Politics today seems to have crawled out of some Hobbesian muck. It is a nasty, brutish little runt wherever it appears, which is almost everywhere. Its act—for these days everything is performance art—is a tragic farce. On the streets, its watchword is riot; on the Internet, abuse; in the academy, the boardroom, and the media, a coordinated equalization of attitudes that borders on the totalitarian. At the highest levels of government, it is too lazy or stupid to persuade, preferring rather to manipulate, bully, spy, and punish.

Hobbesian man is moved by powerful passions of pride and fear. His vainglory and the joy he takes in standing above others give rise to war. The horror of anarchy and the fear of death make him seek peace. The ugly and ubiquitous politics of the Left is now channeling these passions into a massive project of social engineering: the construction of a new Tower of Babel.

Fear and pride raised the old Tower of Babel, built by anonymous wanderers who sought to “make us a name, lest we be scattered over all the earth.” Their anonymity is fitting, for there was then only “one language, one set of words. . . . one people” in the world. The Babylonians formed bricks out of the soil—adamah in Hebrew, the same stuff God breathed life into to make the first human being (ha’adam)—and began to “build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens.” These hard-baked bricks, all cut to the same measure, are images of human beings from whom the breath of individual life and particularity has somehow departed.

Modern attempts to construct the Tower have unfolded before, most notably in the Soviet Union and China. Today an inhumanly univocal tongue, asserting itself as the measure of all things, once again threatens to swallow the rich particularities and multiple languages of individual thought, speech, and creative expression.

The foundations of the new Tower have already been laid. In a recent interview, the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei was asked if he thought that Donald Trump was an authoritarian. He did not:

If you are authoritarian, you have to have a system supporting you. You cannot just be an authoritarian by yourself. But certainly, in the United States, with today’s condition, you can easily have an authoritarian. In many ways, you’re already in the authoritarian state. You just don’t know it.

“Many things happening today in U.S. can be compared to Cultural Revolution in China, like people trying to be unified in a certain political correctness,” he said. “That is very dangerous.” He added that technology creates passive consumers of information: “You don’t have to act on anything. You just think you’re purified by certain ideas that you agree with it. That is posing dangers to society, to an extreme divided society.”

While ordinary Americans seem to be souring on political correctness, it remains a booming business in the centers of wealth and power. For corporations, philanthropic foundations, and individuals, purification—surely driven as much by fear of exposure as by true belief—requires the public affirmation of woke orthodoxy. This being America, the process can be outsourced for a fee; as Ai Weiwei says, no action is required. An entire industry of consultants has sprung up to profit from what, for some, is little more than a political protection racket.

Take the Building Movement Project, which trains nonprofits to “align and get in right relationship with social change values” and offers a “set of resources geared towards grantmaking institutions eager to expand and deepen their support of organizations, networks, and leaders involved with social change movements.” The group is sponsored by Boston-based nonprofit TSNE MissionWorks and touts its work with the Ford Foundation, among others. It describes its Solidarity Is This program as “a transformative practice and a strategy for collective power, liberation, inclusion, healing, and equity.” But inclusion and healing are in short supply in its statement of principles and practices:

Our work on solidarity is rooted in understanding and acknowledging that the laws, practices, systems, and institutions in the United States serve to advantage white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and xenophobia. Through our work, we recognize that these systems and attitudes have paved the way for institutional and systemic anti-Black racism, the genocide, displacement, and ongoing mistreatment of indigenous communities; patriarchal and heteronormative policies that endanger the lives of women, queer people, and transgendered individuals; and laws and attitudes that target immigrants, refugees, and Muslim, South Asian, and Arab communities.

Solidarity Schools will help to inculcate this radical doctrine of political and cultural repudiation in “emerging youth leaders aged 18-25 across the country” and in future and current nonprofit workers. Alignment cannot begin too early.

The construction of the new Tower is happening on multiple levels. That work is financed in no small part by wealthy organizations willing to outsource their thought and conscience by enriching activists and promoting their ideological agendas. The woke nonprofit executive is but the kinder, gentler face of the masked Antifa thug. This peculiar combination of corporate expediency and political idiocy bodes ill for the American republic.

Photo by ivan-96/Getty Images


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next