceptable parameters of discourse on the topic, and shaming those who fall out of line (notably including Mearsheimer and Walt themselves).

The book’s blurb puts things somewhat more decorously:

[Mearsheimer and Walt] describe the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the United States provides to Israel and argues that this support cannot be fully explained on either strategic or moral grounds. This exceptional relationship is due largely to the political influence of a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively work to shape U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. Mearsheimer and Walt provocatively contend that the lobby has a far-reaching impact on America’s posture throughout the Middle East―in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict―and the policies it has encouraged are in neither America’s national interest nor Israel’s long-term interest. The lobby’s influence also affects America’s relationship with important allies and increases dangers that all states face from global jihadist terror.

It takes some but not much effort or ingenuity to spin “remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that cannot be fully explained on either strategic or moral grounds” in conspiratorial terms. Same with “exceptional relationship,” asymmetric “political influence,” and “far-reaching impact” of an adverse nature.

Here’s how a relatively neutral foreign policy expert, Mark Perry of the Quincy Institute, describes things in an interview with The New York Times:

We’re not in charge of the relationship with Israel, and we need to be. They’re in charge, and they’ve been in charge because they’ve always been able to count on bipartisan support in Congress. That is now changing.

That might fairly be unpacked as saying that Israel is in charge of Congress, and by implication in charge of the legislative basis of American foreign policy. In other words, despite our boasts to being represented by Congress, Israel is more in control of the US Congress than are the American people.

And frankly, that isn’t far from saying that the Israeli government has likely bought the loyalty of the average member of Congress, putting talking points in their mouths which a given member will repeat–in order to appease pro-Israel interests, in order to keep the money rolling in, and in order to keep his or her seat in Congress. When I read the Twitter feed of my own congressional representative here in the seventh district of New Jersey, it sure as hell sounds like that’s the case.

So here is my question for people on the Right. Suppose I give you your thesis about the ubiquity and evil of woke culture. I grant that “wokeness” is totalitarian in scope, content, and ambition, and agree that it’s taking over the country. Are you willing to grant me the same dispensation for Zionism? I doubt you will. But why not? And if not, why can’t your reasons for rejecting the idea of Zionist conspiracy, mutatis mutandis, become my reasons for rejecting the idea of woke conspiracy?

Now suppose I don’t give you your thesis. Can you see why study of the power of the Israel lobby in American politics is currently on a more rigorous empirical footing than Rod Dreher’s ramblings in a blog post in The American Conservative? Is it wrong for me to point to that fact, and insist on it as the reason why the one conspiracy theory makes more sense than the other?

Finally, whichever way things go, can you see the double standard involved in insisting that your thesis about woke culture is perfectly reasonable, but the counterpart thesis about Zionism cannot permissibly be asserted–on pain of canceling the person who says it? Doesn’t it look like you’re doing the very thing to anti-Zionists that you claim to discern and oppose in the exemplars of woke culture? And shouldn’t that double standard undermine your credibility in the eyes of people who value the things you claim to value–logic, rationality, and consistency?

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