by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Mark Bauerlein writes for the Martin Center about efforts to undermine instruction about Western civilization.
[T]here is a big difference between the revisionists of old and the Wokesters of today. The revisionists studied the history and culture of the West and of America and denounced them. The Woke ones denounce the West and America and do NOT study them.
The earlier leftist critics read old authors and exposed their bad social attitudes. The Woke critics say, “If those guys had bad attitudes, why should I read them at all?” The logic is clear to them. If American history and literature and art are packed with exploitation and bigotry, let’s not waste time with it.
I am not sure that this is what the revisionists intended. They took great satisfaction in de-mystifying and de-mythifying the past. It pleased the vindictiveness that sprang from their ressentiment, which itself grew from their unhappy consciousness of inferiority in the face of larger-than-life characters from the past.
But the younger leftists didn’t grow up in the shadow of the old-fashioned, reverent humanities. Their teachers were the revisionists themselves. They don’t feel the burden of the past in the way the previous generation did. They have no duty to “transvalue” Jonathan Swift (because of his misogyny) or the Founding Fathers (for allowing slavery). That work is already complete.
All that remains is to dispel them. Tear down the statues, replace 1776 with 1619, and promote contemporary writers, artists, and thinkers of color. The Woke generation doesn’t know very much about the past, but they have sufficient moral scruple to forget it, to judge it as white privilege and carry onward. To them, historical ignorance is no crime. On the contrary, a proud dismissal of a venal heritage is praiseworthy.
This is the natural next step in the decline of the humanities—the decline of culture.
The old New Left insisted on historical consciousness, the right and proper historical consciousness. Those revisionists insisted just as fervently as traditionalists did that young Americans read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, only with a different eye.
The Woke Movement isn’t interested.