The unholy alliance between wokeism and barbarism
After 2023, surely no one will deny that Western civilisation is under threat from without and within.
My favourite story about Spinoza concerns the time he lost his cool. A philosopher, a Jew and history’s finest defender of Enlightenment, Spinoza was normally a picture of quiet reason. But when he heard about the lynching of Johan and Cornelis de Witt he became gripped by an uncommon fury. The de Witt brothers were key political figures in the Dutch Republic, the enlightened new nation in which Spinoza enjoyed such great liberty to think and write. On 20 August 1672, at The Hague, they were set upon by a ferocious mob that held them responsible for the invasion of the republic by a French-English alliance. They were murdered, mutilated and clumps of their flesh were eaten.
Spinoza was enraged. He made a plan to visit the site of the mob’s savagery to hold a one-man protest. Think Greta Thunberg, but enlightened. He prepared a placard to hold up. But his landlord restrained him, fearing he too would be slain by the mob. And so history was denied the image of one of our great philosophers staging a lonely, angry protest. What did his makeshift placard say? It had two words on it. ‘Ultimi barbarorum.’ Rough translation: ‘You are the greatest of barbarians.’
This year more than any other I’ve understood how Spinoza felt. On numerous occasions in 2023 I’ve been tempted to go places with a placard saying ‘Ultimi barbarorum’. To the kibbutzim of southern Israel following Hamas’s fascistic savagery against the Jews there on 7 October. To George Washington University after students projected the words ‘Glory to our martyrs’ on the side of the library building: young Americans of unimaginable privilege taking pleasure in the butchery of Jews. To the lovely, leafy campus of Columbia in New York City where students planned to hold a meeting on Hamas’s stirring ‘counter-offensive’. To those ‘pro-Palestine’ marches in London at which the morally treacherous middle classes marched alongside individuals dressed as Hamas terrorists and extremists chanting for yet more slaughter in Israel: ‘Jihad, jihad, jihad!’
To New York University where students shouted, ‘We don’t want no Jew state / We want all of it’: a cry by the comfortable for Hamas to finish the genocidal job of eliminating Jews in the Middle East. To the streets of Manhattan where protesters shouted ‘Shame on you!’ at an Israeli woman whose daughter was kidnapped and brutalised by Hamas. Shaming the victims of racist terror – a low even for the unhinged woke. To any gathering of politically minded Gen Zers, to be frank, after polls found that huge numbers of them view Jews as an ‘oppressor class’ and believe Hamas’s pogrom was ‘justified’. And to the Sydney Opera House, where radical Islamists chanted ‘Gas the Jews’ and ‘Fuck the Jews’ mere days after Hamas murdered the Jews. Nazi-style parades, uncontained glee at genocidal violence, on the streets of a Western city.
At every place I’ve wanted to say ‘Ultimi barbarorum’. To call out both barbarism and its intellectual apologists. To express Spinoza-style disgust for these new enemies of Western civilisation. For make no mistake, that’s what they are. From Hamas to the radical Islamists in Europe who feel inspired by Hamas to the West’s own sons and daughters of privilege who make excuses for Hamas – all have proven themselves in 2023 to be the adversaries of truth, culture and reason. Surely no one will now deny that Western civilisation is under assault on two fronts: from without and within?
The West’s bourgeois left loves to larp as Marxists, often quoting the great Rosa Luxemburg: ‘Socialism or barbarism!’ This year we discovered which side of that clash they take – it isn’t Luxemburg’s. The apologism for Hamas in privileged circles has been mind-blowing. Hamas’s bestial violence against the Jews has been denied, downplayed or outright justified. A ‘day of celebration’ is how one privately educated pretend radical in Britain described the racist butchery of 7 October. This sympathy with barbarism, this receptiveness to acts of staggering dehumanisation, goes beyond Israelophobia. It speaks to more than the witless hate for Israel that’s been rampant in right-thinking circles for years.
It even touches on something deeper than the scourge of identity politics, though that politics no doubt shapes the infantile hot take that Jews are permanent oppressors and Palestinians are forever victims. No, the sympathy shown by woke Westerners for Hamas’s apocalyptic violence reveals a moral kinship between these two sections of global society. It exposes their shared contempt for Western civilisation, their shared indifference to human suffering, and their shared loathing of freedom.
The fallout from 7 October brought to the surface a crisis of Western civilisation that has been brewing for decades. It confirmed that when you socialise the young into a system of loathing for their own civilisation not only do you make them indifferent to the threats faced by that civilisation – you make them welcome such threats, to embrace them as necessary moral correctives to our own hubris and misplaced exceptionalism.
Having educated the young to view the West as a racist entity; to fear America and Britain as nations born in the sins of slavery and Empire; to ‘decolonise’ their own learning of those arrogant white men of Enlightenment; to eschew science as a Western conceit that negates more indigenous ways of knowing; and to doubt the existence of truth itself, we cannot now be shocked to find them so cavalier about a violent assault on this awful, unspeakable West. In this case, Hamas’s racist onslaught on the people of a state that is seen to embody Western values in the Middle East. For many today, ‘Western civilisation is synonymous with racism, oppression and exploitation’, as one academic puts it. So why not celebrate its violent humiliation? Why not revel in the degradation of those who enjoy its gains?
We cannot afford to underestimate how significant it is that many of our young sympathise with Hamas and view the Jews they butchered as oppressors. This must be a moral watershed for the West. In turning the young against civilisation, we’ve marched them into the arms of barbarism. We have lost them to Hamas.
The unholy marriage between wokeism and Islamism can no longer be denied. Both scorn the idea of Western civilisation. Both disavow Enlightenment as Western arrogance. Both dread the march of modernity, whether as a threat to Gaia or Sharia. And both hate Jews. One side views them as pigs and monkeys, the other as an oppressor class. Once again Jews have come to be seen as the embodiment of modernity, and therefore the enemies of modernity, whether that’s the civilisation sceptics of our own elite universities or the civilisation attackers of radical Islam, turn on them. Viciously. The woke dehumanise them as oppressors, Hamas dehumanises them with violence. Both are assaults not only on Jews but also on the civilisational conscience itself.
There is a reluctance, these days, to speak of a clash between civilisation and barbarism. It feels too old-world. And yet its existence can no longer be ignored. Today we face not merely a clash of civilisations, but, perhaps more importantly, a clash within Western civilisation. On one side, those who have abandoned reason, on the other those of us who wish to defend it. A movement in 2024 against the barbarorum of our times would be no bad thing.
Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy
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