The Conceit of Western Liberalism

February 27, 2015

By Friedrich Hansen at Asia Times Online

Not only has the CEO of Stratfor, George Friedmann, corroborated reports that the Ukraine crisis goes back to US under-cover operations that toppled democratically elected Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych. Earlier this month, the Daily Telegraph in London revealed that the mass child abuse by Asian men in Rotherham, England, has been swept under the carpet by British authorities in the grip of political correctness.

Nor has the outrage about trigger-happy American police officers in Ferguson, New York and elsewhere calmed down. Then the Paris Charlie Hebdo massacre by Islamic terrorists, offended by images of their prophet Mohamed, has been seized by Western liberals to justify censure of words and images.

Across the channel in Britain, journalist Peter Hitchens is exasperated about the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, which seem to be slipping through Parliament almost unnoticed, despite establishing a new thought police under the cover of fighting terrorism.

Political correctness amounts to “reaction draped as progress”, in Nietzsche’s parlance. Liberals who feel that being unable to keep control of our exposure to irritating images in the 24-hour media circus must attempt damage control by regulating the way we talk about those irritating pictures. Hence the jewels Westerners have always been proud of, honest reporting and free speech, seem no longer compatible with pluralism and liberal multiculturalism.

The systematic distortion and suppression of the truth has become a mainstream phenomenon in the West, even in the United States, if we believe a shocking piece of sober investigation just published in the New York magazine by Jonathan Chait. With his essay on how political correctness is smothering free speech he instantly caused a storm on Twitter, proving his point better than anything else could do.

For decades, libertarian Republicans and European conservatives have chastised the curbing of free speech in the West. Yet Chait is a Democrat, and that seems to be the game changer, for he surely has stirred up the liberal masters of the universe.

The most quoted eye witness account on the p.c. carnage these days even comes from a left-wing academic instructor. Here is O-tone Freddie de Boer:”I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 19-year-old white woman – smart, well-meaning, passionate – literally run crying from a classroom because she was so ruthlessly brow-beaten for using the word ‘disabled’. Not repeatedly. Not with malice. Not because of privilege. She used the word once and was excoriated for it. She never came back. I watched that happen.

“I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 20-year-old black man, a track athlete who tried to fit organizing meetings around classes and his ridiculous practice schedule (for which he received a scholarship worth a quarter of tuition), be told not to return to those meetings because he said he thought there were such a thing as innate gender differences. He wasn’t a homophobe, or transphobic, or a misogynist. It turns out that 20-year-olds from rural South Carolina aren’t born with an innate understanding of the intersectionality playbook. But those were the terms deployed against him, those and worse. So that was it; he was gone.

“I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 33-year-old Hispanic man, an Iraq war veteran who had served three tours and had become an outspoken critic of our presence there, be lectured about patriarchy by an affluent 22-year-old white liberal arts college student, because he had said that other vets have to ‘man up’ and speak out about the war. Because apparently we have to pretend that we don’t know how metaphorical language works or else we’re bad people. I watched his eyes glaze over as this woman with $300 shoes berated him. I saw that. Myself.”

Political correctness has expanded to a degree that it is violating the liberal “holy of holies”, which is inclusiveness. We are seeing a paradigm change here, no doubt. Depressing stories abound on people being marginalized on campuses around the Western world. Motivated, serious and well-educated people are pushed out of polite society not only in left-wing circles just for a slip of tongue.

For instance, just recently the actor Benedict Cumberbatch is said to have ruined is Hollywood career by merely using the word “colored” on live-TV when it should have been “people of color”. This emerges clearly from gay sensibilities, for the adjective colored keeps the attribute at a distance from the body as it used to be a long standing convention.

But today the paradigm for speech codes has changed from race to gender, and skin color has therefore become a matter of identity by default, so to speak. Even though skin color is inherited while same-sex orientation appears for many at least to be a lifestyle choice, what matters in the new p.c. world is gay nomenclature.

For the gender warriors have won the battle for re-connecting the biblical sin of sodomy with the body of the transgressor, which had been separated by Judeo-Christian guilt culture for 2,000 years. This separation allowed the sinner to be forgiven and in response mend his or her behavior and prevent them from being ostracized in the community.

With the recent gay breakthrough of inverting the relation between person and transgression by integrating the latter permanently into the personality, forgiveness becomes redundant.

This might have unpredictable moral consequences for all other transgressions and might represent a paradigm shift. For in the modern shame culture, it has become a matter of gay pride to identify with the transgression of sodomy, yet be careful never to mention this in public.

Grace and forgiveness have for millennia been the rock of Christianity and loving kindness. By contrast, the inclusion of gays already comes at the price of excluding many other individuals through p.c.. These are people caught not using the “proper set of social and class signals to satisfy the world of intersectional politics”, Chait explains, and as a result they are indeed ostracized like enemies.

P.C. does not come out of nowhere of course. Ross Douthat in the New York Times observes: “After political correctness burst onto the academic scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it went into a long remission.”

But it is back with a vengeance these days. According to Douthat, the extraordinary successful same-sex campaign is to blame for the fact that p.c. has penetrated the liberal media and controls by now the majority opinion. More than anywhere, this is true on social media, where it is today extremely cool to stick to Orwellian speech codes.

Most people are not even aware of this because they think they are just hip or up-to-date. And yet one would think it is still true that there is nothing men excel in or enjoy more than unburdened chat. A rich, flourishing language is best for keeping our reasoning alive and our wit run smoothly. If you strangulate this genuine human faculty you are inflicting the most important liberty we have. How can people who do this call themselves still liberals? How can anyone call America a free country if you are not allowed to talk as you see fit?

In the new Orwellian p.c. culture which is driven by the gender revolution, people are expected to use speech codes in different social contexts. Dissent is virtually impossible, Chait explains, because the issue is being settled.

Of course this is all a matter of correct interpretation by the language police, ever so suspicious of all sorts of biases that come with different individual preferences. As it happens, the liberal obsession with racism and sexism depends on an increasing campus infrastructure of advisers and interpreters who generate speech codes in the first place.

For instance, there are new allegations of patronizing talk routines used by men called “mansplaining”. Mansplaining is understood as describing habits of this now rare species of gentlemen with manners of politeness, readiness to assist, help, please or protect the female gender. This is about to become forbidden under the liberal codes of speech and behavior. Accordingly, the language police come up with “straightsplaining”, “whitesplaining” and what have you.

Meanwhile, America’s college administrators have managed to implement p.c. speech codes on roughly 60% of campuses in 2013 by substantially infringing on First Amendment rights of faculty and students. This is in comparison to 75% in 2007, as reported by the “Foundation for Individual Rights in Education” (Fire), which conducts regular appraisals of the state of free speech on campus.

This makes life and in particular the main academic endeavor of open inquiry increasingly arduous for most American students. In 2013, Fire surveyed 427 colleges, public and private alike, and found 250 speech codes that are probably unconstitutional. Fire concludes: “These campus policies take such a broad view of speech as ‘harassment’ that any controversial viewpoint is potentially punishable.”

Chait observes that p.c. regulation “has led to elaborate norms and terminology within certain communities on the left … Did I say liberal dogmatism? Surely that is a contradiction in terms. The usually astute John Henry Newman, after all, declared in hisApologia Pro Vita Sua (1864) that liberalism was ‘the anti-dogmatic principle’.”

Not for nothing Newman struggled with the liberal, i.e. the Protestant, branch of the Church of England before he eventually converted to Catholicism in 1845. Since then, large pockets of Western liberals have adopted the infallibility doctrine that even the Catholic church could not hold up.

Political correctness was once a term people used euphemistically to describe politeness or diplomatic handling of hard truths. But political correctness has become an instrument for left-wing ideological repression, repression similar to what Sigmund Freud criticized in his psychopathology of everyday life as authoritarian rule in fin de siecle Vienna.

Earlier in the 19th century, Fyodor Dostoyevsky had characterized Germany as the “protesting Empire”, which in turn prompted Thomas Mann to write his pre-World War 1 “meditations of an apolitical”. Mann, who disliked the philistine town of Lubeck where he had been raised, struggled all life long with the idiosyncrasies of Protestantism. Until his last days he worked on a play calledLuther’s Marriage. In 1945, just returning from his Californian exile, he declared that Luther’s liberal primitivism had paved the way to the Nazis.

Mann, like other European intellectuals such as Nikolai Bardyaev and Stefan Zweig, somehow grasped the difference between a binding covenant and liberal confessions, which meanwhile have become notorious as liberal chatter and political posturing – often self-serving.

Today, people in the Western hemisphere have to put up with the accusations of “microaggresions” requiring mandatory “trigger warnings” to protect hypersensitive liberals, or shall we say grossly intolerant people.

The term “microaggression” is at the moment the hottest concept on US campuses, as Heather MacDonald reported last August at City Journal in New York in an extremely useful investigative piece. It is used to engineer specious claims of racism not visible to the naked eye.

MacDonald writes: “As student claims of racial and gender mistreatment grow ever more unmoored from reality, campus grown-ups have abdicated their responsibility to cultivate an adult sense of perspective and common sense in their students. Instead, they are creating what tort law calls ‘eggshell plaintiffs’ – preternaturally fragile individuals injured by the slightest collisions with life.”

Yet, however farcical microaggression might appear, it does indeed remind us of the irritable temperament that long ago gave Protestants their name. Cardinal Newman already sensed as much. In Germany, the disastrous role of illiberal and irritable Protestantism was a big issue at the end of the Weimar Republic. Not only did Theodor Haecker’s famous Meditations on Virgil, the Father of the Occident of 1931 charge that Protestant idiosyncrasy had emerged from Luther, who managed to lower the religious rule of the mind toward the rule of mere feeling, hence the irritable Protestant.

On the same topic dwelt Hermann Broch, the Austrian novelist who escaped Nazi persecution in his native Vienna and became honorary lecturer at Yale in 1950. He strongly defended the Western freedom in his Death of Virgil of 1958.

The dismal heritage behind the p.c. culture and its sensibilities still echoes Martin Luther’s achievement of replacing the covenant of binding metaphysical truth of Catholicism with volatile emotions of mere confessions, which later became the famous passions of Rousseau, awkwardly celebrated by Leo Strauss.

It is these kinds of feelings which have become contentious on US campus today. For p.c. codes, including absurd new Californian rape regulations, in particular their definition of “offense”, hinge solely on an accuser’s subjective feeling. However, the American First Amendment knows of no distinction between offensive and inoffensive speech. Nevertheless, as with smoking politics, schools today limit free speech to remote and small “free-speech zones”.

Asian students, not considered as people of any color, are increasingly shocked by what they see happening in the name of “social justice” on American campuses with little choice for them other than staying mute. For instance, p.c. advocates are engaged in a year-long battle regarding the capitalization of the first letter of “indigenous” out of respect for native people.

In 2014, George Marsden published his book The Twilight of the American Enlightenment, where he claims that today’s liberal culture is a mix of Protestant Christianity and Enlightenment rationality. As late as the 1950s, pluralistic liberalism still respected religion and reason and allowed atheists, Protestants, Catholics, and Jews to mingle in relative harmony. Those times have long gone, mostly due to the 1968 sexual revolution.

Marsden also blames intolerance for destroying freedom and individuality in America. But as Fred Siegel from the Manhattan Institute observed: “Marsden seems unaware of the rise of what might be described as an American neo-paganism, centered on ecology, on the one hand, or narcissism, on the other.”

Marsden also misses the fatal role of the ideology of newly contrived rights. For as opposed to natural rights, these militate against religious pluralism. For if there were a “constitutional right” to gay marriage, which seems not far away, then there is no way open for opposition, which is deemed literally illegal.

What happens to pluralism if everything is cast into a human-right issue. This is already a huge problem on US campuses, were tensions between newly minted group rights and religious freedom abound and political correctness has battered religious and political pluralism over the past 30 years.

It appears not much has changed in the modern project. For Chain reminds us that already John Stuart Mill wrote his book On Liberty because “almost all the projects of social reformers in these days are really liberticide”.

Astutely Mill adds: “The despotism of custom … proscribes singularity, but it does not preclude change, provided all change together”.

This is why liberalism, through wholesale regulation of speech and behavior, is killing individuality, respect for other cultures and tolerance of dissenting opinions. For instance, liberal New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was reported to have said about people who oppose gay marriage or abortion recently, “If they are extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York” (From WSJ “Perkinsnacht” 29.1.14).

P.C. perfectly corresponds with what Matthew Arnold, “a liberal tempered by experience, reflection, and renouncement”, ridiculed as liberalism’s herd instinct, famously copied in the American sobriquet “herd of independent minds”.

Mill famously said in his book On Liberty that “all silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility”, and “there is no such thing as absolute certainty”.

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