Is woke culture totalitarian?

Aug 20, 2019 by

A majority of people polled in the US, Canada and Britain say political correctness is a problem. And no wonder. Today mainstream politicians, parties, think tanks and bureaucrats tie themselves in knots to avoid soundbites that could be portrayed as racist, sexist or homophobic. Corporations recall shoes with the American flag on the back at the whim of woke athletes. Literature, theatre and art is evaluated on its politics, not its beauty or authenticity. Nations seeking to defend themselves from rapid ethnic change or the loss of power to supranational bodies are assailed as ‘reactionary’ by ‘progressives’.

The terms ‘reactionary’ and ‘progressive’ were staples of communist doctrine, Polish professor Ryszard Legutko reminds us in his edgy and thought-provoking new book. He should know. Growing up in Poland after the war, he took great risks to produce a dissident Samizdat anti-communist magazine, ‘Arka’. In The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, Legutko points to the eerie similarity between 20th-century communist and contemporary liberal societies, providing western readers with an important new vantage point on problems of our current moment.

Having experienced the communist regime first-hand, he is well-placed to spot the symptoms of ideological tyranny today. Anything which stood in the way of the forward march of socialism was labelled by communists as ‘reactionary’, ‘bourgeois’ or ‘idealist’. Like today’s progressives, he says, they believed that familial, ethnic, national and religious traditions were obstacles to the revolution – atavisms to be overcome and ultimately dismantled.

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