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How Woke Won: The Elitist Movement That Threatens Democracy, Tolerance and Reason (None) Paperback – 19 May 2022

4.7 out of 5 stars 126 ratings

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‘This book is the essential guide for our era of confusion and incoherence as moral revolutionaries tear down statues, institutions, and widely held values. With clear thinking and gripping storytelling, Williams explains how how a minority of the elites in Britain and America were able to intimidate the rest of the elites into silence or complicity, imposing a "revolution from above" that is anti-democratic and cruel. Anyone who wants to restore sanity, beauty, or simple humanity to our public life should read How Woke Won’. --Jonathan Haidt, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership, New York University Stern School of Business, author of The Righteous Mind, Co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind.

‘Joanna Williams is one of Britain's sharpest and most eloquent writers on the “woke” phenomenon. In How Woke Won, she fearlessly and forensically exposes how the “woke” culture war has exploded into our schools, workplaces, media and politics – and why we need to fight back against this very real threat to our values and our freedoms’. --Julia Hartley-Brewer, journalist and talkRADIO presenter

‘Joanna Williams has written a highly readable and gripping anatomy of the Woke phenomenon which is poisoning our intellectual, social and political life. As she shows, it has gained a grip over many public institutions from primary schools to universities, the civil service, and cultural institutions. She tells the story of how this has happened, and explains why: because it empowers the elite that runs a large part of our lives, and want to run more. It's a worrying story of intimidation and moral blackmail, but she holds out the hope that its victory need not be permanent. In this brave and lucid book, she has done us a great service’. --Robert Tombs, Emeritus Professor of French History, The University of Cambridge and author of The English and Their History

About the Author

Joanna Williams is a columnist for spiked and writes regularly for the Spectator and The Times. She also regularly appears on the BBC, Sky News, talkRADIO and GB News. Williams taught at the University of Kent for over 10 years and has extensive experience in think-tanks. She is the founder and director of Cieo, a new think-tank for a new political era. Her previous books include Women vs Feminism (Emerald, 2017), Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity (Palgrave, 2016) and Consuming Higher Education (Bloomsbury, 2012).

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Spiked (19 May 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 270 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1739841328
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1739841324
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 12.95 x 2.54 x 20.07 cm
  • Customer reviews:
    4.7 out of 5 stars 126 ratings

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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5
126 global ratings

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Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 20 May 2022
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5.0 out of 5 stars The fightback starts here
By Michael Hallihane on 16 June 2022
When I ordered a copy of Joanna Williams’ book ‘How Woke Won’ I expected to have already encountered many of the arguments put forward by Williams and others in previous work. Wrong! ‘How Woke Won’ provides a fresh and fascinating insight into the development of woke politics and its eventual triumph over the course of several decades.

The book begins with a review of the etymology of the word ‘woke’ tracing its origins back to the era of Jim Crow Laws and black oppression in the American Deep South. ‘Woke’ had a specific meaning among black communities in the South connected not only to social and political awareness but to physically looking out for oneself and others during an era of vicious racial discrimination and prejudice.

Williams charts woke’s specific origins in the experience of an older generation of black Americans to its present-day iteration as the political philosophy of mostly middle class white liberals and Leftists. It becomes clear that the term has lost all resemblance to its original meaning and purpose. In its evolution into identity politics ‘woke’ has morphed into that which it claims to oppose.

Williams identifies a present-day cultural elite presiding over woke institutions. She observes that ‘woke ideas and identity politics justify a system of mass bureaucracy’. Woke values have penetrated every area of public life and all our institutions. Today, it isn’t far-fetched to say we live under a regime of structural and systemic wokeness.

But what is ‘woke’? And why is it a bad thing? These are the questions Williams sets out to answer. Ostensibly, woke is about ‘Social Justice’. It focuses on race and gender above all else and is mired in identity politics. Woke is regressive because in all the areas of public life it has impacted upon it has reversed or is attempting to reverse historical gains and hard-won liberties. It has introduced a climate of censorship and self-censorship and led to the cultivation of victimhood and dependency. It is an integral part of the Culture Wars. Woke is how the cultural elite wields its power over the rest of society.

In a chapter entitled ‘Woke Capitalism’ Williams reveals how the diversity industry with its army of ‘race experts’ benefits corporate elites by removing workers’ agency and solidarity. Workers are reduced to automatons. Speech codes, ‘Implicit Association Tests’ and HR Departments strip the individual employee of his or her subjectivity. ‘Unconscious bias’ training is used as a tool to achieve passivity. Workers are divided ‘according to identity, overriding social class and empowering employers to act as neutral, therapeutic arbiters in workplace conflicts’. Who is the winner? It is the capitalist class. That is why elites have embraced woke ideas and values so thoroughly.

Rehabilitating racial thinking and racial divisions is a deliberate woke policy. Woke activists see ‘colour-blindness’ and the original goals of the US Civil Rights movement as implicitly racist or aiding racism. Dividing people by race into perennial victims if they’re black or perma-guilty if they are white (to say nothing of the intersectional categories) is a lose-lose situation for the masses. Essential to the woke world view is the cultivation of vulnerability. The aim of Critical Race Theory for whites is ‘not forgiveness, but perpetual penance’. If anything, it is worse for black people who are cast as perpetual victims and supplicants.

The area most focussed on by woke activists is gender. In the case of children who identify as transgender the approach adopted by the Professional Managerial Class - in this case the educators, psychiatrists, social workers and health professionals – is ‘positive affirmation’. Parents are pushed to one side. The child is encouraged along the path of ‘social transition’ as they ‘change’ from one gender to another.

For older generations adolescent identity crisis or identity experimentation attached itself to subcultures, pop music, illicit substances, sex, experimentation in alternative lifestyles. This experimentation was seldom permanent. For which adolescent is settled in their identity or sense of self? Yet today children are swept along in a woke rollercoaster and encouraged to make life-changing decisions such as taking puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones and other medical interventions that they may come to regret in later life. By these means woke activists inculcate a new generation with woke values and separate them from the cultural legacy of the past. The past is dismissed as toxic and a Year Zero approach is taken to history. Hence the raging controversies about statues, books and children’s authors like JK Rowling.

The focus for identitarians is on appearance and representation. Williams writes: ‘To the woke, performance and principle are often one and the same.’ What this means is a layer of well-educated middle class, ethnic minority professionals are assimilated into the cultural elite. The masses of all races are excluded from this cultural elite and social network.

Williams points out that the ‘cultural turn’ isn’t a recent phenomenon. It has been decades in the making. The turn from class politics to identity politics has enriched the elite and marginalised the poor and working class. Today’s cultural elite are openly hostile to the working class. Their anti-working class animosity was on full display in the Brexit fallout and is revealed in their slurs such as ‘gammon’ for Leave voters. It is going down a blind alley to attack the cultural elite as Left or Marxists. They are neither Left nor Right. They are anti-democrats and authoritarians. They rely on authoritarianism to enforce compliance. The biggest threat to the cultural elite is democracy and its essential component part free speech. It is what they fear most.

It doesn't seem to matter what government is in office when the cultural elite hold the real reins of power and demand the government account to institutions rather than to the electorate. That is why we live with woke policies which no-one voted for or believe in. We must conclude the government is cut from the same cloth and there is a seamless relationship between the elected government and the cultural elite. The relationship gets rocky when the government tries to implement what its voters want rather than what the cultural elite wants. In the fightback against woke the demos must lead the way. Williams’ book is an essential starting point. It shows us what we’re up against.
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