Imagine a West where liberal ideals have shriveled away. Could the "Successor Ideology" be taking over?
If I can indulge in some "identity politics" of my own, as a survivor of childhood trauma it infuriates me when the language of trauma is hijacked to try to shut people up.
Who’s Foucault!? When Yang defines his “successor ideology” he says “It comes from a transition, or succession, from a liberal account ... to a more Foucauldian account.” Yang is spot on. But how did a half-crazy French philosopher who died 36 years ago become be the key to wokism today?
First, thanks to the Persuasion Staff for distilling and posting this important interview. And thanks to Mounk and Yang for their incredibly perceptive discussion, and to the commenters below. I agree with them all.
But let me fill in some background that I discovered a year ago when I decided to include a chapter on identity politics and ended up with eight chapters and a whole new perspective on left politics. Connecting the backstory to the present was not easy without Pluckrose and Lindsay’s “Cynical Theories” (July 2020).
The Persuasion Staff introduces the discussion by pointing to “microaggressions” and “denunciations of whiteness.” These are the entry points. Dr. Derald Wing Sue, the utterly dominant theorist of microaggression theory cites (in his massive text for teacher training), as his first two ideological influences, Antonio Gramsci and Jacques Derrida. Robin DiAngelo, of “White Fragility” fame emphatically bases her analysis of “social justice” on the Frankfurt School’s “critical theory,” and mentions first of all, yes, … Michel Foucault, and second Jacques Derrida.
Gramsci co-founded the Italian Communist Party in 1921 and, while imprisoned by Mussolini, developed his version of Neo-Marxism. Dr. Sue’s microaggression theory was developed from Critical Race Theory, a special case of the Frankfurt School’s “critical theory.” The “Frankfurt School” developed the German version of Neo-Marxism.
What about Derrida, mentioned by both Dr. Sue and DiAngelo? Both Derrida and Judith Butler (the most prominent founder of queer theory) have received, in Frankfurt Germany, the Adorno Prize. Adorno was a leader of the Frankfurt School, and a co-developer of “critical theory.”
Butler is a postmodern professor at U.C. Berkeley, where she founded the Critical Theory Institute with a $1.5 million grant from Mellon Foundation. In her famous third-wave feminist book Gender Trouble, the first person she cites is, yes again, … Foucault.
All this fits Yang and Mounk’s discussion perfectly.
Yang’s Successor Ideology is Neo-Marxism filtered through postmodernism. (Yes, I’m aware that Neo-Marxists claim there’s no such thing, and postmodernists, claim postmodernism is dead. These are good cover stories.)
Mounk correctly notes that that Successor Ideology is saying, “it’s all one huge interlocking scheme of domination.” Exactly. That’s Gramsci’s “cultural hegemony.” And it’s Adorno’s “culture industry” and “false consciousness.” All of these are said to be ways in which the establishment dominates society’s world view for its own benefit. The goal of Neo-Marxism is to awaken the masses (that’s like taking the “red pill” in “The Matrix” — a deliberately postmodern film). Those who see through “false consciousness” and have taken the red pill, are already woke.
Of course, the far-right and Qanon, love the red-pill idea just as much — since they too hate liberalism and the Enlightenment,
According to Gramsci, awakening the masses is a matter of building a “counter-hegemony” to challenge capitalist power. That counter-hegemony — basically counter-thought-control — is exactly what Yang is describing when he says, “people have to be silent, .... repeat loyalty oaths, ... scourge themselves in public.” More broadly, as he explains, it is about “dismantling reason, about dismantling individualism.”
Dismantling reason and individualism is of course, as Mounk, Yang, and the Persuasion Staff say, an attack on liberalism. Or, you could say, an attack on the enlightenment. The Neo-Marxist Culture-Industry concept is described by Adorno in a chapter called “Enlightenment as Mass Deception." That’s the essence of Neo-Marxism — the Enlightenment and liberalism are mass deceptions.
Jean-François Leotard who, along with Derrida and Foucault, was part of the holy trinity of postmodernism, first defined it. He said postmodernism is the unwillingness to believe in grand narratives. And his primary example of such a narrative was … the Enlightenment.
So we see that the Neo-Marxists developed theories of “cultural hegemony,” “the culture industry,” and “false consciousness” in order to attack Enlightenment liberalism, reason, and science. And postmodernism introduced this attack into Western academia. From there it spread throughout society in the form of woke identity politics.
This explanation leaves out many other important ideological currents, but it sketches the path of the most enduring and powerful current in the tide of wokism. Understanding this can help immensely as we fight against it. After all, Neo-Marxism has such a bad reputation that even Neo-Marxists shun its name.
A simpler, quicker introduction to postmodernism than provided by “Cynical Theories” can be found in Part 5 of my book “Ripped Apart,” available as a free PDF here: https://zfacts.com/ripped-apart-v1/
For my money, "successor ideology" seems like an unnecessary descriptor when we already have perfectly good terms for what so many of us have addressed in this forum. What we have here in political language is left-wing authoritarian populism. It emanates from the academy and, more specifically, from the humanities, so it has an intellectual face. But if you don't care too much about how it's produced in the sordid process of post-structuralist exegesis, what comes out the other end is plain authoritarian populism. There's no need to guess where the intellectual leaders are on the questions many of us care about because they tell us plainly. They reject reason (just assume I've placed many of these terms in "quotes"), objectivity, free speech, rights, and liberalism (as a philosophy). They loathe the Democratic Party. As I've said before, the only thing more dangerous politically than the left right now is the right.
This will be the war heading into 2022 and 2024. In not pushing back even a little bit, the Democrats have become the party of the Woke and this potential authoritarianism. Some of us saw it coming and tried to warn them but we had not only zero pushback, but the press and big tech have emboldened and empowered the left on this front. Thus, they can't and won't inject any sort of liberalism into the party. Had Donald Trump won four more years, Democrats would have gotten a lesson on why this is a dangerous path. Voters decided Trump was the more dangerous path, which is fair. But in so doing, I fear, power is about to shift hard right. What you warned about, Yascha, is, I think, what happens when the left pushes the center to side with the hard right. Now, Democrats are in no position to stop it. No leader would even try, with Twitter there to shame them back down. So expect things to get a lot worse in the coming years.
To me the crucial question is how the Successor Ideology ( I'm not sure that "Successor Ideology" is the most intuitive way of conveying the view in question) interrelates with Trumpism. I believe it is far and away the most important cause. The next Trump will likely be less crazy, less corrupt, not a Russian asset and possibly less racist. But he or she will still be a right authoritarian, and in the US that is likely to prevail over left authoritarianism, at least in the political arena.
Liked the interview, but I thought the end was missing something. In speculating where "Successor Ideology" might lead us what wasn't discussed is what the extreme-right-wing reaction to it would be. I don't want to live under "Successor Ideology" but I'm also scared of what it might result in - possibly fascism American-style. I think a lot of Trump's (continuing) support is attributable to the success so far of "Successor Ideology." Both extremes are awful and they totally encourage each other.
Why not just call them Marxists or New Marxists? It's not fully accurate but it's close. Reasonable folk need a radioactive label of our own to use against them.
Another good thought invoking article. Thank you. I would say another representation of soft Left totalitarianism and it’s shaming silencing coercive prospects.