The Myth of 'Politically Correct'

SOME day, when the catch-phrase-turned-cliche "political correctness" has "passed away," there will be an inquest. The authorities will have possible causes, some suspects, even a paper trail to follow.

Trouble is, they won't have a body.

Because the unasked question "Who are the PC?" has no answer. Because the PC don't exist.

Which isn't to say that the issue hasn't generated a list of candidates. After all, the New York Times felt PC-ness was important enough to allot a full page in its Sunday "Week in Review" section to "A Campus Forum on Multiculturalism." The goal of the page was to consider "the tyranny of the politically correct."

So let us ask, before the body is even cold, who are the tyrants?

ARE they the faculty?

Chief among the supposed tyrants are what Roger Kimball in his book Tenured Radicals has called, not suprisingly, the "tenured radicals."

In America today, according to Kimball, "every special interest--women's studies, Black studies, gay studies and the like--and every modish interpretive gambit--deconstruction, poststructuralism, new historicism, and other varieties of... `Left Eclecticism'--has found a welcome roost in the academy, while the traditional curriculum and modes of intellectual inquiry are excoriated as sexist, racist, or just plain reactionary."

The argument goes something like this: organizations like Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Power movement and radical feminists who invaded administration buildings in the Vietnam era, took over campuses again in the '80s--only this time from the inside.

It makes a nifty conspiracy theory. Unfortunately, it's not true. The hard fought and infrequently won tenure battles (the war metaphor is Kimball's and the Times', not mine) by members of "special interest" groups have hardly changed the faces in the academic group photo.

Perhaps the problem is not the number of these "latter day Sophists" (to quote Brandeis's Frederic T. Sommers), but the appeal they have. In this case, the problem lies not with the stars but within vocal campus groups who succumb to the radical chic. Which leads us to our next group of candidates.

ARE they the campus leaders?

If the answer is yes, we should be able to find them as leaders of the various non-conservative political groups on campus. Already, you may see the trouble: the groups aren't all liberal (though some are) they aren't all radical (though a few are) and they aren't all anything else either.

The only thing these groups seem to have in common is that they aren't conservative. (Actually, even this isn't true; where do you put the Objectivists? the Libertarians?)

When David A. Plotz, in his lively opinion piece last spring "`Politically Correct' Thought Control" claimed that the left wing groups "have reached virtually identical liberal conclusions on what is `correct'," he was wrong. Most of the groups he singled out don't even have positions on the PC causes celebre.

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