Lothrop Stoddard and the struggle against Political Correctness

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Political correctness is a kind of covert censorship which silences ideas which are unacceptable to the ruling elite. But if this is true, then the ideas which are being suppressed can’t be the ones we’re reading in newspapers like the Times or the Australian. If opinion columnists in other papers are disagreeing with them, that’s evidence of debate not censorship. The right’s constant complaints about a powerful and effective PC thought police raises an obvious question — what is it that they’re thinking that they can’t say out loud?

Perhaps what the critics of PC are afraid to say is that they believe in an aristocracy of merit. They believe that some people are innately more deserving of concern and respect than others. They dream of a society where it’s again possible to speak honestly about superiors and inferiors. A society where ‘the disadvantaged’ are recognised as the social menace they really are and where elites can assume their rightful role as leaders. Of course there was a time when it was possible to talk this way. In 1922 Lothrop Stoddard published The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under-Man. Stoddard argued that migration from less developed nations threatened the survival of the civilized societies of the West.

Like many of today’s anti-PC writers Lothrop Stoddard believed that the greatest threat to society was inferior people. Stoddard argued that "bad conditions are due largely to bad people" — that is, individuals who lack the capacity to participate productively in society:

The mere presence of hordes of low-grade men and women condemned by their very natures to incompetency and failure automatically engender poverty, invite exploitation, and drag down others just above them in the social scale.

Along with libertarians like Ayn Rand, Stoddard believed that civilization’s heaviest burdens are carried by superior people. But because of the Under-Man’s innate lack of ability these lighter burdens feel unbearably heavy. This inability to achieve assaults the inferior person’s ego, "In his heart of hearts, each individual feels that he is really a person of importance", says Stoddard. "Fear and wounded vanity thus inspire the individual to resent unfavourable status, and this resentment tends to take the form of protest against ‘injustice.’"

For Stoddard, egalitarianism and campaigns for social justice stem from problems of psychological adjustment. Few of us are able to tolerate the idea that our inferior status might be deserved. The political idea of equality:

…springs primarily from the emotions, however much it may ‘rationalize’ itself by intellectual arguments. Being basically emotional, it is impervious to reason, and when confronted by hard facts it takes refuge in mystic faith. All levelling doctrines … are, in the last anlysis, [sic] not intellectual concepts, but religious cults.

Today critics of PC make a similar argument but give it an ingenious twist. Rather than acknowledging their own claims to superiority, they project them onto their political opponents. They say that progressive thinkers ignore facts and prefer the warm inner glow of moral superiority. For example, in The Retreat of Reason Anthony Browne writes:

Across much of Britain’s public discourse, a reliance on reason has been replaced with a reliance on the emotional appeal of an argument. Parallel to the once-trusted world of empiricism and deductive reasoning, an often overwhelmingly powerful emotional landscape has been created, rewarding people with feelings of virtue for some beliefs, or punishing with feelings of guilt for others. It is a belief system that echoes religion in providing ready, emotionally satisfying answers for a world too complex to understand fully, and providing a gratifying sense of righteousness absent in our otherwise secular society.

Both Stoddard and many opponents of political correctness dismiss the idea that the social and economic environment could be the most important determinant of a person’s ability. Society offers opportunity to all and the fact that some groups fail is clear evidence of their inferiority.

One thing, however, separates Stoddard’s views from those of today’s respectable libertarians and conservatives. Stoddard believed that traits like intelligence and moral character were genetic and that the genes for superior mental ability and moral character more common in some races than others. He argued that "degeneracy can be eliminated only by eliminating the degenerate. And this is a racial not a social matter."

Even on the right, eugenics and racism are taboo. But does this mean that people have stopped thinking this way? After all, many of those on the right complain bitterly that they’ve been silenced by the PC thought police. If they are being prevented from speaking what they believe is the truth, then what is it they really believe?

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James Farrell
James Farrell
15 years ago

Funny coincidence. I was just reading The Great Gatsby, where The Revolt Against Civilization crops up. Fitzgerald doesn’t mention an author or title, but a quick Google confirms it’s Stoddard all right.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
15 years ago

Don,

Why do these right wing ideologues have so much support in the ‘burbs’ then? Is it just those people with their suburban blocks and 4WDs think they’re superior. I doubt it. Maybe it’s worth drawing attention to the turkeys like Stoddard, but I reckon it’s more important to try to understand why the right critique hits a powerful nerve.

Geoff Honnor
15 years ago

“Perhaps what the critics of PC are afraid to say is that they believe in an aristocracy of merit. They believe that some people are innately more deserving of concern and respect than others. They dream of a society where it’s again possible to speak honestly about superiors and inferiors.”

On to it Don! You’ve exposed the PC-deconstructing aficionados of “Little Britain,” “The Simpsons” and “South Park” for the Lothrop-loving, crypto-fascists they really are!

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

You don’t acknowledge all the politically correct laws that make it a criminal offence to croiticise people of particular races, specific sexual preferences, or some religious beliefs.

All these laws have been enforced on occasion — though only in politically correct ways — and remain on the books.

While the new, more open climate of public discussion over the last few years has seen many such oppressive laws ignored, they are still around, and are still used to suppress dissent. The most prominent recent example is that of the two pastors in Victoria who were persecuted for revealing some facts about Islam.

Political correctness has been rolled back somewhat since Pauline Hanson took the brave first step (one for which she was eventually imprisoned). But it’s still powerful and still dangerous.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Geoff – Yes, it’s insidious the way that programs like Little Britain and South Park are banned from television… er… or maybe not banned or censored exactly… just that they’re only shown on very brave commercial networks rather than PC bastions like the ABC or SBS… or maybe what I mean is…

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Nicholas – “Why do these right wing ideologues have so much support in the ‘burbs’ then?” Maybe they say the kinds of things that a large part of the population agrees with.

I’m not so interested in why people agree with the opinions anti-PC writers are expressing as the claim their claim that their opinions are being censored. It seems to me that here are two options:

1. Their opinions really are being censored. The opinions they hold privately are far more offensive than the ones they express.

2. Their opinions are not being censored. It’s just a bit of rhetorical hyperbole some writers use to make themselves sound brave and independent minded.

Is there another option that I’ve missed?

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

The fact that politically correct censorship laws have been enforced, and remain on the books, has a chilling effect on free speech through intimidation. I neglected to mention this in my previous post.

Then of course there are the non-legal, but still very real, career penalties for politically incorrect speech in some areas. Academics, journalists and authors may find their options severely limited and their careers cut short if they say the wrong thing. This is an insidious form of PC that is difficult to document, though there are some known cases, especially in the US.

While PC has lost much of the suppressive power it had in the 80s and 90s, it’s still around, and it will be a long time before it is eliminated.

Craig Malam
Craig Malam
15 years ago

People in the burbs may be supporting the right at the moment, but I doubt most tune into Southpark or Little Britain to gain relief from their PC-constrained lives. I think what could be most interesting is the pattern among those complaining loudest and does it reveal something about the underlying drivers – they either want to make the most dubious assertions (as Don is suggesting) or they see this kind of challenge to their views as particularly needless and silly. I think the second category contains alot of people for whom PC attitudes present some sort of real obstacle in life – which stand in contrast with those living in the burbs.

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

Don you haven’t commented on EP’s point about the Two Dannys in Victoria. This case proves the case against PC very eloquently. It’s certainly not hyperbole as you suggest. There really is plenty of censorship at the autocratic state level.

david tiley
15 years ago

What a coincidence! I too have been posting on the persecution of unacceptable beliefs by agents of the Victorian government.

Normally I avoid this kind of diversion, but this one is irrisistible.

Here – http://dox.media2.org/barista/archives/002656.html.

Hurry back afterwards!

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

David, the Bracks commissars have really opened Pandora’s box in their crackdown on free speech. In Queensland of course, things are a bit more liberal. If you’re an aboriginal it’s OK to burn and spit on the flag, even without art as an excuse.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

EP – You’re right, I didn’t “acknowledge all the politically correct laws that make it a criminal offence to criticise people of particular races, specific sexual preferences, or some religious beliefs.”

I hereby acknowledge that the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 exists. And since you’ve brought it up, I might as well say that I’m not enthusiastic about the legislation.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t get the impression that the anti-PC lobby want to relax restrictions on criticising Judeo-Christian values or burning the Australian flag. They seem to only disaprove of laws and practices which prohibit criticism of groups they think deserve it.

Is it OK to crap on the flag and call it art? Should people be allowed to villify evangelical Christians?

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

“Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t get the impression that the anti-PC lobby want to relax restrictions on criticising Judeo-Christian values or burning the Australian flag.”

I think burning the Australian flag says more about the burner, Don, than about the rest of us. Like John Howard I wouldn’t ban it. I don’t think it’s a great idea, but this is a long way from the hysteria of the politically correct in their disapproval, which incidentally is much more likely to be reflected in law (hence the Two Dannys et al). As for criticising Judeo-Christian values, we’ve become used to, and resigned to it. But we do get rather bemused at the attitudes of the very same people who glorify the excesses of Islam while denigrating J-C values.

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

Ummm, I’m confused. First I’m told that all those right wing ideologues have great support in the ‘burbs. Then I’m told about the evils of the PC commisariat, legislating to viciously censor said right wing ideologues. But isn’t it the ‘burbs that elect government – including the PC commisariat?

This stuff from the right about PC is mostly bulldust. Its on a par with their stuff about “elites”, meaning anyone with two brain cells to rub together who happens to disagree with them. And like the stuff about “elites”, it’s also an extremely charcoaled pot criticising a much less black kettle. It’s not PC academics who want the flag saluted every morning and an Anglophile version of history taught in schools, any more than it is the latte-sippers who are trying to create a self-perpetuating oligarchy in this country.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Political correctness has been rolled back somewhat since Pauline Hanson took the brave first step (one for which she was eventually imprisoned).

Hello, EP? Hanson was imprisoned for rorting funds from the Electoral Commission. The prosecution resulted from a civil case brought by a former One Nation candidate. There’s strong evidence to suggest that Tony Abbott funded that case – as part of his campaign to wipe ON off the map.

I know this has been pointed out to you on other blogs. I would have thought after Howard’s stirring call for truth in history, you’d be less apt to completely re-write it.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

You’d be hard pressed to find another example, Nicholas. Unless downtrodden Christian pastors and anti-abortionists are the objects of the right’s succor.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

And/or grumpy white men. We all know they need defending. They can hardly get a pipsqueak out so dominated is the public sphere by the all encompassing forces of leftie political correctness.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Nicholas — I reckon most of the whining about PC is just a ploy to exploit journalistic norms about balance. If you’re not getting as much media attention as you think you deserve you carry on about censorship and lack of balance.

On all sides of politics there are people who mask their personal reasons for supporting a cause and their broader agenda. Instead of being honest, they offer up arguments they think will sell. Intelligent Design advocates pretend that ID is all about science, right wing think tanks say that abolishing welfare will help the poor, and racists say they want to abolish affirmative action because it discriminates unfairly.

The one thing these advocates don’t want to do is engage in a genuine debate where they might change their mind. Instead they see themselves as involved in a struggle with rival elites for the minds of the masses. No wonder people turn off.

I can only guess at what the opponents of PC really think.

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

Mark, if you believe that Hanson’s imprisonment wasn’t political in nature, I have a bridge to sell you.

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

Also, I should point out that Mark’s blog is itself an example of politically correct censorship in action — where slurs against Christianity are encouraged, but slurs against Islam are suppressed.

Political Correctness decrees that only Christians, whites or heterosexuals may be prosecuted for “vilification”, and this is borne out in practice. The anti-PC movement is mostly composed of people who want freedom of speech, or failing that, some consistency in the application of censorship laws.

Jason Soon
15 years ago

EP, the campaign against Hanson which led to her conviction was spearheaded by one your own, the RWDB Tony Abbott

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

I’m happy you linked to that thread, EP, because reading the whole thing will convince people of how threadbare C.L.’s complaints are. By the way, you’re off message – he’s now given up going on about his claims about double standards and revealed it’s all about defending Tim Blair’s honour.

And what Jason said.

In any event, you could hardly argue any connection between Hanson’s conviction (for fraud and embezzlement) with PC.

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

Hanson’s political persecution through the legal system is an example of the punishment of dissenting views in Australia. It isn’t the only one either.

Previously the webmaster of One Nation had been charged with Contempt of court for revealing the name of a Labor MP who was subsequently convicted of child sex offences. Even though the Bulletin and The Australian had published the same information at the same time, only the One Nation reporter was charged.

Queensland’s “justice system” seems to me very political in its application, but naturally it serves the interests of the Left to ignore this.

The hostorical attacks on One Nation, legal, political, and even physical — are yet another example of political correctness suppressing dissent in Australia. The fact that these attacks did not succeed in driving One Nation from the political scene in no way mitigates their existence and PC motivation.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

It would have been very easy for Hanson to avoid prosecution, EP, if One Nation had been able to account to the Electoral Commission for the disposition of half a million dollars in public funding.

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

If Hanson was really guilty, why was the verdict overturned on appeal?

The sequence of events seems plain to me — a jailing, a growing public backlash that threatened the political status quo, leading to the cancellation of the sentence.

And that’s just one example of politically correct legal persecution. We also have the case of the two Christian pastors convicted in Victoria, while Islamic bookshops that incite religious violence remain untouched by the law. Then there’s the prosecution of broadcasters for making nasty comments about Aborigines, while Aboriginal activists can call for race riots or threaten to murder white police without fear of legal consequence.

The whole edifice of political correctness is based on two principles: censorship and hypocrisy.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

If you’re genuinely interested, EP, I suggest you read the Court of Appeal judgement.

Craig Malam
Craig Malam
15 years ago

EP’s arguments about PC reflect the similarly narrow focus employed in the context of positive discrimination. Yes the flip side of the coin is that in fact you are discriminating the other way when you enforce affirmative action, but its supposed to be correcting something. I think its fairly easy to support this if it reflects the assessment of a broader consensus and is employed only until it is no longer warranted. To use your example on religious vilification, this reflects a concern for the effects from the vilification – the christians are not in a minority in this country, so the effects are different. Sure the application of this is dirty and sometimes unfair, but what are you going to do? Not let the old lady sit down on a bus because it would represent discrimination against you?

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

That’s spot on in my view, Craig. I’ve argued elsewhere in the context of a recent controversy that speech directed intentionally to vilify minority groups is of a different order of magnitude than mockery of what is a majority viewpoint in our culture. There are various protections in the legislation in Victoria for comments made in good faith, as there are protections in Anti-discrimination legislation for comments made in pursuance of scholarly argument, artistic practice etc.

The difficulty with the way this argument is framed by anti-Pcers is multiple. They don’t seem to have the same concern about the sedition laws, for example, which are arguably (from the legislative and political context) largely targetting minorities.

If you want to advocate free speech, you must do it consistently.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m no great supporter of the Victorian legislation – I think that arguments are best countered and exposed publicly, and that the state should err very much on the side of caution in regulating speech. But this must also be applied to “unAustralian” statements by Imams, as much as to anti-Islamic statements by Pastors.

In addition, a significant difference exists between the sedition legislation and the anti-vilification legislation. My understanding is that individuals or groups have to complain in order for an action to proceed under the former Act. There is, in other words, no “thought police” propped in front of every pulpit in the State listening out for religious vilification. However, with the sedition legislation, not only are Muslims incited and expected to denounce people (they’re urged to do so by everyone from the PM down), but it’s been made clear that ASIO and other state agencies have people’s speech under active surveillance.

This also goes to the difference between the speech acts of those who sit comfortably within majorities, and those who are on the margins.

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

Discrimination is discrimination, Craig.

For the ideologues of political correctness to announce that discrimination is wrong, even while they actively discriminate against men, whites, and heterosexuals is sheer hypocrisy.

Also, this discrimination is wrong in itself — because in fact this sort of discrimination is wrong.

Hence, PC must be rejected by all thinking people who are opposed to discrimination on the grounds of race or sex.

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

Interesting that Mark is prepared to debate EP on this blog but not on his own!!!

Craig Malam
Craig Malam
15 years ago

You’re right EP, discrimination is just plain wrong… AND evil – I suppose one day the rest of the world will eventually quit all the grey area stuff and we can finally enjoy a moral framework that cuts across all contexts.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Yeah, fascinating, whyisitso. Do you have anything else to offer the blogosphere other than comments about LP’s comments policy?

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

LP’s comments policy is an example of political correctness in action, so it’s germane to the topic of this discussion.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

No, it’s an example of moderation in action, EP. I do recall you said on your blog that you accepted that blogs had the right to determine who entered their borders. You got to make about 1600 comments which were un PC before action was taken after appropriate warnings. I say this only because whyisitso raised it – and because you’ve just mischaracterised what occurred – I doubt that anyone here at Troppo wants us to argue it out.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
15 years ago

You’re right. We don’t. EP, you’re always very welcome here, but reprising stale arguments from other blogs is neither productive nor entertaining.

There are numerous interesting aspects of Don’s post still to be explored without degenerating into these sorts of tiresome squabbles.

Incidentally, I’m not sure I entirely accept Mark B’s argument that “speech directed intentionally to vilify minority groups is of a different order of magnitude than mockery of what is a majority viewpoint in our culture”. At least I don’t if Mark is seeking to defend legislative double standards depending on whether the ‘vilified’ group is a majority or minority in the opinion of some public arbiter of acceptable speech.

In fairness, Mark does say that he’s “no great supporter of the Victorian legislation”, but that’s pretty mild disapproval at best and a long way from my own position of strongly opposing it and regarding it as seriously illiberal and obnoxious. OTO it’s equally strange how many “libertarians” manage to remain equally sanguine about sedition laws, detention without trial and other equally illiberal legislative impositions of right-leaning governments.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Ken, on balance I’m opposed to it. I’m prepared to concede that there may be some role for a law similar to the sedition law in terms of what actuates it (but very different as to context and protections). My rule of thumb is that the state should err on the side of free speech, as I said, but I’m prepared to listen to arguments that at a particular time in particular contexts some speech should be regulated as it may cause harm. That’s really a straight liberal principle – leave people alone unless they do harm to others. A libertarian would have to clarify whether they would not have the harm exception, or have a higher threshold for where it applies.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
15 years ago

Mark

I agree. The US constitutional position permits restriction of free speech when and to the extent that there is a “clear and present danger” of significant civil disorder or danger. Another way of putting it is that restrictions on free speech may be justified only where words used are “fighting words” i.e. they have a clear propensity to provoke immediate violence. Neither the Victorian anti-vilification legislation nor Howard’s sedition law sets the bar that high: obnoxious speech may be unlawful without any need to establish any clear and present danger of violence, civil disorder etc. Hence such laws should be opposed even on ordinary classical liberal principles. All this is something of a digression from the topic of Don’s post, but an interesting one just the same.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Yes, Ken, I’m worried by the shift from having to establish that vilification has to actually incite a criminal act.

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

In respect to the sedition laws, I’ll wait to see how they operate in practice. I don’t think there’s been any prosecution using the new laws yet, whereas we very well know the effect of the “Two Danny’s” law in Victoria.

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

The sedition laws are very restrictive with regard to what may be prosecuted.

It has to be speech that constitutes a deliberate attempt to overthrow the government or subvert the democratic process, and it must include either a direct incitement to violence or support for groups with which Australia is at war. Furthermore, all prosecutions must be personally approved by the Attorney-General, and even if they meet all of these criteria, there is still a “fair comment”-type defence available.

The sedition laws are very different from the wide-ranging anti-vilification laws. That’s why there hasn’t been a prosecution for sedition in almost 40 years.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

In the UK the Blair government’s Racial and Religious Hatred Bill led to a debate about these kinds of issues. Mick Hume comments on it in the Times.

I think the arguments in Peter Saunders’ recent opinion piece on civility are relevant here too (see the pdf paper here). Passing laws isn’t the only way to discourage speech which incites contempt, ridicule or hatred. The major problem is agreeing about whether the target deserves to be held in contempt, regarded as ridiculous, or despised.

In my view much of the work the CIS publishes on poverty is deeply uncivil. For example, Lucy Sullivan‘s idea of ‘behavioural poverty’ encourages readers to despise welfare recipients and the long-term poor. Part of why consider it uncivil is because I think Sullivan’s analysis of the problem is factually incorrect. Not only do people find themselves materially deprived, but that deprivation then gets read as a signal of moral weakness and depravity.

As Lucian Pye says: "civility depends upon social pressure and the shame that comes with the sense of wrongdoing." Why is it ‘political correctness’ to exert social pressure on someone like Sullivan? It seems to me it’s just human decency.