The P.C. of the right

Yes, they’ve got it too.

Jesse Walker riffs on the “political correctness” of the Right. (Hat tip: Jonathan Adler.)

Of course, people who like to say offensively rude things about subordinated groups nowadays react to complaints about their bad manners by charging their critics with enforcing “political correctness.” But that doesn’t make the attitude that searches relentlessly for evidence of thoughtcrime in every deviation from the currently approved vocabulary any less a threat to sane thought and civil discourse.

Give someone a hard time for saying “kike”? Sure. Gently tell someone who innocently uses “Jew him down” as a synonym for “bargain hard” that Jews find that locution offensive? Absolutely. Insist on saying “person of the Jewish faith” instead of “Jew”? Later for that.

The problem of substance, as opposed to language, is a harder one, as Glenn Loury pointed out in a brilliant essay that doesn’t seem to be on line. But the instinct to attack people who say things you disagree with instead of arguing with them is one to be kept in check.

Naturally, the excesses of political correctness are always easier to spot in the behavior of the other side of any debate. Motes and beams.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

10 thoughts on “The P.C. of the right”

  1. There is nothing more politically correct, and there has been nothing more politically correct for twenty years, than to accuse someone, something or some idea of being polictically correct.
    It's a suit of magic armor.

  2. I am not "a person of the Jewish faith". I am a Jew. No other noun describing this aspect of who I am exists in English except for euphemisms and universally recognized insults. Nearly 2000 years of Christian antisemitism have turned the only accurate word into one that is easily spat out, and jars many even when it is not spat out. Tough. I am a Jew.
    Other minorities — gays, African-Americans, Chicanos, the Roma, you name it — have a variety of nouns offensive and inoffensive to choose from. Even with that, members of some of these groups are trying to reclaim the most offensive (think of 'queer' or 'nigger'). I want only to reclaim the least offensive.

  3. More worrying for our discourse is patriotic correctness; i.e. constant error- and fallacy–ridden litmus tests being applied to one's love of country.

  4. Marcel: "Nearly 2000 years of Christian antisemitism…" The Israeli scholar Benjamin Netanyahu, in the first chapter of his monumental "Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain", argues convincingly in the first chapter that anti-semitism was originally a pagan Greek ideology. There was for example a major pogrom in Alexandria in 38CE, described by the great Philo, far too early for any possible Christian influence. Netanyahu's argument is that the early Christan church had to choose between Greeks and Jews, and chose the Greeks, along with their anti-semitism.

  5. The really funny part is that, if you ignore the accrued meaning/baggage of the phrase, G. Reynolds and M. Malkin have been the standards for "politically correct" until recently.

  6. James W: Different scholars date the origins to different times. Gavin Langmuir to Europe in the 11th or 12th century (I don't recall exactly), beginning initially in Norwalk/Norwich (?) in England, and spreading quickly to the continent. Rosemary Reuther indicts almost the entire New Testament. Others date it to Alexandria under the Romans. The point I was making was that use of the word "Jew" jars many due to centuries of routine contemptous, Christian usage. The precise origins are not actually relevant to current reactions to the word.
    I read some fiction — I'll try to track it down tonight — some years ago that portrayed a young Jew in 1950s England, and the routine, low-level antisemitism that he experienced. The line I remember was "I'm not a Jew, just Jewish." I was objecting to this obsequious attitude in my previous post.

  7. I think it helps to have a working defintion of "political correctness". Bill Maher has defined it as the elevation of sensitivity over truth. It's a pretty good definition, and it doesn't excuse pejorative labels.

  8. As it has come to be used, "politIcally correct" is nothing but an epithet used to condemn/dismiss any disagreeable "liberal" belief/behavior/policy (whether real or imagined). The irony is that to the extent you can define it, political correctness boils down to conformity of speech, behavior, and thought. Those things thought of as "political correctness" had their roots in the 1960s' various revolts against conformity and tradition. I've always thought conservatives picked up "politically correect" as an epithet because they were pissed off at the left for stealing what had always been the conservatives' act.

  9. Minor nitpick, James W.: The author of "The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth-Century Spain" is Benzion Netanyahu, who is the father of Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli Prime Minister. (Which relationship is why this is interesting enough to nitpick.)

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