Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"Soft totalitarianism" in Britain

Even in the United Kingdom, where speech is no longer free and you can be prosecuted for thought crimes, opposition to political correctness hasn't been totally suppressed. Journalist Melanie Phillips and blogs such as House of Dumb and The Daily Ablution show that The Resistance still has a pulse.

Civitas, a British organization that bills itself as The Institute for the Study of Civil Society, has recently published The Retreat of Reason: Political correctness and the corruption of public debate in modern Britain, by Anthony Browne,* which argues that "political correctness, which classifies certain groups of people as victims in need of protection from criticism and allows no dissent to be expressed, is poisoning the wells of debate in modern Britain."

The Civitas web site says:
Anthony Browne describes political correctness as a 'heresy of liberalism' under which 'a reliance on reason has been replaced with a reliance on the emotional appeal of an argument'. Adopting certain positions makes the politically correct feel virtuous, even more so when they are preventing the expression of an opinion that conflicts with their own: 'political correctness is the dictatorship of virtue'.
That seems to me, as the English say, "spot on." The politically correct mandarins who are so determined to smother any honest discussion of subjects such as race, intelligence, immigration, and Islam don't really give a toss about the supposed victim groups for which they're always preaching sensitivity. What they want is to believe themselves to be more morally refined than the rest of us, a subtle form of egotism.

In The Retreat of Reason, Browne writes:
In the early days, political correctness brought benefits as it helped spread decency and consideration to the more vulnerable members of society, from the handicapped to women to ethnic minorities.

But, as political correctness spread and deepened its influence, it became more dogmatic and intolerant of dissent, until it became a betrayal of the very liberalism that first fuelled it. It has lead to new political censorship laws being introduced to curb freedom of speech, and membership of legal democratic parties being curtailed.

Rather than opening minds, it is closing them down. The aim of political correctness is to redistribute power from the powerful to the powerless. It automatically and unquestioningly supports those it deems victims, irrespective of whether they merit it, and opposes the powerful, irrespective of whether they are malign or benign. For the politically correct, the West, the US and multinational corporations can do no good, and the developing world can do no wrong. ...

The Politically Correct are more intolerant of dissent than traditional liberals or even conservatives. Liberals of earlier generations accepted unorthodoxy as normal. Indeed the right to differ was a datum of classical liberalism. The Politically Correct do not give that right a high priority. It distresses their programmed minds. Those who do not conform should be ignored, silenced or vilified. There is a kind of soft totalitarianism about Political Correctness.
Browne argues that p.c. is much more than just a dispute about words, or not hurting anyone's feelings. It leads to mistaken analysis of real problems, and therefore to wrong attempted solutions:
Black communities are encouraged to blame racist teachers for the failure of their boys at school, rather than re-examine their own culture and attitudes to education that may be the prime reasons. The poor sick have ended up having worse healthcare in Britain than they would in mainland Europe because PC for long closed down debate on fundamental NHS reform. Women’s employment opportunities can be harmed by giving them ever more rights that are not given to men. The unemployed are encouraged to languish on benefits blaming others for
their fate. Poor Africans are condemned to live in poverty so long as they and their governments are encouraged to blame the West for all their problems, rather than confronting the real causes of poor governance, corruption and poor education.
The Political Correctness Establishment is the modern version of the Jacobins of the French Revolution, who believed than mankind could be perfected and a heaven on earth created if only enough aristocratic heads fell into the baskets and a new ideologically based language was enforced. They went so far as to restart history, with the clock reset to year 1 (corresponding to the first year of the Republic) and to rename all the months; playing cards with kings and queens were outlawed and replaced with ones showing good bourgeois in lieu of the court cards.

The ultimate result of the attempt to remake society into an image of perfection was what has since been known as the Reign of Terror. It's funny how that sort of thing seems to happen, like in Russia after 1917, when a bunch of laser-eyed fanatics corner the market in "virtue" and enforce a society based on it.

Today's p.c. enforcers are cleverer than their predecessors. They don't actually kill people for thought crimes, just try to excommunicate them from respectable society by calling them "racists," "homophobes," "xenophobes," "nativists," and all the rest of the insults that pack such a charge. It's an intellectual, not a physical, Reign of Terror. That makes it hard to convince many people, to whom ideas and open discussion are not especially important, of the danger of suppressing them.

The Resistance is mostly underground, especially in Britain, but like the Church under the Emperor Diocletian or in the Soviet Union, it survives until the day it will triumph. So, at least, we may hope.

* Earlier, the Civitas site had a link to a PDF of the complete The Retreat of Reason (I chose it as the subject of this posting in the belief you would be able to access it), but the link has waved bye-bye. I saved the PDF but don't wish to violate their copyright if Civitas has decided against offering it free on line to all and sundry.


raw carrot said...

With luck The Resistance will strengthen, though I suspect we are in for a long haul...

Andrew Bartlett said...

I suggest that, before you get too enamoured with Browne's rant, you read its dissection at The Virtual Stoa. Browne is pretty much guilty of all the 'crimes' he places at the door of political correctness, but more than that, it really is a pretty shoddy peice of work.

I see that you copy Browne's shoddy thinking. When you write: "Even in the United Kingdom, where speech is no longer free and you can be prosecuted for thought crimes...", do you have ANY evidence that supports this claim? It is a pretty fundamental one for your argument, so I would expect that you would have plenty of evidence (and not just an oddball, unrepresentive case).

Go to The Virtual Stoa and scroll down to read all eleven short posts, beginning with one titled "Political Correctness Gone Mad" (or CTRL + F to find this phrase).

You might also be interested to know that Browne has been a paid contributor to the American racist site V-Dare.

Rick Darby said...


The most recent example of someone in Britain suffering the consequences of committing a thought crime was described by Melanie Phillips as follows:

When the new Civil Partnership Act came into force last week, family values campaigner Lynette Burrows took part in a discussion on BBC Radio Five Live about its implications.

During the programme, Ms Burrows said she did not believe that homosexuals should be allowed to adopt. Placing boys with two homosexuals for adoption, she said, was as obvious a risk as placing a girl with two heterosexual men who offered themselves as parents.

To her astonishment, the following day she was contacted by the police who said a ‘homophobic incident’ had been reported against her. She had committed no crime but, said the police, it was policy to investigate homophobic, racist and domestic incidents because these were ‘priority crimes’. Such action was ‘all about reassuring the community’.

Although technically this was not a prosecution, I would call it a persecution.

I have never heard of The Virtual Stoa but I will check it out. If I find anything there by Mr. Browne that I consider reprehensible, I will acknowledge it on this blog.

Nevertheless, I was commenting on a specific publication of his which seemed to me quite reasonable and important; I can't check out someone's whole life and works before I write about one thing he's published. Your criticism would be more convincing if it was other than ad hominem.

I am familiar with the VDare organization. It is a perfectly legitimate representative of a majority of Americans who oppose uncontrolled immigration and open borders, and favor enforcing existing laws. You are free to disagree with its stand, but the fact that you describe it as "racist" because it doesn't fit your ideology is an example of the political correctness Mr. Browne is on about.

Rick Darby said...

Well, as promised, I have looked in on Virtual Stoa, which from the tone of Mr. Bartlett's comment I thought was a site where Mr. Browne had written some sort of vicious articles that should consign him to outer darkness.

Instead it turns out to be an avatar of the contemporary crackpot Left in Britain, with nothing by Mr. Browne, just more flaming of him. Depending on your mood and how many drinks you've had tonight, you may find Virtual Stoa either good for a laugh or profoundly depressing about the mentality of today's p.c. ideologues in the U.K.

Wolfie said...


Mr Bartlett has posted an identical comment on my blog, presumably because I dared to also speak favourably of the Browne article. I rather resent bloggers who visit multiple blogs posting the same set-comment like some politically motivated tooth-fairy, it seems rather dishonest and agree with you that his assertion that Browne is merely racist slanderous. I think that Brown's arguments do have the occasional academic flaw but are on the whole very true. I am indeed concerned about the rise of the PC mantra, its ruining lives now and I fear that one day we will pay a yet higher price for these intellectually lax times.