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Victor Davis Hanson: Wokeness is a luxury Eastern Europe can’t afford

In the destiny of the United States and the West today, many see a replication of the fall of the Roman Empire. What is your opinion on that parallel? Will China become a world hegemon? Do you believe that American rapprochement with Russia against China is a possibility?

We are 233 years old; Rome’s empire fell 700 years after its conquest of the Mediterranean and had experienced many recoveries from disaster. The eastern empire at Constantinople survived almost 1,000 years after Rome fell. So, in this context, America’s current slump need not be permanent. China has made historic progress, but has fuel, food, demographic, class, and political problems greater than ours and its aggression and bullying are also creating a global anti- Chinese coalition as well as resistance among capable front-line Asian and Pacific U.S. allies and friends.

Until the Russian collusion hoax, our foreign policy always assumed that neither Russia nor China should be a better friend to one another than each is to us. Such triangulation is essential in checking both Chinese and Russian power, just as we once used Chinese detente to balance off the USSR. We have not calibrated fully the pernicious wild swings from the Obama-Clinton naive “reset” to the anti-Trump, leftwing-Russian “collusion” phobias. But both were damaging, in limiting our strategic options to either appeasement or demonization with nothing in between, among other considerations.

Why did you write about the Second World War in the plural -“Second World Wars”? In many Western countries, the end of World War II led to the collapse of Nazi totalitarianism, but the countries of the Eastern Bloc replaced one totalitarianism with another. Do you believe that countries which recently emerged from communism are today more resistant to some totalitarian tendencies of modern progressivism due to their recent experiences of dictatorship?

Well until 1941 one did not speak often of Nazi Germany’s sequential conquests as a uniform “world” war, especially during the false semi-peaceful lulls of October 1, 1939, to April-May 1940 and between May 1940 and May 1941. After the entry of the USSR, Japan and the US in 1941 all certainly did. Additionally, the plural refers to the myriad of theaters and methods of fighting that almost seemed unconnected—the U-boat war in the Atlantic between Germans and British, as part of Japanese fighting American Marines on Iwo Jima, as part of Russians fighting inter alia Italians at Stalingrad: the fighting went on in seemingly quite unconnected theaters and in quite different modalities.

Eastern Europe certainly not only was a 50-year garrison buffer threatened existentially by Nazism and communism, and thus knew too well the nightmares of each. Yet well before the 20th-century, Eastern Europe was the frontline defense of Europe against Ottomanism and radical Islam. So, generations in Eastern European have not shared the cheap Western European and U.S. hypercriticism of Western civilization and performance art virtue signaling one’s own culture’s flaws. For Eastern Europe such cannibalism is not just symptomatic of western decadence but, given its more checkered history and vulnerable geography, could become a matter of life and death, and thus wokeness luxury it could ill afford. After a half-century of tragedies, Eastern Europe operates on two principles: 1) it does not have to be perfect to be good; and 2) it is far better than the alternatives. In Western Europe and the US, the opposite mentality operates: 1) any faults condemn the whole, and 2) we are not better and often worse than alternatives. Again, we in the U.S. are protected by two oceans from China and Russia, and Western Europe always relies on eastern Europe and the Balkans as its buffer from the east.

What is common to all the forces of “progressive” or “woke” ideology that are destroying the West from within? Which term do you prefer – is it just a single ideology, or are there many fluid ideologies, perhaps not yet fully formed, which operate in decentralized manner and are converging?

It is a generic religion of an equality of result ideology that claims all inequality – income, career, health, cultural – is a result of some sort of oppression predicated on racial or gender bias. And thus, it can only be remedied by reparatory action and redistribution to an already privileged generation, all to be overseen by an elite class that is always immune from the ramifications of its baleful policies that fall on distant other.

Wokism thrives only in an affluent and leisured West that so far has the margin of error to indulge such nihilist and anti- meritocratic policies that require some sort of government coercion to be enacted, given they are contrary to human nature. How odd that the richer and more comfortable the West becomes, more it becomes suicidal and cannibalistic—as a host of pessimistic Western philosophers have warned the last 2,500 years.

In addition to your academic career, you are also a lifelong farmer. Do you believe that in the future, a return to traditional ways of life, such as non-institutional unification – perhaps something like the concept outlined in “The Benedict option” – will regain its importance? Is the return to nature a good solution in times of crisis?

While never a majority model, rural people have a chance to live lives of greater stability and tradition. That antithesis to the city becomes ever more attractive as western urban life is increasingly crime ridden and unsustainable. The countryside is the custodian of values. From Brexit to the American MAGA movement to French popular dissent, it was the small-town West that was the most antithetical to the woke movement. 

Unfortunately, Americans have learned that conservatives’ “monastery of the mind”—e.g., the avoidance of watching network news and programming, of going to Hollywood movies, of watching professional sports, of giving any money to colleges and universities, of passively disconnecting from a debased culture, is not sufficient. You may not want to encounter wokism, but it most certainly wishes to find you—and will. There is no hiding from this mass insanity; it can only be confronted and checked by citizens who grasp the new Left is nihilist and wishes to destroy civilization as we knew it. Each according to our station must resist the current sinister anti-Enlightenment.

Interviewed by: Matija Štahan, Tomislav Kardum and Marul Kuljiš

Last modified: 27. 1. 2022.
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