Throughout history, revolutionaries have employed the power of words and phrases. The Protestant Revolt invoked catchphrases such as “faith alone” and “sola scriptura” to undermine papal supremacy. The French Revolution made use of a talismanic1 trilogy: “liberty, equality and fraternity.” Furthermore, the Catholic left used the word “dialogue” to facilitate a reconciliation between the Church and communism.
Today’s left is no different. It makes use of this effective method of ideological transshipment. However, this Revolutionary tactic is not invincible. The right can defeat the use of these talismanic words and has done so in the past.
The word “woke” is a perfect example of this defeat. We can learn much by studying its failure to convince the general public.
When it first appeared, “woke” seemed a dangerous weapon in the left’s arsenal. All signs indicated this would be the case.
The word comes across as short and sweet. It presents itself with an air of compassion for people who have suffered from “racial injustice.” It suggests that one has “awoken” to the grave wrongdoings that have afflicted black people for centuries. Furthermore, using the term also strokes the intellectual egos of liberal sympathizers. It gives them the sensation of being “in the know” about injustices others did not perceive. It is also a very elastic word with a wide range of meanings that can be easily transposed from one area of injustice to another.
Thus, inside a climate of tension that appeared with the Black Lives Matter movement, many on the left began to use the word “woke” with confidence.
As expected, it caught like wildfire. Public schools, liberal media and radical left-wing groups immediately adopted this new term. Everyone was told to become woke warriors and fight against intrinsically-racist social structures.
Thus the word soon became the go-to way of vilifying anyone trying to defend the police, gun rights and schoolchildren. Left-wing politicians employed the term against their conservative counterparts in the most aggressive ways imaginable. As a result, conservatives faced two options: surrender to the liberals or be called racist. The word “woke” became a way to pressure the right to favor a leftist agenda under the guise of justice and compassion.
At first, the strategy seemed to work. The word created a climate of class struggle that pitted the races against each other. New laws and policies were passed in legislative assemblies. Schools updated curriculums, using programs like The 1619 Project that educate children through the lens of wokeism. Severe measures were also taken against law enforcement, naturally leading to nationwide disorder.
Indeed, it seemed like “woke” helped accomplish everything the left had hoped for and then some.
However, something unexpected happened just as “woke” seemed to reach its apex. The appealing mirage that veiled the word’s true meaning vanished and was replaced by the ugly reality.
Suddenly, events and criticisms appeared that exposed the leftist talisman for what it was. People correctly associated it with Critical Race Theory, a Marxist rehashing of class struggle. People perceived that the term “woke” contained the idea of using race as a mere pretext to promote socialist political reform. In addition, parents realized that “wokeism” was making its way into schools and targeting impressionable children, which rightfully angered them.
In addition, the word became associated with violent rioting in the streets as a means to disrupt supposedly “oppressive” structures. Thus, in the name of being “woke,” throwing bricks through storefront windows became a new way to fight for racial equity.
Such associations took away any ambiguity and air of compassion from the word. People quickly realized the true meaning of “woke” and rejected it.
As a result, anything tied to the word became stigmatized. Conservatives turned “woke” into a pejorative term and used it to denounce radical liberal agendas. The word, thus exorcised, lost its electrifying charge. As a result, liberals trying to present themselves as centrists lost their cover.
In desperation, the left began trying to play the victim, complaining about a conservative crusade against their failed brainchild. However, it was too late for sympathy. The “woke” mob had already reared its ugly head, and no one wanted anything to do with it.
At that point, all the left could do was accept defeat. In an interview with Vox, Democratic strategist James Carville surprisingly admitted that woke was broke and asked people to move away from it. Today, this failed talisman still causes some damage but works against the purpose for which it was created.
We Can’t Stop Here
The defeat of “woke” contains a valuable lesson. When united against liberal chicanery, conservatives can effectively disrupt dangerous leftist maneuvers.
However, woke is only one of many leftist talismanic words that need to be addressed. For example, the word “hate” is now applied to anyone who practices the third spiritual work of mercy: “admonish the sinner.” Another example is “tolerance,” which suggests that people should accept and embrace sin. The list could go on since many talismans are still on the loose and doing damage.
We cannot be satisfied with the defeat of “woke.” Talismanic words are destroyed when they are defined precisely and deprived of ambiguity and multiple meanings. We must point out the flaws and contradictions holding these words together. We can also expose the ideologies behind these terms. By doing so, their façades come crashing down, and the left is deprived of a valuable weapon.
We have momentum on our side. It’s not time to raise the white flag in the war of words. We need to press the attack!
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- Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira describes how propagandists use certain words that, by their glitter, can easily deceive people. He termed these words “talismanic” since they seem to possess an almost magic power to influence the public. See https://www.tfp.org/unperceived-ideological-transshipment-and-dialogue/.