There’s a “symbolic weight”, says Ross Douthat in The New York Times, to news that Ibram X Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research is “laying off 15 or 20 staff members”. It seems to confirm the growing sense that “peak woke” is behind us, and, after all the hoo-ha since 2020, the “revolution has run its course”. And it’s true that the wave of cancellations and “public-monument removals” has receded. But it may be a false dawn. Progressive orthodoxies are growing stronger in academia, for example, where professors applying for jobs are increasingly required to submit “diversity statements” detailing their commitment to “diversity, equity and inclusion”. One psychology professor lost a potential role at the University of California in Los Angeles for saying on a podcast years ago that he thought diversity statements were a bad idea, even though he had dutifully filled one out himself.
From the perspective of the graduate students who protested his appointment, “mere compliance was insufficient”. Even during McCarthyism, the “loyalty oaths” only entailed a “generic affirmation” of loyalty to the US constitution, not a “statement of positive ideological belief”. What’s alarming is that the real height of woke came during the “atmosphere of political emergency” of the Donald Trump years, when fear of populism or authoritarianism meant mainstream liberals struggled to resist the “demands of ideological fealty” made by movements on the far left. Now the emergency mentality has retreated, and resistance and scepticism are easier. In a Trump restoration, the next “peak of wokeness” may be higher.