The Glenn Show: John McWhorter & Ian Buruma – The Spirit of Wokeness
This week, John and I are joined by the distinguished writer Ian Buruma, author of many books, including this year’s The Collaborators: Three Stories of Deception and Survival in World War II. Ian recently published an essay in Harper’s in which he takes up John’s thesis that wokeness constitutes a kind of religion, adding that understanding wokeness as “essentially a Protestant phenomenon” can help us understand one of its central rituals: the public apology. It’s an erudite and thought-provoking entry in the anti-woke literature, so I invited him on to talk about it.
We begin by discussing that essay, as Ian expands on his reasons for identifying wokeness with Protestantism, noting that its emphasis on public moral confession has displaced progressives’ traditional investment in concrete matters of economic inequality, labor rights, health care, and education. But, I ask, doesn’t calling wokeness a religion give a bad name to religion? Marx called religion “the opiate of the masses,” and perhaps on that score wokeness might qualify as its equivalent. Ian himself was the victim of a woke revolt at the New York Review of Books, which led to his forced resignation. He recounts the experience and its professional consequences. And it’s not only in America that we see wokeness emerging in the public discourse—we’ve started to export it around the world. After Ian takes his leave, John and I talk about his essay about the Florida Board of Education’s guidelines for teaching African American history. As John says, we shouldn’t let one sentence besmirch an otherwise uncontroversial curriculum.
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