Published March 28, 2023
More than a tribulation for America, woke is tearing the West apart. British universities once mocked American political correctness. No longer. Nowadays, woke is on offense at Oxford, Cambridge, and throughout the U.K., where traditionalist Brits are frustrated by the Conservative Party’s reluctance to resist. French politicos are pushing back somewhat more energetically than the British against woke, yet the ideology has secured a foothold in France. Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott slammed the country’s woke corporations a couple of months ago for making traditional Australia Day celebrations optional. In short, no place is safe.
If the West is pervasively afflicted by woke, however, the West itself is the cure. That is, if wokeness is about delegitimizing, undermining, and ultimately replacing the history and governing principles of the West, recapturing and celebrating the core Western story is the way to fight back.
That’s what British (small “c”) conservatives are doing by way of The West, a new six-part documentary defending the West and retelling its story for our time. The documentary, written and directed by Marc Sidwell, can be freely accessed via the YouTube channel of the New Culture Forum (scroll down to the bottom left for the first episode, and for episode updates). My EPPC colleague George Weigel and I were interviewed by Sidwell, and we appear at various points in the series. The first episode went up this past Sunday, and a new episode will be posted every week, on Sunday.
The New Culture Forum, for which Marc Sidwell works, is a kind of cross between National Review and Fox News. Or better, NCF is like a television channel run by a British version of NR. Ideologically, New Culture Forum and NR are quite similar. In fact, Sidwell got in touch with Weigel and me after reading NR’s December 2021 special issue, “A Defense of the West,” in which we both appeared. Instead of op-eds featuring takes on the day’s news, however, New Culture Forum (NCF) is built around a webpage filled with videos. (Videos commenting on the most recent developments appear at the bottom left of the homepage). NCF’s videos feature regular commenters (such as Sidwell) who discuss the latest U.K. culture-war dust ups, interview authors who break with woke orthodoxy, and speak with the couple who just started Britain’s first classical Christian school.
NCF’s videos offer the kind of pushback against woke cultural initiatives that Britain’s Conservative Party too often fails to provide. Sidwell, however, had the bright idea of getting off of defense and producing a series that explores and celebrates the West, retelling a story that the woke want to bury.
The first episode of The West is already up and available. Most Americans won’t think twice about the way that various threads of Sidwell’s case for the West in that episode converge on visuals of some famous memorials: the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square, which commemorates Admiral Nelson’s great (but for him, fatal) victory over Napoleon’s navy at the Battle of Trafalgar, and the statue of Churchill that stands outside of Parliament.
The mental background of the various statue visuals for Britons, however, is crowded with memories of woke assaults on the country’s most cherished memorials. In 2017, as the British watched the U.S. debating the removal of Confederate statues, a columnist for the leftist Guardian sparked an uproar by arguing that the Nelson Column should be taken down — on the grounds that he would today be considered a white supremacist. In 2020, following on the George Floyd demonstrations and riots in the U.S., the British version of Black Lives Matter echoed that earlier call for the removal of Nelson’s Column. Some of the same protesters then defaced Churchill’s statue and called for its removal. Since then, controversies over these and many other revered British statues have continued, very much as a knowing response to similar moves in the U.S. While New Culture Forum typically dissects and dismantles this iconoclasm, Sidwell had the bright idea of fighting back positively by telling the story of the West’s uniqueness, as embodied in the lives and spirits of its heroes.
The fifth episode of Sidwell’s series will likely kick up the greatest controversy. That episode deals with empire and slavery. Sidwell will make the case there against the view, commonly held by the U.K. left, that Britain’s economic greatness was built on empire and slavery. (Leftist American historians likewise now claim, unconvincingly, that America’s capitalist prosperity is rooted in slavery.)
Nigel Biggar, one of the experts Sidwell interviewed for his series, will undoubtedly play a major part in that episode. Biggar just published, Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning, a British best-seller that is stirring up plenty of anger on the left. Since colonialism and empire are at the center of the woke attack on Britain, you can imagine the British left’s response to Biggar. Every university class, every museum, every statue, every inch of the U.K. must now supposedly be “decolonized.” But what if colonialism was far more morally complex than the woke allow? In that case, the air would go out of the woke balloon.
I’ve emphasized the British flavor of Sidwell’s documentary, yet this is a project that Americans will find of real interest. With plenty of American commentators, the West is certainly a transatlantic collaboration. To some degree, Sidwell and New Culture Forum look to American conservatives as a repository of regard for the West capable of sparking a European renewal. In general, the extent to which Brits are informed about developments in America is stunning. Whether it’s BLM or NR, what we say and do here does have an effect on Britain, and the rest of the West. Also, check out the connection Sidwell draws between Nelson at Trafalgar and the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Sidwell is clearly not interested in refighting the War of 1812, but rather in forming a transatlantic alliance to revitalize the West.
So do have a look at Marc Sidwell’s six-part series, The West, beginning here with episode one. And watch for new episodes, posting every Sunday for five more weeks at the bottom left of the NCF video homepage. I’ll be having more to say about Sidwell’s case for the West in a few weeks.
Stanley Kurtz is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. On a wide range of issues, from K-12 and higher education reform, to the challenges of democratization abroad, to urban-suburban policies, to the shaping of the American left’s agenda, Mr. Kurtz is a key contributor to American public debates. Mr. Kurtz has written on these and other issues for various journals, particularly National Review Online (where he is a contributing editor).
Stanley Kurtz is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Beyond his work with Education and American Ideals, Mr. Kurtz is a key contributor to American public debates on a wide range of issues from K–12 and higher education reform, to the challenges of democratization abroad, to urban-suburban policies, to the shaping of the American left’s agenda. Mr. Kurtz has written on these and other issues for various journals, particularly National Review Online (where he is a contributing editor).