Rorate Caeli

“Wokeism and cancel culture: where are they taking us?” - by Roberto de Mattei

 Roberto de Mattei
August 2023

Since the time of the French Revolution, the destruction of historical memory has been part of the war unleashed against Christian civilisation. One need think only of the devastation of churches and monuments that took place between 1789 and 1795, along with the profanation of the basilica of Saint-Denis, when the tombs of the French sovereigns were opened and their mortal remains exhumed and scattered, with an evident symbolic meaning: every trace of the past had to be physically erased, in compliance with the Convention’s decree of 1 August 1793. Damnatio memoriae has characterised the history of the European left wing ever since — down to the “cancel culture” and “woke” ideology of our day.

“Cancel culture” is the culture of the erasure of memory: an ideological vision according to which the West has no universal values to propose to the world, but only past crimes which it must expiate. Being “woke” means purging society of any racial or social injustice inherited from the past. The utopia of the “new man” in fact presupposes that the past be made a tabula rasa: the human species must become formless “raw material” in order to be reshaped, remoulded like soft wax. The next step is that of “transhumanism”, the regeneration of humanity through the tools of science and technology.

But this destructive process, in its uncontrollable dynamism, threatens to overthrow the political left itself. Conchita De Gregorio, an Italian journalist who belongs to that world, in an article published in La Stampaon 7 July, recounts three significant episodes that have taken place in France and put her on her guard.

The first episode is this: “At a famous dance school in the Marais district, much sought after by families, a stronghold of the progressive Parisian elites, the parents of the little dancers have asked the school director that the teachers not instruct the children and adolescents in the right movements by touching them with their hands, but with a stick”. The reason is that any contact between bodies, including that of the hand that guides the torso or accompanies a step tried for the first time, is potentially sexual abuse.

The second episode concerns a theatre class at a higher institute of fine arts in Paris. For a group photo, the teacher asked a young woman to tie her hair in a ponytail, “since her magnificent, sumptuous afro stuck out so far to the sides that it completely covered the faces of the classmates to her right and left”. The whole class protested, denouncing the manifestation of racism. The headmaster made the teacher write a letter of resignation.

The third episode concerns a famous feminist who “supports the freedom of Islamic women not to wear the veil. Take note: they need not. They may wear it in perfect freedom or not wear it just as freely”. The left accused her of Islamophobia, of being right-wing, of having sold out, and in the ensuing strife, the feminist had to be given a security escort. Between feminism and Islamism, the left favours the latter because it is characterised by a greater hatred towards the West.

A broader and more in-depth picture of what is happening in France is offered in a book just published by Avenir de la Culture, under the direction of Atilio Faoro.1 The authors explain that wokeism, heir to the Soviet Terror and Great Purges, is a global ideology that wants to turn society into a vast re-education camp. For the fanatics of this ideology, “French gastronomy is racist”, “classical literature is sexist”, “a man can be pregnant”, the 4,600 municipalities that bear the name of a saint must be “unbaptised”, the basilica of Notre Dame is a symbol of oppression and should be renamed “Notre Dame of the survivors of paedo-criminality”. The French language itself should be deconstructed, for example by replacing the term “hommage”, which harks back to feudal language, with that of “femmage”, just as instead of “patrimoine” the term “matrimoine” should be used, in order not to grant male chauvinism even the slightest semantic advantage.

This is not a matter of folly but of consequences in keeping with a vision of the world that rejects the historical memory of the West, and in particular its Christian roots.

In order to develop, however, culture, which is the exercise of man’s spiritual and intellectual faculties, needs a memory that may preserve and pass on what man has already produced in history. Memory is the awareness of one’s roots and of the fruits that they have borne. The German philosopher Josef Pieper observed:

“The true-to-being character of memory means simply that it ‘contains’ in itself real things and events as they really are and were. The falsification of recollection by the assent or negation of the will is memory’s worst foe; for it most directly frustrates its primary function: to be a ‘container’ of the truth of real things.”

In order to assert itself, a lie needs to destroy the truth that is contained in memory. For this reason the erasure of memory, which contains the truth of history, is a crime against humanity, and the woke revolution is an expression of it. Wokeism has developed in the West to destroy the West, but it has nothing to do with the history and identity of our civilisation, of which it constitutes a radical antithesis. The detractors of the West who allow themselves to be seduced by prescriptions such as those of Islamic Eurabia, the Muscovite Third Rome and Chinese neo-communism are embracing a suicidal itinerary. Woke ideology is the last stage of a disease long in the making, which cannot be cured by killing the patient. Wokeism and cancel culture are not the death throes of the West, but the tumour cells of an organism that was healthy and can still heal, if there come, as we hope, a radical intervention of the Divine Surgeon.