Longtime readers of this site have frequently encountered arguments in which I fasten identity politics to a form of soft, progressivist totalitarianism “PC” speech (which, we are often told with a wave of the hand and a gourmands’ sniff, is, like, so ’90s — and thus, supposedly antiquated as a legitimate point of ideological friction, current fashion circumscribing the only authentic topics for political complaint, with that fashion decided upon, in a serendipity of coincidence!, by the very same hand wavers who, as is their mission, strive to define the parameters of “relevant” discourse).
The enforcement of PC speech — be it by social pressure, or, when it is relabeled “hate speech,” either legally or through disciplinary functionaries of various stripes, from HR officers to campus thought police — is, as I’ve long insisted, an attempt by those who use it (be they left or right) to shut off entire arenas of expression, with the end game being to close off debate on a number of important policy questions. By making it difficult to discuss, for instance, both the viability and rectitude of a government-sanctioned race-based affirmative action policy, the effect of conflating “anti-affirmative action” with “anti-black” — which is subsequently identified as a form of hate speech — is a calculated ploy to frustrate attempts to discuss policy by forcibly eliminating competing viewpoints, and, in many cases, to eliminate attempts to revive that same political debate by all but criminalizing particular policy positions, with heretics of the left-liberal social orthodoxy shuttled off to sensitivity training seminars, or sequestered into “free speech zones” outside of which their policy ideas are verboten and subject to university review and censure.
This procedure is a form of intellectual fascism: there is an accepted orthodoxy, and those who refuse to align themselves under its aegis are enemies of the established rule and should be either punished or marginalized. They are, not to put too fine a point on it, controlled by a form of social (and in some cases, legal) bullying that creates a climate of fear and, to a degree, intellectual terrorism.
Because liberals have what Thomas Sowell calls an “unconstrained vision,” they assume that everyone sees things through the same categorical prism. So once again, as with the left’s invention of social Darwinism, liberals assume their ideological opposites take the “bad” view to their good. If liberals assume blacks — or women, or gays — are inherently good, conservatives must think these same groups are inherently bad.
This is not to say there are no racist conservatives. But at the philosophical level, liberalism is battling a straw man. This is why liberals [and do note that by “liberals,” Goldberg refers to those who have adopted that nomenclature, even though they are born of a set of political ideals that just decades ago excoriated “liberalism” as the bailiwick of the impotent bourgeois still enslaved by the chains of Enlightenment thinking] must constantly assert that conservatives use code words — because there’s nothing obviously racist about conservatism per se. Indeed, the constant manipulation of the language to keep conservatives — and other non-liberals — on the defensive is a necessary tactic for liberal politics. The Washington, D.C., bureucrat who was fired for using the word “niggardly” correctly in a sentence is a case in point. The ground must be constantly shifted to maintain a climate of grievance [see, for instance, my discussion of this as it pertains to establishment feminism here – ed]. Fascists famously tried to rule by terror. Political correctness isn’t literally terroristic, but it does govern through fear. No serious person can deny that the grievance politics of the American left keeps decent people in a constant state of fright — they are afraid to say the wrong word, utter the wrong thought, offend the wrong constituency.
If we maintain our understanding of political conservatism as the heir of classical liberal individualism, it is almost impossible for a fair-minded person to call it racist. And yet, according to liberals, race neutrality is itself racist [see, for instance, my “debate” with Dr Caric here – ed]. It harkens back to the “social Darwinism” of the past, we are told, because it relegates minorities to a savage struggle for the survival of the fittest.
There are only three basic positions. There is the racism of the left, which seeks to use the state to help favored minorities that it regards as morally superior. There is racial neutrality, which is, or has become, the conservative position. And then there is some form of “classical racism” — that is, seeing blacks as inferior in some way. According to the left, only one of these positions isn’t racist. Race neutrality is racist. Racism is racist. So what’s left? Nothing except liberalism. In other words, agree with liberals and you are not racist. Of course, if you adopt color blindness as a policy, many fair-minded liberals will tell you that while you’re not personally racist, your views “perpetuate” racism. And some liberals will stand by the fascist motto: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Either way, there are no safe harbors from liberal ideology. Hence, when it comes to race, liberalism has become a kind of soft totalitarianism and multiculturalism the mechanism for a liberal Gleichschaltung. If you fall outside the liberal consensus, you are either evil or an abettor of evil. This is the logic of the Volksgemeinschaft in poltically correct jargon.
Now, of course you’re not going to get a visit from the Gestapo if you see the world differently; if you don’t think the good kind of diversity is skin deep or that the only legitimate community is the one where “we’re all in it together,” you won’t be dragged off to reeducation camp. But you may very well be sent off to counseling or sensitivity training
— which, to my way of thinking, is really the left-liberal iteration of the more gauche and fraught education camps of yesteryear.
Two additional thoughts: first, the liberal idea of blacks — and of many of their chosen minorities — is, it should be obvious, quite Romanticized, and draws on the idea of Rousseau’s “noble savage.” Which is why we are typically treated to spirited defenses of those in protected groups who break the law, with the argument generally boiling down to their being somehow entitled to a cultural forgiveness: so it is when white liberal commentators forgive dog fighting rings as simply part of the “black culture” — the upshot being that a particular cultural identity, when hewed to rigorously, provides some inoculation against the rule of law as set down by an Establishment that is, by its very nature, anathema to Otherness.
This is, of course, nothing more than the very kinds of boutique multiculturalism so famously explored by Stanley Fish — a phenomenon that, at base, merely creates a kind of social hierarchy wherein self-styled post-Enlightenment liberals, suffused with Enlightenment thinking, take on the role of protectors and defenders of the noble savage that they claim to champion. In short, it is a form of intellectual colonialism masquerading as selfless activism.
Second, the reason many conservatives are so attuned to the biases of mainstream media culture, is that without those biases constantly finessing the left-liberal narrative of social righteousness, much of what passes for de facto and settled social “justice” would be open to wider debate. And so it becomes crucial for “liberals” to control the means of memetic production as a way to define away as hateful or politically incorrect the very kinds of speech that, from a classical liberal perspective, illustrate the idea of freedom of speech as it was intended to function publicly.
Instead, the soft-fascism of “progressivism” has turned free speech on its head, creating a climate wherein in order to make the grade as “free” speech, that speech must first be vetted by those who decide what is and what is not appropriate for social consumption.
And insofar as a media culture acting predominantly from a liberal worldview reinforces this surreal inversion of the intent of the First Amendment, it is — whether consciously or unconsciously — complicit in the very kind of intellectual fascism it pretends so often to rail against.