The new century, not to speak of the new pseudo-millennium, had not even begun last December when one of the scintillating debates typical of the intellectual life of our epoch suddenly erupted over the issue of who was the most important person of the old century. Time decided that it was undoubtedly Albert Einstein, neoconservative guru Charles Krauthammer insisted it was really Winston Churchill, while still other heavy-hitters suggested such eminences as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Obviously, there was a pattern here.
The real Man of the Century, however, was almost totally ignored, if not actually scorned. Vladimir Lenin, founder and first chief executive officer of the totalitarian state, has a far better claim than any of the feel-good impostors and posterboys of the New World Order mentioned above. It was Lenin who actually designed in theory and then carried out in practice the Total State, although admittedly he had no small amount of help from predecessors such as Robespierre, Cromwell, Calvin, and Savonarola and was soon surpassed in tyrannical achievement by Stalin and Mao. Within 30 years of his death, not only was the state Lenin created still in power, but it had been emulated, copied, and exported to more than half the globe. The collapse of his original version in the last decade did little to diminish Lenin’s accomplishment since, much like another of his predecessors, John Brown, his soul keeps marching on.
Not the least of Lenin’s accomplishments was to be remembered for various remarks he actually made as well as for several he didn’t make. Indeed, the latter are often more piquant than the former. His best known non-remark is the famous quip that the capitalists “will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” He might have said it, and then again he might not have, though his writings are full of passages expressing much the same sentiment. Yet another is the phrase, “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back.” In fact, this is exactly the reverse of the phrase Lenin used as the title of a lengthy essay he published in 1904 about the proper structure of an effective revolutionary party. The essay, “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,” contains what Bertram Wolfe called “the most naked expression of faith in hierarchy and distrust of democracy to be found in all of Lenin’s writings.” But whatever the virtues of the real product of Lenin’s literary imagination, the distorted version of the title also has merit.
An old-fashioned man who played chess and listened to Beethoven, Lenin was also an apostle of the art and science of violent revolution. Forced for most of his youth to dodge the police spies, firing squads, exile, and prisons of his adversaries, he could hardly have anticipated that, in the not-too-distant future, revolution could be planned and actually carried out right under the noses of the ruling authorities, almost with their blessing and consent. Indeed, the whole strategy of the revolution today known as “political correctness” relies on the distorted title of Lenin’s pamphlet, although the ultimate goal of the revolution remains exactly the same as Lenin’s—the seizure of total power, in particular power over culture, the forms and structures of human thought and judgment.
The term “political correctness” is now more than ten years old, and no sooner had it come into vogue than it began to excite the kind of ridicule that it deserved. Tales of college classes where elementary facts of history, science, literature, and philosophy were deliberately butchered or silenced in order to suit the sexual, class, and racial obsessions of blatantly unqualified teachers became commonplace. Students and even faculty were disciplined and sometimes punished with expulsion or threats of violence for the slightest verbal deviation from the “codes” imposed at distinguished universities. For some years after its appearance, the battle against “political correctness” served as a major theme of almost all conservatives, paleo or neo, not a few of whom made their reputations as writers in exposing the p.c. farce.
Today, most of the more bizarre installments of political correctness seem to have vanished—at least, we seldom hear about them anymore in the context of college campuses. I recall listening to one prominent neoconservative a few years ago arguing that the whole phenomenon was bound to be temporary since it was merely a result of the radicals of the 60’s getting tenure and imposing their nutty ideas on their universities. Once the radicals retired in the next ten or twenty years, he predicted, the political correctness cult would disappear.
As usual, the neoconservatives were wrong. What has actually happened is that p.c. took its degree and graduated into the larger society. Today, not only universities but corporations and even town and city councils maintain codes of speech and behavior often far more draconian than anything ever concocted at Berkeley or Madison. Which brings us back to Lenin, or at least to the distorted title of Lenin’s pamphlet.
The common response of most conservatives and even of most sensible liberals to political correctness has been to treat it as a joke, a silly excess of ignoramuses and intolerant mediocrities unable to master the traditional curricula or abide by standards of conduct that prevail in real schools and universities. Unfortunately, that response largely misses the larger point about political correctness, which is that it represents an actual revolution. The sillier aspects of p.c, those that became notorious and excited ridicule, were the part of the revolution that might be called the “Two Steps Forward” phase. They didn’t last and perhaps were not intended to last by those who invented them. Instead, having advanced two steps forward, they then quickly fell one step back to less offensive and bizarre but nonetheless revolutionary and totalitarian measures, measures that are perfectly consistent with the material interests of the transnational ruling class. That is how revolution under legal conditions operates—not by conspiracies hatched in dark cellars but through plans designed in graduate seminars, funded by mainstream foundations, and discussed openly in major newspapers. The regular dynamic of such revolutionary operations is that extreme, unpopular, and ridiculous measures are proposed and even enforced as sorties that probe the enemy’s defenses. They are met by outrage and scorn and eventually repealed or, more likely, “modified,” and everyone—including those who were the first to scorn and condemn the original measures—then calmly accepts the more moderate step back that permanently institutionalizes and locks in the revolution.
The experimental, university phase of the revolution lasted for about five or six years—the end of the 1980’s and the first part of the 1990’s—before the speech codes imposed by the first generation of revolutionaries began to be dismantled and replaced by more “moderate” ones. That brief reign, however, was enough to inculcate into the noggins of the next generation of the nation’s ruling class the basic premises of the New Order—namely, that traditional identities (national, sexual, religious) or other such categories are forbidden to certain enemy groups but, at the same time, are obligatory for certain allied groups. Once this premise had been slammed hard enough through the neurons of the fratty baggers and geeks who went through college, there was little need for the rigorous codes that carried out the slamming. The graduates themselves could be relied upon to implement similar codes in the social institutions they entered after graduation.
That the revolution has now entrenched itself well outside the English departments and dormitories of academe ought to be clear enough. In 1999, the famous incident over the use of the word “niggardly” by a white Washington, D.C., city worker led to the worker’s dismissal for using racially inflammatory and insulting language. Most of the national publicity about the incident revolved around the rather grotesque ignorance of the real meaning and etymology of the word on the part of the poltroons who objected and engineered the firing, but the comedy merely masked the more serious implications. In the end, the worker was eventually rehired, mainly perhaps because he turned out to be a homosexual and had the support of the District’s immense homosexual network, and also because he expressed condign repentance for using a word that even sounded offensive to the blacks with whom he worked.
But suppose that a city worker had used a genuinely offensive word or phrase among his co-workers, a word traditionally regarded as obscene or vulgar, and that one or more of his co-workers had genuinely expressed offense at his language. The result would not have been the firing of the offending party; rather, he would have apologized to those offended, they would have accepted his apology, and all would have returned to normal. Suppose again that a worker had actually used a racial epithet to describe blacks or other allied groups (epithets about whites—”redneck,” “white trash,” etc.—are permissible, because whites are an enemy group); no apology would have worked, maybe even the support of the lavender lobby would not have helped.
The point is that it is not the act of offense that is being punished; it is the language used and the ideas invoked. To use a word that even seems to point toward forbidden subjects is not a breach of etiquette; it is an act of subversion. What was being subverted by the word “niggardly” was the power and status of an elite class that bases its power on the special status of a designated “master race.”
Much the same is true of the more recent victim of the now nationally dominant political correctness cult, baseball player John Rocker. For the last couple of weeks of last year, Mr. Rocker was threatened with the ruin of his career for various utterly innocuous remarks he made in an interview about the oddballs one is likely to encounter while riding certain subway trains in New York City. He retained his career only because, in an unnerving imitation of Soviet brainwashing practices, he agreed to undergo psychiatric counseling for what he had said. What was never mentioned in the course of the Rocker crisis was that, in the same interview, he also made offensive remarks about women and used language that genuinely ought to bar him from decent society. Again, it is not the act of offense that is punishable but the exact language being used and the ideas being conveyed. Mr. Rocker, like the gentleman who said “niggardly,” was implicitly discrediting the status of the regime’s allies—kids with purple hair, unwed mothers, “queers with AIDS,” ex-convicts, etc. His remarks were not in themselves offensive, but by swiping at the underclass allies of the ruling class, they were subversive.
The list could be extended easily, even on a planetary scale, with the international gang-up on Austria this year by the European Union, Israel, and the United States for even thinking about letting the democratically elected Jorg Haider enter a government coalition. The war against the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments, the Hispanic crusade against the “Anglo” and “Euro” identity of the American Southwest, the ever lengthening list of traditional American icons that have to be rejected for their “racism”—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and even (according to an article in Ebony earlier this year) Abraham Lincoln—all are instances of the accelerating pace of the revolution. What is happening is that one set of icons, symbols, and (in the cant of the day) “role models” created and established by the old American culture is being replaced by another set of icons and symbols created and established by another culture that has found a new master race: The Virginian Confederate heroes of Richmond’s Monument Avenue are displaced by a statue of black tennis star Arthur Ashe; a mural of Lee in Richmond is altered to suit black demands but is later firebombed and vandalized with the slogan, “Kill the white demons”; names of Confederate generals on the city’s bridges are changed to names of local “civil rights” leaders.
The revolution will probably not finish as radically as it began. In accordance with the principle of “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back,” it will probably retreat (at least temporarily) from its most offensive and aggressive demands and settle for only partial extirpation of the old symbolism, one that will allow the “conservatives” who defend the old culture to save face a bit and boast of how moderate they are and how they are willing to accept change. The moderation will also be more consistent with the interests of the ruling class. But the premises—that the old nation and culture are so evil that their symbolism must be altered or discarded and that the new dominant race and culture are so good that theirs must be saluted and worshiped as part of the new public orthodoxy, the new political formula that justifies the new ruling class—have already been conceded. It will be only a matter of time before the logical dynamic of the revolution is worked out fully. As Lenin is also supposed to have remarked, “Who says A must say B.”