“What starts here changes the world.”
The University of Texas at Austin’s motto not only applies to the research university’s overall impact on world affairs, but also to the outsized role cultural and political developments within the United States have on the rest of the planet.
Ever since it became the world’s premier superpower after World War II, the U.S. has left its mark from New York City all the way to Tokyo. Doubly so during the Cold War, when the U.S. used, as geopolitical analyst Niccolo Soldo described, the “four cultural ICBMs” of Coca-Cola, rock ’n’ roll, Bugs Bunny, and Levi’s Jeans to project soft power abroad in its struggle with the Soviet Union.
Once the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. entered a unipolar moment in the 1990s when it seemed that it had no peer competitors on the horizon. However, the rise of China and Russia as more assertive geopolitical actors in the last fifteen years has gradually whittled away at this state of unipolarity.
Despite the rise of new competitors on the world stage, the U.S. remains the most powerful country on the planet. With two moats in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and a vast nuclear arsenal, the U.S. is virtually unassailable by external threats, not to mention its overall economic base, which is leaps and bounds ahead of all other nations.
As far as soft power is concerned, the U.S. maintains its primacy in that regard. One need only look at the foreign box office numbers of the Marvel franchise to see how strong the U.S.’ cultural reach is, even in rival countries such as China and Russia.
It’s not just Hollywood content that’s proliferating internationally. Even the U.S.’s most obnoxious cultural developments, such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) fanaticism, are making their way across the globe.
The wave of BLM activism that swept across Europe and even reached Japan illustrated the level of cultural power the U.S. is able to wield. When LGBT and BLM flags adorned the South Korean embassy, one couldn’t ignore the U.S.’s cultural influence on the international stage.
Given the breadth of U.S. cultural power, George Mason University professor of economics Tyler Cowen argued in a piece titled ”Why Wokeism Will Rule the World” that wokeism would likely engulf entire nations. He believes that “American culture is a healthy, democratizing, liberating influence” and therefore should be extended. Such pretensions are commonplace among denizens of the Beltway.
While the U.S. can boast many great achievements — from its competitive federalist system to its robust entrepreneurial culture — other facets of its culture have been declining precipitously over the past century. This decline has been so notable that foreign countries are now beginning to have doubts about the U.S. as some immaculate polity that can do no wrong. Most countries simply don’t want to be remade in the U.S.’s image, especially in its current “woke” iteration.
While Cowen raises some thought-provoking points about wokeism’s potential appeal abroad, the U.S.’s soft power projection may be reaching its limits.
For example, the International Olympics Committee initially banned athletes from wearing BLM apparel during the Tokyo Olympics. Russian president Vladimir Putin has even condemned the growing culture wars in the U.S. and likened them to the kulturkampf that the Bolsheviks immediately provoked once they toppled the preceding Czarist regime.
Even in the United Kingdom, no bastion of right-wing populism, the Tory government pushed back against BLM unrest during a time when leftist agitators went on an iconoclastic frenzy against the monuments to British historical figures ranging from English merchant Edward Colston to famed prime minister Winston Churchill.
Conservative columnist Ed West of the British publication UnHerd was utterly perplexed at the arrival of American-based racial categories such as BIPOC (black, indigenous, [and] people of color). Such American classifications have even made their way into the National Health Service’s website for staff to learn. As if having a shoddy state-run healthcare service weren’t bad enough, now British citizens must put up with a system that has been thoroughly enveloped by wokeism.
Even the French, no stalwarts of restrained governance both domestically and abroad, are becoming perturbed by the U.S.’s obsession with woke politics. President Emmanuel Macron, who comes from a thoroughly technocratic background as an investment banker and former minister of the economy, industry, and digital affairs is not very keen on adopting American-style wokeism wholesale. When BLM-inspired riots kicked off across France, Macron stood his ground and rejected any efforts to remove monuments of French colonial-era figures.
In a similar vein, French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer warned about the divisive nature of America’s racialized politics and how woke ideas are beginning to gain traction throughout several French institutions. Furthermore, Macron himself expressed his exasperation with how American-style wokeism has washed up on French shores and fomented racial divisions in the Western European country.
Broadly speaking, a strong reaction against the excesses of Americanism is brewing across France. Over the past five years, France’s political environment has shifted rightward on a host of cultural issues. Moreover, French political figures have grown increasingly skeptical of mass migration and American-dominated institutions. In November 2019, Macron described the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as brain-dead. Growing divergence in terms of the foreign policy priorities that France and the U.S. — the country that dominates the alliance — hold have called into question the continued viability of the military alliance.
On top of that, Macron is facing challenges to his right from the likes of journalist Eric Zemmour, who has had choice words about American hegemony. Unlike the most fervent Atlanticists, Zemmour wants France to leave NATO and has even floated the idea of a rapprochement with Russia.
All told, wokeism and U.S. foreign policy should not be viewed as isolated phenomena but rather inextricably linked concepts given the U.S.’s universalist foreign policy modus operandi. However, the increasingly ornery nature and dysfunctional state of the U.S. may make countries think twice about their continued alignment with it, especially once they see what the consequences of embracing wokeism look like. Not only that, but if the U.S. continues using color revolutions and similar methods of projecting soft power, it may alienate many nations and potentially incentivize them to join competing power blocs as a means of checking American hegemony.
The rest of the globe would be better off categorically rejecting the U.S.’s social maladies. The world is already afflicted by unrestrained central banks, monstrous bureaucracies, and crippling levels of taxation. Why add American cultural problems into the mix?
Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on the Mises Institute.