Anyone concerned with an increasingly political American business will find little to allay their concern in The Woke Capital Dictatorship: How Political Correctness Captured Big Business. Yet there is still a lot to be learned from Stephen R. Soukup’s excellent new book. Soukup convincingly demonstrates that this trend has been around for much longer and comes from more directions than most contemporary observers probably realize.
How we got here
The book takes its name from a First things essay, delivered in the form of a speech by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) in 2019 on the topic of large corporations weighing in on state-level pro-life legislation. Soukup writes that Cotton “had stumbled upon the efforts of the political left to harness the power of business, and in particular the capital markets, to advance openly and exclusively political ends.” It is, as Soukup explains, a deliberate and undemocratic attempt to achieve by leveraging big business what could not be achieved by traditional political means.
The first part of the book chronicles the philosophies and ideas – and particularly those that promoted them – that slowly tilted American institutions to the political left during the 20th century: what some readers might remember as the “Long walk through institutions â. These forces, which are conceptualized as ‘two great currents of cultural leftism’, have come together in a gradual attempt to redesign what a business could or should do.
The second describes the current landscape of corporate politicization. Soukup identifies the asset managers, activist groups, individuals and other entities that collectively form the channel through which progressive left-wing political priorities are inserted into companies, as well as some of the methods commonly used to achieve this. It also profiles several of those fighting this trend, including the Capital Research Center.
The final three chapters are specific case studies of some of the world’s largest and most well-known public companies: Amazon, Apple, and Disney. It is shown that they have increasingly ventured into issues of clear political importance, sometimes in rather hypocritical ways. Readers may well be alarmed at some of the ways in which Apple and Disney, for example, appear to be more respectful of the will of Communist China than the American voter.
Hear Stephen Soukup talk about his book on the InfluenceWatch podcast:
Understand what is behind the “what”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is how it details the multifaceted and somewhat complex methods by which companies succumb to politically motivated influences. Readers discover the ‘who’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind the ‘what’ they may (or may not) have seen in the media headlines.
Take the example of shareholder proposals, what the book calls âthe main tool of the corporate activistâ. Few readers will likely start The dictatorship of Woke Capital with an understanding of how these proposals are politically militarized, but in the end they will have learned how activist nonprofits, proxy consultancies, asset managers, business executives and even government institutions all play a role in injecting policy into the board of directors of companies.
A call for depoliticization
Given the extremely one-sided nature of contemporary efforts to politicize the corporate board, the book focuses on what is coming from the political left. But it should appeal to anyone who simply believes in leaving business to corporations and the free market, while politics is best left to politicians and voters.
Indeed, Soukup concludes with a simple message: âIf we resist the politicization of business and capital markets. . . so we preserve not only freedom, but also the spirit of innovation and expression which exploits freedom to create wealth and prosperity. The dictatorship of Woke Capital is a readable and informative work exposing the loopholes that have reached worrying depths around this until then fundamental American principle.