Published June 20, 2022
Conservatives may be coming around to the view of the Dead Kennedys, the left-wing punk rockers who sang that “the law don’t mean s–t if you’ve got the right friends, that’s how this country’s run.” Their caustic rewrite of “I Fought the Law” was inspired by the assassin Dan White getting off easy, but the broad alienation from American institutions is surprisingly resonant with right-wing Americans today — for good reason.
Riots and political violence are treated very differently depending on who commits them. For instance, the Biden administration is allowing the illegal intimidation of Supreme Court justices, including threats against their families, even after an armed assassin came to Justice Kavanaugh’s home. Likewise, the terror campaign against pro-life pregnancy centers is largely being ignored, and the official who should be investigating is on record as hating them. Of course, the perpetrators of the Capitol riot are being pursued and prosecuted much more aggressively than those who participated in the 2020 summer riots, which were much more destructive and attacked the government.
The government is also acting as an enforcer for radical leftist ideology. For example, Biden is trying to purge law enforcement of those who don’t buy into gender ideology: No Christians need apply. And he is about to take away poor kids’ school lunches if their schools don’t acquiescence to the rainbow agenda and, say, let males into the girls’ locker room.
Even the Marines have gone woke, celebrating Pride with rainbow bullets. No wonder ordinary Americans are losing trust in even the parts of government they used to respect the most.
Of course, conservatives are also alienated from the many other areas of American life, from education to Big Business to Silicon Valley to the entertainment industry, that have been captured by wokeness. So what happens when the people who have been the backbone of America realize the system is rigged against them and stop supporting it?
Here’s What Could Happen
Of course, we may still hope for an effective political response, led by, say, a President Ron DeSantis working with large Republican majorities in Congress. But it is also easy to imagine the GOP lacking the courage and cohesion to use political power for much more than another corporate tax cut, allowing the woke left to continue its march of institutional conquest.
We could also worry about escalating political violence that spirals, if not into full civil war, at least into something like the Troubles of Northern Ireland. But we might instead get Irish democracy, which has been described as “the silent, dogged resistance, withdrawal, and truculence of millions of ordinary people.” It is subjects cooperating with their rulers as little as possible.
This possibility envisions an American life marked not so much by escalating political violence (although there will still be some) than by general distrust and dysfunction. In it, millions of Americans — not just conservatives, but non-leftists in general — will treat their woke overlords like hostile colonial occupiers.
Wokeness is primarily a ruling class ideology imposed on a population that receives little benefit from it. This is why it is often better explained by distinctions of class and education than between public and private. The ruling class, and its power, extend well beyond government. But, though it is easy to imagine wokeness conquering institutions, it is harder to imagine it commanding the loyalty of the people.
Wokeness Destroys Institutions
When wokeness conquers institutions, it drains them of their legitimacy. This is partly because people dislike wokeness, but it is mostly because this ideology changes the function and purpose of an institution. The practical ends of the organization, which it exists to fulfill, are subordinated to its new ideological goals, which encourage incompetence and destructive infighting.
Ironically, this has been demonstrated by the struggles of many left-wing organizations in recent years, as internal wokeness has sabotaged efforts to push their agenda on issues from abortion to the environment. The Washington Post recently melted down over a retweet of a joke.
It is amusing to watch left-wing groups destroy themselves with squabbles over race and sex, but everything from education to entertainment to the military has also been infected, with similar results. Woke institutions by definition put wokeness first, and their ostensible purpose — whether it is teaching math, enforcing the law, or making people laugh — second. So they cannot be trusted. For example, scientific journals going woke costs them credibility, rather than making woke ideology more credible.
Less Involvement with Woke Institutions
Irish democracy is a rational response to a woke regime. While perhaps only a few dissenters will have their books canceled or be cut off from the financial system, almost everyone will experience woke hegemony as an annoyance and injustice. Thus, people will trust less, cooperate less, and participate less in and with woke-run institutions. They will reluctantly comply when required, while looking for alternatives or withdrawing when possible.
For example, many families with traditions of military service will be hesitant to tell their sons to join the newly woke armed forces. Employees at woke corporations will keep their heads down, mouths shut, and not go out of their way to identify or fix problems — you never know when you might stumble into an intersectional trap. Irish democracy isn’t a violent revolt, but the slow breakdown of a system and institutions that are hostile to the people they rule, and which people therefore feel no loyalty toward.
This vision of alienation increasingly describes our nation; in many ways, Irish democracy is already here. But it is not stable. The combination of institutional decay, woke imperialism, and popular resentment will eventually force a confrontation. If we are fortunate (and if we remain wisely engaged in politics) it will be political, rather than an escalation of violence.
We will need wise political leadership to mount an effective political response, but it is also necessary to cultivate the lived alternatives to the creeping decay of wokeness. We cannot just individually retreat and then hope for a revival.
Rather, as institutions are corrupted and fail, we need to build and strengthen alternatives that show a better way of life by demonstrating the virtues wokeness degrades. The work of building such institutions will also help prepare us to use power effectively when we regain it over failing woke institutions.
This revival begins with our families, friendships, and churches, but it must go beyond them. The flourishing of homeschool groups and the classical school movement are good examples of building alternatives to a corrupt and failing system. And if we build it, they will come. Parents want their first-graders to learn to read, not to deconstruct the gender binary.
We should not despair even though the system is rigged against us, for it is run by ideologues who are incompetent and unpopular. We should see Irish democracy as descriptive, not prescriptive. We should, in short, change who runs the country.
Nathanael Blake, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has focused on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre and Russell Kirk. He is currently working on a study of J.R.R. Tolkien’s anti-rationalism. As a cultural observer and commentator, he is also fascinated at how our secularizing culture develops substitutes for the loss of religious symbols, meaning and order.