I stumbled across a quote while taking my Continental Philosophy course this semester and it struck me as particularly relevant now.
“We must not only punish the traitors, but all people who are not enthusiastic.”
Louis de Saint-Just
Granted, the bloodthirsty Jacobin was referencing the on-going throes of the French Revolution (and not so subtly declaring his undying love for Rousseau), but it is equally applicable to the current “Woke” mob and identity politics. Do you toe the party line? Do you scream the mantras with VIGOR? If you aren’t enthusiastic enough, if you dare question the ideologues or show a moment of hesitation you’ll be ostracized/cancelled/vilified/accused of literal violence/fired/won’t get tenure/be blacklisted.
While the American attitude toward the French Revolution has been generally favorable—naturally enough for a nation itself born in revolution. But as revolutions go, the French one in 1789 was among the worst. True, in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity, it overthrew a corrupt regime. Yet what these fine ideals led to was, first, the Terror and mass murder in France, and then Napoleon and his wars, which took hundreds of thousands of lives in Europe and Russia. After this pointless slaughter came the restoration of the same corrupt regime that the Revolution overthrew. Aside from immense suffering, the upheaval achieved nothing. The Jacobins, particularly Robespierre, were the prototype of a particularly odious kind of evildoer: the ideologue who believes that reason and morality are on the side of his butcheries. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot are of the same mold. They are the characteristic scourges of humanity in modern times, but Robespierre has a good claim to being the first.
For the sane and decent person, “virtue” doesn’t remotely apply to what the revolutionaries were undertaking…and that still applies today. It isn’t virtuous to seek to silence dissenting opinions, to threaten them with violence when you disagree with them, to invent villains and victims and posture themselves as our saviors. But note that even the bloodiest, most radical of the Société des Jacobins employed positive terminology in defense of their evil work: “justice,” “democracy,” “equality,” and the like. They butchered thousands of people in the name of “liberté, égalité, fraternité!” We have similar mantras today, and confusion abounds because these slogans are pure propaganda. The words “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “equity” are used for their emotive value, but they are redefined in ways that make them a justification for a less tolerant, less diverse, less critical, and less equal society. A society where a senior citizen has horrendous slurs thrown at her and is threatened with physical violence for politely asking not to share a shower room with a biological male.
Many people, of course, do not choose the ideology they hold but acquire it through indoctrination. It may be too much to demand of them to resist indoctrination, if it is persistent (which Woke ideology is) and sophisticated (something Woke ideology is not) , and if they know of no reasonable alternatives. Not being able to resist ideological indoctrination, however, is one thing; committing to horrible behavior in its name just to fall in live with the crowd is quite another. People do have a choice as to whether they threaten, attack, bully, and harass. Decent people will question their ideology if they see that it leads to inflicting public humiliation or defamation, professional ruin, or social media attacks. We must admit that the desire for freedom is slowly eroding. The procedures we rely on to protect freedom and dissent reveal themselves too weak to stand up to totalitarian ideologues animated by self-righteousness, fueled by hate, and determined to impose their will on cowardly institutions and morally vacuous leaders.
What’s happening now is censoriousness, it’s intolerant, and it’s a determination to dissolve complex issues into a blinding moral certainty. Civilizations ultimately run on ideas, and societies that want to prosper should, so to speak, work out them out, manipulating their intellectual muscles regularly.
My advice is this: Don’t fall for it.
To bow before their illiberal demands is to abandon freedom and dissent. Those bowing to the ideologues imagine retaining freedom even as they adjust their behavior to avoid the chanting mob. But they are only fooling themselves.
Don’t be fooled.