Is political correctness speeding up?

From Spectator blogs

One of the most influential and popular ideas of the post-war era was that of the Authoritarian Personality, which linked Fascism with a number of personality traits, including conventionalism, anti-intellectualism and prudery. Conservatism, in other words.

It has become popular to believe that being Right-wing is synonymous with being authoritarian. Society may have no common culture or religion or body of literature, but everyone knows who the Nazis are. So as Nazism has pushed out much else in the political collective memory, so it has become an attractive and easily accesible weapon against conservative ideas. And yet authoritarianism is probably found both equally on the left and right; it just manifests itself in different forms.

One example is the way progressives tend to see deviant political views. The response is often similar to how conservatives view crime, alternative lifestyles or other transgressive behaviour. This intolerance is usually termed ‘political correctness’, although it’s an imperfect phrase, because it applies both to a code of politeness (much of which I agree with) and also a method of enforcing orthodoxy. Unfortunately, it is the former, especially the stupider and more mundane examples, which attracts most attention, when in reality it is the latter which has far more impact.

PC is used to punish people who have voiced opinions outside of the acceptable range of opinions, often having them sacked, subject to extreme abuse or in other ways made to suffer. In many cases the individuals are stating facts which are backed by the available science but which offend some sacred group; it doesn’t help that the people in question often also say genuinely impolite things, too, and are often difficult personalities, and sometimes lacking social nous. (To use that famous historical comparison, Galileo was apparently a complete nightmare as a person.)

Political correctness in this form has been around since the late 1960s, increased in the early 1990s as former students grew into positions of authority, and then ramped up again with the rise of social media. And yet just in the past 12 months there seems to have been a further acceleration of this quasi-religious craze.

Look at the way that Steven Pinker has been targeted for making the sensible point that political correctness has ‘red-pilled’ America and led many fairly intelligent young people towards the radical Right. He said that they were being ‘exposed for the first time to true statements that have never been voiced on college campuses or the New York Times or respectable media that are like a bacillus to which they have no immunity… and no defence to taking them to repellent conclusions’. He cited, for example, average crime differences between the races, but in his seminal book The Blank Slate Pinker used the example of certain types of feminists who had hooked their political philosophy to ideas about human nature that were empirically false.

This, he pointed out, was dangerous, because feminism can stand on its own feet without resting on the idea that humans are a tabula rasa. And when independently-minded young people learn that the prevailing political philosophy, whatever its good intensions, is based on a series of beliefs that just aren’t true then they will gravitate towards whoever they feel is telling the truth – however mad, bad or dangerous to know.

Pinker’s remarks were seized on by numerous figures as showing his support for the ‘Alt-Right’ (whatever that term means), a pile-on that must feel quite chilling when it’s your name trending. He was saying nothing of the sort, but then the cultural revolution seems to be entering its Robespierrean phase.

Allowing one side of the political spectrum to dominate, and showing intolerance towards opposing opinions, is dangerous for a number of reasons, not the least that it will inevitably push the dominant side towards extremes. Politically correct ideas are fashionable, and as Kristian Niemietz of the IEA once suggested, this is what drives them to ever more strange positions, and why PC hatefests are almost always directed at other people on the Left.

This is why political diversity in places such as academia and tech really is important, and why normalising political sectarianism is not a good idea. It also makes me think that the idea the Right should accept defeat on social issues and focus on economics is impractical; progressivism is a philosophy that cannot stay still, and must become ever more extreme to maintain its momentum. Every time conservatives blindly accept an innovation, the ground then shifts, while natural conservatives respond to liberal overreach by moving to the other extreme instead – and to authoritarians who lack both PC orthodoxy and basic politeness and decency. That’s just how you turn a country into a ‘shithole’, in the president’s elegant words.


What do you think?