Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

The misguided woke mind

Close-up of "woke" entry in dictionary
georgeclerk/Getty Images

Radwell is the author of “American Schism: How the Two Enlightenments Hold the Secret to Healing Our Nation” and serves on the Business Council at Business for America. This is the second entry in a 10-part series on the American schism.

In describing the American schism of 2024, I often point out the challenges to civilized and rational debate when the extreme ends of the political spectrum tend to drown out the frustrated majority – the 70 percent of citizens, either center right or center left, who believe that our current political discourse is counterproductive. The paradox is that this majority of Americans feels like it is in the minority because the voices on the edges scream the loudest and receive most of the media coverage.

It is vital to stress that the destructive propensity manifests at both ends of the political spectrum. While I often write about the perils of the antidemocratic and counter-Enlightenment inclinations on the far right, I also believe that the far left, indoctrinated into its own bubble, wreaks its own havoc when it comes to rational, open debate.

As Christopher Rufo discusses in “America’s Cultural Revolution,” the left-wing activist takeover of America’s college campuses has suppressed critical thinking and stifled open dialogue. In such environments, too often any deviation from the extreme left’s rigid doctrine of identity politics is deemed “dangerous.” Further, discourse that strays from the unyielding orthodoxy of politically correctness is even stamped as “violent speech” against which our young Americans need be wrapped in their protective cocoons (as Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff eloquently describe in “The Coddling of the American Mind”).

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

It is truly astounding how words, especially in today’s politically charged milieu, take on a life of their own, quickly becoming partisan footballs tossed around with contempt and derision. Ten years ago, I interpreted the term “woke” to denote being aware of the history of power dynamics in our institutions. Whether related to race or gender, the richness of the woke perspective seemed helpful in uncovering other points of view. After all, as John Stuart Mill put the issue: “he who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” So “wokeness” in my eyes signified a willingness to incorporate the viewpoints of those less “privileged” into the debate.

But this connotation itself somehow got twisted around the axle over the years. Perhaps this evolution of “woke” is best described by Susan Neiman in her book “Left Is Not Woke,” when she explains how the definition began with “concern for marginalized persons, and ends by reducing each to the prism of her marginalization.” The woke mind on the extreme left today has, much like osmosis, assimilated a Marcusian philosophy, which deems that any viewpoint straying from the orthodoxy must be silenced or in today’s vernacular “canceled.”

So what specifically is problematic with this interpretation? Neiman outlines three aspects of today’s “wokeness” phenomenon that resonate with me. She argues that today’s extreme left:

  1. Is obsessed with identity, relentlessly focusing on tribal affiliation to the neglect of recognizing the common humanity we all share. The prime focus of any discussion becomes the lens of identity or the intersection of multiple identities.
  2. Views all societal relations as a power struggle between these different tribes, and denies the notion of justice as distinct from power. By trading Rawls for Foucault, adherents of the extreme left abjure any notion of absolute justice and maintain that justice is merely what those in power say it is.
  3. Rejects the possibility of progress without a millerian overthrow of the institutions of contemporary society. According to this viewpoint, America is just as racist today as it has always been despite the radical de jure shift brought by the Reconstruction amendments, and the significant de facto progress since the civil rights movement.

I would argue that the entire spirit of the Enlightenment is antithetical to all three of these features of the contemporary worldview often adopted by the extreme left. In fact, indoctrination and orthodoxy are themes on both fringes. Analogous to the vicious demonization wielded by the extreme right against its opponents, the “elite” of the extreme left are categorically dismissive of their adversaries and display nothing but disdain for their enemies. Moreover, the purported goal of such movements on the left are anchored in a philosophy of “equality of outcomes” that has proven to have a disastrous track record when it comes to implementation. By comparison, the American version of “equality of access to opportunity” is far from perfect but has readily advanced human prosperity in recent centuries.

Figuring out how to live in an inclusive society undoubtedly requires incorporating diverse viewpoints. But too many of today’s woke leaders allow historical injustices to ensnare them in the rigidity of their own tribal identities, thereby forsaking the constructive dialogue required for social cohesion. As long as such leaders appropriate the intolerance page from the extreme right playbook, the only way forward is for the frustrated majority to wrestle back the gavel from the extremes on both the left and the right who are running the American political asylum.

Read More

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer testifies at the Democratic National Convention in 1964.

Bettmann/Getty Images

60 years later, it's time to restart the Freedom Summer

Johnson is a United Methodist pastor, the author of "Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community" and program director for the Bridge Alliance, which houses The Fulcrum.

Sixty years have passed since Freedom Summer, that pivotal season of 1964 when hundreds of young activists descended upon an unforgiving landscape, driven by a fierce determination to shatter the chains of racial oppression. As our nation teeters on the precipice of another transformative moment, the echoes of that fateful summer reverberate across the years, reminding us that freedom remains an unfinished work.

At the heart of this struggle stood Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper's daughter whose voice thundered like a prophet's in the wilderness, signaling injustice. Her story is one of unyielding defiance, of a spirit that the brutal lash of bigotry could not break. When Hamer testified before the Democratic National Convention in 1964, her words, laced with the pain of beatings and the fire of righteous indignation, laid bare the festering wound of racial terror that had long plagued our nation. Her resilience in the face of such adversity is a testament to the power of the human spirit.

Keep ReadingShow less
Male and female gender symbols
Hreni/Getty Images

The Montana Legislature tried, and failed, to define sex

Nelson is a retired attorney and served as an associate justice of the Montana Supreme Court from 1993 through 2012.

In 2023, the Montana State Legislature passed a bill, signed into law by the governor, that defined sex and sexuality as being either, and only, male or female. It defined “sex” in the following manner: “In human beings, there are exactly two sexes, male and female with two corresponding gametes.” The law listed some 41 sections of the Montana Code that need to be revised based on this definition.

Keep ReadingShow less
two Black people wrapped in an American flag
Raul Ortin/Getty Images

July Fourth: A bittersweet reminder of a dream deferred

Juste is a researcher at the Movement Advancement Project and author of the reportFreedom Under Fire: The Far Right's Battle to Control America.”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.”
— Langston Hughes, I Too

On the Fourth of July we celebrated many things: our nation’s independence, our democracy and the opportunity to gather with loved ones who, ideally, embrace us for who we are. Yet, this same nation does not always make room for us to live freely for who we are, who we love, what we look like and how we pray. And it is this dissonance that renders the Fourth of July’s celebration a bittersweet reminder of a dream deferred for many of us.

Keep ReadingShow less
Campus building with university flag

University of Oklahoma

Oklahoma women robbed of critical resources, entry point into politics

Stacey is a political science professor and program coordinator for political science at Rose State College. Stacey is a member of Scholars Strategy Network.

The University of Oklahoma’s recent decision to shutter a longstanding program intended to encourage, empower and educate female Oklahoma college students to pursue civic and political service careers has deeply unsettled me.

I am upset by the abrupt end to this invaluable program, both as a 2007 alumna of the National Education for Women’s Leadership program and a political science professor who has written recommendation letters and successfully sent at least two students to the program in my last decade of teaching.

The Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center has coordinated and hosted the NEW Leadership program since its inception in 2002, making me one of the elder graduates of a program that is critical to fostering Oklahoma’s future female political leaders.

Keep ReadingShow less
Ten Commandments

Some states are requiring public spaces include displays of the Ten Commandments.

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The danger of mandating the sacred: A Christian cleric's plea

Johnson is a United Methodist pastor, the author of "Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community" and program director for the Bridge Alliance, which houses The Fulcrum.

As an African American Christian cleric, I am deeply troubled by the recent legislative mandates from states like Oklahoma and Louisiana. New laws, passed under the guise of promoting religious freedom and moral values, require Christian biblical education and the display of the Ten Commandments in public spaces. While I believe in the power and wisdom of Scripture, I fear we are misapplying God's commandments to serve man's commands.

Keep ReadingShow less