May 7, 2004


Back in November I posted an excerpt from Roger Kimball's speech on political correctness that had appeared at Armavirumque. I located the full text the other day and had to post it. The speech won Kimball the 2003 Douglas-Home Trust prize, and while it defies excerpting effectively, I'm going to try to do it anyway, just to get someone to click over and read it all...

Today, the phrase "political correctness" is generally accompanied by a smile--an uneasy smile, but a smile nonetheless. The phrase describes some exaggerated bit of left-wing moralism--so exaggerated that it is hard to take seriously. We smile when we read about an elite American college that has enrolled the sin of "lookism"--the unacceptable belief that some people are more attractive than others--into its catalogue of punishable offenses. We laugh when hearing that a British academic has condemned Frosty the Snowman as a white "male icon" that helps "to substantiate an ideology upholding a gendered spatial/social system."

...we know that such strictures, though preposterous, are not without consequence. Indeed, the phenomenon of political correctness is a great teacher of the often overlooked lesson that the preposterous and the malign can cohabit happily.

There is also the fact that the odor of malignity, of thuggishness, is never far from the lairs of political correctness. The student accused of lookism can be severely penalized for the offense, as can the student accused of racism, "homophobia", or "mis-directed laughter."...

...At its center is a union of abstract benevolence, which takes mankind as a whole for its object, with rigid moralism. This is a toxic, misery-producing brew.

...this "lethal combination" is by no means peculiar to communists. It provides the emotional fuel for utopians from Robespierre to the politically-correct bureaucrats who preside over more and more of life in Western societies today. They mean well. They seek to boost all mankind up to their own plane of enlightenment. Inequality outrages their sense of justice. They regard conventional habits of behavior as so many obstacles to be overcome on the path to perfection. They see tradition as the enemy of innovation, which they embrace as a lifeline to moral progress. They cannot encounter a wrong without seeking to right it. The idea that some evils may be ineradicable is anathema to them. Likewise the notion that the best is the enemy of the good, that many choices are to some extent choices among evils--such proverbial, conservative wisdom outrages their sense of moral perfectibility.

Posted by dan at May 7, 2004 6:58 PM