In St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, on the eve of revolution, Patrick Henry delivered a memorable speech to the delegates of the second Virginia Convention. “The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant.” Alexander Riley, Senior Fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute (AHI) and Mary Grabar, an AHI resident fellow have earned their doctorates in vigilance.
Dr. Riley, a professor of sociology at Bucknell University, has published two essays recently on the culture of wokeness on college campuses. In the Winter 2021, issue of Academic Questions he explores “Of College and Community in the Wake of George Floyd.” In a related essay for American Greatness, he explains why “Wokeism Cannot Be Wished Away.”
Riley observes how the campus left has stretched the meaning of “community” beyond recognition to impose their will on others. He grounds his understanding of community in Frederick Tönnies’ classic work Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (1887). In transitioning from premodernity to modernity, Tönnies observed an essential shift in associative life from societies based on intimacy, locality, and kinship, a world in which “mutual investment” exists “in a shared moral world” (Gemeinschaft) to societies in which markets play a far more central role (Gesellschaft) with all the impersonality, diffuseness, and instrumentalism, pertaining thereto. “There were,” Riley explains, “three forms of community, based in relations of blood, of place, and of mind or calling.”
Although hierarchy, whether organically grown or not, has existed and will exist in all societies, “a true community recognize[s] mutuality of goals, and all work in their different capacities and roles toward the same communal end.” Riley understands the difference between measured repression, whose existence is vital to social life, and oppression. Because the left consciously muddles the distinction, they can claim oppression prevails everywhere and attempt to effect transformational change in the name of abstract equality. In no sense, however, does the woke campus with its claims for social justice fit a meaningful definition of community. Indeed, “Power-over [others] is the basic modus operandi of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in higher education.”
For those who think Wokeism has peaked, think again. In examining research from the Pew Foundation, Riley points out that far “more than 20 percent . . . of the American electorate believes that systemic change is needed” to address the racism that allegedly permeates it. One prominent conservative writer sees the Netflix series “The Chair” as a sign that woke culture may be receding. Riley will have none of it. “The frame of the entire series,” he declares, “is that universities in 2021 are reactionary cesspools filled with white racist dinosaurs who must be swept away by the radical and diverse wave of wokeness.”
In the January 4, 2022, issue of the online journal FrontPage Magazine, Dr. Grabar uncovers “A Gift from the Mendacious Nikole Hannah-Jones to Conservative Lawmakers.” She centers her article on the attempt to mainline The 1619 Project into American schools. A thick anthology, edited by four persons associated with the New York Times, including Hannah-Jones, has recently appeared in print. Hannah-Jones smears her critics and refuses to debate them while correcting, on the sly, many of the mistakes that they have, in fact, pointed out.
Even before The 1619 Project was published—by prearrangement—left-wing non-profits stood ready to pour millions of dollars into “an education blitz” to insinuate its central themes into all levels of the school system, from kindergarten on up. Lubricated by cash and other benefits, the teaching of the Project “has taken off like wildfire.” Are schools incorporating the original version of The 1619 Project or are they working with a marginally improved version? Hannah-Jones, Grabar observes, has become her own best witness against the sleight-of-hand underway in passing off ideology as history. “One wonders,” she notes, why the journalist Hannah Jones—who by her own admission is “not a professional educator,” has felt so qualified to lecture some of the most distinguished historians in the field on the essentials of American history while “conduct[ing] webinars for K-12 teachers” with the flush of money available from the Pulitzer Center and other nonprofits.