"I cannot accept, your canon that we are to judge pope and king unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they do no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way against holders of power....Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." ~ Lord Acton
Politically Incorrect Authoritarianism
Column by R.K. Blacksher.
Exclusive to STR
In a recent column for the Center for a Stateless Society about Peter King's hearings on radicalization among American Muslims, Darian Worden writes:
"King says that backing down would mean giving in to that nebulous boogeyman called 'political correctness.'"
This is a perfect illustration of something that has become a very common theme among conservatives. Over the last several years, conservatives have developed a rhetorical habit of framing their authoritarianism as a rebellion against "political correctness."
This habit is derived from a fundamental (and possibly intentional) misunderstanding of the nature of political correctness. Before examining the way in which conservatives use ostensible opposition to "political correctness" to mask their authoritarianism, therefore, it will be useful to elucidate the true nature of political correctness.
What is Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" is used (and misused) in many different ways. Discussions about political correctness in the media inevitably tend to be either vacuous or misleading. When most people think of political correctness, they think of its simplest form: substituting African-American for black, Native American for Indian, etc. While this can often be silly and annoying, this is not the form of political correctness that we really need to be concerned about.
The form of political correctness that we should be concerned about is the form that ideological enforcers use to silence dissent. This is done by labeling certain opinions unacceptable and hurling vicious invectives at anyone who dares to express an unacceptable opinion. People who question the necessity of “fighting the terrorists” are called “traitors.” People who express skepticism about anthropogenic global warming are equated with holocaust deniers.
Put simply, political correctness is a way to suppress viewpoints that threaten the interests of the ruling class. It is a rhetorical bludgeon that emissaries of the establishment use to silence their opponents.
Libertarians rightly oppose this kind of political correctness. It is important to recognize, though, that this is generally not what conservatives mean when they denounce "political correctness."
The Conservative View of Political Correctness
To understand the way in which conservatives (mis)use the term "political correctness," we first need to examine the tactics that the ruling class uses to keep conservatives under its heel. I can do no better than to quote H. L. Mencken:
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
The hobgoblins with which conservatives are menaced constitute a rogues’ gallery of designated out-groups. Anyone who pays attention to Republican politicians and conservative pundits will be well acquainted with the horror stories these demagogues tell about the Brown Peril pouring across the southern border and the teeming hordes of Muslims salivating at the prospect of beheading Noble Americans Patriots. The primary way in which the ruling class controls conservatives, thus, is by incessantly parading a variety of designated out-groups through the right's revolving door of bugaboos.
Let’s now look at some examples of the way conservatives use the term “politically correct.” This will help to illuminate how conservatives use ostensible opposition to “political correctness” as a mask for their own authoritarian impulses.
Speaking in opposition to the TSA’s porno-scanners, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum said that we need to “quit being so politically correct about it and just do what a society that respects privacy and wants to protect itself through reasonable procedures would do.” Similarly, Ann Coulter blamed the invasive procedures on the “crazy, politically correct world we’re living in now.” Both of them accompanied their denunciations of the TSA, not with calls to abolish the TSA, but with calls for more invasive searches directed at people with brown skin and Islamic-sounding names.
In a column for The New York Post, Fox News analyst Ralph Peters blamed the deaths of American troops on “politically correct rules of engagement” that “shield our enemies.” His solution, of course, is for the military to be even more ruthless and indiscriminate in destroying villages and slaughtering civilians.
A Google search yields dozens of examples of conservatives praising Joe Arpaio, the tin-pot despot of Maricopa County, for his refusal to be “politically correct.” On this point, no further comment is necessary.
This passage from an article on the Christian Coalition’s website sums up the conservative view of political correctness pretty well:
“America’s PC affliction is ravaging this country and make no mistake about it, this is lethal, it is claiming innocent lives this very moment. Every second a police officer neglects to stop a suspicious car, for fear of profiling and an unassuming victim is shot to death on the sidewalk. Every illegal alien that is not questioned and escapes the law with narcotics that find their way in the veins of America's youth. Every shady terrorist that slips through our grasp because he wasn't captured by the politically correct rules of engagement, that kills another young soldier.”
The preceding examples make it very clear what conservatives mean when they denounce “political correctness.” Conservatives believe it is “politically correct” to oppose invasive, privacy violating searches of people with brown skin. They believe it is “politically correct” to oppose the wholesale slaughter of innocent people in foreign countries. They believe it is “politically correct” to oppose police state tactics directed at immigrants. They believe it is “politically correct” to oppose indefinite detention, secret prisons, and torture.
In other words, conservatives use the term "politically correct" to deride any attempt to defend the basic human dignity of designated out-groups. This is the tactic that conservatives use to frame their authoritarianism as a revolt against “political correctness.”
It is, admittedly, a pretty clever rhetorical tactic. Since most people rightly view political correctness as authoritarian in nature, this tactic allows conservative authoritarians to propagandize on behalf of the establishment while pretending to be in rebellion against it. This, of course, follows a well-established precedent of conservatives employing libertarian-sounding rhetoric in support of authoritarian objectives.
Libertarians have long been cognizant of the way that authoritarians corrupt the language in order to corrupt people’s thoughts. Indeed, political correctness is often enforced through the corruption of language. The process of linguistic corruption has now gone so far that the term “political correctness” itself has become distorted almost beyond recognition. While libertarians should continue to resist political correctness, we also need to resist conservative “political incorrectness.”