How the Right Lost its Way

Once opposed to so-called wokeness, the political right has embraced the collectivism it used to hate

Wokeness used to be a campus issue

Being a conservative on a college campus in the mid 2010s was an interesting experience, to say the least. In the wake of the Occupy Wall Street movement, students and faculty became more willing to express distrust in the traditional institutions underpinning our democracy. Combined with the slow burn of progressives self-selecting into professorial careers and conservatives self-selecting out, college campuses became hostile to most if not all expressions of conservatism.

I remember speakers being shouted down. I remember being screamed at that I was racist, sexist, or homophobic for listening to or reading a specific conservative thinker or for arguing against left-wing policy. For any right-of-center student or academic who was paying attention, it was very clear that we were seen not as valued members of the academic community or even as humans, but as the enemy by many of the woke campus left.

Wokeness is inherently collectivist

For the sake of clarity, let me define what I'm talking about when I talk about wokeness. I'm not talking about simply being aware of racial inequality or injustice as proponents claim nor am I talking about the spooky sort of "cultural Marxism" that some on the right believe wokeness to be. Rather, I am talking about a subscription to a set of beliefs including:

  1. A desire to water down all communication and expression to be inoffensive to the most sensitive member of the group

  2. A belief that the feelings of the audience are more important than the speaker's offensiveness when determining what is offensive

  3. The demand that society live under a single, arbitrary moral code

  4. The basing of said moral code on what elevates the power of proponents rather than prudence

  5. The erosion of individual liberty in pursuit of collective homogeneity under a new puritanical regime

Simply put, wokeness is the belief that collective morality is more important than individual agency, and that said collective morality should be dictated by a select few members of the ideological in-group.

The GOP used to be against collectivism

Just a decade ago, the Republican party was a conservative party, based on conservative beliefs like those outlined by Russell Kirk, like an understanding of human imperfection, an opposition to collectivism, an appreciation for variety and diversity, and a belief that "there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order."

In his 1960 book Up from Liberalism, prominent conservative voice and National Review founder William F. Buckley clearly articulated the conservative case for individual liberty, stating that "liberty is the only genuine foundation for the quest for truth"

Compare this to quotes from early progressive leaders, like Herbert Croly, who said in The Promise of the American Life: "Individual freedom is important, but more important still is the freedom of a whole people to dispose of its own destiny." Progressive Era leaders laid a philosophical foundation that the purpose of the individual is to contribute to the goals of the nation.

The contrast was clear: while wokeness was a collectivist embrace of one true ideology for all, conservatism was diametrically opposed, seeking to preserve the institutions that allow for diverse beliefs and uphold individual liberty and dignity.

But now the Right has adopted woke behavior

But that all changed when the GOP was hijacked by a narcissistic sex pest who replaced all of its beliefs with self-serving executive orders and egotistical tirades, only to leave an ideological vacuum in his wake. Donald Trump tore down the pillars that held up the temple of conservatism because he didn't like the way they looked, and now that he's gone the GOP is scrambling to find load-bearing replacements.

The result is that in recent years, the Right has become a quixotic party, tilting at any windmill that looks like it might serve as a stand-in for a coherent ideology. This has created a movement that is defined increasingly by what it hates rather than what it loves, and one that is increasingly obsessed with sex, sexuality, and genitalia. From wanting to monitor which bathroom your genitals allow you to use, to wanting any mention of sex or sexuality in schools to be verboten, the right has embraced woke behavior to limit expression or behavior that they have suddenly deemed offensive.

For example, a Florida charter school principal was recently forced to resign for allowing children at her school to view offensive, "pornographic" material. What was the material in question, you might ask? Was it hardcore porn, lewd pictures, or suggestive content? Nope—It was Michelangelo's Statue of David. Students were learning about Renaissance art, from the Birth of Venus to the Creation of Adam. But because one single parent claimed that this was pornography, an educator lost their job.

Another example that hits closer to home is the recent push to close libraries and ban books. In my town, a group affiliated with white nationalists carried out an organized campaign to close our local libraries because said libraries contained certain books that didn't align with their own woke orthodox beliefs. They submitted a list of books they would like to see taken off of library shelves for various reasons, from "LGBTQIA+ content" to "promotes anti-police views". One book titled Speak Out encourages young women to speak out about their experiences with sexual abuse and to hold rapist accountable, is also on their list for "bias against male students". These books aren't inherently offensive, but right wingers seek to keep them out of the hands of consumers because someone, somewhere might be offended.

Fortunately these efforts have failed to gain traction in my neck of the woods and the candidates that supported them have lost their election bids. But how long will this hold true? Will the average voter always be able to serve as a bulwark against this new wokeness?

On babies and bathwater

The Right has lost its way as a confident movement seeking to uphold the institutions and ideals that underpin our society and has instead become a fearful movement focused on clinging to power and waging war against the out-group on behalf of the present in-group.

Let me be clear: this strategy has never succeeded in advancing conservative causes in the long term. From the Fascists to the Soviets, every group that gets its start doing away with the less popular tenets of liberal society ends up finding convenient excuses for it to expand its power just a bit more and take just a little more control over the life of the individual. This, without fail, snowballs until the in-group has total control over the individual and any hope for a conservative society is dead. Give this clip a listen for more detail:

So, buyer beware. If you find yourself agreeing with these right-wing wokescolds, consider asking yourself where it ends. Is it just the "porn in libraries"? Or is it also books that have a "bias against male students"? What about books—or even speech—that has a bias against western society?

Are these views worth silencing? Is it worth riding the tiger in the hopes that it never turns on you? I don't think so.

Extra, extra!

Some of you may be aware that I play in worship bands for a couple of local churches. What you may not know is that I dislike a lot of worship music. It’s not that I don’t resonate with the messages, but that worship music as a whole is still just barely emerging from the ‘90s in terms of style and sound. This is slowly changing, and sounding outdated obviously doesn’t reduce a song’s value in ministry (that discussion is for a different post), but it makes it a lot harder for people me to listen to worship songs outside of church which in turn makes worshipping more of a Sunday hobby than a way of living.

In an effort to change this, I’ve been looking for more worship music that, y’know, sounds like stuff I like. Here are a few of my favorites:


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