Philosopher Susan Neiman and cultural critic Thomas Chatterton Williams came to Intelligence Squared for a challenging conversation on the themes of Neiman’s new book Left is Not Woke. Neiman set out what she sees as the dangerous consequences of conflating ‘wokeism’ with the Left, arguing that this confusion threatens the core principles that have guided progressive movements for centuries.
Neiman dissected what she sees as the malign influence of Michel Foucault and Carl Schmitt, two titans of twentieth-century thought, whose work portrays social life as an eternal struggle of us against them, and, in her view, undermines basic notions of justice and progress. As she argued, a generation inculcated with these concepts and raised in a broader culture shaped by the ruthless ideas of neoliberalism and evolutionary psychology has set about changing the world. But is it time to think again? Neiman will caution that those who espouse ‘woke’ values risk undermining their own goals and drifting, inexorably and unintentionally, towards the right. In other words, they are in danger of becoming the very thing they despise.