Last week, Shadow of Diogenes posed the question: "Where did political correctness begin?"

Truth be told, I'm more interested in where — and when — it will end, but I poked around a bit, and here's a lecture by Bill Lind which traces it back to the postwar period, and not the war you probably thought, either:

Marxist theory said that when the general European war came (as it did come in Europe in 1914), the working class throughout Europe would rise up and overthrow their governments — the bourgeois governments — because the workers had more in common with each other across the national boundaries than they had in common with the bourgeoisie and the ruling class in their own country. Well, 1914 came and it didn't happen. Throughout Europe, workers rallied to their flag and happily marched off to fight each other. The Kaiser shook hands with the leaders of the Marxist Social Democratic Party in Germany and said there are no parties now, there are only Germans. And this happened in every country in Europe. So something was wrong.

And of course, it couldn't possibly be the theory itself:

In 1917, they finally got a Marxist coup in Russia and it looked like the theory was working, but it stalled again. It didn't spread and when attempts were made to spread immediately after the war, with the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, with the Bela Kun government in Hungary, with the Munich Soviet, the workers didn't support them.

And two Marxist theorists went to work on it: Antonio Gramsci in Italy and Georg Lukacs in Hungary. Gramsci said the workers will never see their true class interests, as defined by Marxism, until they are freed from Western culture, and particularly from the Christian religion — that they are blinded by culture and religion to their true class interests. Lukacs, who was considered the most brilliant Marxist theorist since Marx himself, said in 1919, "Who will save us from Western Civilization?" He also theorized that the great obstacle to the creation of a Marxist paradise was the culture: Western civilization itself.

Ultimately, though, Gramsci was to prove the more effective exponent of Marxism. His premise, seen at the time to be something of a departure from Marxism, proved to be an expansion instead: the standard Marxist dichotomy of oppressor and oppressed was extended and transmogrified, turning bad economics into bad sociology. From Gramsci's Prison Notebooks, written between 1929 and 1935:

The marginalized groups of history include not only the economically oppressed, but also women, racial minorities and many "criminals."

Gramsci's health deteriorated during his imprisonment, and shortly after his release in 1937, he died. The Notebooks did not become widely known until the 1950s. But believe me, you know the contents. John Fonte of the Hudson Institute has written:

Far from being content with a mere uprising, therefore, Gramsci believed that it was necessary first to delegitimize the dominant belief systems of the predominant groups and to create a "counter-hegemony" (i.e., a new system of values for the subordinate groups) before the marginalized could be empowered. Moreover, because hegemonic values permeate all spheres of civil society — schools, churches, the media, voluntary associations — civil society itself, he argued, is the great battleground in the struggle for hegemony, the "war of position." From this point, too, followed a corollary for which Gramsci should be known (and which is echoed in the feminist slogan) — that all life is "political." Thus, private life, the work place, religion, philosophy, art, and literature, and civil society, in general, are contested battlegrounds in the struggle to achieve societal transformation.

Culture war? Coming right up.

And the notion that it's always somebody else's fault proved to be staggeringly popular: mankind is not known for its willingness to accept responsibility. Fundamental to political correctness is the notion that the only reason some people are marginalized is because some other people built the margins where they wanted them, that otherwise we'd all be one big, happy, presumably nonbourgeois family. Any similarity to real life is coincidental and definitely not intended.

As I said, what I want to know is when political correctness will go away. I suspect it will linger just as long as there are people whose livelihoods and/or self-esteem depend on it.

The Vent

  1 August 2007

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 Copyright © 2007 by Charles G. Hill