This week debate commenced in the UK House of Lords over a bill dealing with paid maternity leave for members of parliament – an insignificant piece of legislation that would normally have attracted little or no attention.
The bill, however, includes provisions that compel the use of woke transgender terminology, and this has provoked a fierce debate in the Lords between supporters of the new globalised world order and defenders of the older nation-state based regime.
It is this intractable, ongoing clash – and its concomitant ideological manifestation, the so-called “culture wars” – that is the primary cause of the increasingly divided and parlous state of many liberal democracies – in particular the UK and America.
Think Remainers and Brexiteers; think Democrat elites and Trumpist populists.
So what caused this week’s unseemly ruckus in the normally sedate, indeed sometimes soporific, House of Lords?
It was the provisions in the bill to erase the use of terms such as “women” and “mothers” and instead use words like “the person is pregnant” and “the person has given birth to a child” that provoked uproar, mirroring the fashionable woke jargon that panders to the trans lobby, like “birthing bodies”, “uterus holder” and “chestfeeders”.
Female peers from both sides of traditional politics reacted with unconcealed outrage.
Lady Noakes, a Tory, said: “There is no malice in wishing to maintain the biological facts of womanhood ….. if this bill passes unamended, there will be yet another precedent on the statute books for the elimination of women”.
Baroness Helene Hayman, Labour, complained: “The price of so-called gender neutrality in this bill is an awkward and ugly distortion of the English language and an affront to common sense”.
Baroness Claire Fox, an independent, warned: “Our laws and words must never treat people as non-human things. These new language codes and norms are mandating us to adopt doublespeak…. I am a woman, that is it – enough. I am not a uterus holder…… nor a chestfeeder. These are linguistic abominations”.
The outcry eventually forced the government to amend the wording of the legislation, removing the word person from the bill and replacing it with “mother or expectant mother”.
But how does such virtue-signalling ‘woke’ language get to be in legislation put forward by a Conservative government in the first place? It is because the globalised elites comprise a significant faction within the Tory party (Boris Johnson is one, notwithstanding being a Brexiteer, a position people now forget he adopted very late in the day), and they dominate the post-Corbyn Labour party completely. They also control most large corporations, the bureaucracies, the NHS and the medical establishment, universities and schools, and the bulk of the media in the UK.
The problem with the so-called “culture wars” is that no matter how many intellectual debates defenders of the old liberal nation-state world order win, the new globalised elites are almost always victorious.
This should surprise no one, given that this entire process involves the protracted replacement of one elite by another, and that both elites are firmly opposed to any kind of fundamental economic reform in the West.
Some conservative critics of woke ideologies characterise them as “left-wing” doctrines. That view is completely mistaken. These ideologies are deeply conservative in their economic operation, which is why even the older ruling elites in Western democracies ultimately acquiesce in their dominance. Even this week’s critics in the Lords will no doubt go quietly into the night.
Despite their differences, the competing ideologies of both elites have much in common. In fact, the woke ideologies of the globalised elites are nothing more than the irrational progeny of the older liberal ideologies that they are so rapidly supplanting in the West.
And it is precisely in the irrationality of these ideologies that lies the danger for Western liberal democracies.
Western liberal elites have always been prone to resort to irrationalism in order to preserve their economic interests. Richard Hofstadter, the American historian, wrote about this phenomenon in the USA in his 1944 book “Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915” and “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” in 1964, detailing how fringe groups can influence and derail the agendas of parties. Gyorgy Lukacs dealt with the same topic in relation to Germany in “The Destruction of Reason” in 1952. Perhaps one day a history of the decline of Western democracies from the 1960s to the present will be written.
But let us get back to the particular topic debated in the House of Lords this week.
What drives the compulsive need to replace traditional fixed gender categories and terms with fluid ones that permit the appearance of easy change between categories – facilitated in grim reality by invasive surgery and long-term drug treatments?
The answer to that question lies in the fact that, whereas the basic categories of traditional liberal ideologies were social and economic and focused on the individual, woke ideological categories are primarily biological (e.g., gender, race and sexual preference).
Progress in traditional liberal terms meant social and economic advancement for the individual, which presupposed genuine social and economic reform.
But progressively since the late 1960s, liberal elites in the West have completely turned their backs on genuine social and economic reform. Does anyone believe that “Davos man” really wants to improve the lot of anyone in the West other than himself?
In the late 1960s, after the collapse of the student revolts, biological categories were utilised by Western elites to confer privileges on particular disadvantaged groups that that had been excluded from full participation in Western societies in the past (e.g., feminism, the civil rights movement, gay rights and so on).
But woke ideologies today, in their most extreme form, have moved far beyond that kind of social engineering, which still had a progressive social and economic component and was grounded in the notion of individual rights.
The most extreme woke ideologies now define progress in purely biological terms. (This position, oddly enough, harks back to the discredited late nineteenth century liberal “science” of eugenics, which also redefined progress in purely biological terms).
Social and economic progress as a goal has, therefore, been replaced by gender transitioning, the latter goal being a more conservative, irrational variant of the former.
The irrationality of this ideology is confirmed by the fact that it seeks to abolish the category of “women” entirely. Not even the most rabid nineteenth century misogynists ever sought to do that, as many older feminists and lesbians are now realising to their cost and utter dismay.
The issue of gender-inclusive terminology is one that arises in all contemporary Western democracies. This week in France an MP of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party introduced a bill into parliament designed to outlaw such language (called “novlangue”, after Orwell’s newspeak, in French) in government communications. The Académie Française supported the bill, saying that gender-inclusive language “puts French in mortal danger”.
The economic order in some Western democracies has been preserved, at least for the time being, by such irrational means – other woke ideologies like catastrophic climate change, identity politics and critical race theory also have irrational cores – but at what cost and for how long?
And “cancel culture”, by abolishing intellectual debate altogether and destroying individuals who protest at this development, adds an additional layer of irrationality to this entire historical process. All totalitarian regimes, as Orwell pointed out long ago, are compelled to introduce some form of “cancel culture” in order to survive.
Nevertheless, it is very difficult to envisage Western societies in which the notion of social and economic progress has been completely replaced by fundamentally irrational doctrines surviving in any civilised fashion in the long term.
As an editorial in the Australian newspaper correctly stated this week, “If culture lives in language, the full-frontal assault against the natural order of childbirth and motherly affection posits a bleak future for Western civilisation”.
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