Book Talk | Left Is Not Woke
Join the Institute for Public Knowledge for a book talk on Left Is Not Woke, with the author Susan Neiman in conversation with Stephen Holmes, moderated by Eric Klinenberg.
If you’re woke, you’re left. If you’re left, you’re woke. We blur the terms, assuming that if you’re one you must be the other. That, Susan Neiman argues, is a dangerous mistake.
The intellectual roots and resources of wokeism conflict with ideas that have guided the left for more than 200 years: a commitment to universalism, a firm distinction between justice and power, and a belief in the possibility of progress. Without these ideas, Neiman argues, they will continue to undermine their own goals and drift, inexorably and unintentionally, towards the right. In the long run, they risk becoming what they despise.
One of the world’s leading philosophical voices, Neiman makes this case by tracing the malign influence of two titans of twentieth-century thought, Michel Foucault and Carl Schmitt, whose work undermined ideas of justice and progress and portrayed social life as an eternal struggle of us against them. A generation schooled with these voices in their heads, raised in a broader culture shaped by the ruthless ideas of neoliberalism and evolutionary psychology, has set about changing the world. It’s time they thought again.
Susan Neiman is an American philosopher, author, and the director of the Einstein Forum in Germany. Born in Atlanta, Neiman studied philosophy at Harvard and the Free University of Berlin. Her previous works, translated into many languages, include Slow Fire, The Unity of Reason, Moral Clarity, Why Grow Up? Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age, Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil. Among other honors, Neiman has received the International Spinoza Prize and the PEN American Center award for a first work of non-fiction. She has given the Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh and the Tanner Lectures in the Humanities in Britain and the U.S. Neiman is a member of the American Philosophical Society as well as the Berlin-Brandenburg Akademie der Wissenschaften. She has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation at Bellagio, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Thomas Mann House. Visit her website: www.susan-neiman.com/en
Stephen Holmes is Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law at NYU School of Law. He previously taught at Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Chicago. His fields of specialization include the history of liberalism and illiberalism. He is the author of Benjamin Constant and the Making of Modern Liberalism (1984), The Anatomy of Antiliberalism (1993), Passions and Constraint (1995), and The Matador’s Cape (2007). He is co-author (with Cass Sunstein) of The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes (1999); (with Moshe Halbertal) of The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel (2017); and (with Ivan Krastev) of The Light that Failed: A Reckoning (2019).
Eric Klinenberg is Helen Gould Shepard Professor of Social Science and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. He is the author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life (Crown, 2018), Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (The Penguin Press, 2012), Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media (Metropolitan Books, 2007), and Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2002), as well as the editor of Cultural Production in a Digital Age, co-editor of Antidemocracy in America (Columbia University Press, 2019), and co-author, with Aziz Ansari, of the New York Times #1 bestseller Modern Romance (The Penguin Press, 2015). His scholarly work has been published in journals including the American Sociological Review, Theory and Society, and Ethnography, and he has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and This American Life.