Woke Iconoclasm

Marxists sought, and seek, to cancel the liberal arts by redefining them in purely instrumental terms. A hallmark of twentieth-century experiments in Marxism was the effort to channel man’s aesthetic faculties to purely useful ends, and to insist that works of imagination and beauty should be created and/or used only as tools to serve the goals of the state…. Woke Fundamentalism has been drawing from the Communist playbook by treating the liberal arts as if their value is merely instrumental in advancing social-justice agendas. Among the Woke, the great literary, visual, and musical artworks of our tradition are valued purely for their didactic function in advancing a narrow range of political concerns, including feminism, critical race theory, post-colonialism, queer theory, and so on. By treating these disciplines in this way, the Woke leave the disciplines of higher learning in place even as they pragmatize and polemicize them, hollowing out their content so that these disciplines become little more than weapons in the hands of social justice warriors. Meanwhile, scholars who insist on the older view, that the liberal arts are ends rather than simply means, risk having their careers destroyed and their reputations ruined.”
The above image is from the 2002 film Equilibrium, depicting a dystopian regime where all artworks are destroyed. Despite the destructive rampage against statuary, wokeness normally doesn’t encourage destruction of art directly through burning paintings and poems; rather, it destroys art indirectly through instrumentalizing it, turning all the great works of Western Civilization into fodder for an activist agenda.
I argue elsewhere that one of the reasons Jordan Peterson has had such resonance among the younger generation is that he discusses the great stories and myths on their own terms rather than trying to politicize them.
Art is subversive, but ironically the subversive dimension of art emerges when we first surrender to art (whether paintings, poetry, or music) on its own terms instead of merely looking to it as a pragmatic tool.
But lest I be too hard on Wokeness, conservative ideologues have their own version of this same iconoclasm, perhaps seen most grotesquely in the fixation among classical educators (and sadly, some of the curriculum vomited forth by Veritas Press) to bring “worldview analysis” to art and literature. The irony is that this very approach departs from the Christian worldview in key ways since it treats works that participate in God’s beauty as not truly good independent of our ability to instrumentalize them.
Scroll To Top