Liberals vs. Leftists on political correctness

Liberals vs. Leftists on political correctness June 24, 2015

Both liberals and leftists share the goal of social and economic equality and other progressive ideals.  But liberals believe those can be attained in terms of the Enlightenment ideals of liberty, human rights, and democracy.  On the other hand, Leftists (think Soviet Union, Maoists, other Communists, etc.) believe that liberty, human rights, and democracy must be restricted in order to attain those goals.

That’s one takeaway from a fascinating study of “political correctness” by William Voegeli in The Claremont Review of Books, who begins by discussing an article on “How the Language Police Are Perverting Liberalism.”

Notice how those who want to punish opponents of gay marriage, restrict religious liberty, not allow certain opinions to be argued, and in other ways emulating the tactics of the Soviet Union, are leftists.  Which covers quite a few people today who present themselves as liberals.

Read Voegeli’s article excerpted and linked after the jump.

From William Voegeli, “Which Side Are You On?” in The Claremont Review of Books:

People are shouting about political correctness again, thanks to Jonathan Chait of New York magazine. His January cover story, “Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say: How the Language Police Are Perverting Liberalism,” set off a debate among dozens of columnists and bloggers. The fiercest denunciations came from writers to the left of Chait, a senior editor of the New Republic before he joined New York in 2011. His detractors’ not entirely consistent position was that political correctness is a figment of reactionaries’ imagination…and, besides, nearly every instance of it is fully justified. One journalist, for example, derided Chait as a “sad white man” who reacts to criticism with “operatic self-pity.” Another accused him of lamenting the “inability to write offensive tripe without consequence,” adding sympathetically, “Boo-f—ing-hoo. Get a real problem.”

Chait claims that political correctness, which he says “burst onto the academic scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” has once again become a problem after a “long remission.” Yet the vitriol his article elicited makes it highly doubtful that a cancer now capable of attacking so aggressively was ever cured or contained in the first place. Chait suggests the “most probable cause” of P.C.’s long dormancy was the 1992 presidential campaign, which “mobilized left-of-center politics…away from the introspective suppression of dissent within the academy”—an assessment that ascribes Periclean eloquence and force to Bill Clinton’s Sister Souljah speech.

Chait’s argument about what political correctness means is, by contrast, interesting and important, especially for figuring out how to distinguish America’s Left from its Right. He starts from an incontestable premise: American conservatism is “unusually strong” compared to the political Right in any other modern democracy. It is so powerful that its “long propaganda campaign” to equate liberalism with ludicrous, dangerous radicalism has succeeded. Indeed, not just a large portion of the public but “even many liberals” are now persuaded that “liberals and ‘the left’ stand for the same things.”

But they don’t:

It is true that liberals and leftists both want to make society more economically and socially egalitarian. But liberals still hold to the classic Enlightenment political tradition that cherishes individuals rights [sic], freedom of expression, and the protection of a kind of free political marketplace. (So, for that matter, do most conservatives.)

Accordingly, liberals need to defeat political correctness in order to sustain the synthesis, which defines and vindicates modern liberalism, of egalitarian reform and Enlightenment principles.

Liberals believe (or ought to believe) that social progress can continue while we maintain our traditional ideal of a free political marketplace where we can reason together as individuals. Political correctness challenges that bedrock liberal ideal. While politically less threatening than conservatism (the far right still commands far more power in American life), the p.c. left is actually more philosophically threatening. It is an undemocratic creed.

William Voegeli

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