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?