Posted on January 29, 2024

Why We Need to Talk About the Right’s Stupidity Problem

Nathan Cofnas, January 2, 2024

Attributions of low intelligence are considered insults—something we lob at our enemies, not our friends. So why should I, who am committed to the defeat of leftism, say that my own side is the dumb one? I cannot shame my political allies into having higher IQs. Talking about the right’s intellectual limitations seems demoralizing and mean. What’s wrong with letting conservatives view themselves as intellectually superior to the “libtards” who invent vaccines and run academia, big tech, and our major corporations?

If the intelligence deficit among conservatives—and right wingers in general—is real, there are at least two reasons why we need to talk about it. First, although IQ may not be under our control, being smart is to some extent a choice. Behaviors like doing “physiognomy checks” on X or getting all of your information from Internet memes are not genetically determined. It is sometimes possible to shame people into living up to their intellectual potential. Second and more important, the fact that an ideology fails to attract smart people is an indication that there is something wrong with the ideology, which needs to be corrected. If smart people overwhelmingly choose wokism over right-wing alternatives, we need to understand why.

Following Marjorie Taylor Greene, some American conservatives think the solution to our political problems is a “national divorce.” I think this would be a bad deal for both sides, but worse for conservatives. The Conservative States of America would most likely be a middle-income country that squanders its national budget on hunting down abortion doctors and erecting Pyramid of Giza-scale Ten Commandments monuments. Not satisfied with country music and Daily Wire films starring Gina Carano, the conservatives would have to import most of their entertainment from Wokistan, which the conservatives would still complain about despite being unable to produce their own alternatives. Many conservative elites would probably apply for asylum in Wokistan. This is obviously not what we should be aiming for. Instead of striking out on our own, the right needs to figure out how to turn smart people away from the left.

I’ll review several lines of direct and indirect evidence that the left has a crushing intelligence advantage over the right, especially among the elites. Then I’ll consider why this is the case, and explain the strategic implications.

To explain the appeal of leftism—which increasingly takes the form of wokism—you have to explain what wokism is. I argue that wokism is simply what follows from taking the equality thesis of race and sex differences seriously, given a background of Christian morality. Both the mainstream left and right believe that innate cognitive ability and temperament are distributed equally among races, and probably the sexes, too. (Mainstream conservatives acknowledge the existence of physical sex differences, but they rarely chalk up disparities in, for example, mathematical achievement to differences in innate ability—at least not publicly.) As I will explain, wokesters correctly follow the equality thesis to its logical conclusion, whereas conservatives fail to recognize the implications of their own beliefs. Smart people are disproportionately attracted to wokism in large part because it offers a more intellectually coherent explanation for the major issue of our time, which is the persistence of racial disparities.

There are two popular theories of the origin of wokism, which are defended in Christopher Rufo’s America’s Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything and Richard Hanania’s The Origins of Woke: Civil Rights Law, Corporate America, and the Triumph of Identity Politics. Rufo traces the revolution back to the philosophy of “critical theory” or “critical race theory,” while Hanania points the finger at civil rights law, which in his view made it illegal not to be woke. On my account, both the embrace of critical race theory and the establishment of civil rights laws were more effects than causes of wokism. The driving cause of wokism was widespread acceptance of the equality thesis, and that is what must be explained.

I will show why my explanation of wokism is superior to Rufo’s wokism-as-philosophy theory and Hanania’s wokism-as-law theory. Wokism needs to be attacked from philosophical and legal angles, and Rufo and Hanania provide important guidance on how to do that. Ultimately, however, the woke system can only be brought down by exposing the Big Lie upon which it is based (the equality thesis), thereby giving elites a reason to change their minds and defect to the right. Wokism will end when the right becomes smart enough to attract the people who matter.


Why Everything Goes Woke

When we understand what wokism is, it will be obvious why it is such a powerful attractor for smart people—at least when the other option is mainstream conservatism.

Wokism is what comes from taking the equality thesis seriously, given a background of Christian morality. If you assume that all human populations have literally the same distribution of innate ability, it follows that all group differences in outcome must be the result of environmental factors. Suppose you truly believe that African Americans and Chinese Americans would on average be equally good at math and equally likely to run afoul of the law if only they were treated the same. With the right intervention, Nigeria could become like Korea, and our inner cities could be transformed into Silicon Valleys—or at least Koreatowns. The persistence of race differences in income, IQ, education, health, crime rates, etc., almost all disfavoring blacks, triggers an increasingly hysterical effort to find and correct the environmental cause.

The existence of disparities between groups with supposedly equal potential is only interpreted as a moral emergency in the light of certain Christian-derived moral premises. An ancient Assyrian, a Roman pagan, an Aztec, or Genghis Khan wouldn’t have cared about the lower performance of different groups. But the WEIRD mind is deeply imprinted with the idea that all individuals are moral equals, and that this entitles them to equal opportunities to flourish and develop. Given our moral sensitivities, it is difficult to accept a situation where environmental conditions cause one group to have a fraction of the wealth, to suffer a 15-point IQ deficit (or a 20- to 25-point deficit if you compare African Americans to Asians or Jews), and to resort to murder at more than 30 times the rate as another group with the same capacities (if you compare blacks and whites in New York City).

For three generations we’ve waged an all-out war against anti-black racism. Racial discrimination against blacks is treated as a heinous crime, and ruthless discrimination in favor of blacks is the norm in business and academia. And yet enormous disparities persist. It therefore follows that the environmental forces that produce the disparities must be far subtler than anyone previously imagined. Maybe racism survives in some mysterious form even when no living individual is racist (“structural racism”). Maybe statues of white men with politically incorrect views about race cause blacks to live up to racist stereotypes. Maybe an insensitive facial expression, or telling a black person that he’s “articulate,” inflicts devastating harm (“microaggressions”). This leads inexorably to witch hunts, cancellations, discrimination against conservatives, and pseudointellectual “grievance studies” academic fields in an effort to root out the hidden racism. A similar line of reasoning occurs with regard to sex differences. That is what wokism is.

Both the mainstream left and right accept the empirical premise upon which wokism is based, namely, the equality thesis. Smart people are more likely to correctly determine that, given equality, wokism follows. Mainstream rightists, in contrast, supposedly believe in equality, but they fail to recognize its implications. Consider the right-wing positions on the following issues:

Affirmative action: everyone should be held to exactly the same standard in university admissions and hiring.

Immigration: it’s important to prevent large numbers of different people from coming into our country.

Microaggressions: insensitive words and minor slights based on identity aren’t a big deal.

These views are very difficult to defend if all populations are identical. If blacks, whites, and Asians have the same potential, then a black person with a 1,200 SAT score can be the intellectual equal of an Asian who scores 1,500 if only we put him in the right environment. Why would you be against giving black people opportunities to achieve what they are capable of? If lower black performance is the result of injustices of the past, why would you not feel a moral obligation to take measures to correct this? In regard to immigration, if all groups are the same, they are equally capable of becoming “American” (whatever that involves). If we open the border to Mexico and Haiti, immigrants from these places can be taught in one generation to be just as high performing as Jews, Chinese, or Brahmins. If microaggressions don’t cause tremendous damage to their victims, what’s your explanation for the persistence of racial disparities?

There are smart conservatives who think that they can square these circles, and I’m not going to argue with them here. My point is just that intelligent, thoughtful people are disproportionately likely to recognize the tension between the equality thesis and most right-wing views.

Mainstream conservatives are unable to effectively push back against wokism because they accept the premises—both empirical and moral—that entail it. That’s why conservatives can’t describe what wokism is, because that would reveal their own failure to follow their beliefs to their logical conclusion. You can see conservative writer Bethany Mandel’s brain melt like warm ice cream when she is asked to define “woke.” Other conservatives propose vague or tendentious definitions that would never be accepted by wokesters themselves. A recent National Review article titled “It’s Not Hard to Define Wokeness If You’re Honest” says that there are five “core elements” including “Woke ideology obsesses over hierarchies among identity groups” and “Woke ideology aims to be constantly evolving rather than a fixed doctrine.” Conservatives cannot actually be honest and admit that wokism is what happens when people are serious about the equality thesis, because they themselves accept—or at least pretend to accept—the claim that all groups are innately the same.

The standard conservative approach to racial disparities is to hope that no one challenges them to provide a serious solution. When they are forced to address the issue, they appeal to their own culture-only theories that do not invoke racism, and which are generally unconvincing to intelligent, open-minded, non-delusional people. Conservatives often blame liberals or Democrats for failed policies that destroyed the black family or caused blacks to choose welfare over work, ignoring the fact that government policies create identical incentives for members of all races. Or they cite Thomas Sowell’s idea that disparities are due to “culture”—a culture that for some reason follows (population-representative) people of certain ancestries wherever they go all over the world, and is impervious to the most extreme interventions, including cross-racial adoption, and which tracks biological markers such as brain size.


This model explains why virtually all institutions—from the American Ornithological Society (which recently renamed dozens of birds as part of its effort to fight racism) to Harvard to Heterodox Academy—invariably become wokified. Note that this includes institutions (like the aforementioned HxA) they were explicitly founded to promote “free speech” and “open inquiry.” As long as they accept the taboo on recognizing race and sex differences, those on the right—and even anti-woke liberals—are powerless against woke encroachment. There is no way to argue effectively against those who call for drastic measures to equalize group outcomes unless you can say that those outcomes reflect natural differences. Within every institution, the ratchet goes one way: toward more wokism.

Technically wokism is about more than race and sex differences in outcome: it’s also associated with gender theory (the idea that your gender is whatever you feel like), safetyism, and some other views. But what is distinctive about wokism mostly traces back to race. Race denial destroyed people’s ability to think biologically, thus making them open to radical, social-constructivist views on gender. Part of woke morality, including an emphasis on feelings and safety over free speech, is simply the result of the feminization of our institutions, which was more or less inevitable as women were integrated into schools and workplaces. But the essence of wokism is the equality thesis about race and sex. Wokism could survive a backlash against gender theory. If we kept gender theory but turned hereditarian about race differences, wokism would be over.

The True Origin of Wokism

The central tenet of wokism, namely, psychological equality, was first expressed by the English philosopher John Locke in 1690. Locke—the father of both blank slatism and political liberalism—declared that the human mind begins as “white paper, void of all characters.” In regard to race, he wrote:

Had you or I been born at the Bay of Soldania, possibly our thoughts and notions had not exceeded those brutish ones of the Hottentots that inhabit there. And had the Virginia king Apochancana been educated in England, he had been perhaps as knowing a divine, and as good a mathematician as any in it; the difference between him and a more improved Englishman lying barely in this, that the exercise of his faculties was bounded within the ways, modes, and notions of his own country, and never directed to any other or further inquiries.

In other words, race differences are environmental. {snip}


The trend toward race denial in academia was driven mostly by ideology, and also by the professional interest that anthropologists and sociologists had in deemphasizing biology in favor of culture. In the early to mid-20th century, celebrity anthropologists like Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, and Ruth Benedict argued strongly against race as an important explanatory variable in social science. (Boas himself acknowledged the existence of innate physiological differences in the brains of blacks and whites, which he thought had implications for intelligence. But he wrote these differences off as not very significant.)

After World War II, the association of “race science” with Nazi pseudoscience and genocide gave the moral high ground entirely to the race deniers. Most people don’t make a strong distinction between empirical and moral questions, and when morality conflicts with science, science usually loses. The civil rights movement aroused justified sympathy for the plight of blacks, who had been seriously oppressed. By the time major civil rights legislation was passed in the 1960s, respectable people had almost unanimously embraced the fantasy that legal equality would solve the race problem. Idealistic school teachers inculcated children with the dogma that race is skin deep, and that only a deranged hater could think otherwise. Once a taboo becomes established, it is very difficult to undo it. Full-blown wokism was inevitable.

The evidence cited by Rufo and Hanania provides further support for my model of wokism.

Wokism Is Not Philosophy

In his book, Christopher Rufo highlights four individuals who he says “represent the intellectual genesis of the revolution” (p. 3). They are Herbert Marcuse, Angela Davis, Paulo Freire, and Derrick Bell. Marcuse was a German-born Jew who was associated with the Frankfurt School. He developed the philosophy of “critical theory,” which divides everyone into oppressors (bad) vs. oppressed (good). Along with the German activist Rudi Dutschke, he devised a plan to achieve cultural hegemony via the “long march through the institutions.” Angela Davis was a black radical and student of Marcuse at the University of California, San Diego. She developed “critical praxis,” calling for violent revolution to achieve Marcuse’s vision. Freire developed “critical pedagogy,” and came up with the plan to take over the education system. Bell was a black civil rights lawyer and professor at Harvard who invented critical race theory, and whose disciples conquered the legal profession.

Rufo’s three-part methodology works like this: he (1) finds that an intellectual such as Marcuse expressed a woke idea (e.g., whites are oppressors) or came up with a plan (e.g., take over the institutions), (2) observes that the idea came to be widely accepted or the plan came to fruition, and (3) traces a causal path from wokism back to the intellectual.

I don’t deny that intellectuals can sometimes be responsible for cultural trends. If Jesus, Paul, Confucius, Martin Luther, or Thomas Jefferson had not come up with certain ideas, the world would be radically different. An intellectual can have a history-altering effect due to the intrinsic power of his ideas, his personal charisma, support by a power structure, or—what is always necessary—luck. But the fact that philosopher A was the first person to say X doesn’t necessarily mean that, if X becomes widely believed, we can conclude that A was responsible. It could be that X was already in the air, or that people were ready to accept X, and someone was bound to propose it sooner or later. When it comes to Marcuse, Davis, Freire, and Bell, the evidence described by Rufo makes it clear that these activists were walking through a door that had already been opened. Marcuse et al. are responsible for some of the specific expressions and slogans used by the woke left. But the only reason they had any influence at all is because elites had already accepted the basic tenets of wokism for reasons having nothing to do with their philosophies.

Rufo repeatedly describes Marcuse and his associates as having a “strategy” to take over institutions, and then he says that the strategy succeeded. But he does not adequately explain why they were able to succeed, and why their opponents surrendered so quickly.


Rufo sidesteps the question of who was responsible for the “critical theory of society” spawning all these disciplines, departments, programs, and subfields. “Critical theory” doesn’t have agency. The fake departments in Critical Studies, Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, and so on were established because the people in charge of universities wanted to create them. Nothing was stopping them from founding departments of Race Science, Eugenics, or Conservative Studies, but they decided to go with critical theory instead. They did this because they already accepted woke ideology.


The best explanation for the institutional takeover described by Rufo is that by the time Marcuse, Davis, Freire, and Bell came along, the elites were already committed to doing whatever it took to bring about equality of outcome among races. Because of the taboo on hereditarianism, they demanded an environmentalist explanation for disparities, which was bound to look something like “critical theory.” {snip}


Wokism Is Not Civil Rights Law

In 2017, James Damore was fired from Google for correctly stating that, due to biological differences, women are less likely than men to want to sit in front of a computer screen all day writing code. Libertarian-leaning conservatives argued that Google is a private company that should be free to fire whomever it wants. I pointed out in an article in the Weekly Standard that the hidden hand of the government all but forced Google’s executives to punish Damore:

Companies themselves are under legal compulsion to enforce political correctness. What looks like private censorship is actually a form of government censorship by indirect means. Google might not have evolved such a liberal, politically correct culture—or fired Damore—if it didn’t have to protect itself from hostile-work-environment lawsuits or falling afoul of anti-discrimination laws.

That article was titled “PC Corporate Culture Is a Plague that Government Helps Spread,” and I still hold the same position. Hanania has a much stronger thesis: in his view, the government doesn’t just help spread wokism (what we used to call “political correctness”); the government created wokism. Contra Hanania, my view is that although the law reinforces wokism, and sometimes influences the form it takes, the relevant laws were established because the elites were already woke before the laws took effect.

Hanania’s argument can be summarized like this: In 1964 and 1965, the United States Congress outlawed discrimination based on characteristics like race and sex. The prohibition on sex discrimination was, as Hanania emphasizes multiple times, “originally introduced as a joke” (p. 119) by an opponent of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 in an attempt to derail it. Legislation and executive orders related to civil rights ended up having far-reaching unintended consequences. Those who voted for the Civil Rights Act thought they were protecting all groups from discrimination, including straight white men, and that quotas would never be allowed. But activist bureaucrats, judges, and lawyers decided that “disparate impact” was evidence of discrimination. This forced businesses and universities to implement de facto quotas, but without admitting what they were doing, since quotas based on race and sex were technically illegal. The HR bureaucracy arose in part to achieve balanced representation through various indirect means. Because the standards for what constitute discrimination and harassment are vague and enforcement is often arbitrary, the best strategy for institutions is to try to create cultures of deference to progressive ideology, thereby protecting themselves from lawsuits and the wrath of government regulators. Wokism was thus forced on everyone, largely by accident.

One of the big holes in this story is that it doesn’t explain why laws that clearly prohibited discrimination against whites and men were interpreted as demanding exactly that. Hanania’s own observations show that the driving force behind woke interpretations of civil rights law was that the judicial, bureaucratic, and academic establishment was already woke. Insofar as wokism caused the law, the law cannot be the cause of wokism. I can make my case using Hanania’s words:

While Congress banned “discrimination” based on certain protected categories in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it never defined the term. That was done later, mostly through executive actions, the unelected bureaucracy, and the courts. Together, these actors decided that discrimination did not have to be explicit, or even conscious, and that it was a sin committed not against individuals but against “classes” of people entitled to pursue class action remedies. It consisted of practices having a disparate impact on a protected group, potentially creating legal liability regardless of intent. And affirmative action was not only not banned by the [Civil Rights Act] but for all practical purposes required by it. (p. 6)

[P]oliticians and government bureaucrats in institutions like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission…and the Department of Labor, usually under pressure to produce tangible results, undertook a long-term project to get around the plain text of the law and ultimately try to achieve equality of outcome, first for blacks and later for other minorities and women. (p. 11)

[M]any liberals within the federal bureaucracy wanted to impose racial quotas on industry, which contradicted the plain text and original intent of the Civil Rights Act. They instead had to settle for standards like disparate impact, which said that any hiring practice that had a disproportionately negative effect on minorities or women was presumptively illegal. While this interpretation of the law was no more legally defensible, the Supreme Court ultimately signed off on it. (p. 12)

In some ways, its interpretations have directly contradicted what legislators promised and agreed to. In his opening statement in the debate over the bill, Sen. Hubert Humphrey told fellow legislators that there was no chance that it would lead to reverse discrimination….The text of the document and the legislative history agree on this point. Yet ultimately none of this would matter, and it would be used to justify proportional hiring by race and sex. (p. 30)

The history of the disparate impact doctrine is illuminating in showing the extent to which government bureaucracies and judges can ignore the law in pursuit of a political agenda….Time and again, members of Congress foresaw the possibility that Title VII could be used to push for a disparate impact standard or equality of outcomes, and it is difficult to imagine how they could have made themselves clearer that such interpretations were forbidden. Seeing the extent to which Congress was explicit about the bill it was passing, and how judges and bureaucrats would ignore its wishes anyway, raises serious questions about who ultimately has the power to make law under our system of government. (pp. 39–40)

When faced with undeniable evidence in the plain text of the law and historical record, judges have appealed to the higher purpose of the statute. By passing the Civil Rights Act, Congress meant to help black people, so the “purpose” of the law can supposedly allow disparate treatment by race in order to achieve equal results….If this sounds like a judge making up the law to fit his own political preference, that is because that is exactly what it is. (pp. 42–43)

Again, why was the intellectual establishment that interprets the law woke even before the law? Hanania writes: “due to pressure both from within and outside government, things soon began to change radically, and by the early 1970s, feminism in something resembling its current form had triumphed within the federal bureaucracy” (pp. 28–29). Elsewhere he refers to “the left, whose ideas dominate among the federal bureaucracy, the activist class, and the legal profession” (p. 155). He notes: “As of 1969, there were only four Republicans under sixty serving on any US court of appeals….Lawyers are more likely to be liberal than conservative, and the ratio is particularly lopsided at the top firms and in the nonprofit world” (pp. 162, 201). The wokism of the intellectual class is treated as a law of nature, with no real explanation.


Another big issue with Hanania’s account is that it overlooks the extent to which woke cooperate and academic culture is driven by employee demand, which has nothing to do with the law. As Josh Barro and Charles Fain Lehman observe, many highly educated people want wokism. They want to work at companies that subject their employees to DEI struggle sessions, police microaggressions, and take stands on political issues that have nothing to do with the business. Hanania lauds Coinbase, Substack, and Basecamp, for “explicitly disavowing political activism,” but doesn’t mention that Basecamp’s and Coinbase’s experiments in dewokification—which simply involved banning political discussion in the workplace—resulted in 35% of Basecamp’s employees and 5% of Coinbase’s employees ragequitting. There is no law—or even interpretation of the law—that says businesses have to allow employees to spend their workday talking about politics, which in practice means wokesters harassing and intimidating everyone around them. But creating an environment that makes conservatives uncomfortable is often good for the bottom line. There are very few conservatives whom companies want to hire, and many valuable leftists whom they can attract by alienating the former. The threat of civil-rights lawsuits played an important part in shaping the woke bureaucracy and catalyzing the trend toward wokism. But employee preferences would probably have pushed corporate culture in this direction in any case, because smart people (who are valuable employees) prefer it this way.

Another problem with Hanania’s theory is that if wokism is the consequences of peculiarities of US civil rights law, why is it that other countries are woker than the US? As Eric Kaufmann observes, “Canada is the world’s first woke nation.” Sweden is in many ways woker than the US and Canada combined. So is Iceland. Most countries in Western Europe are following a similar path. Hanania retorts: “the fact that what we may call ‘wokeness’ in Europe tracks closely with their prohibitions and regulations, while our version does with our own, is strong evidence for the view that culture is downstream from law.” First, the fact that the ideology is expressed somewhat differently in America, Canada, the UK, and Sweden may just reflect the fact that these countries have different populations with different histories. The essence of the ideology is still the same. Second, the fact that there is a correspondence between ideology and law says nothing about the direction of causality. The obvious explanation for why all these countries decided to create woke laws (with some variations) is that the underlying morality was already deeply rooted in the culture of their elites.


What to Do


Suppose Trump is reelected and issues executive orders commanding schools and businesses to treat people as individuals—something that may theoretically be within the president’s power. Institutions would circumvent the new legal requirements by, for example, looking at proxies for race in order to achieve the same outcomes. (This is presumably what universities will do in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action.) Hypothetically, suppose the law were followed, and Harvard and Microsoft and every other prominent institution truly became colorblind. Overnight, blacks would virtually disappear from these places. Then what? People would demand a return of civil rights law! At least the elites would, and, at the end of the day, it’s their preferences that matter.

In my article, “How to Take Back Academia,” I proposed a three-part plan:

(1) Promote knowledge of the cause of race differences

(2) Change the population of decision makers on campus

(3) Leverage political power

The same plan can be generalized. Promoting knowledge of the genetic cause of race differences destroys the premise of wokism, but this is not enough to attain victory. Our institutions are brimming with delusional—and in many cases mentally ill—true believing Red Guard thugs who were appointed to maintain the ideological status quo. Many of these people will fight to the gates of hell to defend the woke system, and won’t accept evidence for hereditarianism no matter what. We need to find legal ways to remove these people from positions of authority: get rid of fake grievance-studies departments at universities; revoke the tenure of pseudoscholars who were hired in job searches that illegally discriminated against whites, Asians, and men; mass fire the woke commissars in the state department; and so on. We have to leverage political power both to change the population of decisions makers and in order to deprive the woke of one of their most powerful weapons, which is civil rights law. The law might not be the ultimate cause of wokism, but as long as it’s illegal not to be woke, it will be far more difficult to reform our institutions.