American intellectuals may be hopping on the woke bandwagon, rushing to put up “Black Lives Matter” and “Hate Doesn’t Live Here” signs.
Refreshingly, and perhaps surprisingly, prominent French intellectuals are pushing back against the woke ideas emanating from American campuses.
A New York Times story describes this phenomenon:
The threat is said to be existential. It fuels secessionism. Gnaws at national unity. Abets Islamism. Attacks France’s intellectual and cultural heritage.
The threat? “Certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States,’’ said President Emmanuel Macron.
French politicians, high-profile intellectuals and journalists are warning that progressive American ideas—specifically on race, gender, post-colonialism—are undermining their society. “There’s a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities,’’ warned Mr. Macron’s education minister.
Emboldened by these comments, prominent intellectuals have banded together against what they regard as contamination by the out-of-control woke leftism of American campuses and its attendant cancel culture.
Despite the hysterical tone of the New York Times piece, it is a good thing that the French, who have always taken pride in their cultural heritage, are debating the influence of ideas that they see as coming from American campuses.
Unfortunately, some right of center political leaders want a parliamentary investigation of the effects of the intellectual revolution the U.S. supposedly is importing to France.
If you believe in freedom of speech, that is never a solution.
But recognizing the roots and effects of certain sociological theories is a good job for academia and public intellectuals.
Critical Race Theory, which undergirds so much of American sociology, and, increasingly, our politics, is being challenged in France:
The publication this month of a book critical of racial studies by two veteran social scientists, Stéphane Beaud and Gérard Noiriel, fueled criticism from younger scholars—and has received extensive news coverage. Mr. Noiriel has said that race had become a “bulldozer’’ crushing other subjects, adding, in an email, that its academic research in France was questionable because race is not recognized by the government and merely “subjective data.’’
The fierce French debate over a handful of academic disciplines on U.S. campuses may surprise those who have witnessed the gradual decline of American influence in many corners of the world. In some ways, it is a proxy fight over some of the most combustible issues in French society, including national identity and the sharing of power. In a nation where intellectuals still hold sway, the stakes are high.
What the New York Times reporter does not infer is that the U.S. debate over these ideas, which spilled into the streets last summer, is also a proxy fight over basic ideas on which our republic has rested.
The reporter may try to downplay the these arguments (“a handful of academic disciplines on U.S. campuses”) and belittle the U.S. (“a gradual decline in American influence in many corners of the world”), but French intellectuals are to be applauded for being more willing to engage in debate than U.S. academics.
However, it is good a good sign that some French intellectuals seem to be getting woke to wokeism.
Part of the reason for the burgeoning wokeism awakening in France may be that the French have always had a high appreciation for their own culture and history.
The French apparently realize, as we should have when mobs were tearing down statues of historical figures, often ignorant as to the identity of the person whose statue they were toppling, that woke ideas often regard civilization as something that must be destroyed.
Needless to say, the New York Times does not regard this development quite the same way I do. But the article itself is fascinating and gives me a glimmer of hope that American intellectuals may follow the French in an awakening from wokeism.
By the way, IWF will host a book chat in March with Helen Pluckrose, a U.K. writer who has written the best book I know of on critical race theory, which is one of the ideologies the French intellectuals are apparently now willing to engage. It is clear for the layman and also a page-turner, a remarkable achievement.