From battles over what our kids should be taught, to whether men should be allowed to play in women’s sports, we are in the throes of a cultural Cold War. That’s an argument made by Eric Kaufmann, professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London. Kaufman says traditional cultural liberalism is being challenged by the rise of what he calls “cultural socialism.”
Eric Kaufmann: Now, what it is, it's a clash between I guess what I'd call "cultural liberalism," which is free speech, equal treatment, due process, rational science, on the one hand, objective truth — against "cultural socialism," which is really about, you know — the most important value is protecting these minority groups from any kind of psychological harm, and we need equal outcomes. If we don't have, if there's any race gap, gender gap, that's automatic evidence of white privilege, and patriarchy, and white supremacy. You know, so this is sort of the ideology that's challenging cultural liberalism, which has been really the sort of operating model for our societies.
Sharyl: Did you come up with the term "cultural socialism"?
Kaufmann: Yeah. I just think this is the best term to describe what we're talking about, which, in simple terms, is about transposing the oppressor-oppressed radical transformation framework from Marxism onto a cultural plane of identity groups. So, it's not about class anymore, but it's about race, gender, sexuality. And that's sort of the simplest way to understand what we're in.
Sharyl: There's so much dominant culture talk, in the United States at least, about these social movements, whether it's promoting awareness and advocacy for transgender agendas, or Critical Race Theory, these sorts of things. What are you finding? Is that a majority opinion, when you take polls, that believe these are front and center issues, and agree with them; or are these minority opinions?
Kaufmann: As a general rule, it's two against for every one in favor of these positions. Now, what's a bit worrying, at least from my perspective, is if you take people under the age of 25 or under the age of 30, it's more like one to one. We’re getting a younger generation that is more intolerant, and more steeped in this ideology of cultural socialism. And this is why I tell people we haven't reached peak woke actually, we're only at the beginning of a journey. This is going to become more, not less, important in our politics.
Sharyl: How do you explain — if it's generally a minority view, a position to advocate for all of these causes that some people think are fringe —
Eric Kaufmann: Right.
Sharyl: Then why is it so dominant in our culture, our politics, our celebrity, and our society?
Kaufmann: Well, I think that the institutions where it's worst tend to be the most left-leaning institutions, like universities, Hollywood, publishing houses, and so on. The second thing, of course, is that the nature of the taboos that exist in our society around race, around sexism, around homophobia, et cetera — the powerful taboos create an uneven playing field, particularly in institutions. So, even a small group can play on these taboos to actually frighten people and gain the moral high ground. So, the nature of those taboos creates a terrain that's favorable to small groups of activists and gives them a lot of leverage to sort of multiply their power.
Sharyl: What do you think is the appeal of these movements and these ideas?
Kaufmann: Well, I think that these ideas, they’re building on previous waves of, you could call it indoctrination, you could call it education. So much of our morality has been based on this idea of, you know, defending the weak against the strong and the cult of victimhood, and the valorization of historically marginalized groups. The stories, the movies are about slavery and holocaust, which of course is fine, except we don't get movies and stories that we know about the cultural revolution, and the atrocities committed by socialist regimes. And so people only get one kind of inoculation and not the other kind.
Sharyl: What is your observation about, in the big picture, where this leads, what impact it has?
Kaufmann: Well, I think it has enormous impact. It's not just about loss of freedom of speech, which of course it has. What that then also leads to is polarization and division. So, if you can't really talk about immigration levels, controlling the border, dealing with violent crime, incarceration, in an effective way that would reduce crime, if that is seen as racist in some way, and mainstream politicians won't go there, then the only people who will go there are the populists. We saw that with Trump on the border, we see that in Sweden democrats, just to take a populist party here in Europe on immigration levels. That's just a couple of examples of where then populists can exploit the silence of the mainstream, the consensus, which is very narrow.
Sharyl (on-camera): Kaufmann plans to publish a book on the topic: The Rise of Cultural Socialism.