Woke or “identity politics” has become a severe problem for orthodox Christians. It involves accepting the non-negotiable requirements of identity groups, as defined by critical theory. In particular, it involves accepting sexual behaviors Scripture defines as sinful.
Behind identity politics is a spirit hostile to traditional Christianity, analyzing people as victims rather than sinners. The Christian doctrine of particular salvation is also at odds with identity politics, since it cuts across identity groups, and involves the exclusion of part of humanity from final salvation (i.e., that part which does not receive God’s saving grace).
The problem is compounded in contemporary America by large corporations actively supporting woke agendas. A striking example (and possibly a turning point) was the gutting of Indiana’s newly enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015 to exclude conscience objection from homosexual behavior. This was the result of corporate pressure on a Republican governor and legislature, resulting in their effective surrender of this legislative effort to protect religious consciences.
The Claremont Institute sponsored two panels to discuss what can be done about woke corporations on May 18. The first considered how corporate America, which in the past was a conservative force, has become a force for the radical left, which stands completely opposed to capitalism.
Arthur Malikh, Executive Director of the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life, noted in introducing the panel that the Left has held conferences on how to influence the American establishment for decades. There have been “hundreds of them,” he said. Now they don’t need conferences anymore, because “they are in a consolidation stage.” At the same time “in recent decades, American corporations went from being more or less patriotic, to being globalist.” Now there are large corporations supporting “revolutionary causes.” Conservatives in the last 30 years have endeavored to give “corporate America everything it wanted,” from open markets to measures reducing the power of labor unions, to allowing many illegal immigrants into the country, which increase the work force and depress wages. “Corporations got all that they wanted, and then they went woke.” Part of the conservative world still refuses to see this, considering that the free market is working.
Malikh observed that the Left now controls America’s most prestigious “institutions, much of the press, much of the federal bureaucracy, much of the security state, the universities, K-12, the culture industries, big tech, Fortune 500s, and perhaps even the military.”
David Azerrad, the first panelist, observed that out of 3,500 publically traded companies, there was only one of those examined that had no diversity and inclusion training. Big business has “joined the media, Hollywood … the mainline Christian churches,” regarding the full leftist agenda of “climate change, gun control, anything having to do with women, so-called people of color, and the so-called LGBTQ.” Azerrad observed that in response, conservatives and libertarians are “scratching their heads.” Supporting the leftist agenda is indeed good for business, but conservatives often do not understand why. Woke companies know that they will not be boycotted or otherwise attacked by conservatives, but they may be attacked by the Left if they do not support its agenda, or do anything contrary to its agenda.
He noted exceptions: Chick-Fil-A was supported by the conservative public against the Left’s activism, and Target “received pushback” due to its new rest room policy, but in general, the Right is quiescent with respect to corporate wokeness. He believes the overall position of the Right in American society today remains “way too libertarian.” By contrast, “everyone is afraid of social justice warriors.” He noted a recent tweet that “if you go woke, you won’t go broke, but if you go anti-woke, you’ll get broken.”
Azerrad observed that corporate management is not merely afraid of social justice warriors, but of the woke among corporate employees. He noted that it was the employees at Mozilla that insisted on the firing of Brendan Eich (who had contributed a small amount to a referendum for traditional marriage). Employees who object to wokeness in their companies are at risk of being fired. By complying with the demands of activists within and without a corporation, one can at least attempt to “be left alone to run your business.”
Another reason corporations go woke is to justify their money and power. Since the equality of persons is a presupposition of classical liberalism, there is the question of why inequality of money and power exists. Historically, this was explained by a doctrine of meritocracy, in which those who are most competent in their work rise to the top. While conservative America continues to believe this, it is no longer an acceptable explanation for the leftist activists powered by critical theory. Differences in status must be the result of bias. Support for extremist groups and implementation of leftist ideology in the hiring, firing, and indoctrination of employees thus will “legitimize your privilege.”
Nevertheless, Azerrad believes that woke corporations “are playing with fire.” This is because the leftist ideologies that go under the name of “wokeness” are intensely hostile to capitalism. Contrary to the maxim given above, “if you go fully woke, you will eventually go broke.” These companies, like all companies, “need to remain concerned about efficiency and profitability.” By contrast, identity politics wants to redistribute wealth and power “to their preferred groups, and to punish oppressors.” He believes that the incompatibility of identity politics with business will be felt when hiring and promotion in the productive parts of an organization, “engineering and sales,” and the selection of management, is done on the basis of group identity rather than merit. Currently, critical theory is claiming that “science, engineering, and technology are all inherently racist.” This inevitably will result in a loss of quality in products.
Finally, the distribution of profits inevitably will come under the hammer of critical theory. He noted that the Black Lives Matter organization wants both “government and corporate reparations.” Azerrad said however, that we can be confident that “the struggle for efficiency” will be “inimical to illusions.”
Matthew Peterson, President of the New Founding and Editor of the American Mind said that wokeness is a fundamental rejection of the Constitutional order. Many people, regrettably, will “go along with the flow.” Woke capital “crushes dissent, it gets involved in election law,” it is always trying to assert itself. Aided by technology, it is in fact “disrupting all human behavior and institutions globally.” The difference between the life experience of persons who are in older generations from those in younger is now a “chasm,” resulting in what could even be described as “alternative realities.”
In general, Peterson believes, legal changes of the last fifty years, particularly antidiscrimination law, mean that the Left “has the law on its side.” Affirmative action is not neutral, but requires “race consciousness rather than color blindness.” This, of course, is the opposite of Martin Luther King’s vision of color blindness expounded in the original civil rights movement. The “political legal complex” that has arisen out of civil rights legislation and adjudication is now “firmly entrenched throughout the federal government.” It “continually pushes for woker and woker business.” The discriminatory policies developing today out of human resources departments are developing “according to a logic that has been around for decades.”
Part of the reason the political/ideological situation with business has developed as it has is that the Right has regarded business as being “outside of politics.” Libertarianism, which has been a strong component of the Right, fosters this belief. And in the past, businesses indeed were focused above all on making money.
Another problem is increasing concentration of capital. Whereas 90 percent of corporate equity was held by small shareholders at mid-twentieth century, today it they hold barely a third. Wealth is concentrated “in an ever smaller number of hands.” The beneficiaries of this are willing to take political positions as a matter of principle, even if there are negative business consequences. Peterson does see some cause for hope here, as the public seems increasingly willing to act against high profile woke business actions.
Finally, Peterson said that the Right was wrong about business being non-political. Products and services are, in fact, “built … around a way of life.” With respect to the way of life being engendered by business, he asked “what does the Right offer, other than being anti-wokeness?” A different “ecosystem of businesses needs to be fostered, especially in tech media” he said.
Joel Kotkin, Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life, indicated he comes to the table from a leftist background. However, he agreed with much of the analysis presented, and believes that “we are evolving into something very much like China.”
The current Chinese regime is a result of Deng Xiaoping’s decision to take advantage of the industriousness of the Chinese people to build “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Kotkin said that the developing political/social situation in America could be called “Chinese capitalism with American characteristics.” Notable in this is a “similar drive toward autocracy.” The concentration of industry and finance in the 1990s greatly facilitated this. The disappearance of small banks throughout the country, who were familiar with their people is another part of this concentration of wealth and power. Also important is the advent of social media, which was thought to mean a democratization of discourse, but has in fact concentrated power in the hands of a few. He observed as well that “the pandemic has been extraordinarily good for this oligarchy,” because it has eliminated many small businesses. History and American political philosophy clearly indicate that “concentrations of power are dangerous.” Yet many of these corporate moguls are profoundly ignorant of American history and politics.
Kotkin believes that American conservatives are wrong in thinking that big tech should not be regulated because it is privately owned. The impact of big tech on society and its alienation from American life argue otherwise. In place of a declining middle class, what is rising is an oligarchy and its servant class.
Kotkin said that to address this situation, it would be good if the Republican Party became, as it has to some extent already become, a working class party. The addition of black and Hispanic voters would be helpful in this goal.
Dan McCarthy, Editor of the Modern Age, and Director of the Robert Novak Fellowship of the Fund for American Studies observed that bureaucracy has developed within big business over the last century. Compliance officers are part of this, who naturally fit with an organization governed by or at least affected by an ideology. The rise of human resources departments is another part of the bureaucratization of business. These corporate bureaucrats can be thought of as “commissars within corporations.” Ideology can easily “take hold within this layer of bureaucracy.” It gives business bureaucracy “a dignity that it would not otherwise possess.” The sense of purpose generated by ideology can also affect even the productive components of a business, and is part of the basis for the “woke insurgency in corporate America.”
McCarthy also said that our moral sense is “more often engaged by injustice than by justice.” People are more energized by having something to fight against rather than to take one’s sense of purpose from producing goods and services. A sense of injustice gives us a sense of courage. Younger employees, who may have been indoctrinated in leftist ideology in college, can now apply what they “learned” in their early jobs. The distinctive virtues of persons involved in business, namely serving as many persons as possible, and promoting peace and prosperity rather than conflict, are not well suited to opposing the woke. The historic Christian virtue of courage is, but it is not high in the hierarchy of business virtues. But previously apolitical business leaders can be enticed into woke campaigns by the appeal of being heroic.
What can be done to oppose woke capitalism, which acts at the bidding of identity politics, was discussed in a second panel, and will be reviewed in a subsequent article.
(Read part 2).