The Origins Of PC

Almost everybody on the Left pretends that “political correctness” is merely a malicious invention of the Right. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?

It is true that the right-winger sneers at “political correctness”, but that does not mean that the thing at which he sneers does not exist, or that it does not live its own independent life apart from and prior to his sneering.

Others on the Left claim that PC was always self-ironic. This canard only works on those too young to remember the days before the Left gave up on the Revolution, forgot all its economics, abandoned the condition of the people to the Right and concentrated on “purifying” university culture and sexuality instead. This conversion was accomplished without irony – and without abandoning the idea of an overarching ideology that told you exactly what was correct and progressive and to be done, and what was incorrect and reactionary and not to be done. It was merely that the ideology was now less about the means of production than the means of copulation.

Since such a rigorist structure is common to all three of the Abrahamic religions, known respectively as halacha, canon law and shari’a, it comes naturally to men and women of the Left, who, like the religious, claim to be working for a better human society. The politically correct progressive is thus a “reformer of manners”, not in the tradition of Saint Benedict (who set out to reform the manners of volunteers), but rather in the tradition of Savonarola and Ibn Wahhab (who set out to reform the manners of everyone they could get their hands on).

Since the reformer himself cannot be mistaken, the sole purpose of politics, debate and even discussion between individuals becomes the opportunity for him to inform other people of what is right and correct and what is not. All politics is therefore a pedagogical exercise, about raising the consciousness of anyone who has a different opinion. The thesis that political correctness is a fiction of the Right can only be credited by either someone who has never encountered this kind of progressive, or someone out to hide an embarrassing past.

A combined explanation is offered by Joel Bleifuss: that the original usage was the self-irony of the Left, but that the Right took it at face value and derided it; whereupon the progressives were fool enough to become the very thing that the Right was deriding.

It is, of course, a commonplace that the Right dislikes ideology and social engineering; conservatives always describe themselves as pragmatists, retaining whatever has been hallowed by tradition and shown to “work” – that is, work for them. They are not interested in achieving the perfect society, only the perfect bank balance. Like the didactic PC progressive, the conservative is concerned to legislate for other people’s private lives, but on quite different principles – the Right and Perfect is not some conceptualised future state of affairs, but either whatever existed in his youth, whatever he himself does, or whatever increases his wealth at the expense of everyone else.

There is certainly no place in the conservative mind for scholastic hair-splitting, for example of whether a Victim can also be an Oppressor – like the debate an Australian student union official once described to me, which turned on whether a black man could be a male chauvinist pig or not. For the conservative does not see victimhood as an ontological category that logically excludes oppressorship, but merely as the condition of being a loser in the zero-sum competition of life. Anyone calling himself a conservative but devoted to speculative political theology, concerned to neither divide the substance nor confound the persons, is thus no conservative at all but something else entirely – perhaps a recycled Trotskyite.

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  1. Written by Urban Djin
    on May 24, 2009 at 13:56

    The left should be embarrassed by PC. The totalitarian impulses of the left are every bit as troublesome to me as those of the right. And it’s counterproductive. PC takes all of the issues that would benefit from frank discussion off the table completely. I blame the Frankfurt School.

  2. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on May 24, 2009 at 16:07

    They’re a symptom, not a cause: the thrust of this chapter is to endeavour to analyse puritanism/PC as a cross-temporal game of one-upmanship. You say bad thing, I call you on it, I win, nyah nyah.

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