Daniel Hannan: We feel the pull of geography, cultural congruence and kinship in the West. Whether Woke likes it or not.
Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Tory peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020 and is now Chairman of the Free Trade Initiative.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, I made a spectacularly inaccurate forecast. The coronavirus, I predicted, would end our obsession with identity politics.
In a darker, harsher world, we would be less inclined to engage in abstruse debates about “cis privilege.” Companies struggling to stay solvent would no longer worry about gender pay gaps. In the rush to find vaccines, no one would care about the gender or color of the researchers.
Boy, I was wrong. Woke had become a religion, and like all religions, it inserted new events into its existing theology.
Indeed, as has happened over the centuries, the plague drove the faithful into demented displays of devotion. Some statues self-flagellated, others shattered – of white BLM supporters unwittingly imitating their medieval ancestors
I have no intention of repeating my inane predictions. The Ukrainian war will leave many people poorer, colder and hungrier. Soaring food and fuel prices will mean that almost everyone will end up working longer hours or being able to afford fewer things or both. But that does not mean that there will be a retreat from identity politics.
The war did not weaken his revival, but it revealed it. He exposed, for example, how woke is only ever used against the West.
Vladimir Putin’s government has few women and fewer people of color. He is no friend of LGBT rights. But people who insist on seeing the world as a pyramid of hierarchy and oppression have struggled to extend their criticism beyond their usual targets.
Consider, for example, the global rage sparked by Prince William’s almost startlingly banal observation that “for our generation it is very strange to see this happening in Europe.” Immediately, the merchants of grievance piled in. Typical was the reaction of Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King:
“Awful comment. Europeans have trampled on the African continent, plundering communities, raping women, enslaving human beings, colonizing for profit and power, stealing resources, causing generational devastation.
As usual, a spiral of purity set in, with original remarks being exaggerated with each rehearsal. The prince, it was claimed, had not only been insensitive, he had been a colonialist. No, he had been downright racist. Much of the furor was stoked by Nadine White, the Independentracing correspondent, who repeated then refused to retract that “Prince William said it is quite normal to see war and bloodshed in Africa and Asia, but not in Europe”.
How easily wokies reach the concept of “my truth” when it suits them. A week before the Duke of Cambridge’s banal remark, I had written an article making the same point: that it was shocking to see full-scale war in a European consumer society whose people “use Netflix and Instagram, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers”.
Since then, Google Alerts has notified me of mentions of my article in various foreign journals, mainly in South Asia and the Middle East. Except that, in this imaginary version, I am told to have written that we must worry about Ukrainians “because they look like us” or “because they are white”.
To repeat, wokery only works against the West. Nobody finds it strange that, say, the Arab countries are more bothered by the violence in Palestine than by the violence in Papua. No one is complaining that the Pakistani government is focusing more on Indian-controlled Kashmir than on Russian-controlled Kherson.
Double standards are intrinsic to wokies. Identity politics insists on seeing race in everything. It defines people by their gender and ethnicity. It requires that the collective identity of certain groups be elevated: that, for example, American policy towards Africa be guided by the sensibilities of African Americans.
Yet he simultaneously resents when Western public opinion is swayed by geographic proximity, cultural congruence, or kinship.
In reality, these links are inevitable. Britain is bound to feel more responsible to, say, Hong Kong than Macao, more kinship with the Falklands than with the Faroes. All human beings feel empathy when they can imagine themselves in a similar situation.
The reason why, for example, the abduction of schoolgirls by Boko Haram caused more global revulsion than the death of children in Syria is that, while few of us can imagine being bombed in our homes, we can all imagine how we would feel if our children didn’t come back from school.
These reactions are part of the human condition. Adam Smith made the famous observation that “a man of humanity in Europe”, hearing that “the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, has suddenly been swallowed up by an earthquake”, would feel very hurt for them, but would sleep as if nothing like that had happened. Warned, on the other hand, that he would lose his little finger the next day, he would not sleep a wink.
People often stop quoting at this point, but Smith goes on to explain that we would still sacrifice our finger to save hundreds of millions of lives because our conscience would come into play with or without a direct emotional connection to China.
This, it seems to me, should be the guiding principle of our foreign policy. We should treat all lives as sacrosanct, all human rights as valid, all nations as entitled to their independence. But most of us will naturally feel closer to, say, Canada than Kazakhstan, and there is no dishonor in that feeling.
Ah, say the critics, but do we really treat other peoples the same? Have we been as generous to Afghans and Syrians as we are to Ukrainians?
It depends on who you mean by “we”. If you mean Britain, yes we were. We airlifted some 17,000 people out of Afghanistan when the government fell last year, and welcomed more than 20,000 Syrians, not counting the tens of thousands more we are supporting in states bordering the Syria.
If by ‘we’ you mean EU border states, such as Poland and Hungary, then I can only invite you to spend a few days there and you will see what the difference is.
In 2015 I worked in a hostel for some of the young people crossing the Mediterranean to Italy. They were bright, resourceful children who had had hellish journeys. I hope I would have done the same in their place.
But they were not refugees, at least not in the sense that we legally define that word. Almost all of them were men. At the Polish-Ukrainian border, where I spent last week, the picture is very different. Lines of women with young children queue patiently in freezing temperatures.
Another requirement of woke is that it must act as if gender is a social construct. But Poles and Hungarians have not yet learned to play the game. They can see the difference between men who left their families behind and families who left their men behind. It is tempting to think that a European war could cause us to see the same thing. But that won’t be the case. Nothing will. Woke won.