Updated: Dec 6, 2020
Friedrick Nietzsche and Karl Marx
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Are you woke? Of course. One must be to read. Woke is the past-tense of wake. Now awaken, you are aware and can perceive your world and interact with it. And if you are super awake and have been enlightened to all the injustice in the world, especially racial injustice, then, according to the urban definition, you are ‘woke.’
At the core of being ‘woke’ is a belief that one is enlightened. Someone who claims to be enlightened is claiming a type of insight or knowledge few others possess. One does not say an idiot is enlightened, but someone enlightened likely feels a sense of superiority.
History has much to contribute to the meaning of ‘woke’ as much of the 17th and 18th century is known as the ‘Age of Enlightenment.’ That was when Europe’s intellectuals began to ask different questions in light of scientific advancements. These questions confronted the currently held orthodoxy and offered a new understanding of the natural world. A new kind of ‘reason’ to explain what was, what is, and what is possible. With reason, they explored new notions of liberty, progress, and toleration.
Unfortunately, the Age of Enlightenment’ hardly describes the ‘woke’ movement. The ‘woke’ are the antithesis of liberty, progress, and toleration. This movement looks remarkably similar to Marxism. How did we get here?
After centuries of church and state comingling power and the resulting corruption, 16th-century western thought leaders began to dare suggest another way. I say ‘dare’ because there were consequences to heresy. They believed the marriage of ‘church’ and ‘state’ was dysfunctional, and separation was necessary for better governance. This union of shared power resulted in untold injustices and a type of piety that some came to see as incestuous and self-serving. The church, with the state as collector, was shaking down a lot of old ladies.
“There ought to be two kingdoms” was an idea that found its way to the commoner fresh off a Gutenberg press. Martin Luther, an early adopter of this new technology, had become incensed by the corruption and the twisted theology of indulgences that enabled it. With uncommon courage, he took hammer, nail, and a thesis to the Wittenberg Castle Church door, which lead to the Reformation. Like an ungrateful child leaving the nest under the nastiest of terms, it left the parents bewildered and Holy Roman mercenaries chasing him through the German countryside for a much-deserved roasting. But church and state stayed married, and Luther would not be the first child to advocate for his parents’ separation.
In England, where Holy Roman rule was beaten back across the channel, they attempted a ménage à trois. A three-way relationship involving the monarchy, representative government, and the official Church of England. Generally, the monarchy was to represent the church’s interest and did so with great pomp and ceremony. The king or queen was the equivalent Pope, complete with golden headdress and velvet robes and entering the Hall to the joyful sound of the Royal Choir singing the National Hymn. Heresy, too, was not tolerated. Dissension or an alternative idea to the day’s accepted orthodoxy could lead to being excommunicated or shunned or made to feel as unwelcome as a bitter cold North Sea breeze. Soon boats were procured and filled with folks holding unorthodox views and set sail for a new world. The unknown appeared more hopeful than the discrimination dealt by the state’s unholy alliance.
A couple of centuries or so later, the Russian political structure consisting of the monarchy and the Orthodox Holy Synod fell victim to another ideology. There was to be no church- just state. The secularist impulses of Karl Marx and company wanted the church burnt to the ground and believers to disavow any interest in a Deity. In just a decade or two, tens of thousands of steeples were toppled, and thousands of priests were dispatched to early eternity with a bullet.
So profound was Marx’s antipathy towards religion, he projected his cold dark view of humanity when he wrote, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” The intolerant heartless heart of Marxism would come to extinguish millions of Russian souls for crimes of thought.
Perhaps Marx was influenced by fellow Prussian Friedrick Nietzsche, who in 1882 claimed God dead. For holding this thought, this idea, this notion, the church-state did not censor the professor, stone him, or torch him at the stake. His book, The Gay Science, was tolerantly published. But the proclamation came to torment Nietzsche as he soon grew to fear what humankind would do if God were not front and center of a shared ethos. He feared what would happen when ‘man’ became his own god. What would be the result when every individual felt compelled to adjudicate every injustice?
Mostly God-fearing, and given an opportunity to start with a clean piece of parchment and a full well of ink unspoiled by centuries of ‘Church and State’s’ dirty laundry, our founders dreamt a more perfect union- by keeping church and state separate. Church and state were not to marry, rather live together in separate wings of the big house. They knew that they would need to function much as a family to live in peace and prosperity. They would cooperate on things but respectfully stay in their own lanes. Preachers preach from the Bible, and secular judges decide if someone was drunk while driving. Occasionally, one or the other would claim some encroachment, sometimes bitterly, sending the Supremes into a family therapy session.
Perhaps inspired by divine wisdom and certainly influenced by the greatest thinkers of the ‘Age of Enlightenment,’ our founders believed that humanity is best when left free to form all manner of opinions, including the Nietzschean notion that God is dead and to hold such views without fear of recriminations or persecution. Still fresh was the memory of the hopes and aspirations of so many who left the old world for the new world. This supported the philosophical notion of ‘free will.’ Muslims, atheists, Christians, Puritans, agnostics, Buddhists, and believers of all manner of creeds could live amongst each other with their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness assured not by the church but by the state. And where did the state get its authority to offer such rights? It was a fundamental precept of our founders that these ‘natural’ rights were endowed on every human by his or her Creator.
Nietzsche, son of a Lutheran pastor, died a broken man cared for by his mother until she died, and then by his sister. He spent his last years an invalid to insanity. Today, some still wrestle with his proclamation of God being dead. The same impulses that appear to have animated Karl Marx to see life as a dark soulless existence full of oppression, conspiracies, and injustice appeals to many. Marx took his observations of the human condition, imagined any number of conspiracies that colored his vision, and articulated a new political system. Under Marxist ideology, the ‘new’ normal was death for millions, heartless misery for millions of others, and the loss of fundamental freedoms. Natural rights made inalienable by God is not possible under Marxism.
With roots in Marxism, our present-day woke movement has stirred many to passion. They have also borrowed heavily from the storeroom of religious symbols and practices. When told to bow down or take a knee, they do so then demand others to do the same. ‘Praise’ songs are recorded and performed. They proselytize by going neighborhood to neighborhood with bullhorns demanding repentance and reparations. They lap up books by its prophets attempting to explain how racism is a systemic conspiracy by white pigmented people where there is no solution but a continuance of a culture that simply produces victims.
With far less tolerance than was afforded Nietzsche, modern-day philosophers and other academics are being screamed into silence and off the campus for views deemed heretical by the woke. If they dare take their views to social media and YouTube, the woke lie in wait as if lurking in the shadows of a dark German forest to grab heretic Luther for an appointment with a burning stake. Deprived of a voice, we get perhaps an inkling of what it might have been like to be loaded on a cattle car with a one-way ticket to a beautiful but frozen Siberia.
Already a many million dollar industry, the woke have organized retraining seminars, which will be mandatory for many. Mandatory retraining is another way of saying ‘reeducation’ and comes dangerously close to being ‘indoctrination.’ These seminars are in full swing, and if past efforts to force adults to learn something is any guide, the money will be wasted.
Most big companies have a lot of money and, motivated beyond my understanding, have collectively given billions of dollars to woke organizations such as BLM. Perhaps it’s a type of indulgence payment keeping the movement’s rabid and destructive arm at bay. Maybe it’s to appease the organization’s woke employees as proof they’re in for the cause. If I were to guess, much of that money will find it’s way into the piggy banks of our most progressive politicians- the ones that call for the defunding of police and the closing of jails. Eventually, these politicians will gnaw off the hand that feeds them.
I wished this was an essay imagining some futuristic dystopia or a shameful attempt at fear-mongering. I wish I could say that this can’t possibly happen to a country with a nearly 250-year tradition of representative democracy, but it is- every day.
I believe it important to learn as much as we can about this phenomenon, including what history has to offer. Then, perhaps, we can formulate our best ideas on how we might contribute to its demise. Nietzsche was wrong in 1885 when he declared God dead. But he was correct when he feared what it would unleash. He just didn’t know when.