The Origins of Woke by Richard Hanania

From my notion template

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Hanania examines the legal underpinnings of what we now call “Wokeness” and is kind enough to define what he means by the term. Then he goes into an extreme amount of detail explaining his theories. TLDR – there is a lot of money and power in wokeness due to the the way exact way the civil rights laws are written (light on text, heavy on bureaucracy) – it is NOT postmodernism. Al;so – Hanania is book form is much less Hanania than his twitter feed, or substack.

How I Discovered It

Hanania’s substack.

Who Should Read It?

Right wingers who care about being correct about our confusing modern times

How the Book Changed Me

The single biggest thing I took from the book was that what we call Modern Wokeness is not the end result of post modernism, endless fashion, etc, etc, but it is the result of how civil rights laws are written and have been interpreted. It’s the Jones Act of political movements.

Quotes and Highlights

For so many public intellectuals and politicians to be anti-woke but indifferent to civil rights law struck me as similar to worrying about global warming but not bothering to know anything about energy policy. Of course, something changed in the mid-2010s.

Opponents of wokeness sometimes say that “facts don’t care about your feelings.” But the federal judiciary does.

Yet on issues related to race, gender, and sexual orientation, the country has consistently moved left, toward institutions emphasizing classification based on identity, a results-based approach to seeking out equality between groups, and the stamping out of dissent from liberal orthodoxy.

For the purposes of this book, we can say that wokeness has three central pillars. The belief that disparities equal discrimination: Practically any disparity that appears to favor men over women, or whites over non-whites, is caused by some combination of past and present discrimination. Disparities that favor women over men or non-whites over whites are either ignored or celebrated. This includes not only material outcomes like differences in income or representation in high-status professions but “disparities in thought,” or stereotypes about different groups.

Speech restrictions: In the interest of overcoming such problematic disparities, speech needs to be restricted, particularly speech that suggests that they are caused by factors other than discrimination or that stereotypes are true. Human resources (HR) bureaucracy: In the interest of overcoming disparities and regulating speech, a full-time bureaucracy is needed to enforce correct thought and action.

If a person believes that discrimination is the primary cause of disparities but not that there should be speech restrictions to enforce that idea, we generally just call them a liberal instead of woke.

Title IX, which as a matter of statutory text simply banned discrimination in government-funded educational institutions and programs, has been used to micromanage the sex lives of college students.

Government got into the business of social engineering, while outsourcing much of the enforcement of its mandates and regulations to the private sector.

Wokeness resembles civil rights law more than it does Protestantism or the writings of any postmodern philosopher, and we can look at the historical and legal record to understand the motivations of those who made that law.

particular problem for the idea that wokeness came from the university is the fact that identity politics had to originally be forced upon much of higher education by Washington, with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare originally coercing schools like Columbia and UC Berkeley to adopt quota-based faculty hiring during the early 1970s.9 The government mandates came first, and the ideology later.

Long before wokeness was a cultural phenomenon, it was law.

Enforcement is not carried out by the state itself, but mostly outsourced to trial lawyers and the human resources industry, at the expense of private institutions, which end up absorbing much of the cost of and backlash to political correctness.

The members of Congress who voted for the Civil Rights Act believed that they were dismantling a caste system in the South that was sustained by intentional and conscious private and state-backed discrimination. They did not see the bill as a way to remake American society, redistribute wealth, or destroy capitalism.

Once again, there was more intellectual honesty on both the right and the left than there was in the center.

While “diversity” is certainly an idea, it is not one that can claim any kind of intellectual depth or historical pedigree. It was basically the creation of one judge acting out of either political timidity or intellectual laziness.

The fact that feminist and LGBT dogma contradict each other is a problem for logicians and political philosophers but not for the law or the psychology of true believers.

All of the contradictions noted above can be explained by understanding wokeness as the name we give to a collection of beliefs that one must hold for legal and psychosocial reasons, without any mechanism to ensure logical consistency built into the system. We do not look for logical consistency in an act of Congress that we know was the product of logrolling, compromise, and debate between various factions. The creation of a cultural phenomenon is even more complicated than a piece of federal legislation, and how it is lived and experienced is even less likely to have a close relationship with any philosophical text.

Like an act of Congress, wokeness can similarly be seen as a “logrolled” set of cultural beliefs.

This means that the whole project of seeking a grand philosophical explanation for wokeness relies on a conceptual mistake, likely rooted in the need of intellectuals to exaggerate their importance.

defined wokeness in terms of three pillars—disparities equal discrimination, speech controls, and HR bureaucracy—these beliefs and practices should be seen less as a philosophical doctrine with its own impeccable inner logic than as a political program that has emerged from a combination of factors such as interest group lobbying, mass emotional sentiment, and bureaucrats seeking to increase their power.

Why, despite a war on terror that led to the victimization of Muslims both at home and abroad, do we see so little organized political activity among Muslim Americans relative to politicians and activists who identify with artificial categories like Hispanics and AAPI? The wokeness-as-law perspective can help one understand all of this and much else.

The entire concept of merit—whether measured through standardized tests or other forms of academic achievement—is treated with suspicion, as schools close down gifted programs and more universities drop SAT requirements, putting increasing emphasis on subjective measures like extracurriculars that have even worse class and political biases than the practices being eliminated.

The public health profession was discredited among wide swaths of the population when much of the community recommended lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic but made an exception for protests against racism.

Despite the fact that a similar rise in homicide did not occur in other nations that were also suffering from the pandemic, the media sought to place the blame on disruptions related to Covid-19 instead of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The state is so intertwined with the rest of life that it makes little sense to treat culture and politics as separate forces in a modern society.

We see hints of what may come in the rise of corporations, like Coinbase, Substack, and Basecamp, that are explicitly disavowing political activism, even in the absence of any changes in civil rights law.

This is the story of civil rights law. It is likely that few, if any, members of Congress at the time would have believed that the bill signed by President Johnson would ultimately force police departments to lower their physical fitness standards to accommodate women, much less make employers subscribe to theories about the malleability and subjectivity of gender that had yet to be invented.

but ultimately text on paper passed by two large and divided legislative bodies has proved no match for the machinations of permanently placed bureaucrats and judges.

What changed in the mid-twentieth century? It would be surprising if the rise of television did not play a role, as it both nationalized politics and provided footage that increased sympathy for the plight of black southerners. In 1950, only 9 percent of American homes had a television. This number rose to 65 percent in 1955, and 87 percent in 1960.

The year after the CRA was passed, President Johnson signed EO 11246, which, as amended throughout the years, has become the basis of the modern affirmative action in contracting regime.

It created what would come to be called the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), located within the Labor Department. In 1967, Johnson added “sex” to its prohibited categories, and Obama included “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in 2014. While

Today, about a quarter of the American workforce is employed by a government contractor.

Affirmative action is required for every employer with fifty employees that does at least $50,000 worth of business a year with the federal government, and every subcontractor with at least $10,000 in business.

Race and sex are to be determined by self-identification, with the employer prohibited from overruling an individual’s selection, although visual classification is acceptable under certain conditions.20

From the contractor’s perspective, all they can know for certain is that they must go through the motions, and that hiring and promoting more minorities and women will be less likely to get them in trouble.

Each business must be aware of the racial dynamics in its own community, forcing the private sector into the dishonest project of creating identity-obsessed institutions that simultaneously champion equal treatment.

At various points throughout the debate over the Civil Rights Act, critics of the bill expressed concern that it might do x. In response, supporters of the bill would say, “no, it won’t do x,” and the two sides would agree to a compromise that involved entering a clause into the bill in effect saying that “x is prohibited.” Usually within a decade, the EEOC and the federal courts would do x anyway.

If this sounds like a judge making up the law to fit his own political preference, that is because that is exactly what it is. At the very least, Justice Blackmun should be credited for his candor.

which showed an acknowledgment “that constant change is the order of our day and that the seemingly reasonable practices of the present can easily become the injustices of the morrow.”

We have therefore moved from bans on explicit discrimination to practically any behavior or speech potentially offensive to women.

Explicit quotas are preferable to the current system in that they could potentially place limits on discrimination, leave more room for merit, and provide clarity on what is and isn’t allowed. They would also be simpler to administer, lead to less bureaucracy, and not require ideological litmus tests in the form of “diversity statements,” which increasingly are required in university hiring. What we have instead is a system where civil rights law serves as the skeleton key of the left.

As of 2019, among those twenty-five and older, 40 percent of whites had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 52 percent of Asians, 26 percent of blacks, and 19 percent of Hispanics. Clearly any employer that requires a BA or postgraduate degree could be accused of engaging in a practice that has a disparate impact on the latter two groups under the four-fifths rule. Unlike with cognitive tests, though, employers have seldom, if ever, gotten in trouble for requiring college degrees, even when the kind of credential necessary to be hired or promoted has no connection to the profession in question.

If it seems that our culture has built an elaborate ranking system of races, genders, and “traumas,” it is because our legal system did it first.

When most people think about what types of people are affiliated with universities, they usually think of professors and students. That impression is dated, as higher education has been taken over by professional managers who neither teach nor do research. Yale currently has about as many administrators and managers as it does students.1 Many new employees have job titles that did not exist only a few decades before. As of 2020, Ohio State University employed 132 administrators with “diversity” or “equity” in their job titles at the cost of $13.4 million.

None of this would matter all that much if civil rights law wasn’t also self-financing, the second reason for the existence of a robust human resources industry.

Finally, there is the “best practices” doctrine, through which an institution can defend itself by showing that it is behaving in accordance with industry norms. Employers must pay attention not only to what judges and bureaucrats think but to the things that other corporations are doing to address discrimination. This creates an arms race, which helps explain why practices that once seemed absurd can become common.

The results show the creation of an entire industry. In 1968, only 1 in 558 American workers were employed in human resources. By 2021, that number had risen to 1 in 102, including 1 in 184 men and 1 in 68 women. In his 1941 book The Managerial Revolution, James Burnham argued that the world was witnessing a shift from a system where capitalists comprised the ruling class to one in which they were being replaced by a managerial elite that controlled the means of production.

But vagueness wrapped in jargon is the great trick of civil rights law.

That would be an arbitrary standard, but adding more words has the effect of only making the rule look more exact and precise, while in effect doing no such thing.

A traditionally “strong” state can issue mandates that are clear, do not undergo transformations over time through judicial and bureaucratic procedures, are enforced through one part of the national government, and are of uncontested legitimacy. The government of France is held up as an example of a strong state, one that has been able to create a quota for hiring handicapped employees and has laws regarding employment that are stable and enforced exclusively through the Ministry of Labor. In contrast, the American state is “weak.” It does not mandate quotas; in fact, it explicitly bans them. Instead, government contractors have “goals” and “timetables” they set themselves, and all large employers must be on the lookout for “disparate impact” in a world where everything has a disparate impact. Enforcement is also highly decentralized. In the private sector, an employer may face negative consequences through a lawsuit filed by a private party, an investigation through the EEOC, or, if they have a federal contract, via the Department of Labor or the agency that the firm is directly dealing with. Firms may also face pressures at the state or local level. Public institutions such as schools similarly can face individual lawsuits or investigations and threats that funding from Washington will be cut

Due to Christiansburg, however, we now have an asymmetry in which plaintiffs have a right to recover attorney’s fees if they win, but defendants must swallow the costs of defending themselves even when courts have determined they have done nothing wrong.

Under the Obama administration, it was normal practice for the Justice Department to reach settlements with corporations that required them to pay money to left-wing activist groups, therefore providing funding to the administration’s political allies without having to go through Congress.21 Civil rights law implements a relatively small tax on corporations that has a massive effect in terms of creating an entire industry of lawyers, activists, and human resources professionals.

In 2020, there were about 1.5 million businesses in the US with at least fifteen or more employees, the threshold to be covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the ADA.

Civil rights law, through its vagueness, works in a similar way. Each corporation has an incentive to seem “less discriminatory” than others, which in effect means adopting fads out of academia or the HR industry and having to engage in ever more blatant forms of reverse discrimination.

“Woke capital,” which often refers to corporations taking left-wing stances on identity-related issues, is a natural response to a system that rewards this kind of virtue signaling.

Data from the Department of Education shows that while the number of K–12 teachers in the US increased by 8 percent from 2000 to 2017, the number of administrators increased by 75 percent.

The federal relations director of the Association of American Universities once put forward what he called “administrative clone theory,” in which every new form of federal spending comes with a new federal office to administer the money, and then “clones” of the department are created at each university.

In the 1950s, the field of human resources barely existed. Over the next decades, it would grow into a massive community, today comprising around 1 percent of the workforce.

The government decides which categories are relevant to public life, and which are not.

As it turned out, it was easier to create a race than it was to disestablish one.

Americans are usually asked to choose a “race” and an “ethnicity,” with Hispanic or Latino being the only kind of “ethnicity” officially recognized.

In the next year, the SBA would reject Iranians and Arabs for inclusion, and conclude that the category of “Asian” stopped at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border for the purposes of government classification in this area.38 Although it doesn’t appear to have been given much thought, further up north, Central Asians were and remain considered whites for the purposes of government classification, with the status of Uzbeks being the subject of a 2008 SBA hearing that was settled by the petitioner being declared disadvantaged on nonracial grounds.

The EEOC originally denied Poles official minority designation on the grounds that there was no room left on their form, and including them might lead to demands for similar treatment of “Italians, Yugoslavs, Greeks, etc.”42 More extensive efforts were made on behalf of American Jews. Reports from the Truman administration on civil rights gave them substantially more attention than European ethnics, and the Eisenhower administration listed Jews as one group that could be voluntarily reported on by employers in the “other minorities” category.

The idea that the Civil Rights Act would ban employment discrimination based on sex started out as an attempt by a southern segregationist to kill the bill.

Moreover, much of the increase in LGBT identity appears to be among those who engage in only heterosexual behavior, indicating that we are arguably witnessing more of a social contagion of identity than a situation where greater tolerance has allowed more individuals to live as their authentic selves. Again, as with changes in gender relations, it is difficult to prove a causal effect of government policy, though it would be surprising if it had none. Nonetheless, with regard to gender and sexual identity issues, we see the same story of social engineering evident in the way we think about and classify individuals according to race.

Businesses find themselves having to adopt policies that are less tolerant of flirtation and other forms of organic, healthy interactions between men and women, meaning that government has in effect legalized all sexual behavior that goes on behind closed doors, while also carving out an exception for when two individuals work together—in which case it has problematized every step in the process to get to that point.

How could one area of law have such disastrous downstream effects in so many different areas of life? By way of analogy, this question can be answered by noting that one might be skeptical of a claim that there is a medicine that cures a large number of ailments, while being more ready to believe that there is a poison with a large number of negative health effects. Like the human body, society is an extremely complex system, which means that there are many more potentially harmful interventions than there are beneficial ones.

The difficulty created by civil rights law is so well known that it is referred to as the “validity-diversity trade-off”: the better a metric is for predicting job performance, the larger its disparate impact.

At the risk of oversimplification, we may divide American governance into four eras. From the Founding to the presidency of Andrew Jackson, there was the era of elite rule. Then came the spoils system, which was ended, albeit imperfectly, with the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 and the formation of the Civil Service Commission. The era of meritocratic hiring lasted just under a century. Since 1978, when the Civil Service Commission was abolished, if not earlier, we have been living in the racial spoils era, where government maintains impersonal standards but seeks to distribute jobs across various official categories.

Interestingly, one way to potentially get around the problem is through explicit quotas. In the first decades of the EEOC’s war on testing, employers had begun to “race-norm” exams, which simply meant giving extra points to individual blacks and Hispanics by only comparing their scores to those of the same ethnic group. With that method, instead of eliminating standards, one can at least find the most qualified people from each race. The EEOC was in favor of this practice as a means to achieve equal representation, at one point actually prosecuting a Tennessee company for not giving extra points to black applicants.

personnel need to meet certain physical standards. Unfortunately for the left, almost any non-negligible physical fitness standard that men have to achieve is going to exclude practically all women.

In the workplace, however, the practical impact of civil rights law can be to create an environment in which only the left-wing position is permitted, and any employer who thinks otherwise is opening himself up to legal liability.

Human relations are complex, so much so that, according to the social brain hypothesis, the reason we have such high levels of cognitive ability in the first place is because intelligence is necessary to navigate and manage our social relations.

Capitalism does not guarantee optimal societal outcomes—such a thing is too much to hope for. But it aggregates information in a way like no other process on earth, and produces a result that, if not perfect, continuously builds on previous improvements and makes people’s lives better.

This is why the standardization of the American workplace that resulted from civil rights law has likely had such disastrous effects on productivity. A series of practices, such as structured interviews, the deemphasizing of tests, and HR departments managing social relations did not emerge necessarily because they reflected the best ways to run a business. Rather, they emerged as a compromise between market pressures that reward productivity and aggregate human preferences, on the one hand, and arbitrary government fiats aimed at achieving demographic parity while hiding what they are doing, on the other.

Civil rights law is killing experimentation at work, with implications for the rest of life. As a matter of simple logic, more diversity within institutions will lead to less diversity between them.

If individuals desire a sexless, androgynous, and sanitized workplace free of anything that might cause offense, the market will create such spaces.

In other words, major American institutions are required to declare within the same sentence both that they do not discriminate and that they practice affirmative action.

Some have argued that Trumpian lies play a social role in binding the right—that by expressing belief in falsehoods that are clearly absurd, followers of the former president show their loyalty to him.56 They have failed to notice that the same can be said regarding lies couched in legalese or academic jargon. Trumpian lies at least make clear the rules of the game and delineate the sides. They at the very least do not insult anyone’s intelligence through obfuscation.

Civil rights law declares some practices related to sex and race unacceptable and others mandatory, restricting personal freedom and harming economic efficiency. It prevents creative destruction in the economic and social realms and taste-based discrimination, while making life more difficult for certain “unofficial minorities,” including the neuro-atypical, the socially inept, the highly religious, and the hypermasculine.

The economist Robin Hanson asks us to imagine political debate as a tug-of-war, with each side pulling on one side of the rope. If one wants to have an unusually high level of influence, the best strategy is to pull the rope sideways—that is, take a position not clearly aligned with either side of the political spectrum.1

For a Reaganite or libertarian, using government power to roll back the excesses of civil rights law is no more philosophically problematic than reducing environmental regulations or lowering taxes. Doing so is not only something libertarians shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about, it is something they should actively support.

Sometimes when different factions of the elite agree on a policy approach, they can exclude alternative viewpoints that might resonate with the masses. This was easier to do before the fragmentation of the media landscape. In the 1960s, national politics was covered on television by three major news stations.

The fact that the increase in crime was overwhelmingly concentrated precisely where Great Society legislation aimed to help—that is, in the inner cities—helped further discredit the liberal project, as did the rise of race riots in those same communities.

Nixon in particular adopted the language of conservatives, but he was a centrist on domestic policy whose primary interest was in foreign affairs.15 As he focused most intently on geopolitical issues surrounding Vietnam, China, and the Cold War, at home Nixon gave moderate staffers a dominant policy role while letting conservatives handle speechwriting and PR.

In the Philadelphia Plan, government construction contractors were first held to a “goals-and-timetables requirement” to hire more minorities, with Nixon having personally lobbied members of Congress on behalf of the policy in December 1969 as a way to pit civil rights organizations and labor unions against one another and split the Democratic coalition.

And while partisan polarization now prevents Republicans from working with Democrats to expand civil rights law, education polarization ensures that they find it difficult to move policy in their preferred direction.

Republicans after taking the House in 1994 found that abolishing affirmative action split their own caucus while uniting Democrats, tilting the playing field in favor of the latter despite there being majority support for the conservative position in the country as a whole.

In few areas is the mainstream press less trustworthy than on issues of identity, as can be seen in recent years in various supposed hate crimes that journalists have championed being exposed as hoaxes, and the narratives about police shootings that they credulously reported on that turned out to unravel over the course of time.

This story teaches us something important about policymaking. There can be a practice that 100 percent of people think should be banned, but it can remain legal if no one thinks about the issue or brings it to the attention of the public.

While the left still outnumbers the right in number of committed lawyers, nonprofits, and activists on its side, conservatives have built enough of a critical mass to be effective and are now well represented in the judiciary, with Republican presidents having appointed most federal judges as of 2022.

know that there is a practical way to fight back. Civil rights law, like other legal areas, is something of a battle of attrition between bureaucrats and lawyers. Progress depends not only on getting judges and bureaucrats to see things in the way one prefers, but also on galvanizing enough members of what is sometimes called “the managerial class” within and outside of government to build upon legal victories and blunt the impact of defeats.

The rise of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing, in which Wall Street firms acting as corporate shareholders push for diversity in hiring and promotions as well as other left-wing causes, represents an acute threat to American ideals based in the private sector, and may make a purely libertarian approach to fighting wokeness unrealistic.

Instead of more sweeping bills, a Republican-controlled Congress could nibble around the edges of civil rights law, passing legislation that attracts little public attention but may have major effects on the incentive structures faced by bureaucrats, lawyers, and potential plaintiffs and defendants in court cases. Topics like federal jurisdiction, whether a plaintiff can get attorney’s fees and how much, and the burden of proof in different kinds of actions arouse little in the way of mass sentiment; nevertheless, as seen in the rise of certain kinds of lawsuits in the aftermath of the CRA of 1991, they can have a profound impact on how the law is practiced and its societal effects.

Moreover, if there are measures to enforce an anti-wokeness policy agenda through the courts, they should be pursued. The 2021 Florida bill creating a cause of action against schools that teach critical race theory is a good example of this.30 It even includes attorney’s fees for parents who successfully file suits, mimicking federal civil rights law.

Unlike the federal government, a state exercises direct control over its higher education system, and there is little reason not to go to war with the diversity bureaucracy, with the ultimate aim of getting universities out of the business of social engineering or taking a side in the culture war.

Asking what should be done to fight wokeness while in power is somewhat like asking where to get water from the ocean. Opportunities abound.

The right hates wokeness, but its failures have resulted from seeing the phenomenon as simply a cultural trend or class marker rather than as a left-wing mode of bureaucratic governance.

This conclusion has two purposes. First, it is to show that wokeness is not as strong as it looks. Analogies to religious faith—which carry with them the implicit argument that the phenomenon may last for thousands of years—rest on a weak foundation.

Populations changing their national loyalties is more common than the adoption of new religious faiths; it has been noted that when Russia moved into eastern Ukraine in early 2022 it found much less support among the local population than it had only eight years before.

Wokeness thus has no history of surviving without state support. In fact, even with state support, and with practically unlimited rhetorical backing from elite institutions, it still struggles to win hearts and minds. Wokeness remains mostly a political loser for the left, which is why it obfuscates on issues like critical race theory and the fact that civil rights law in its current form all but requires speech restrictions and racial quotas. Wokeness does not appear to be able to motivate its adherents to make the extreme kinds of sacrifices that are the hallmarks of true religious faith. It can’t even convince liberals to keep their kids in inner-city public schools.

France provides a counterexample to the American model of the management of race and gender issues. Its laws generally ban the state from collecting data on the race, religion, and ethnicity of individuals.7 This means that, much to the chagrin of some American liberals, France cannot have disparate impact standards, state-enforced affirmative action, or even programs targeted at a group with a particular ancestry. It is perhaps not a coincidence that in a country that bans the kind of data collection necessary to enforce woke policies, we see much more resistance to wokeness as a cultural force among the political elite.

Thus if we see homosexuality becoming more acceptable in most or all countries, is this a natural consequence of modernity, or just a sign that Hollywood and the State Department are everywhere? Nonetheless,

Wokeness can be understood as a series of recurring moral panics backed up by state power.

This demonstrates that there is not always a strong correlation between how much energy surrounds a public policy debate and how important it ends up being.

As it turns out, moral panics only become a permanent part of life when they are backed up by state power and lead to the creation of new laws and bureaucracies.

Few people think too deeply about the connection between law and popular culture—music, art, and TV shows. Yet even in the freest societies, law shapes culture, which means that it cannot help but drive popular entertainment.

This is why many of the most critically acclaimed TV shows of recent years have been set in either the distant past, fantasy universes, or the criminal underworld, where there is less pressure for politically correct stories that obviate natural differences between men and women and insert unrealistic levels of ethnic diversity that distract from the ability to find inspiration in a work.

In the relationship between culture and law, the arrow of causation does not flow in one direction.

To even ask which causal arrow has greater weight is likely asking too much of social scientists. At the same time, historical research, by looking at the order of events, can make the case that many of the ideas fundamental to wokeness were part of law before they were part of American culture. In other words, there is a striking resemblance between assumptions of civil rights laws that go back to the 1970s and cultural ideas and forces that have come to ascendance much more recently.

Among its many other goals, this book argues against our tendency to mistake salience for importance. Wokeness inspires passions on both sides. While debates over hot-button issues are often dismissed as insignificant by those who have an aesthetic or ideological commitment to the idea that politics should mostly be about economic issues, Americans, just like other people, have made clear that they care deeply about what kind of culture they live in. Yet for half a century now the culture war has been an asymmetric fight, with one side able to inspire a critical mass of bureaucrats and activists who do their work far from public attention, and the other doing little more than encouraging and reflecting mass discontent without much impact.

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