Political Correctness or, the Perils of Benevolence

By Kimball, Roger | The National Interest, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Political Correctness or, the Perils of Benevolence


Kimball, Roger, The National Interest


   All good people agree
   And all good people say,
   All nice people, like Us, are We
   And every one else is They.

--Rudyard Kipling
"We and They"

THE TERM "political correctness" is such a familiar piece of moral shorthand that it is easy to forget that the phrase has been with us for only about a dozen years. "John or Mary or the University of Lagado is so PC"--it's never a compliment, but exactly what does the charge of political correctness imply? To a large extent, the familiarity of the phenomenon has bred, if not contempt, then at least an unhealthy indifference. Political correctness--the phrase and even more the idea--has had a curious and circuitous career, and the more we know about it the more distasteful and alarming it seems.

Indeed, we are often assured that political correctness--whether or not it posed a threat in the past--is no longer a menace. It has, the argument goes, either been defeated or simply faded away like a Cheshire cat with a scowl. Oddly, however, this soothing assurance generally comes from people who approve (or approved) of political correctness, so their relief at its disappearance is both disingenuous and unpersuasive. They succeed only in making one feel like the female water-skier on the poster for Jaws H who is unaware of the huge shark surfacing behind her over the words "Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water."

Today, most of us tend to associate the phrase "political correctness"

with the conservative assault on efforts to enforce speech codes, to promote affirmative action and to nurture other items high on the wish-list of multicultural aspiration. You know the menu. Page 1: Guns, no; school vouchers, no; patriotism, no; George W.. Bush, capitalism, the United States, No, No, No. Even mention the war to depose Saddam Hussein and liberate the Iraqi people and you get the hysterical keenings of someone like Harold Pinter, Susan Sontag and Paul Krugman.

On the other side there's Brussels, Kyoto, Durban, Wounded Knee ... like Molly Bloom, the very place names tremble with an excited "Yes." All this is marvelous fodder for the conservative satirist. For example, Fox News regularly features "Tongue Tied", which their editors describe as "A column from the front lines of the wars over political correctness, free expression and culture." In England, The Spectator runs "Banned Wagon", a weekly column devoted to exposing "restrictions on freedom and free trade." Other repositories of anecdote, analysis and anathema are legion. Ridicule of the ridiculous is the order of the day.

Indeed, the fact that criticism of political correctness occupies an important place in the armory of conservative polemic is one reason we are regularly encouraged to ignore it.

This effort takes a couple of forms. First, there is bald denial. We are told that really, at bottom, there is no such thing as political correctness: it is all an invention of, well, people like me: right-wing fanatics bent on turning back the clock of progress. This is the position of the politically-correct John K. Wilson, whose book, The Myth of Political Correctness, is still a standard for the PC crowd. The author's goal throughout its pages is to relegate the fact of political correctness to the realm of dragons, hippogriffs and Republican nightmares.

Second, there is the reliable "Yes, but ..." rejoinder. This comes in two basic versions, deflationary and defiant. The deflationary position says "Okay, political correctness does exist, but it is harmless, hardly more than an effort to avoid offending people: critics have exaggerated both the extent and the gravity of political correctness."

The defiant alternative, on the other hand, says "Yes, political correctness exists and is widespread, and thank God for that: it is not a bane but a boon: it just shows how enlightened attitudes about race-gender-class-ethnic-sensitivity-peace-homo -sexuality-the-environment-and-mustn't-forget-the-plight-of-foxes are spreading. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Political Correctness or, the Perils of Benevolence
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.