Although the culture war would appear to be over, to surrender to the dreariness of woke culture—which tramples on art, is without intellectual authority, allows no humor, and is vindictive toward those who oppose it—is unthinkable. So praise the Lord and pass the ammunition; it’s back to the trenches, for there isn’t any choice. The culture war must continue.
I happened to mention the phrase “culture war” in a 1996 conversation with Irving Kristol, who was a contributor to these pages and always a penetrating observer of contemporary American life. “The culture war is over,” Irving said, then paused and added: “We lost.” Alive today, Irving would have been sadly reaffirmed in his declaration, surprised perhaps only at the extent of the loss and the cost it has entailed.
His “we” would include those people who believe in the rewards owed to effort and merit, the value of tradition, and the crucial significance of liberty. “We” would distinctly not include those who believe in the importance of spreading “diversity,” “inclusion” and “equity” as conceived by present-day universities. Nor would it include those whose sense of virtue derives from their putative hunger for social justice and their willingness to make severe judgments of others based on lapses from political correctness. These people are “they,” the woke, who have, as Kristol had it, won the culture war.
The extent of the woke victory is perhaps best demonstrated by the long list of cultural institutions they have captured and now control. Two of the country’s important newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, are unashamedly woke. The New Yorker and the Atlantic have ceased to be general-interest magazines and are now specific-interest publications—that interest being the spread of woke ideas. The major television networks early fell in line without a fight.
Universities, in their humanities and social-sciences divisions, are not merely devoted to the propagation of woke ideas but initiate most of them. In turning away from the ideals of authority and objectivity in favor of clearly partisan views, these institutions have lost their former prestige yet are apparently sustained by the confidence that preaching woke doctrine is a higher calling.