My business school and I have been on the forefront of dealing with the phenomenon called “woke capitalism.”
In October of 2020, we were the first organization to host a conference on the topic in New York, and I wrote an op-ed on the topic later that year. Since then, we have been in regular conversation with executives on how to manage the onslaught of wokeness.
I have come to realize that a big part of the problem is the word “woke” itself. It’s a trap, and supporters of the market economy have fallen right into it.
The word is defined (e.g., by Merriam-Webster) as being “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” But its use encompasses a far wider range of meanings, both supportive (being against racism, alienation, exploitation, and oppression) and pejorative (being hostile to free enterprise and in favor of every extreme Left-wing cause).
In this, it is a lot like the word “capitalism.” Capitalism has both positive and negative meanings: a system of private enterprise that has lifted millions out of poverty, and a system of oppression of workers by the owners for the means of production. Pope St. John Paul II highlighted the ambiguity of the word just over 30 years ago after the fall of Communism, when he asked whether “capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society.” His answer—it depends:
“If by ‘capitalism’ is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector,” he wrote, “then the answer is certainly in the affirmative.
“But if by ‘capitalism’ is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.”
This ambiguity around the word “capitalism” has been a serious obstacle to the recognition of the wide-ranging benefits of the market economy because, whenever one attempts to describe those benefits, one has to explain first which capitalism one is talking about — the good kind or the bad. How did this happen? Champions of the market economy seem to have accepted, uncritically, a word that was originally used in a derogatory way and that owes much of its initial popularity to Karl Marx’s use of the word “capitalist.” Using your opponents’ terminology lets them set the terms of the debate.
The same thing has happened with the word “woke.” For many people, woke means simply “not racist.” So if you stake out an anti-woke position, others will interpret that as you being racist. Avoid this trap entirely by not using the word “woke.” We don’t need it. We already have a perfectly good word for what we mean by “woke” when we use it in its pejorative sense—the identification of people by different subgroups and the classification of people into oppressor or oppressed—and that word is “Marxist.” Why let people get away with giving Marxism a hip new name like “woke”? We should abandon this word.
Once I finish writing this article, I will never again use the word “woke” or any of its derivatives (wokeness, woke business, woke capitalism), and I recommend that everyone who cares about the market economy and freedom, itself, do the same.
Using the correct word, “Marxist,” instead of “woke” will show how absurd it is to speak of “woke capitalism.” Instead of speaking about “woke capitalism,” we would have to say “Marxist capitalism” — but of course there is no such thing. There is only Marxism, pure and simple. Bringing Marxist ideas into the market economy does not lead to a kinder, gentler form of capitalism. It just leads to the destruction of free enterprise and its replacement by totalitarianism.
Abandoning the word “woke” and saying “Marxist” instead will make that clear.
This is the last time I will be using the word “woke.”
Andrew V. Abela is the founding dean of the Busch School of Business and Ordinary Professor of Marketing at The Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.