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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning

Oct 15, 2023

Yesterday, Razib discussed Richard Hanania’s The Origins of Woke: Civil Rights Law, Corporate America, and the Triumph of Identity Politics with the author. Today, Unsupervised Learning hosts a wide-ranging discussion with Christopher Rufo on his book, America's Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything. While Hanania’s focus is law and politics, Rufo looks at intellectual history and culture. If you follow his prolific output on social media or in City Journal, you know Rufo is an indefatigable culture warrior, but in America's Cultural Revolution he outlines in a book-length narrative the ideas and people he believes have driven the “Great Awokening” of the 2010’s and 2020’s.

Though Razib and Rufo first discuss his past life as a filmmaker, and in particular, Diamonds in the Dunes, a 2014 documentary about a baseball team in Xinjiang, most of the conversation revolves around the historical figures of the mid-to late-20th century that set the stage for the rise of woke culture and critical race theory. They begin with the elder statesmen of 1960’s radicalism, Frankfurt School critical theorist Herbert Marcuse. The exposition of Marcuse’s life is Rufo’s entrée into a discussion about “Cultural Marxism” that has defined much of his public profile over the last few years. Rufo elucidates the connection between radical academics and violent activists in the streets in the late 1960’s, and how it connects to protests in the 2010’s. He also traces the genealogy of many modern institutions back to 1960’s radicalism, including Marcuse’s personal connection to the field of “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI) through his wife, who pioneered its practices and terminology. Razib and Rufo also discuss the checkered life of one of Marcuse’s star students, Professor Angela Davis, whose involvement in violent terrorism in the 1960’s is curiously ignored by her academic supporters. Skipping much closer to the present, Rufo talks about political and social radicalism he witnessed in 2020 in Seattle and the events later in Portland, as the Pacific Northwest came to embrace “America’s Cultural Revolution.”

Finally, Razib asks Rufo for his take on the state of contemporary politics, and the path forward. Though the vast majority of America's Cultural Revolution focuses on the past, Rufo has embraced an active role in current politics, especially the conflict over New College in Florida. Shifting from a Left-Right frame, Rufo reflects on tensions within the ostensibly anti-woke Right, and the future of the American republic and its critics both from on the far Left and far Right.