A Decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind: The Rest of the West
Though this essay series is about America's internal challenges, the world matters. The forces impelling America's Great Awokening are all present elsewhere, but they manifest themselves elsewhere.
(Previous: The God of the Woke)
Having wrapped up our discussion of Wokeism as a new religion that speaks brilliantly to America’s spiritually starved elite, it’s time to turn our attention back to reengaging the American Spirit. We started parts of this discussion—out of order—long ago, but there’s plenty more ground to cover. Let’s start in a place that’s less than obvious: The world at large.
At first glance, an essay on the world beyond our borders may appear misplaced in a series on America’s spiritual crisis. As Thomas Jefferson noted in the Declaration’s preamble, however, “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” is pretty important. Few of the trends hitting America are localized. The conflict between tradition and modernity is a defining feature of our time, not of our country. The shift from scarcity to abundance may have begun in the West, but it’s since gone global. Every nation, every society, every institution, every faith, and every ideology has had to address it. We may be focused on some uniquely American responses, but that doesn’t mean we have to pretend that they emerged in a vacuum. They influence, are influenced by, and interact with other responses to the same phenomena. So let’s take a bit of a world tour.
Wokeism, as we’ve been discussing, is by far the greatest internal threat to the American spirit. Because America is unique even among Western nations, the Woke threat has manifested itself differently elsewhere. That’s perhaps clearest in looking at some of the differences between its status in the U.S. and the EU. Apocalyptic climate change plays a far larger role in European politics than in the U.S. As a result, it’s been far more toxic. It already threatens to curtail German energy and Dutch farming. It’s devastated once-promising nuclear industries and heightened reliance on Russian oil and gas. While it may have become an article of faith among the European elite and in certain quarters, it lacks much of the theological edge that appeals to its American adherents. The difference is even clearer when looking at transgender issues; even the proudly Woke French recognize that America’s Woke push to mutilate and sterilize children is insane and bestial. When it came to Covid extremism, Sweden—and to a lesser extent, the rest of Scandinavia—led the world in rational responses.
These differences are not terribly surprising. American spiritual traditions and religious history assumed their own trajectory nearly 500 years ago—while Europe’s counterreformation was still raging. When America was founded as a creedal nation, it rested upon a novel spiritual tradition already well over a century old. John Winthrop saw us as a shining city on a hill long before anyone contemplated independence from Great Britain. Europe has had its own complicated relationship with faith and with its own traditions—a relationship that further varies from European country to European country. It’s unsurprising that the spiritual juggernaut of Wokeism has played itself out differently in Europe. Woke Europeans may share a great deal with their American counterparts, but they are far less religious and far more willing to downplay the parts of Wokeism that don’t feel right. For all its anti-Americanism, contemporary Wokeism is also, in many ways, a very American response to a creedal nation mired in a spiritual crisis.
Wokeism is far less of a force outside the U.S. and the EU. There are, however, two important anti-American global ideologies aligned with Wokeism’s destructive goals. The first is Islamism, one of many denominational interpretations of a faith tradition far older than America, namely Islam. The second, like Wokeism, derived from the utopian tradition. Deng Xiaoping called it “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” and though many have questioned its fidelity to socialism, the name is apt. This “Chinese Model” marries the Western utopian tradition to China’s historic reverence for centralized control and authority. Islamism and the Chinese Model are both deeply antithetical to America’s own spiritual roots. Not surprisingly, Wokeism has allied with both in its drive to displace and supplant America.
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