Major League Baseball on 2 April announced that both the All Star Game and the draft would no longer be held in Atlanta as retribution for Georgia’s recent election laws. “I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft,” explained MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. The MLB is not alone in expressing their displeasure with Georgia: chief executives and other high-ranking leaders from more than 100 companies, including Coca-Cola, Delta, Target, Snapchat and Uber, have also declared their opposition to the Peach State’s new legislation.
Such disciplinary measures undoubtedly will have economic and political effects. The 2020 All Star game was projected to earn the city of Los Angeles approximately $89 million. Boycotting the state also gives the Democrats and their allies in the media ammunition to paint Governor Brian Kemp and the Georgia legislature as making the Goober State a political pariah. Stacey Abrams, Jon Ossoff, and Raphael Warnock can blame the Republicans and their “discriminatory” politics for hurting ordinary Georgians.
Yet this is not Georgia’s first rodeo when it comes to fighting off woke capitalists, nor the South’s. Indeed, as Stephen R. Soukup’s book The Dictatorship of Woke Capital: How Political Correctness Captured Big Business explains, these forces have been coalescing into an almost unstoppable political juggernaut for several decades. The cast of characters, for those familiar with such trends, will be unsurprising. Indeed, if recent events are any indication, one wonders how much longer the book will still be available on Amazon… though perhaps Jeff Bezos thinks he has nothing to fear from Soukup. Let’s hope he’s wrong.
The first part of Dictatorship explains the history of woke capitalism. Unfortunately, some of it is a Southern story, with even Southerners playing the role of guilty party. Virginian Woodrow Wilson, greatest of early twentieth-century progressivist politicians, sought to create an administrative state governed by supposedly unbiased professional “experts,” while undermining the relevance of the Constitution. Wilson, notes Soukup, “believed that the only way to handle the problems of society was to create a class of ‘professional’ administrators, trained in the ‘science’ of administration to manage society more rationally and carefully than the masses would, if left to their own devices.”
Of course, there is no such thing as a purely “scientific” form of government untethered from a conception of what is right and wrong, because all judgments are based on some philosophical system that makes moral judgments. Through the influence of later progressives like those adhering to the principles of the Minnowbrook public administration conference of 1968, the idea that “public servants should become active, informed, politically savvy agents of change,” became vogue. The federal bureaucracy had become an extension of progressivist political ideology. One such example is the Federal Reserve, conceptualized during a ten-day conference of wealthy bankers at Jekyll Island off the Georgian coast, and supported by Wilson.
More recently, another intellectual development has been united to the progressivist vision of a bureaucratic state run by enlightened experts: the “critical theory” of the Frankfurt School, sometimes called “cultural Marxism,” because of its application of Marxist principles not noly to economics and politics but culture. Soukup describes critical theory as integrating Freud’s sex-obsessed psychology, Rousseau’s narcissistic “state of nature” fetishization,” Antonio Gramsci’s “aggressive anti-Chrisianity,” and Georg Lukács’s “destestation of social and sexual mores.” The reason that this noxious ideological stew sounds like a lot of our higher education is because the Frankfurt School has come to dominate our elite educational institutions.
Critical theory’s influence has reach far beyond leftist academics and their activist acolytes. Socially responsible investing — a small phenomenon once limited to social conservatives — is now dominated by the “ESG” movement (Environmental, Social, and Governance), perhaps the most popular trend in investment business. By mid-2017, Soukup notes, there were about 1,600 asset owners representing approximately $62 trillion who had signed the United Stations’ “Principles for Responsible Investment,” an ESG bible of sorts. And while PRI and other ESG manuals work for some noble goals (e.g. ending contemporary slavery and trafficking), they also promote abortion access and transgenderism, among other things.
Asset managers in turn increasingly apply these sorts of “socially-responsible” criteria to investment. BlackRock, for example, manages more than $7 trillion, and seeks to do so in a way that is environmentally conscious and pro-LGBTQ. Yet, as Soukup deftly observes, BlackRock and other major international companies appear to have no qualms doing business in China, which is neither eco- nor human rights-friendly. In early 2020, BlackRock held more than 7 percent of all outstanding shares of Chinese state-owned PetroChina, which is not only notoriously un-green, but a funder of the oppressive Sudanese government.
This is a constant theme in the latter half of Soukup’s story. Bridgewater Associates, CalPERS (the California Public Employees Retirement System), Amazon, Apple, and Disney, among many other woke organizations and companies with billions of investment dollars, are all very cozy with China. Though Apple portrays itself as on the cutting edge of eco-friendly business practices, its extensive reliance on China and the Democratic Republic of Congo for parts and labor makes it guilty of various exploitative labor practices (including use of child labor). Moreover, Apple’s use of tax strategies like “bonded zones” in China have enabled it to book $246 billion offshore as of 2017, and avoid $76.7 billion in U.S. taxes. This gives the company even more financial power to pursue its pro-immigration, pro-LGBTQ, “anti-racist” agenda.
And by the way, because China is not only Apple’s largest manufacturer but also its second-largest market, the company has been very accommodating of Chinese despotism, removing various apps from its Chinese App store, and moving user data for its Chinese iCloud to a server accessible to the Chinese Government. Apple was even in complicit in aiding Beijing’s clamp-down on democratic protests in Hong Kong. Disney is much the same, placating Chinese authorities in order to gain greater access to the Chinese market via its films (China is the second biggest movie market in the world). ESPN, the world’s largest sports network (also owned by Disney), was directly told not to discuss the Hong Kong crisis on its programming.
The example of Disney reminds us of what this has to do with the South. For it was Disney, among other companies, that sought to punish the state of Georgia for its 2016 religious liberty bill, which Disney, encouraged by various gay rights advocacy groups, labeled as bigoted. Later that year, Disney joined other companies in threatening to boycott North Carolina over its bathroom bill, which cost the state millions, if not billions of dollars. And in 2019, Disney, which makes many of its movies in Georgia, threatened the state over its new “heartbeat bill,” which banned abortions after six weeks.
One of the loudest opponents of this sort of political activism has been Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who in a June 19, 2019 speech on the floor of the Senate, derided companies such as Disney, Netflix, and Warner Media for their “campaign to punish the people of Georgia by crippling the state’s economy.” Cotton further condemned “billion-dollar corporations trying to dictate these moral questions to us” and undermining the democratic process Soukup, in turn, says the answer is the depoliticization of business and the market.
Regardless of whether or not the politicization of markets is ever worthy of commendation, the cooperation of the state, big business, mainstream media, and academia to punish and silence their political enemies is a worrisome development for anyone concerned about liberty and intellectual or political diversity. Indeed, this development represents precisely the sort of “tyranny of the majority” that the Founders, Edmund Burke, and Alexis de Tocqueville warned could threaten representative, republican government. The gross amount of power this unholy alliance wields over politics and society is perhaps unprecedented in American history.
The dramatic concentration of such economic and political power is rarely a good thing,and certainly not for organizations that reject the majority narrative but lack significant political clout. Amazon Smile, which enables customers to donate a small percentage of a purchase to a charity of choice, relies on the Southern Poverty Law Center to determine which charitable organizations are “acceptable” (the SPLC has in the past unfairly maligned the Abbeville Institute, as it has various pro-life organizations). Thus it is likely there will be more aggressive attempts to strip conservative organizations of their nonprofit and tax-exempt status, as we have witnessed Democratic politicians suggest, further vitiating the power of conservative holdouts.
Almost one-hundred years ago, the Agrarian movement warned about what the “New South” would do to their traditionalist, largely pastoral homeland. In the decades that followed, the economic dynamism of cities like Atlanta — which headquarters major international corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta, and even hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics — led many to dismiss such fears as antiquated, sentimentalist, and overwrought. Now it is those same corporations, in collaboration with Democratic Party apparatchiks, who use their economic clout to coerce Southerners into abandoning their values and political liberties. It would seem those courageous Agrarians were right about the real threat to the South. The question now is if we are brave enough to do something about it.