Features
Featured Essay
Featured Link

Full Collections
Essays (425)
Quotations (6095)
Links (715)
Books (232)

Other Pages
About Us
Authors
Awards
Bookseller Affiliations
Contact Us
Cookies
Editorial Board
Excellent Essays
Excellent Sites
Liberal Magic
Mush Quotations
Our New Look
Privacy Policy
Sign Up!
Submissions
Amazon.com online bookstore
  


 Title

PC and the Crisis of Liberalism

 Synopsis

A discussion of political correctness, its history, moral basis and political implications. The discussion emphasizes its seriousness as a logical outcome of liberalism (the dominant political tradition of the West), its incompatibility with freedom and self-government, and the likely need for radical changes in the understandings on which political life is carried on to which it gives rise.

 Author

James Kalb

 Author Notes

Lawyer and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Mr. Kalb maintains his own interesting Web site at which others of his writings can be found.

 Essay - 2/1/1998

Political correctness spreads, and once it arrives it stays; few like it, but no-one can do anything about it. In America most thought it was a hobbyhorse for a few cranks, while Europeans shrugged it off as an outlandish fad. We have all discovered our mistake. In America PC dominates our intellectual and cultural life, and Europeans find it creeping in everywhere. Worse, it is becoming legally compulsory, in Europe through laws against inciting hatred and in America through interpretations of civil rights law that create a right to freedom from a "hostile environment" and expose employers who do not insist on it to lawsuits.[1]

Such unlooked-for growth and staying power require an explanation. As we shall see, political correctness is no fluke but a very serious matter that follows from basic principles governing modern political life. It is the logical outcome of deeply-rooted egalitarian trends that over time have become ever more self-conscious and all-embracing. Moderating its demands will therefore be very difficult, and resolution of the issues it presents will require radical redirection of our political life.

Political correctness is the requirement of equal public respect for all ethnic groups, genders, lifestyles, sexual orientations, and so on. Stated thus abstractly, it sounds innocuous to many modern ears. In practice, however, it is a demanding requirement that calls for extensive purification of language, symbols and images, and ultimately of thoughts, feelings and social institutions. The specifics are infinitely varied. Writers and public speakers must use "inclusive" language -- for example, avoid using "man" and "he" to refer to human beings in general -- and otherwise respect the choice of the terms by the more vocal spokesmen for protected groups.[2] Athletic teams must be renamed, illustrations in books and periodicals loaded with women and racial minorities in nontraditional roles, and the Confederate flag done away with as a "symbol of hate." The casting of actors must be at odds with social stereotypes implicit in their roles, sometimes to the point of absurdity.[3] Such matters have become a matter of bureaucratic routine; committees meet, decide on guidelines, and incorporate their choices in style sheets and other authoritative standards.[4]

Beyond terminology and symbolism, the requirement of equal respect restricts, sometimes severely, the substance of what can be said. It would violate that requirement, for example, to entertain any explanation other than discrimination for group differences in income and position. The possibility that differences in motivation or ability may play a role has become all but taboo in public,[5] as have many other views, for example the view that there are legitimate social and moral objections to homosexuality. Ultimately, "equal respect" requires the comprehensive restructuring of society so that protected groups in fact enjoy equal status. Affirmative action and many other government policies therefore become sacrosanct, sometimes to the extent that ordinary grassroots political activity opposing them becomes quasi- criminal. The consequences have included harassment by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development of citizens who involve themselves in local politics to oppose homeless shelters and other social service facilities,[6] legal targeting of right-to-life activism,[7] and official connivance at the political use of force by minority activists against opponents.[8]

The current situation, in which government feels called upon to re-engineer human relations in the interests of equality, is the outcome of very old and deeply rooted egalitarian trends in Western society. At first developments were gradual and unconscious; the position of the middle classes has been improving in Western Europe since the High Middle Ages, and slavery and serfdom substantially disappeared there before modern times. The Protestant Reformation and its proclamation of the supremacy of individual conscience and priesthood of all believers brought the goal of equality closer to self-awareness. The Enlightenment added an understanding of social order as a human creation that can be re-created at will. At length, the American and French revolutions and the founding of liberal political parties made abstract equality an explicit goal of practical politics, a status it has retained ever since.

New developments during the 19th and 20th centuries have included an increase in the scope of application of the principle of equality, and the multiplication of government initiatives specifically designed to promote it. At first liberals aspired only to limit government and abolish explicit privilege. Limited government turned out to be only temporary, however. Once formal equality under the law had been achieved and the franchise extended, new horizons for government action opened up; these included provision of social insurance, promotion of economic opportunity, and redistribution of wealth, leading eventually to the modern welfare state.

Allied victory in the Second World War made equality and democracy universally sacrosanct, at least in principle, and the fall of the Berlin Wall four decades later signaled the absolute triumph of liberalism.[9] The consequent denial of public respectability to non-liberal philosophies has led to peremptory demands for full realization of liberal egalitarianism. The demands go beyond economic welfare to substantive equality of position and status, or at least dissociation of inequalities from characteristics that are not purely individual. "Affirmative action," the requirement that underrepresented groups be equally included in major social roles and activities, is one such demand. Political correctness, which requires that every group be given an equal share of respect, is simply the application of affirmative action to intangible aspects of social status. Although novel in some aspects, it has been long in the making and is a natural consequence of well-established principles.

The duration and consistency of the trend toward equality that has led to contemporary political correctness suggest a coherent cause, although one with diverse economic, political, ideological and other aspects. Since its proponents experience PC primarily as a moral imperative, I will concentrate on the moral outlook it expresses. How men understand their actions has an enormous effect on social institutions. An understanding of the moral understanding behind political correctness should therefore be useful in assessing its nature and implications, and more practically its future prospects.

Morally speaking, what lies behind PC is the value-subjectivism that is at the heart of liberal thought.[10] Liberal social contract theory rests on the view that the purpose of social organization is to advance the purposes of the individuals who unite to form society.[11] A corollary is that human preferences -- the desires and goals each of us happens to have -- are the source of the values that merit social recognition. Political democracy, extensive individual rights, and widespread material prosperity are therefore fundamental political goals for liberals, because they help men get what they want.

Another goal is equality. For liberals, all preferences equally confer worth, so all should be equally favored. Since cultures and lifestyles are collections of preferences, they should be treated as equally good as well. The presumption of equal treatment can of course be rebutted. Preferences are often inconsistent, so it is inevitable that some will be sacrificed to others. If I like loud parties and you like sleep it may be impossible to satisfy both of us. The liberal conception of justice requires, however, that the preferences to be sacrificed be chosen in a way that recognizes their equal worth.

Liberalism thus requires an egalitarian principle to arbitrate among conflicting preferences. The simplest such principle is utilitarianism, the greatest satisfaction of the greatest number. All desires are treated equally, and if most people have a strong enough taste for electric guitars at 3 a.m., too bad for those who prefer sleep. Strict utilitarianism is clear, direct and useful in unsettling traditional moral conceptions. Nonetheless, liberals have come to reject it. The problem is that the equal worth of all desires does not in itself require that all men be treated equally; it might maximize general satisfaction, for example, to enslave an annoying minority and force its members to perform the dangerous and unpleasant tasks the rest of us would otherwise have to do.

Doing so would, of course, be highly illiberal. Like other philosophies liberalism strives toward systematic overall coherence, and the possibility of slavery goes against the liberal grain. Those who identify what men want with what is good do so because they feel the commanding force of their own desires. Since strict utilitarianism deprives a man's own desires of any protected status, and in principle would authorize others to use him as a mere means to their ends, accepting it would require rejecting many of the impulses that underlie liberalism.

In addition, the equal worth of preferences suggests equality among those whose preferences they are. A subjectivist philosophy that gives effect to that suggestion is more satisfactory than one that contradicts it. Since creating values is felt to be a godlike act, on the liberal view the capacity to have preferences and thus create values in itself brings a sort of divinity. We share equally in the divinity since we share equally in the capacity. Equal respect for value-creating individuals is thus a reasonable consequence of liberal subjectivism.[12] Since for liberals our desires are the basis of our moral being, that respect naturally takes the form of a guarantee that the private desires of each will be equally protected against the claims of the public good.

Equal satisfaction for each person therefore joins equal treatment of preferences, lifestyles and cultures to form the liberal understanding of justice.[13] As we have seen, the understanding that persons and preferences must both be treated equally flows persuasively and reasonably from subjectivism as to value. Its rational unity and the widespread acceptance of its basis in subjectivism enable it to serve as a comprehensive, coherent, and well-articulated public creed, and its authority has become such that it would be contrary to the whole tenor of public discussion today to question it.

As an application of that creed political correctness has a great deal of force. Once basic physical needs have been satisfied, our relations with others, and in particular how others regard and treat us, is what most of us care about most. Our treatment of each other is not naturally egalitarian, however. We have a deep-seated tendency to give a special status to our friends and favorites -- more abstractly, to our own preferences, to those who share them, and to those to whom we have some other special tie. That tendency molds social life in fundamental ways,[14] placing at a disadvantage those whose preferences and affiliations put them in the minority. An attempt to realize liberal social justice in more than a fragmentary way and treat each person and his preferences equally in all important settings therefore requires standards that counteract the way we habitually view and treat each other.

It is difficult seriously to object to such standards while accepting contemporary liberalism. They may often seem petty and burdensome, but a desire to avoid constraint in matters one finds minor can not justify the perpetuation of oppression. If saying "Merry Christmas" to coworkers is part of a system of social attitude and practice that puts Jews and Buddhists at a disadvantage because of who they are or the preferences they live by, it is hard from an egalitarian perspective to view it as oppressive to forbid the greeting, especially when it is through such things that the system exists.

To a contemporary liberal "free speech" can not be a persuasive objection to PC.[15] The goal of liberalism is effective freedom, and to that end it insists on rationality in all things, including the protection given various sorts of conduct. Speech might be protected for several reasons -- as one of the things people like to do, as a way of arriving at truth, or as a safeguard against government abuse. None is sufficient from the current liberal perspective. To base protection on the seeking of truth would deny a fundamental principle of the liberal regime, that the good is a matter of what is desired rather than what is true. To base protection on men's fondness for speaking calls for an explanation why that preference should not be subject to the same egalitarian constraints as others. It is unclear what such an explanation could be. Claiming that a man's thoughts and feelings are the basis of his individuality, and freedom to express them fundamental to his dignity, seems to have no more weight with respect to speech than skydiving or any other activity men pursue for its own sake. All are expressions of individuality, but to the extent any contributes to suppressing the individuality of others the principle of equal freedom would seem to call for limits.

The strongest argument for protection of speech is that it is a safeguard against government abuse. Many who consider themselves liberals insist that a free and tolerably just society requires that men have concrete political rights, such as free speech, that are not subordinate to enforceable concern for other things, even the freedom, well-being and equality of others. However, it is not clear what is unique about speech as a check on government. At various times a similar role has been proposed for other restrictions on government power, such as hereditary privilege, private property, limited government, states' rights, jury nullification, absolute popular sovereignty, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Such arguments have lost respectability as liberals have acquired state power and undertaken increasingly radical social reforms that require ever more extensive and centralized administrative control over society. The development of liberal doctrine and power have made the absolute concrete rights that were useful in battling traditional powers and hierarchies, from a liberal standpoint, irrational and retrograde.

Free speech, like other barriers to government abuse, is an irresponsible power placed in private hands. If it is powerless, protecting it can have little benefit; if it is powerful it can injure, and therefore seems to need regulation as much as other private powers. It is often used for illiberal purposes, and is most powerful in the hands of those powerful enough to make their speech heard. Speech regarding political and moral issues is thought to present the strongest case for protection, but because of its practical effects such speech could rationally be treated as action. By establishing what beliefs and attitudes are publicly acceptable it creates the social environment in which we live. Language asserting objective values, for example, constructs a social world that is inevitably oppressive from a liberal standpoint, because it privileges the preferences of those who favor those values. For example, if claims that homosexuality is wrong are persuasive and become widely accepted they will inevitably disadvantage some people socially on grounds of preferences and lifestyle. From a liberal standpoint that result is oppressive,[16] and suppression of such speech should correspondingly be viewed as a liberating act.

Not all influential liberals have yet accepted such arguments. American courts continue to protect speech in the face of liberal attempts at regulation,[17] just as they frustrated earlier liberal reforms in the name of constitutionally limited government, contractual freedom, and various private rights.[18] The logic of the development of liberalism, which proved too strong for established legal doctrine in earlier cases, will in all likelihood prove so in this case as well. However numerous the points of resistance, they are only islands in an ocean of change. Courts do not literally follow election returns, but their understanding of rights is in the end based on the moral and social outlook dominant in American ruling circles and not on the text of the Constitution or an autonomous legal tradition.[19] Our mainstream intellectual, cultural and religious institutions display the thoroughly PC outlook of our elites. Even liberals who support free speech agree with their more advanced brethren that speech that violates PC is morally illegitimate; their view, accordingly, rests on little more than a distrust of government that is already fatally compromised by the enormous authority granted it in general, and by their suspicion of private power. A government that feels called upon to reform social attitudes will find it difficult to stop short at controlling speech. In the moral world of contemporary liberalism, how long can free speech liberals (and the Supreme Court) stand firm?

PC is a natural consequence of the new position of liberalism as the sole respectable public philosophy, and the resulting power of liberal orthodoxy to define what is legitimate in public life. It is also a manifestation of the intrinsic limitations of liberalism. Political power is a practical necessity that can not be analyzed away, as liberalism requires, into something constructed out of men's individual preferences. It follows that liberalism is not a suitable foundation for a political order. The current attempt to make it serve as one forces ruling elites to rely on various forms of manipulation, obfuscation and tyranny because of the insufficiency of the legitimate sources of authority available to them. Political correctness is an example.

One problem for liberalism as a governing philosophy arises from the liberal rejection of authority not based on consent. When liberalism is acting as a critic of established power, that rejection may lead only to demands that government justify its rule by obtaining popular support. When liberals themselves are the authorities, however, their theory requires them to insist that the governed consent to their rule; otherwise their authority vanishes. In a liberal state, in which the preferences of those involved are the basis of all legitimate social relations, people who reject liberalism philosophically are felt to be an immediate threat to society because they have no evident reason for accepting the binding power of the law.[20] As a result, liberals lay great stress on state indoctrination of the young,[21] and tend to view violence as a necessary consequence of non-liberal views, for example those held by right-to-lifers and the traditionally religious.[22] Once established, the liberal state thus becomes as intolerant as any theocracy, demanding assent to its principles as well as obedience to its laws, and -- since its principles require it to treat all human beings as free and equal -- tending to view those who refuse to give assent as not-quite-human.[23] The liberal state is thus prone to politically-correct bigotry.

A second problem is that liberalism makes rational discussion of good and evil impossible. If all values, lifestyles and cultures are equally worthy, rational choice among them is impossible and discussion pointless. Further, such discussion requires the non-PC assumption that some ways of life are better than others. When liberalism is not in power the result may only be to call in question the absolute validity of some particular formulation of the good. The situation changes when liberalism is in power and must provide the basis for social order. Social life depends on agreement as to goods, and discussion is needed to maintain such agreement and relate it to concrete measures. A social order that is neutral among goods is simply impossible, if only because most goods have a social dimension and can flourish only in a society that accommodates them. The goods characteristic of marriage, for example, have difficulty maintaining themselves in a society that does not take marriage seriously as an institution, and it is impossible to discuss laws relating to family life sensibly without taking such things into account. Liberalism gives no way of doing so.

Politically correct liberalism is thus inconsistent with free political life. It insists on rigid ideological conformity, and makes discussion of fundamental ethical issues and thus self-government impossible by forbidding even the language used to discuss good and bad. In power it gives us not freedom but a soul-destroying tyranny that denies the reality of all that concerns men most deeply. PC is a self-refutation of liberalism that demonstrates the incapacity of that philosophy either to support a tolerable social world on its own or to coexist in the long run with more sustaining philosophies.

Other features aggravate the evil. Because it views whatever does not conform to it as illegitimate, liberalism can accommodate no principle that would restrain it. It can act as a check on governments constituted on fundamentally non-liberal principles, but not on itself. Further, correctness of any sort is properly judged not by the majority but by the small group of those who know, and it is hard to imagine any form of free politics that would give everyone the equal influence on the outcome required by equal respect. The natural form of government for a politically correct society is therefore rule by an ideological elite separate from society and answerable to themselves alone.

Some[24] defend liberalism against charges of tyranny on the grounds that it is a political principle rather than a complete moral theory, and men are free to take questions of good and evil seriously outside the sphere of public life. The defense is unpersuasive. Man is a social animal, and moral views have public implications. If the public realm includes how men regard each other and their substantive opportunities for establishing connections with others, as it must if civil rights laws and affirmative action are legitimate, then liberalism leaves little room for other moral viewpoints. How, for example, can unreconstructed Roman Catholicism be permitted in a political order that takes liberal social justice seriously if widespread acceptance of that faith would create a social world in which the way of life of homosexual atheists is understood as inferior?

Many who retain the liberal faith hope that tolerance, compromise and common sense will prevail, and that in time political correctness will soften and acquire humanity and a sense of humor. That seems unlikely, however. The issues are too important, too morally laden and too intertwined with economics and power. The resentments are too strong, the logic of political correctness is too clear, and its demands too much at odds with natural inclinations for its angularities to soften. Compromise must be based on principles of unity that go deeper than the points at issue, but the teaching of liberalism is that there is no principle of unity deeper than the right to equal respect and consideration. Temporary truce is therefore the most that can be hoped for in the PC wars. Student takeovers of university facilities in support of minority demands in which administrators not only give in to the demands but thank the students for bringing them forcibly to their attention[25] show how a kinder and gentler PC could be instantly destroyed by anyone in a protected category who thought he was unjustly treated and considered it worth his while to act.

It is important to be clear about the nature and implications of political correctness. Minimizing its logic and importance only smooths its way to victory through a series of compromises over matters viewed as minor individually. Escape from PC requires escape from the liberalism that so thoroughly pervades our ways of thinking and social institutions. It therefore requires either giving up any serious commitment to a just society, or abandoning or at least radically revising the liberal conception of justice.

The first alternative, of course, is by far the easier. In a time in which getting one's way is the summum bonum, and thought is not only rare but actively discouraged, it can be implemented instantly and profitably without discussion or consideration. Among the lower orders abandonment of justice has resulted in what is called the underclass, while among their social superiors it takes the form of political obfuscation and yuppie moral nihilism -- personal hedonism, conspicuous consumption, and amoral pursuit of success. Such a response can offer no principled resistance to political correctness, and one wonders about the fate of a society that accepts it, but it does have the effect of making moralistic regulatory schemes such as PC less effectual and to that extent makes the world more liveable.

Revising the liberal conception of justice is far more difficult, since that conception implements value subjectivism too persuasively, and few influential thinkers are ready to substitute objective goods for subjective valuations in their thinking. Moral subjectivism suits important features of modern society, such as its cosmopolitanism and its orientation toward economics and technology. Although there are still traditionally religious people and others who claim that some things are valuable without regard to preferences, their views are not likely to become dominant in our public life. Those views have been thoroughly defeated by liberalism, an outcome that in retrospect seems inevitable and even at the time seemed so to many intelligent observers, and the defeats are unlikely to reverse themselves soon or easily. To serve as a basis for common action a moral view must reflect the outlook of the actors. The bureaucrats, experts, political strategists and market players who govern us live by manipulation of interests rather than loyalty to common goods. They have little use for objective values, and unless there is a radical change in circumstances such things are not likely soon to play an important role in the morality that coordinates and justifies public conduct among us.

If value subjectivism is retained it may nonetheless be possible to modify the contemporary liberal conception of justice sufficiently to counter PC. The minimal modification would be to hold the line at "free-speech" liberalism, but we have noted the practical strength of the challenge to that position. A bolder response is presented by the libertarians, who base justice on respect for property rights rather than individual desires, and accordingly restrict the function of government to protecting those rights. Libertarians are sturdily resistant to PC, and feel no obligation to condemn non-PC views as immoral, tending to treat them as personal tastes like any other. Their arguments are somewhat analogous to those of "free-speech" liberals; they argue, for example, that property rights follow from the property in one's body and capacities that is necessary to the dignity of the individual. They also argue that discretionary administrative control is the great threat to idiosyncratic preferences and ways of life, and a strict system of property rights establishes the social order that minimizes such controls. These arguments, of course, are reminiscent of the argument of old-fashioned liberals that free speech facilitates self-realization and inhibits government misconduct.

A difficult question for libertarians, from the subjectivist point of view assumed today, is why property is so sacred that it must be respected when doing so makes people less satisfied overall, even to the point of allowing suffering that could easily be prevented by government action that violates libertarian principles. In the eyes of liberals, the great inequalities libertarians routinely permit, and the apparent mindlessness of what liberals view as property worship, overwhelm libertarian arguments, to the extent that liberals have trouble taking the arguments seriously and tend to view libertarianism as a front for yuppie nihilism. In addition, recent history shows that it is extraordinarily difficult to reduce the size of government. The active distrust of government that is at the root of libertarianism is hard to maintain at a time when most intellectual life and the security and livelihood of many people depend on government money. Libertarianism is 19th century liberalism, which proved unstable. Why expect history to reverse itself? Nonetheless, the popular and intellectual appeal of libertarianism is growing, due in part to the degeneration of liberalism and in part to technological changes that favor economic freedom and therefore property rights. Its future may well depend on the direction of future technological and economic developments.[26]

The liberal conception of justice might also be modified by weakening its universalism. One might argue, for example, that justice is primarily a concern within one's group rather than a universal one, with one's group defined by a common understanding of good and evil or a connection like common blood or history. A view of morality based on biological evolution or the way morality actually functions within particular societies might support a non-universalistic conception of justice.[27] The positive features of such an approach have been little explored intellectually; the ideology of inclusiveness, the liberal theology of Nazism and the Holocaust, and the emphasis on expanding the political class and on establishing world standards of human rights appear to be attempts to foreclose any such possibility. Again, the trend of history seems to be away from particularism. One apparent problem with such views is the arbitrariness of the group within which justice primarily holds. While such groups have often been defined through tradition, a subjectivist moral outlook seems to reject the authority of tradition and demand explicit rational standards. Another problem, unless additional anti-liberal principles are available, is that within the group something like liberalism would apply, and while some problems would be mitigated by the greater homogeneity of the group others would remain.

The future thus remains unclear. It is conceivable that libertarianism or some non-universalistic view will give rise to a new public moral philosophy for society as a whole. If not, it is likely that such views or religious and other non-subjectivist philosophies will nonetheless play a role in our social life that will eventually become more important than that played by liberalism. Although in public life the victory of liberalism has been complete, there are millions of dissenters doing their best to live by other views. As we have seen, liberalism is not sufficient on its own to sustain an ordered existence. As liberal societies fall into chaos and tyranny in the coming years the more ordered and comparatively successful ways of life non-liberal views make possible are likely to make them and the communities that adhere to them grow in importance. Which outlooks and ways of life will eventually predominate can not be predicted; in an age of uncertainty and disarray like the present each of us can only follow what seems best to him.

Footnotes

1 For useful accounts of PC in American academia and business, see Dinesh D'Sousa, Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (Free Press: New York, 1991), and Frederick R. Lynch, The Diversity Machine: The Drive to Change the "White Male Workplace" (Free Press: New York, 1997). "Offices and Gentlemen" by Jonathan Rauch in the June 23, 1997 New Republic is good on the use of the new anti-harassment rules to enforce PC. Other recent illustrations of formal government compulsion include the suit by the Federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission against an employer whose employees exchanged jokes about "ebonics" on an internal email system (Richard Carelli, Associated Press, Sept. 12, 1997), the imposition by Wisconsin courts of fines and lawyers' fees reportedly totaling over $10,000 on a woman for refusing to accept a lesbian as her roommate (The Other Side of "Tolerance": Victims of Homosexual Activism [Washington, D.C.: Family Research Council, 1997]), and the fining of Brigitte Bardot by a French court for complaining of "an overpopulation of foreigners, notably Muslims" and denouncing Muslim ritual slaughter of sheep as "torture worthy of the most atrocious pagan sacrifices" (The Guardian, December 20, 1996).

2 The required terminology changes: "crippled" becomes "handicapped" and then "disabled" or even "differently abled," while a "negro" born in 1935 has by stages found himself transformed into an "African American."

3 As in the case of the coal-black Norwegian theology student in one otherwise visually realistic production of Ibsen the writer saw in New York.

4 See, e.g., Joseph Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (4th ed.) (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1995), and Marilyn Schwartz and the Task Force on Bias-Free Language of the Association of American University Presses, Guidelines for Bias Free Writing (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995).

5 Construction of new social defenses for egalitarian dogma has been the most obvious result of the attention given to The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New York: Free Press, 1994), by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray. Since that book came out distinguished scholars such as Arthur Jensen and Christopher Brand have had difficulty getting books published that suggest there are racial differences in intelligence; see Pinc vol. 1 number 1. The New York Times has recently come to feel secure in declaring The Bell Curve scientifically refuted ("Editorial Notebook", October 11, 1997). Nor are intelligence testing and genetics the only taboo subjects. In one notorious recent case the law professor Lino Graglia was subjected to a torrent of ignorant and bigoted attacks from politicians, commentators, university administrators, and his own students and colleagues because of an offhand comment that black and Hispanic culture reduced academic competitiveness; for related news stories see http://www.math.utsa.edu/ftp/onr/gradstu_dir/controversy.html.

6 See the April 19, 1996 Backgrounder on the conduct of HUD under Secretary Roberta Achtenberg at http://www.cqc.com/~barryt/apr-1996.html.

7 The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and similar state laws uniquely burden anti-abortion protesters, and in NOW v. Scheidler, 510 U.S. 249 (1994), the United States Supreme Court upheld application of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to pro- life activities. In addition, huge civil damages have been levied against pro-life groups on complaints like invading the privacy of abortion providers and causing them emotional distress. See "Operation Rescue Pounded for Protest" in the December 11, 1995 Christianity Today.

8 Examples include the Crown Heights riots in New York, and the theft and forcible destruction by minority college students of campus publications of which they disapprove.

9 The extent of that triumph is demonstrated by the appeal of theories claiming that with the achievement of democratic capitalism the long process of social development in history has essentially come to an end.

10 For an account of the roots of modern liberal political institutions in classical philosophical hedonism, see Frederick Vaughan, The Tradition of Political Hedonism from Hobbes to J. S. Mill (New York: Fordham University Press, 1982).

11 Judith N. Shklar put the point as follows: "Every adult should be able to make as many effective decisions without fear or favor about as many aspects of her or his [sic] life as is compatible with the like freedom of every other adult. That belief is the original and only defensible meaning of liberalism." "The Liberalism of Fear", Liberalism and the Moral Life, Nancy L. Rosenblum, ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 21.

12 Since animals also have preferences, "animal rights" are a major issue for contemporary liberalism.

13 The principle of equal satisfaction is subject to numerous refinements. A variety of considerations lead most liberal thinkers to favor equalizing resources rather than equalizing satisfactions as such. Most would also follow John Rawls in permitting inequalities that have the effect of increasing the satisfactions of the worst off. See A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971).

14 Many, with Aristotle, have believed that kinship ties and recognition of common goods are the natural basis of social life as such.

15 For a discussion by a prominent academic thinker, see Stanley Fish, There's no Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

16 See Romer v. Evans, 116 S. Ct. 1620 (1996).

17 See Doe v. University of Michigan, 721 F. Supp. 852 (E.D. Mich. 1989), in which the court invalidated a school harassment policy under which university authorities had proceeded against a graduate student for expressing the view that homosexuality could be cured by counselling.

18 See, for example, Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856), in which the United States Supreme Court held that the Missouri Compromise exclusion of slavery from the territories was a constitutionally unauthorized invasion of private property rights, and Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905), in which it held that a New York law establishing a maximum 60 hour workweek for bakery employees was a violation of freedom of contract.

19 For a very moderate view of the state of legal reasoning in the United States, see Mary Ann Glendon, A Nation under Lawyers: How the Crisis in the Legal Profession is Transforming American Society (New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1994).

20 Neoconservative views are liberal in this connection as in others. A November 1996 symposium in First Things (http://www.firstthings.com) on the proposition that the United States government no longer governs by the consent of the governed, immediately found itself dealing with the legitimacy of the American regime and soon thereafter with civil disobedience and morally justified revolution. The incident resulted in the resignation of several members of the magazine's editorial board and accusations from other neo-conservatives of giving aid and comfort to bomb-throwers.

21 The liberal state insists that the young be trained to view values as a matter of individual choice, but justice (in the liberal sense of equality and fairness) as an objective requirement of morality. "Multicultural education" does not include education in the culturally beneficial aspects of racism, sexism and homophobia. For representative liberal discussions of education, see Amy Gutmann, "Undemocratic Education" and William Galston, "Civic Education in the Liberal State," both in Liberalism and the Moral Life, and Bruce A. Ackerman, Social Justice in the Liberal State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), chapter 5.

22 Prominent liberals say the most brazenly bigoted things on the subject. For example, Anthony Lewis says, in the March 12, 1993 New York Times, that "[t]he murder of a doctor in Pensacola, Fla., tells us the essential truth about most anti-abortion activists. They are religious fanatics, who want to impose their version of God's word on the rest of us. For them the end justifies any means, including violence." Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. asserts in the November 22, 1995 Wall Street Journal that "most of the killing taking place around the world has been caused by religious conflict," predicts that "unrebuked and unchecked, fundamentalists of all faiths will continue to believe that they are serving God by mayhem and murder," and worries that "more than a third of American adults claim that God speaks to them directly. Am I alone in finding this a scary statistic?"

23 Anthony Lewis declares anti-abortionists outside the political community: "In this country we have a constitutional bargain about religion. Individuals are guaranteed the right to choose their faith, but they may not compel others to accept their views.... The bargain is essential to our form of democracy, which requires compromise and does not work when there are ideological certainties. The anti-abortion activists are outside the bargain. They have all the certainty -- the cold-blooded certainty -- of an Ayatollah Khomeini." Op. cit. It is alarming to think what Mr. Lewis would say were he less dedicated to tolerance.

24 For example John Rawls, in Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).

25 D'Sousa recounts a number of such incidents in his Illiberal Education.

26 The speculations of popular writers such as John Naisbitt, Alvin and Heidi Toffler and George Gilder are of interest in this connection.

27 Sociobiological studies such as E. O. Wilson, On Human Nature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), and Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox, The Imperial Animal (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971) should be read in this connection.


This article is the property of its author and/or copyright holder. Any use other than personal reading of the article may infringe legal rights.
Opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily shared by conservativeforum.org or the members of its Editorial Board.