If provocation is money, some enterprising young men may be about to find themselves worth a packet.
The Compact, a new New Right webzine, recently launched. Part First Things, part The American Conservative, part Ramparts, the periodical joins the ranks of dissident publications featuring writers who don’t hew to the blinkeringly liberal, staled moderate middle. Boasting a feisty masthead mix of anti-liberal conservatives like Patrick Deneen and progressive cancel-culture critics like Glenn Greenwald, the organ shows sonorous promise, if only for its convention-picking slew of introductory columns.
The most inflammatory being a broadside against the right titled “Only the Economic Left Can Beat the Woke.” Penned by David Rieff, son of famed sociologist Phillip Rieff, the thesis is nothing short of an injunction for conservatives, libertarians, and non-leftists to pack it up and amscray. The right as a body is, in Rieff’s estimation, ineffectual in the war against woke.
Well, if David Rieff says this is all for naught, that settles it. Roll out the “Mission Failure” marquis. We had a good run, everyone. Time to shut it down. Pay the freelancers out of their contracts. Shutter the WP Engine account. Our SAS system? No idea what that is, but it sounds menacing in a Skynet sort of way—so kill it. Thank you, dear Editor, for your infinite patience with my too-too verbosity. Hit the Green Day! No, not “Good Riddance.” I wanna hear “Having a Blast.”
So concludes my illustrious, long-spanning occupation des lettres. My butterfly keys have reached their terminus. Consider my final dispatch filed. Goodnight, and thank you. Can you hit the lights, Mr. Editor?
Wait. Why isn’t it dark in here? Aren’t we defunct? Demised? Belly up? Obsolete? Hasn’t our entire endeavor had it? Have hearts not been moved, minds not been changed, political needles not been swayed? Have we not breathed our last gasp into a commentary void?
Don’t hang it up just yet, fellow fightin’ righty. I didn’t hear no bell, did you?
Rieff writes that woke ideology has captured the “Academic-Cultural-Philanthropic Complex,” subjecting all of us to its bromides about diversity. That’s not a new, nor novel, insight. Woke capital has been a hotly debated topic going back to 2015. The academy was lost to leftism a half-century ago. But now the lib deity Woki pokes his horns into every facet of life. Kindergarten teachers force racialist lessons upon children; blue-chip corporations institute DEI training for employees; films can’t win an Oscar without the right racial balance; the ever-flowing, shore-brimming stream of cancellations rushes through our culture.
Is the right still capable of damning it up, and saving a tolerant, liberal, open culture from the foaming waters?
Rieff has a disaffirming view. “To put it bluntly, the right’s cultural bona fides are basically nil,” he writes with requisite apologies to Chesterton, Eliot, Walker, and O’Connor (possessing culture apparently means working exclusively in words). The right has abjectly failed in trying to trounce the left by their rival’s own lights, e.g. accusing leftists of being “the real racists.” Fighting the other side on their own linguistic turf is always an unwinnable battle since it concedes first-order morality. So the right stays losing—racking up the Ls, as the kids say—because it assumes wokeism is a consistent mode of thought.
Rieff then goes for the capitalist kill shot, making a convincing case that the right’s embrace of markets has backfired. “For generations, [the right] mocked the left for demanding that capitalism develop a social conscience…[b]ut what the right never foresaw was that a social conscience actually could be good for business.”
Competition and profit-making didn’t keep woke politics at bay. Try finding a publicly listed company that didn’t post some saccharine paean to racial justice after George Floyd’s murder. Or that posts rainbow emojis every day during June. I’ll peruse Romans I:26 while you Google…
Took you a while, huh? Shame. I was just getting to the part when crotchety Paul lists all the types of sinners going to Hell. Oh, well. I’ll save that inspiring reading for my kid’s bedtime.
Rieff is on the mark when he reasons the right has surrendered the market to successor ideology. The right’s coziness with capitalism makes it incapable of launching an effective counterstrike against woke’s usurpation. That leaves one last enemy capable of contending with wokey identitarianism: unreconstructed Marxism.
Like the Dead Men of Dunharrow, those wily, old communists who never awoke (Ha! See what I did there?) from the Soviet dream must be called forth to fulfill their oath to overthrow capitalism. Matthew Walther once described “woke capital” as tautological because corporate c-suites, in adopting the race-sex-inclusion argot of the left, weren’t deviating from the demand-fulfillment line, but meeting it. The customer wants woke; the customer is always right; the customer gets their defund-the-police burger with extra Ahmaud Arbery sauce and a side of non-binary, ethically sourced, indigenously cultivated fries.
The strapline “go woke, go broke” was always right-wing wishcasting. While the stock market summited new peaks year over year, those same listed brands, from McDonald’s to Target to Old Navy, increasingly embraced wokeish fads. Cultural traditionalism is anathema to the new commercial dispensation. But being waterboys for corporate concerns has muted the right’s protestations to inserting trans-AAPI-disabled characters into every Disney cartoon. In short, the right flubbed the negotiation: you award tax breaks for maintaining normative traditional morality—not for nothing.
Hence Rieff reckons that dyed-(or is that died?)-in-the-cooperative-weaved-wool Marxists are the only hope to defeat the Woke Galactic Empire. By extension, we righties should get over our red aversion and make common cause with communists, which is a bit like asking Kyiv Jews to ally with Cossacks.
I get horseshoe theory and “realignment” are trendy analytical terms, but c’mon. We’ve all read The Black Book of Communism’s Wikipedia. Ditto for the entry on Robespierre’s fate. Forming the woke-crushing Megazord with tear-down-culturalists may annihilate one enemy, but we’ll still wind up in the tumbril in the end.
Having an influential sociologist for a papa must provide Rieff with interesting salon company. But I’m unaware, either on the uber-confessional Twittersphere or in my professional life, of a full-throated Marxist not enthralled by identity politicking. The red-diaper-babies of “The Squad” can’t tweet about redistributing wealth without mentioning “white supremacy” or including the acronym for the dozen or so sexual identities. If there’s an unwoke left, it isn’t exactly getting airtime.
Rieff says the small-o orthodox Christian-inflected dissident right “is even more marginal in the United States today than the non-Woke left” but that’s a bit like comparing the contemporary influence of Legitimists and Carlists. Who cares what either thinks?
But Rieff is wrong to dismiss right-wing culture warring out of hand. It’s true that woke’s hostile takeover of big business took the right unawares. That naivety doesn’t rust our arms, however. Many on the right, conservative and libertarian, are doing what they’ve always praised: creating their own culture infused with their own values. Ben Shapiro’s media-hub Daily Wire is branching into movie-making. Conservative children’s-book imprints are producing trad-value stories. A handful of Twitter clones promising not to censor the right have emerged, including one clinker endorsed by the social-media-less president. The site that you’re reading this brilliant prose off of produces documentaries featuring everyday Americans trying to shrug off the yoke of oppressive government. Many of these ventures are new and aren’t guaranteed long-term success. Some are even cringey: putting my toddler on HRT sounds safer than having her watch My Little Lib-Ownin’ Pony.
But there is an effort afoot on the right to re-influence the broader culture, wresting it away from censorious wokeism. That doesn’t even account for the right’s current dominance in both the news field (Fox News and the New York Post outperform most other liberal media outlets) and even on social media.
The right may be outflanked on the cultural battlefield, but it isn’t defeated. The same can’t be said for Rieff’s proletarian revolution, which ceased on Christmas Day three decades ago. If the right wants tips on how to best wokeism in the marketplace, we’d be better off listening to ideological winners—not losers. That’s how markets work, after all.