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Political Correctness

Political Correctness

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The term political correctness was first used in the innumerable and acrimonious discussions among Communist ideologues that took place, both in Russia and among members of Communist parties abroad, after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The term was used, without any irony, to judge the degree of compatibility of ones ideas or political analyses with the official party line in Moscow. Because the Kremlin position kept twisting in response to nationalist and personal interests much more than to ideological consistency, staying politically correct required agile intellectual gymnastics.

After the demise of international Communism around 1990, when there no longer was a correct, official line to be measured against, political correctness took on a second life as a term of derision used mostly by ideologues on the Right. The term was now meant to ridicule or stigmatize conformity with the opinions, or simply the vocabulary, of liberal or leftist intellectuals, mostly in academic circles. The principal targets of that ridicule were generally movements aiming to reduce prejudice and stigmatization against racial and ethnic groups, women, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups.

Since the most noticeable change brought by such movements was the adoption and diffusion of neologisms and euphemisms aimed at enfranchising such groups, the semantics of tolerance became the main butt of ridicule, notably gender-neutral language (e.g., chairperson ); the use of new ethnic labels (such as Native American for American Indian, Roma for Gypsy, or Inuit for Eskimo ); or euphemisms (such as differently abled for disabled, or educationally challenged for slow learner ).

Soon, however, the critics of political correctness extended the scope of their attacks from the relative trivia of semantics to what they saw as a stultifying climate of hypocrisy and conformity, rampant, they alleged, on college campuses. Political correctness, they argued, stifled intellectual discourse in and out of academia, or, worse, punished the pursuit of legitimate research on, for example, the genetic bases of human behavior, sexual orientation, or gender differences.

Some scholars found themselves under assault from both the Left and the Right. For instance, the few social scientists who tried to suggest (and show) that human behavior was the product of biological as well as cultural evolution were simultaneously berated as secular humanists by fundamentalist Christians and as racist and sexist by their colleagues in the mainstream of their disciplines.

Intellectual climates keep changing, however, so that what may appear to be the menacing shadow of political correctness from the Left may eventually be neutralized by a rising tide of conservatism from the religious Right and the intelligent design movement. Reason and sanity, it seems, are always under attack, from the Left, from the Right, or, indeed, from both simultaneously. The university campus is the main theater for such jousts, and thus, also, the main depository of much nonsense. In the end, each swing of the ideological pendulum leaves a little residue of good sense. We must, however, be vigilant that the university remains the one venue where anything can be said fearlessly, and, thus, where political correctness has no place. Any restriction on intellectual discourse, even when internally generated, clashes with the central mission of the university, namely the critical examination of ideas and the diffusion of knowledge.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Feldstein, Richard. 1997. Political Correctness: A Response from the Cultural Left. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Friedman, Marilyn, and Jan Narveson. 1995. Political Correctness: For and Against. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Newfie, Christopher, and Ronald Strickland, eds. 1995. After Political Correctness: The Humanities and Society in the 1990s. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Pierre L. van den Berghe

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Political Correctness

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS. Originally used by old-guard communists to mean toeing the party line, the term "politically correct" was resurrected in the 1970s and early 1980s by rightist writers and activists, who used it in an ironic sense to mock the Left's tendency toward dogmatic adherence to "progressive" behavior and speech.

The term entered general use in the late 1980s, when neoconservatives adopted "political correctness" as a disparaging name for what they believed was rigid adherence to multicultural ideals on college campuses. Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind (1987) and Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education (1992) became best-sellers indicting academic political correctness. They argued that academic extremists had corrupted higher education through, among other things, affirmative action in admissions, speech codes, and the substitution in the undergraduate curriculum of recent literature by women and minorities for the classics of Western civilization. Proponents of multiculturalism defended expansion of the curriculum and greater diversity within the undergraduate student body as a means of strengthening democracy. They also argued that conservatives often distorted the views of academic liberals, invented widespread oppression from isolated incidents, and used charges of political correctness to silence their opponents.

In the 1990s the use and meaning of the term continued to expand. "Politically correct" appeared on T-shirts and sports pages and in television show names, newspaper headlines, book titles, comic strips, and ordinary conversations. "P.C." became a label attached to a wide range of liberal positions, including environmentalism, feminism, and, in particular, use of inclusive, inoffensive terminology related to various groups. Rooted in dissatisfaction with university policies and fear of cultural change, charges of political correctness became a popular way to attack liberal activists and their causes.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Berman, Paul, ed. Debating P.C.: The Controversy Over Political Correctness on College Campuses. New York: Dell, 1992.

Bloom, Allan. The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

D'Souza, Dinesh. Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

Levine, Lawrence W. The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

Wilson, John K. The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995.

PatrickAllitt/c. p.

See alsoAcademic Freedom ; Manners and Etiquette ; Multi-culturalism .

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POLITICALLY CORRECT

POLITICALLY CORRECT, short forms PC, P.C. ‘Marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving esp. race, gender, sexual affinity or ecology’ (Random House Webster's College Dictionary, 1991). The phrase is applied, especially pejoratively by conservative academics and journalists in the US, to the views and attitudes of those who publicly object to: (1) The use of terms that they consider overtly or covertly sexist (especially as used by men against women), racist (especially as used by whites against black), ableist (used against the physically or mentally impaired), ageist (used against any specific age group), heightist (especially as used against short people), etc. (2) Stereotyping, such as the assumption that women are generally less intelligent than men and blacks less intelligent than whites. (3) ‘Inappropriately directed laughter’, such as jokes at the expense of women, the disabled, homosexuals, and ethnic minorities. The abbreviation PC is also used as a term for people perceived as ‘politically correct’: ‘ “Community” is a rallying cry among PCs. They tend to use it.… as an all-purpose buzz word’ ( Mike Bygrave, ‘Mind your Language’, Guardian Weekly, 26 May 1991). Both the full and abbreviated terms often imply an aggressive intolerance of views and facts that conflict with their ‘progressive orthodoxy’. The Random House dictionary quoted above was accused by the reviewer Anne Hopkins (‘Defining Womyn (and Others)’, Time, 24 June 1991) of failing to ‘protect English from the mindless assaults of the trendy’ because its editors listed such usages as chairpersonship, herstory, humankind, and womyn alongside chairmanship, history, mankind, and women, thereby giving them, in the opinion of the reviewer, a respectability that they did not merit. Compare MULTICULTURALISM. See GENDER BIAS, SEXISM, STEREOTYPE.

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political correctness

po·lit·i·cal cor·rect·ness (also po·lit·i·cal cor·rec·ti·tude) • n. the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.

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politically correct

po·lit·i·cal·ly cor·rect / pəˈlitik(ə)lē/ (or in·correct) • adj. exhibiting (or failing to exhibit) political correctness: it is not politically correct to laugh at speech impediments.

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