The fight against the ideology called Wokeness is gaining ground for the first time in a decade, if not decades. People increasingly understand what it is and why it is a terrible, inhuman, and inhumane ideology that has no place governing our societies. They also increasingly and rightly see it as a puritanical religious movement built upon a perverse faith, which they are starting to reject. They also increasingly understand it to be a takeover ideology with profound roots in totalitarian, racist, and communist thought that should not be empowered and must be fought. Certainly, we have a great deal of work still to do, especially practically, to fight this ideology and its remarkable bid to take over our society and culture, but people are waking up. Though I may look a bit far down the road in saying so, now we need somewhere to go.
If we continue fighting back—for pushing back is no longer enough—intelligently and firmly against the ideology of Critical Social Justice and the Woke movement it has spawned, we will find ourselves on the road to a post-Woke world, and it is not yet clear what that might look like. It is therefore necessary now, even this early in this ideological war, to set the values that should guide us into a post-Woke era so that we might enter a new era of flourishing and prosperity after this diabolical attempt to snuff out the light of Western civilization and human freedom. These values must be comprehended and asserted starting now as we begin the next phase in the fight to leave Woke ideology behind us, hopefully in the dustbin of history. Here, I offer four cardinal values to orient ourselves toward for the establishment of a post-Woke world that’s full of promise and prosperity. These are truth, beauty, liberty, and merit.
Truth is the truth, and it is above all the first virtue and guiding light of a post-Woke world. That is, a post-Woke world must be based on the relentless and uncompromising pursuit of objective truth, external to any particular individual or affinity group or its nearest approximation. Your truth will not do; neither will my truth. These are subjective heuristics useful in your own life but meaningless beyond that, and it’s time we remembered that fact. The weight of evidence, power of reason, and process of what has been termed “liberal science” must bear on every claim upon the truth in an honest effort to keep what is of value there and discard that which is in error.
The truth is humbling, and it is liberating in the genuine sense of the word. We, as mere men, are subject to the truth of the world and the truths of our own nature as beings in this world, and we are not above them. We can understand “your truth” and “my truth” merely as suggestions—not conclusions—in a broader conversation upon which reason, evidence, and criticism must bear. The goal is understanding the world as it is, including ourselves, our place within it, and how we might best relate to one another. It is the pursuit of getting things right, knowing that any discomfort this creates will protect against greater discomforts when the lie of our folly is eventually revealed to us by the world itself. Lies may for long be sustained against people, but they cannot be sustained against the world, which merely is and doesn’t change because we hope it will or, in our smallness and fear, believe we need it to.
We have no options except to humble ourselves before that which is true or to rise in our hubris against it only to eventually be humiliated by it. By recognizing this, we can orient ourselves with that which is true—what many of faith have called God, or what the Daoists have referred to as Dao, the Way—and free ourselves from the limitations of our own short-sightedness, stupidity, and greed. The Daoists believe that when man goes with the Way—how it is, truly—then he is free and things go well. It is by asserting ourselves against the Way that we create our own catastrophes and suffer the inevitable consequences. By humbling ourselves to how the world really is, which is to the truth, we free ourselves from the suffering that always follows from the disastrous combination of ignorance and pride.
Ironically, there is little need for any individual in a society that values truth to know much truth or even to pursue it with the sort of rigor we expect out of an idealized scientist. Everyone can push their own ideas, which likely often serve their own narrow interests and spring from their own narrow understanding, so long as they are humbled before the process that, in the end, defers to truth. This process has been identified as requiring only two general principles: no one has special authority and no one gets final say. Insights must be put up against other insights in a conversation that never ends, and thus no one becomes empowered as the arbiter of truth, which would inherently be corrupting—a point the postmodernists were right about in the wrong way. Once these principles are combined with a general attitude of respect for reason and deference to evidence and methodology, we have oriented ourselves toward the truth. Thus, these values must be sacred to man, and they must serve as the basis for a post-Woke world.
The call to center truth in a post-Woke world is a call to rekindle the Enlightenment and reawaken its brightest lights, which are currently being dimmed and even snuffed out. It is the rejection of the foolish arrogance of radical subjectivity in favor of an imperfect but worthy goal of discovery. It is to understand the world as it is so that we might flourish in it as it is. To value the truth is to eschew fantasy and ideology and embrace reality, and a great lesson of history is that, though this is difficult, it is possible. Societies flourish and prosperity follows when we orient toward the truth. Valuing and desiring the truth—the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as it is said, in those places where it matters most—must therefore be the first pillar of the post-Woke world we aim to inhabit.
A world without beauty is a dead world. A world filled with beauty that no one can appreciate is identically dead. Beauty is the second value around which a post-Woke world should be built. Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder, and that may be stated fairly enough, but beauty cannot be systematically snuffed out because others who behold it deem it problematic. No person has the right to squash the beauty beheld by another, and it is a crime against humanity to engage in such a project at the ideological scale. To dictate what is and what is not beautiful is to rob humanity of its humanity. It cannot be the basis for any healthy society.
Beauty is aspirational, and, though it may in specific be subjective, there is something in beauty that goes beyond the subjective, not into an objective realm (as does truth) but into a transcendent one that is in its own way bigger than man. The ancient Greeks referred to this aspirational ideal as arete: excellence. Christians, Jews, and Muslims see it in their transcendent God and rightly understand that it is universal through its transcendence.
Though we may all judge beauty by our own standards, we all have a sense of excellence—thus of beauty—when we see it. Excellence of form, excellence of execution, excellence of aesthetics, excellence of being. Beauty is not merely that which people believe to be pleasing to the eye or mind; it is that which exhibits arete. Beauty is that which is excellent in that which it intends to be.
Beauty is therefore a necessary virtue in a society that will flourish because it is, above all else, that which encourages and defines flourishing. Truth, by comparison, is merely necessary, but it is not sufficient. Truth is all head with no heart. Without beauty to grant inspiration and aspiration, truth is cold and even demoralizing. We may obtain right answers and thus avoid certain calamities, but we have little to live for in a perfectly orderly brutalist world. Truth is science; beauty is art, and thus beauty is humanity. Beauty is that supplemental necessity which inspires us and enables our subjectivity in a way that is not merely selfish but that, in its transcendence, lifts us up and all others with us. Beauty is what makes life worth living. It is also what makes that which is worth doing well worth doing at all. Beauty grants sufficiency to life.
The call to center beauty in a post-Woke world is a call to a Second Renaissance that pulls humanity up and out of the cynical, pessimistic mire of modernism and postmodernism. It is a call to aspire to excellence for the sake of excellence in everything that can be made excellent. Beauty—excellence—is the opportunity to elevate whatever it is we do to the highest level, and it is what reminds us that the hard slog of life is worth living, if only for the rare glimpse of that which stirs man through its beauty. Beauty is a call to be better in everything we do, build, and aspire to be. It is a cornerstone of a flourishing post-Woke world.
No society is worth inhabiting if it is not geared to secure the liberty of its citizens. Liberty—the birthright of man—is therefore a necessary condition of any flourishing society and the chief object that any functioning state must secure for its citizens. Liberty, which Woke ideology threatens in its relentless bid for power (which it confuses with empowerment), is thus a necessary component of a post-Woke society and is its third core value.
As the Woke have successfully leveraged, and as the great Liberals of the Enlightenment realized, liberty exists in uneasy tension with two important forces: security and liberty itself. Liberty is freedom, and freedom is dangerous. When a man finds himself in dangerous circumstances, though, he is less able to be as free as he would be in safer conditions. In such situations, he is constrained to do what he must to secure his own well-being, or that of others for whom he will voluntarily sacrifice, in place of what he might otherwise do and enjoy more. He must go according to the situation—that is, recognize and act in accordance with the truth—or risk losing everything. Security is therefore productive of liberty and restrictive of it, placing them in tension. Further, my liberty and your liberty exist in a similar uneasy tension because what I choose to do in my own freedom may well restrict yours, or vice-versa. In this regard, liberty is a balancing act between many individuals who must find ways to come to agreements—called societies—that, ideally, maximize every individual’s liberties as they exist in tension with one another.
For both of these reasons, liberty requires responsibility. Indeed, liberty—along with the security that enables its exercise—is responsibility’s reward. People must take enough responsibility to maintain their own security and to increase the security of their communities, which benefits them as well as the whole, and they must therefore be willing to sacrifice some of their liberties to do so. They must do the same with regard to the balance of their own liberties with those of others, for the more responsibility each individual takes for his own circumstances, the less others have to take up that slack. Understanding the need to take up responsibility is, when generally practiced, the antidote to the sort of resentment that, when it grows metastatic, tears down civilizations. Being willing to shoulder that burden is easiest in the name of liberty, which therefore must be valued.
The challenges of liberty highlight the fundamental tension of the human condition, which the Woke have greatly threatened: the balancing act between the individual and the collective. Liberty only makes sense in the realm of the individual, who has agency, feelings, and intelligence. Liberty makes no sense in terms of groups, which have none of these things and, indeed, are ultimately composed of individuals. By focusing on liberty, we focus on individualism over collectivism, and we understand that teamwork—the formation of purpose-driven, voluntary “collectives”—becomes possible. Collectivism—enforced “teamwork,” which is not the same as broad civic-mindedness—never works, and the reason is that it violates individual liberty and thus generates the seeds of its own destruction, which are apathy, alienation, and resentment. It is in the balancing of liberty between individuals that we find another key value, which is equality, for that which diminishes equality before the law or via prejudice denies the affected individuals their liberty.
The Woke doctrine of “liberation” gets these issues backwards. It wrongly believes that liberty emerges from enforced equality rather than understanding that equality results from valuing liberty. It also favors absolute security, provided by a perfected state that cannot exist, on the belief that the responsibility we have against our insecurities constrains our freedom to do whatever we would. In this way, it vainly hopes that liberty might be enjoyed without responsibility to self, others, or society. Thus, “liberation” is a utopian dream (not a “historical possibility”), and the attempt to realize it will always end in calamity, suffering, bondage, and death. These tragedies of utopia are guaranteed because the fantasy of liberation—communist or otherwise—puts liberty last rather than first, eschews responsibility as a limit on freedom rather than its precondition, and does so proceeding upon the dangerously naive, in fact ridiculous, assumption that perfect security (which ideally “should” exist) is attainable. The world is not ideal, how it “should be” in the minds of dreamers, however. It is how it is and, though changeable, is limited in its malleability—this is the truth.
Since perfect security cannot exist, it cannot be the starting point of any serious philosophy upon which a society can be built. Woke ideology wrongly believes otherwise and, starting upon that fraudulent assumption, seeks to solve the problem of the unperfectable state through enforced collectivism and the denial of any individual agency, will, or liberty. The state will be perfected, they believe, only when everyone fully embraces their ideology and submits to it rather than to the world as it is. This is a violation of the human condition (denial of truth) and a murder of the human spirit (rejection of beauty), and so it always ends in catastrophe. Woke “liberationism” must therefore be rejected in favor of individual liberty because its dream is, in reality, a nightmare.
A post-Woke world must be wiser and therefore hedge its understanding of liberty toward individualism and thus to the willful bearing of responsibility. We will be rewarded for doing so. To center liberty in a post-Woke world is to center the possibility of opportunity. It is the path to flourishing, prosperity, and well-earned satisfaction, if happiness cannot ultimately be obtained in the pursuit. Liberty is not the condition of a free society; it is its reward. In turn, liberty is not the result of a secure society; a secure society is the reward of responsibility, which arises most earnestly in the desire to be free.
Merit is the measure upon which a flourishing society is built. It is oriented on results and is the combination of talent and effort. Therefore, merit paves the road to a prosperous society. Merit means getting results. A post-Woke society must put getting results first because results produce everything that society depends upon and most of what it enjoys. We must therefore value merit.
Prosperity and flourishing, thus happiness and fulfillment, and also security and freedom, all depend upon getting results. Without good results, bad things happen. When the storm comes, we have either prepared our house to weather it or we have not. Reality is not fantasy, and we cannot just wish the storm away or talk our way out of its injuries. Results matter, and merit is the measure of getting results.
Moreover, whether we like it or not, the world is competitive. Should one individual or a whole society put other interests ahead of getting results—ahead of merit—others will recognize this mistake and capitalize upon it. Those interested in security, whether individual or national, would be wise to remember this truth sooner rather than later, for our enemies have not forgotten it. The maelstrom that’s coming, in other words, might be whipped up by man rather than by nature, and those who value merit more have the best chance of surviving it.
Because we are humans, we are biased, and recognizing this is part of our deferral to truth. We tend toward favoritism of those we know or like—or far more crudely, those “like us,” perhaps only in looks or phenotype—and so merit is too easily forgotten in the name of corruptions like favoritism, nepotism, cronyism, country-clubism, and bigotry. A society that values merit is not free from these corruptions, but it abhors them and seeks to minimize them.
Also because we are humans, we are limited. Merit cannot always win the day because we have to make our decisions from within the limits of that which we know. This is not a strike against merit, however, as many contend. It’s a call to broaden our horizons without compromising our standards.
Furthermore, because the world is not fair (and never will be), talent is not evenly distributed or evenly discoverable, sometimes for bad reasons (which we should hope to minimize in light of the other values presented here). Nevertheless, the adage that chance favors the prepared mind rings true, and merit is therefore not merely luck but the ability to make use of luck through the application of hard work and character, which are, in at least some significant respects, often well within the range of our control.
Note well that merit implies individualism, again alongside liberty. This is because a successful group is composed of successful individuals who know how to work together as a team and who are willing to. The weakest link in any team effort diminishes the group’s capacity to get results, as does its failures of teamwork. Thus, no matter how important teamwork may be to success—and it is, itself, an individual skill that can be developed—merit is at bottom an individual quality. So, as with liberty, merit evokes the individual. Even in team efforts, the skill of teamwork and meritorious achievement in that skill is necessary for success, and individual willingness to participate in the team effort outperforms collectivists demands to do so in all but the most perilous of circumstances. The skill of teamwork, facilitated by the skill of leadership, nonetheless, falls on each individual in the group, not the group itself.
Valuing merit produces results and minimizes corruption. It spurs innovation and entrepreneurship. It lifts societies. A post-Woke society must therefore value merit as highly as other seemingly more lofty ideals like truth, beauty, and liberty. We must care about results, and we should reward those who get them. Merit is the way.
What, though, about justice? Surely, if the ideology we are seeking to overcome focuses itself on justice, albeit badly, justice must also be a cardinal virtue of a society that would overcome that ideology, right? I disagree.
Justice is, to my thought, a second-order value in society, one that follows from getting the cardinal values right to serve as a foundation for justice. Indeed, I think this is one of the great lessons of the Woke “Critical Social Justice” era that free societies everywhere and in all times should pay attention to—a society that places justice ahead of deeper virtues is a society in imminent danger. Justice is necessary for a flourishing society, but it is also more subjective than other values, and therein lies the danger. Those with power to dictate what justice looks like may not have the right foundation upon which to judge, for that judgment to be truly just must be principled and blind. This lesson we have learned in a hard way over the last decade in particular. Justice has been the mantle of those with a crooked, unprincipled foundation, and rampant injustice in Justice’s name has been our reward.
This is to say that justice cannot lead but must follow from deeper principles if it is to exist at all. Indeed, even though any society that neglects justice will be a sick society, only a sick society would dare to put justice first. Justice must proceed from values like those listed above: truth, beauty, liberty, and merit.
Classically, Justice is depicted as a woman blindfolded, holding out scales in one hand and a sword in the other. This is the ideal from which justice springs. She is beautiful, and in being blinded she is interested only in what is true without partiality. She holds a sword to defend any against infringements against their own liberty and to punish those who would violate this sacred trust, and she carries scales to weigh out the merits of every situation, which returns us again to truth. Justice is the result of these deeper principles, not that which generates them.
Without truth—as impartial and objective as that can be—surely there is no justice. This follows from the simple fact that outside of truth, which is impartial and the same for all, all judgment rests only in power, which is corrupting and can as easily be held by the narrow, the capricious, the ignorant, or the evil as it can by the wise, the fair, the reasonable, and the good. Those who hold power will always be tempted to identify as just that which benefits them, and this is guaranteed to deliver injustice to those whose circumstances they do not understand, do not value, and do not like. A standard outside of any such empowered cabal is therefore necessary to effect justice in the world, and such a standard must be based upon the truth, the light of reason, and an impartial standard such a system of law before which all citizens are treated as equals.
Without beauty, which is to say an eye to that which is genuinely good, surely there is no justice. Beauty is the aspiration to an ideal of goodness—though not a naive vision of perfection—and when those who are entrusted to mete justice for a society are content only with what’s “good enough,” injustice will be the result. As injustice is ugly in the mind and heart of all who encounter it, justice depends upon a notion of beauty—of excellence in the sense of arete—to come into existence. Ugly justice may sometimes have to serve in ugly moments, but in the same breath it serves as the impetus to improve. Justice itself, when achieved under a high standard of excellence, is beautiful in turn.
Without liberty, certainly there is no justice. An injustice is done against any man whose liberty is restricted without sufficient cause, which is always rooted in grounded claims that he is infringing upon the liberty of another. Men will—and do—accept reasonable limitations on their liberty for the common good, which is their right as free men and also in their own interest and within the reaches of their compassion, but injustice is there whenever they are forced to think, act, or believe as they wouldn’t, or placed in bondage to serve interests that they wouldn’t, especially when those violate their principles or conscience, unless it is demonstrable to impartial judges that their actions violated the same liberty in others. Men must be free and their liberty must be valued before justice has any hope of coming into the world, and it is in the balance of liberties and the attendant responsibilities that a sense of justice begins to hold any meaning.
Without a basis in merit, justice is always lost in the very attempt to claim it, for the opposite of merit is corruption, with which merit cannot be synthesized. Merit—whether in the fair rewards for applying one’s talent, character, and effort, or merits of each case weighed against one another—is the basis for all justice. Justice is ultimately the fairness that sees people get what they, in truth, deserve and that sees them avoid what they do not deserve. What can reasonably said to be what someone has earned, including by his capacity to capitalize upon his luck, must be the first basis of his reward, and nothing of which a man is innocent can be justly deemed a basis for his demerit, exclusion, or punishment. Where merit falls out of focus, justice cannot be found.
Justice, then, follows from these more basic premises than itself and cannot merely assert itself into the world. Attempting to adjust the facts, skew the ideal, chain man’s liberty, or dethrone merit will always produce a tilted field in which justice is impossible, so attempting to do these evils in the name of justice is little more than an application of hubris, blindness, or malice. These sins are, in perverse ways, also self-rewarding such that they always awaken the worst—and least just—impulses in those empowered by them.
Truth and beauty—what the faithful recognize as God—are bigger than any man and than all men, and we only err by attempting to assert ourselves over them, even in the pursuit of justice. All that places itself ahead of these will do evil, often under the delusion of good. Liberty is the promise granted to every man born into this world if he has any hope of living in a just society, so it precedes the machinations of other men who might seek to order the world according to their own narrow wishes. Merit is the foundation of just decision-making, so it cannot be ignored, supplanted or discounted if a just society is what we desire.
A post-Woke society isn’t tasked with realizing these truths so much as remembering them, as these ideals were already understood before and were the basis for a prosperous society that was steadily and rapidly improving itself toward ever greater justice. A post-Woke society must stop putting the (social) justice cart before the values horse—the values that can and will produce a just society when they are not subverted, supplanted, or interfered with. These values are truth, beauty, liberty, and merit, and these must be the North Star for any society that wishes to climb out of the darkness and back into the light—light that brings prosperity and flourishing to its people and to man. Building the post-Woke world thusly is our charge, then, and these will be our values to build it upon.