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Your Questions, Answered

Secularization, institutional capture, and how to fight back against the woke.

This month, I’m trying a new feature on the Substack called the Open Q&A. On Friday, you sent in more than 400 questions and now I’m responding to the most thought-provoking. Leave a comment if you want to do this again next month.

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Irishka: It looks like Wokeism/Marxism has replaced religion. Do you see a religious revival in the American future? And do you feel it’s necessary for us to win? To be one nation under God we have to be “under God.”

This is the million-dollar question, and the best book for you to read about this is actually from an Italian philosopher named Augusto Del Noce. He has The Problem of Atheism and a number of essays about the cultural changes in the 1960s that are just as relevant in the United States. And the basic thesis that comes from Del Noce is that this great process of secularization—the building up of secular state bureaucracies—has launched us into new philosophical crises.

And from an American perspective, the “woke” revolution is the first large-scale social movement, on the Left or the Right, without a religious foundation. The abolitionist movement was a Christian religious movement. The temperance movement rallied in the churches and religious organizations at the time. And the 1960s civil rights movement, all of the leaders of this movement, such as Martin Luther King were religious figures and leaders in their own communities. The woke revolutionaries are pursuing a different tack, an explicitly Marxist secularist, atheist, political ideology. And I think that’s really why it has a lack of depth, a lack of humanity. And like the Marxist revolutionaries of the twentieth century, you see how this can go so sideways and turn into negation, destruction, and nihilism.

On the other hand, as the American social scientist Charles Murray has pointed out in his work, all of the great movements against social decay and social pathologies in American history are Great Awakenings driven by a new religious spirit. And so, I really believe whatever religious background you might have—even if you’re a secularist or an atheist—we really need to revive these American religions and religious expressions, if we want to have a different epistemology, a different anthropology, a different vision of politics than the woke.

Do I see this kind of religious revival in America’s future? It’s hard to say. Do I think that it offers a more robust alternative to left-wing racialist ideology? The answer is absolutely yes. And optimistically, I’m seeing this, especially among people in my generational cohort, millennials, who have lived through their twenties, maybe even their early thirties with a secular millennial mindset or ideology, now actually returning to churches and religious institutions, because they sense that there is something lacking and they sense that there is something important in their lives they could find through faith and religious practice.

Chris Lawrence: How do Republican state legislators go about removing college system DEI administrators, guides, hiring practices, and documents? How should they message it?

This is something I’ve been working on very hard since the beginning of the year. I’ve published model legislation with my colleague, Ilya Shapiro at Manhattan Institute, that shows state legislatures exactly how to abolish DEI bureaucracies and restore colorblind equality in public universities. I’ve also been doing an investigative reporting series looking at DEI bureaucracies in Florida and now in Texas, exposing them for what they are and giving legislators the ammunition they need to start talking about this issue.

And what I’ve found is that many legislators, especially in red states like Texas and Florida, when you show them the analysis and reporting, they immediately understand. They’re armed with the language and strategy for speaking persuasively about these issues. But those of us on the outside have to do the initial work, both at the level of public policy and at the level of journalism, which they need in order to make the case to their voters. Because, ultimately, politicians are very busy people. They have a million issues that they’re working on. They have to go raise money. They have to do constituent work. They have, in many cases, full-time jobs or businesses outside their legislative positions. And so, it’s up to those of us working in think tanks, publications, NGOs, and other organizations to provide them everything they need to be successful.

So, if you want to become active on this, do public records requests, model your work based on what I’ve done in these other states, and connect it with those great state legislators, so they know exactly what’s happening and they know how to solve it.

Johnny: How do teachers effectively stand up against woke ideologies, disinformation, and misinformation when the administration has bought into it so fervently?

If you’re a teacher, especially in a red state public school system, and you have an administrator that is pushing these DEI policies, you’re in a tough spot, because you have to go against the leadership and your own bureaucracy. And if you’re in a blue state, you also have to go against the leadership at the political level. So it gets more difficult when the powers and authorities are more left-wing. This is obvious, left-wing states and left-wing school districts are going to have left-wing DEI bureaucracies and left-wing school curricula.

So, you have two options: voice or exit. Exit is pretty simple. You say, “This isn’t for me. They’re forcing me to do stuff I don’t believe in. I’m going to get a job at a different school within the district or a different school outside of the district, or even move states altogether.” I’ve seen this over and over. The second option is voice, which means trying to reform and advocate changes from within.

I’ll be honest: voice is not an easy path. But if you want to pursue it, here is some advice. First, you cannot do it alone. You have to get parents, teachers, and administrators who are like-minded. You have to come together and express your voice through numbers. You have to show up at that school board meeting with not just two or three people, but ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred people. And second, you need a successful media narrative, meaning that you need to have actual information about what’s happening that is going to engage people at an emotional level, that’s going to get people off the sidelines and into political advocacy or activism at that school board level.

And then, ultimately, you need to change the minds of administrators or school board members who have chosen so-called diversity, equity, and inclusion. And you have to say that instead of DEI, they should be focusing on equality, merit, and colorblindness, and having a school policy that treats everyone equally as an individual.

John: What recommendations and concrete steps do you have for faculty at these woke universities to fight back?

Faculty are in a slightly different situation than public school teachers. Faculty, in many cases, have tenure. Faculty have more robust First Amendment rights. Faculty can also publish their research and advocacy and other opinion or editorial work without having heavy-handed interference from school administration.

I’ve been working on university reform and I’ve made great alliances with many conservative professors who are starting to push back. I think someone who’s done a very good job at this is Scott Yenor, who’s a public university professor in Idaho and a Claremont Institute fellow. He started publishing reports, op-eds, and social media materials exposing what was happening within his university. He’s had an outsized impact, because DEI administrators like to push their ideology behind the scenes, and when you actually show the world exactly what’s happening, you can be much more powerful, even as an individual, than it might seem.

Of course, this also carries risk. There are going to be people within your department, within your administration, within your state government, who hate this. They want to operate in total secrecy. And so, you’ll have to be sophisticated, you’ll have to be smart, you’ll have to figure out what your risk tolerance is as you start to push back. But, at the end of the day, my personal view is that if you have tenure and your university is violating your most basic sense of how our institutions should be run, you have a moral obligation to speak out.

Dale Tremont: One 800-pound gorilla in this whole mess is the fully captured mainstream media. Their lockstep march has resulted in a large portion of the population being utterly impervious to “other” voices or messages—i.e., those of us who see what’s actually happening can all too easily be dismissed as “conspiracy theorists.” It’s really difficult to combat, because one can understand the disbelief of the masses that the entire media complex is colluding to drive such ugly narratives. I’m continually shocked by the ignorance of so many otherwise intelligent people. It’s the greatest mass psy-op in history. How do we combat this aspect of the problem?

Everyone knows the problem, but there are two causes for optimism. The first is the real exposure of the mass media’s collusion with government and tech companies, most prominently with the Twitter Files from Matt Taibbi, Mike Shellenberger, Bari Weiss, and others, who showed how all of the sausage was being made, with tech, NGOs, and government all working together behind the scenes to suppress “dangerous information,” which was really just dangerous information for left-wing narrative control. And so, the public is now very aware and very conscious of this, and the powers that be can’t get away with it like they could previously.

And the other point of optimism is that social media itself, even with all of these censorship problems baked into it, still allows for more voices than ever to be part of the mainstream conversation. I publish in mainstream publications, but my Twitter account is probably more powerful for cementing and driving political narratives than any other platform, including the mainstream platforms. We now have Substack, Twitter, and YouTube, and, even with the censorship—which again, I think is outrageous and should be opposed—we have many more voices than we’ve ever had.

Twenty-five years ago, if you weren’t in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, network television, or the 24-hour cable news programs, you were really shut out of the national debate altogether. You could write a column in National Review that got distributed to thousands of households, but these avenues were really restricted in terms of reach. And, as a consequence, I think a lot of stories were just ignored completely that should have been within the discourse.

And so, we just have to keep pushing. We have to keep pushing against the censorship and against the collusion, and we also have to keep pushing on building up alternative voices using the new means and methods of communications.

Steve Gordon: Florida has been a fantastic test for implementing sane policies opposing the “woke” agenda, but what advice would you have for making incremental advancement in a blue state where the levers of the state are in the hands of the woke foot soldiers?

There are two answers to this question. First, start locally. If you live in a red legislative district in the State of Washington, for example, sanity still prevails. I know this because I live in one, I send my kids to school in one, and I have great relationships with my neighbors and local policymakers, who are on board with my philosophy. And so, there’s a great opportunity, even if you’re despairing at the state legislative level, to get involved locally, to put money into local school board races, local mayors races, local prosecutors races, and to make sure that whatever happens in your blue state legislature, you can actually protect your local district. If you live in a very blue jurisdiction in a blue state, my best advice would be to move. As long as you can do it, as long as work permits, family permits, et cetera, you’re going to have a much greater chance at success, even within the same state, in a different locality.

And second, once you work on building up that local power, the best strategy is to then start working at that state legislative level, figuring out where are your swing districts and whether it is the House, the Senate, or the governorship that is most likely to flip, and then focusing all of your resources on wherever it is that would have the most payoff. Because, look: if you’re in California, it probably seems hopeless. The recall against Governor Newsom crashed and burned. But maybe there are a couple of House or Senate races that could flip the balance of power.

So shore up those red districts, then put all of your efforts where it could have the highest chance of payoff. And I think there’s really no other way than that.

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Christopher F. Rufo
Christopher F. Rufo
Christopher F. Rufo