Classical. Liberal. Fictional.

The Economist’s attack on woke justifies liberal inaction against the far-right threat

Paul Mason
9 min readSep 3, 2021

With impeccable timing The Economist has splashed its front cover today with the headline: “The threat from the illiberal left”.

Sure, in Texas, they just cancelled abortion rights and set bounty hunters to round up health workers. Sure, last night in Budapest, a wall of uniformed fascists hurled missiles at England’s multi-ethnic football team.

But what’s important right now is to attack wokeness. For that’s what the associated leader column does.

An unwary reader might have assumed this was going to be a polemic on radical leftists like Corbyn, Lula, Melenchon or Ocasio-Cortes. But the target is closer to home.

Because the “illiberal left” threat, the Economist alleges, has appeared from within liberalism itself, and is focused on the concept of social justice. Hence the opening sentence:

Something has gone very wrong with Western liberalism.

The magazine wants defend something called “classical liberalism” against a new form of liberalism based around what the it alleges is a “caste-based” concept of social justice, which leads to needless conflict and destabilises liberal democracy.

Let’s start then, by identifying the Economist’s “classical liberalism” for what it is: a conceit.

Claiming to be a “classical liberal” in a world of tech monopolies, surveillance states and central bank money creation is like claiming to be a “pre-1905 Bolshevik” or a Bismarckian state socialist under the same conditions.

Either you’re running a political re-enactment group, with no material relationship to the modern world, or you provide an account of how your chosen doctrine historically evolved into something else, how its actions created those aspects of the modern economy, state and civil society you dislike.

The Economist, instead, begins its attack on wokeness and Critical Race Theory with the assertion:

The best way to navigate disruptive change in a divided world is through a universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets and limited government.



Paul Mason

Journalist, writer and film-maker. Author of How To Stop Fascism.