On July 16, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent a cable to American embassies across the globe with new instructions. In the face of what he described as the growing threat from authoritarian and populist forces emanating from countries around the world, he urged U.S. diplomats to actively “seek ways to exert effective pressure on those countries to uphold democratic norms and respect human rights,” and vowed that “standing up for democracy and human rights everywhere is not in tension with America’s national interests nor with our national security.” This, he specified, must apply even to America’s allies and partners, declaring that “there is no relationship or situation where we will stop raising human rights concerns.”
U.S. President Joe Biden has explicitly characterized his foreign policy as waging “a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies,” and described the world as at an “inflection point” that will determine for the future “who succeeded, autocracy or democracy, because that is what is at stake.” And while he has named China and Russia as the top threats to democracy, he has stated that, “in so many places, including in Europe and the United States, democratic progress is under assault.”
This kind of rhetoric has led many to describe Biden as gearing up to lead a new round of global ideological competition akin to the Cold War, and Blinken’s cable appears to be a step toward operationalizing this conception into everyday U.S. policy.
Many Americans, especially many American conservatives, have rather fond memories of the first Cold War (especially winning it). And the idea of promoting democracy and human rights, especially in the face of China’s many authoritarian abuses, is today a bipartisan passion in Washington.
But they should understand that, this time around, “democratic progress” and “human rights” are often going to mean something rather different than what they did during the last Cold War.
New Rights, New Norms, and a New Global Struggle
Blinken managed to briefly outrage some U.S. conservatives when he put out an official statement on July 13 saying the Biden administration was “deeply dedicated to addressing racial injustice and inequities at home and abroad,” that responsible “nations must not shrink from scrutiny of their human rights record,” and that the U.S. had “reached out to offer an official visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism” to scrutinize “systemic racism” in America.
He added that:
I also welcome the UN Human Rights Council’s adoption today in Geneva of a resolution to address systemic racism against Africans and people of African descent in the context of law enforcement. I look forward to engaging with the new mechanism to advance racial justice and equity.
Blinken’s invitation had in fact been a response to a June 26 declaration made by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, which itself followed the completion of a “comprehensive report on systemic racism,” which had unsurprisingly discovered its titular subject ingrained around the world – especially in the “excessive policing of Black bodies and communities” in the United States. In her statement, Bachelet castigated the West for a “piecemeal approach to dismantling systems entrenched in centuries of discrimination and violence,” declared that “the status quo is untenable,” and called instead for an immediate “whole-of-society” “systemic response,” with a “transformative agenda” to uproot systemic racism everywhere and implement the “restorative justice” urgently demanded by “the worldwide mobilization of people calling for racial justice.”
The Biden administration could hardly have responded with anything less than full-throated support for such an idea, given that battling the omnipresent specter of America’s “systemic racism” has become a core feature of the administration’s political identity.
And few administration officials have embraced this battle with as much personal zeal as Blinken, who moved immediately after his confirmation to not only install a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the State Department (in a powerful new position reporting only to himself), but ordered every bureau in the department to also appoint a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Diversity and Inclusion as well – with his stated goal being “to incorporate diversity and inclusion into the [State] Department’s work at every level.”
Presumably such incorporation has been what’s already led to such innovations as encouraging U.S. embassies to fly the Black Lives Matter flag around the world as but one pillar of an overall policy of “advancing racial equity as part of supporting our national security interests.”
The State Department has hardly been alone in beginning to incorporate “diversity and inclusion” into “work at every level,” of course. The U.S. Secretary of Defense, for example, has ordered the Defense Department to “broaden the number of countries willing to support and defend the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons” by making consideration of impact on LGBT rights a mandatory component of all of its (many, many) contracting and funding decisions around the world. Meanwhile State’s sister organization, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been busy saving Ukraine from the Russians by sponsoring the queering of the Donbas.
Speaking of that kind of thing, most of those upset about Blinken’s invitation of the UNHRC’s racism inquisitors strangely seem to have missed another development in a related front of the global culture war.
This despite the fact that the State Department is eager for you to know that, “On June 23, the United States led, and 20 countries co-sponsored, its first-ever side event on the human rights of transgender women, highlighting the violence and structural, legal, and intersectional barriers faced by transgender women of color.”
So there’s that. But side event to what? That would be the last session of the UNHRC, where the U.S. worked to address assorted “dire human rights situations” by helping to pioneer the launch of the “Group of Friends of the Mandate of the United Nations Independent Expert on Protection Against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” (GoF IE SOGI).
Besides the United States, the inaugural SOGI Group includes: Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Greece, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Norway, Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Who is this Independent Expert with so many friends? That would be Víctor Madrigal-Borloz, Senior Visiting Researcher at the Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program.
After its formation, the Group’s first act was to consider a report produced for the UNHRC by Mr. Madrigal-Borloz titled “The Law of Inclusion.”
“The Law of Inclusion” states that all evidence necessarily “leads to the conclusion that all human beings live in gendered societies traversed by power hierarchies,” and declares that, as we all seek to “build back better” (here inexplicably adopting Joe Biden’s campaign slogan) the “adoption of gender-based and intersectional analysis” is “a fundamental component of a diligent discharge of [all countries’ human rights] responsibility.”
Crucially, an intersectional approach leads to a “recognition of how race is gendered and gender is raced, as well as the many other factors which affect how one is allocated rights.” Plus, as a bonus, “gender theory is also relevant as a tool to address, analyse and transform systems of violent masculinity.”
Fortunately, such analysis has “permeated through public policy” and many states now “acknowledge its importance.” In fact, of more than 500 submissions of commentary surveyed by the Expert as the basis for the report’s findings, all of those from state and non-state entities “uniformly underscored the importance of gender-conceptual frameworks, analyses and mainstreaming as a tool for achieving social justice through public policy.”
True, some “other submissions were hateful or contained hate speech and were excluded ad portas [at the door],” and “they will not be part of any publication sponsored by the mandate holder,” so some dissent may have been methodologically excluded, but what is an Independent Expert to do? Tolerance is a tricky business.
Ultimately, based on his intersectional analysis, the Independent Expert declares a new “fundamental duty of the State” based on his careful investigation:
To recognize every human being’s freedom to determine the confines of their existence, including their gender identity and expression.
(I don’t think you will find a more flawless one-sentence summation of the End-Stage Liberalism I’ve previously outlined, characterized by its endless quest to liberate us from any and all limits, than this, by the way.)
Based on this conclusion, and calling on all states to “uphold rights related to gender and sexuality as universal and inalienable, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated to all other rights,” the report recommends that “States provide access to legal recognition of gender identity” and “adopt all necessary measures so that such recognition” is:
(a) Is based on self-determination by the applicant;
(b) Is a simple administrative process;
(c) Is not connected with abusive requirements, such as medical certification, surgery, treatment, sterilization or divorce;
(d) Includes the acknowledgement and recognition of non-binary identities in their full diversity and specificity;
(e) Ensures that minors have access to recognition of their gender identity.
(Meaning, to be clear, that children of any age have a human right to alter their gender entirely by self-identification.)
The United States and the rest of the SOGI Group immediately issued a statement fully endorsing the report, noting that they “would like to reaffirm” that: “As clearly demonstrated by the thorough analysis provided by the report, gender is a social construct”; that intersectional analysis has “proven to be fundamental to the design and implementation of inclusive public policies”; that they support “the importance of advancing legal gender recognition based on self-identification”; and that they “oppose any attempt to erase gender from international human rights law instruments and processes.”
I hope you will retain at least one takeaway from my subjection of you to this word salad of intersectional jargon on race and gender: that the distinctive language and doctrinal ideological concepts of the New Faith have extended far past the Harvard Quad, crossed the oceans, and have now, as the report puts it, thoroughly “permeated” themselves through elite-managed global institutions like the UN Human Rights Council.
Conservatives, in particular, are typically dismissive of the UN in general and the UNHRC in particular (President Trump officially pulled the U.S. out of the council in 2018, after which Biden rejoined as an observer), as they see it as a pointless talk-shop that spends a majority of its time criticizing the United States and its allies, though with little practical effect. This is a mistake.
What is happening here is the steady creation and entrenchment of new norms that aim to redefine what is considered the normal and acceptable window of cultural, political, and legal practice by countries the world over. The UNHRC may have no direct political power, but it is precisely the ignorance or flippant disregard for the transformative long-term power of norms that has so far lost conservatives every culture war battle they have fought. Somehow conservatives – and now Liberals – have been consistently blindsided by norms falling out from under them (gradually, and then suddenly) even as they have held positions of political power.
Meanwhile, under the Biden administration, Washington has now embraced this kind of norm-setting mechanism for remaking the world in its new and ideologically improved image.
Not every country is completely woke to the need for unlimited gender self-identification or a “whole-of-society transformation” to address its hierarchies of oppression, however.
International Expert Mr. Madrigal-Borloz has also noticed this problem, which is why he and the SOGI Group are producing a follow-up companion report to “The Law of Inclusion,” this time to be titled “Practices of Exclusion.”
This forthcoming document will “analyse the resistance to the use of gender theory and the risks that this creates,” including for the “the progressive interpretation of human rights standards.” Examples of this “resistance,” which the report will “deconstruct and oppose,” include: “the narrative of a ‘natural’ order based on biological determinism,” and the related idea that “legal recognition of children’s gender identity allegedly threatens their well-being”; “narratives that contrapose rights-based approaches to alleged cultural and religious norms”; and how “the narrative of traditional values is used to justify discrimination” or otherwise “seek to eliminate the gender framework from international human rights law instruments and processes, [or] national legislative and policy documents.”
Probably in most other contexts, when an external power or powers attempt to “deconstruct” and replace the “traditional values” and “cultural and religious” norms of a distinct people against their will, this would be called that what it is: imperialism (or, occasionally, worse).
Nonetheless, “Practices of Exclusion” is set to be published at the upcoming UN General Assembly meeting in New York this September and will undoubtedly be endorsed by the U.S., U.K., and the other progressive members of the SOGI Group at that time – even as many of these same countries are actually still experiencing their own fierce bouts of “resistance” to its core ideas.
What does this all mean? In short, that the ideological battles of Cold War 2.0 are not going to be limited to categories similar to those which at least broadly seemed to characterize Cold War 1.0, or necessarily even uphold the classic conceptions of “liberal-democracy” and “authoritarianism” or “autocracy” with which we are familiar.
Instead, it should be understood that the Biden administration and its like-minded partners are now operating under a rather different ideological calculus about what “democracy” and “human rights” mean, even as, similar to the original Cold War, that calculus directly links domestic and international ideological foes.
In this worldview, in order for a democratic state to be a legitimate “Democracy,” it is not enough for it to have a popularly elected government chosen through free and fair elections – it also has to hold the correct progressive values. That is, it has to be Woke. Otherwise it is not a real Democracy, but something else. Here the term “populism” has become a useful one: even if a state is not yet authoritarian or “autocratic” in a traditional sense, it may be in the grip of “Populism,” an ill-defined concept vague enough to encompass the wide range of reactionary sentiments and tendencies that can characterize “resistance” to progress, as based on “traditional values,” etc. And ultimately, we are told, “Populism” is liable to lead to Autocracy – because if you aren’t progressing forward in sync with Democracy, you are sliding backwards along the binary spectrum toward Autocracy.
Moreover, as in the case of the struggle between Capitalist-Liberalism and Communist-Authoritarianism during the original Cold War, the insidious “forces” of Populism-Autocracy are present not only out in the undecided “Third World,” but even lurking inside Democracies in good standing – constantly threatening to tip them, like dominoes, into the opposite camp. Hence why Biden issues warnings like the one claiming that, “in so many places, including in Europe and the United States, democratic progress is under assault.” The fight against the perceived forces of Populism-Autocracy within the United States, or within the European Union, is not in this conception at all separate from the fight against the likes of China and Russia on the world stage; they are the same fight.
This is reflected in the similarity with which Biden (just as an example, he’s hardly the only one) speaks of his domestic political opponents, recently decrying certain American states new election laws, for instance, by saying: “We have to ask, are you on the side of truth or lies, fact or fiction, justice or injustice, democracy or autocracy? That’s what it’s coming down to.”
Exacerbating this sense of fear and division is the fact that a Democracy can’t just hold some of the correct values – it has to hold all of them, in toto. This is after all the prime conclusion of intersectional analysis: all injustice is interlinked, forming interlocking systems of oppression; therefore injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Intersectionality thus demands liberation in totality; there can be no pluralism – no one can simply be left alone or granted the slightest leniency, because no injustice in any place or of any degree can be suffered to exist, lest it pollute and threaten the entire system.
The conclusion is inevitable: the New Faith must be a missionary, evangelical faith. By its own internal logic, for its own survival, it must march abroad to convert the heathens even as it hunts heretics at home.
The Wages of a Woke Cold War
Let me make a simple prediction: this is going to be a disaster for the West.
There are still plenty of countries out there – in fact, a vast majority of them – who think intersectional gender theory and other fruits of the New Faith are in essence stark raving mad, and are also rather attached to keeping their own cultures and traditions.
So even if you are a strong supporter of LGBT rights, feminism, or other liberal-progressive ideals (and yes, many countries around the world of course do treat LGBT people, women, and racial minorities terribly), it is still worth considering the practical consequences of Intersectional Imperialism. If the West makes ideological conformity an integral requirement for joining, receiving aid from, or even working with its Democracy bloc (as Blinken has implied), then many of these countries are liable to flee into the arms of China and other genuinely authoritarian but ideologically non-missionary states, despite the security concerns they may have.
Take, for example, Indonesia. It is one of the world’s largest democracies (small d) and emerging markets, which also happens to be geographically located in a strategically critical position to determine future control of the disputed South China Sea and crucial Malacca Strait. Despite its long-running tradition of maintaining a neutral foreign policy, it is now perhaps the ultimate potential swing state in the U.S.-China competition for influence in the Indo-Pacific, and both countries know it. It is also piously Muslim, and unlikely to appreciate too much intersectional preaching lifted from the Law of Inclusion. And it is hardly alone.
Meanwhile, America and Western Europe, which during the first Cold War stood as beacons of liberty – of democratic sovereignty, free speech, and free thought – that inspired generations of anti-authoritarian dissidents, are diminishing their own light in the eyes of the world as they rapidly abandon the liberal principles they once embodied.
Prior to its passage in 1965, the United Nations saw fierce debate over Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which mandates that, in the name of universal human rights, countries:
Shall declare an offense punishable by law all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred… [and] Shall declare illegal and prohibit organizations, and also organized and all other propaganda activities, which promote and incite racial discrimination, and shall recognize participation in such organizations or activities as an offense punishable by law.
At this time it was the Soviet bloc, including communist controlled Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Yugoslavia, who argued that freedom from discrimination should take precedence over the rights of freedom of expression and assembly.
And it was the Western liberal democracies, together with the Latin American states, that rose to (unsuccessfully) oppose this idea.
The “fundamental right of free speech” was, argued U.K. representative Lady Gaitskell, “the foundation-stone on which many of the other human rights were built,” and it was the U.K.’s position that, despite abhorring racism, “in an advanced democracy the expression of such views was a risk that had to be taken.” Hungary shot back that free speech and tolerance was pointless if “fascists” were tolerated anywhere.
When the U.S. delegation attempted to restrict the scope of speech defined in the law to that “resulting in or likely to cause acts of violence,” the move was blocked by the Soviet group, with Czechoslovakia countering that there could be no democracy if “movements directed towards hatred and discrimination were allowed to exist.”
Finally the representative from Colombia rose to launch an articulate defense of liberal principles, arguing that:
To penalize ideas, whatever their nature, is to pave the way for tyranny, for the abuse of power; and even in the most favorable circumstances it will merely lead to a sorry situation where interpretation is left to judges and law offices. As far as we are concerned, ideas are fought with ideas and reason; theories are refuted with arguments and not by resort to the scaffold, prison, exile, confiscation or fines… Here, therefore, is one voice that will not remain silent while the representatives of the most advanced nations in the world vote without seriously pondering on the dangers involved in authorizing penalties under criminal law for ideological offenses.
Times have changed. As the European Union prepares to consider writing “hate speech” into the official list of EU crimes, tweeting “gender-critical” thoughts is already an arrestable offense in the United Kingdom, and the United States looks to enlighten the world about the dangers of oppressive microaggressions, one wonders if there is any country remaining, the world over, still willing to genuinely represent liberal values in these terms today.
Instead only the crusaders of the New Faith remain to march into battle against the Autocrats and their Populist allies, and you are either with them or against them. Welcome to the Woke Cold War.