"Political Correctness": Democracy's Newest Specter

Over the past half decade or so, the term “political correctness” seems to have burrowed itself firmly into our political lexicon. This, despite the fact that it’s not a particularly coherent concept.

“The term is what Ancient Greek rhetoricians would have called an ‘exonym’: a term for another group, which signals that the speaker does not belong to it. Nobody ever describes themselves as ‘politically correct’,” explains Moira Weigel, in an excellent article on the topic in The Guardian. “The phrase is only ever an accusation.”

‘Political correctness’ is a pseudo-concept, “a phantom enemy” that was more or less invented, decades ago, by elite thinkers on the right to advance a fundamentally conservative understanding of liberal democracy. In response, the left was challenged to better articulate their vision of a diverse and inclusive society, and to defend the language it had developed to express it.

And to be frank, it was an interesting battle, one that brought to light a number of interesting political and philosophical questions about language, egalitarianism, and truth. That is, until Trump & Co. came along.

Weigel expertly traces how Trump and the alt-right co-opted, elevated, and twisted the anti-PC movement, turning it into something far more odious than a push back against the (often real) excesses of identity politics and the language of the left.

“As Trump prepares to enter the White House, many pundits have concluded that “political correctness” fuelled the populist backlash sweeping Europe and the US… But the truth is the opposite: those leaders understood the power that anti-political-correctness has to rally a class of voters, largely white, who are disaffected with the status quo and resentful of shifting cultural and social norms. They were not reacting to the tyranny of political correctness, nor were they returning America to a previous phase of its history. They were not taking anything back. They were wielding anti-political-correctness as a weapon, using it to forge a new political landscape and a frightening future.”

Amy Sanderson14/12/16