Is “woke” a new ideology?

by Chris Bertram on December 14, 2022

Sam Freedman, whose Substack is the only one I subscribe to, recommended an essay by one James O’Malley on this subject. But reading the essay, it struck me as rather obviously wrong-headed, mainly for the reason that the characteristics it identifies as quintessentially “woke” are shared with other political tendencies and currents, albeit in ways that may be rendered less visible by dominant ideologies and frames of reference. Often, the claim that they are new is, to say the least, somewhat suspect, and I think O’Malley misconstrues various aspects of “woke”, most notably intersectionality.

O’Malley mentions six characteristics as defining “woke” they are:

  • identitarian deference
  • priority of harm reduction over free speech
  • a commitment to intersectionality that makes politics totalising
  • a prioritization of communitarianism over individual rights
  • a scepticism about progress
  • a prioritization of “right-side norms” over “accuracy norms”

Let’s take each of those in turn:

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