Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Political Correctness and Liberalism

No right turn refers to the application of the term "Politically correct" to left/liberal causes. That this is happening is hard to dispute but it is a palpable misuse of the term and ought not to beguile a liberal (and particularly an anarcho-liberal) into approval of the more or less stalinist
attitudes to whch it is more accurately applied.

The word "correct" has strong connotations of objectively measurable conformity. Thus something may be said to be factually correct or historically correct if it comforms to actual reality (ie the facts asserted are true, the historical events described did, in fact happen as described). If we speak, however, of correct speech, spelling, grammar, etiquette or behaviour we imply conformity to a supposed authoritative standard. To state (in a positive manner) that a particular position is "politically correct" is to invoke a supposed single authority against which the correctness of political views may be measured. A liberal denies the legitimacy of any such authority. Indeed even a non-liberal might argue that politics, by definition, involves multiple competing views and that the anti-pluralism of "political correctness" is oxymoronic.

The latter part of the 20th century saw rapid advances in many liberal causes (gay rights, racial equality, women's liberation, etc) but not all advocates of these causes were liberal. There were also authoritarian feminists / gay rights / equal opportunity /etc advocates who followed the illiberal path of suppressing opposing views rather than engaging them in the "Marketplace of Ideas". The term PC was originally used to lampoon their authoritarianism and in particular the favoured Orwellian tactic of regulating language as a means of controlling attitudes.
Certain elements of the right (who have always been happy to invoke the authority of "right-thinking" or "God-fearing" people) have recently misappropriated the term to attack the concepts of equality, women's rights, gay rights, etc themselves rather than the supposed pompous antipluralism of their authoritarian left avocates. This linguistic theft should be resisted.

Had the CUB included a provision to outlaw "gender-exclusive" language (eg "Man and Wife") from any marriage ceremony it could be properly attacked as "Political Correctness". Had it sort to outlaw any form of marriage which was not available to all couples regardless of gender, race, creed, etc it might have been called something much worse. But it does not. Any heterosexual couple who prefer a conventional marriage may have one. Any individual, couple or group who prefer to remain legally single may do so. The CUB is entirely permissive rather than prescriptive in its effect and as such it can never be "Politically Correct". Peter Dunne, at least, should know better.


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