There was a time, not long ago, when Britons just laughed at political correctness, seeing it as a Californian cult that no one with any common sense could ever take seriously. Even now, one comes across Conservative politicians who will say that such and such a news story is evidence of “political correctness gone mad”—as if it had ever been anything else. With such half-humorous, half-exasperated responses, they promptly forget about the subject and concentrate on more immediate matters—only to wheel out the same superannuated, complacent phraseology the next time the matter arises.
What such politicians do not realize is that, while they have been concentrating on their various budget deficits, school-financing schemes, the opening and closing of local hospitals, cuts in defense spending, streetlights in the constituency, why the shape of bananas has to conform to E.U. “guidelines,” and whether they will be promoted in the next reshuffle, the civilization they take so much for granted is being eaten away from under their feet. Britain is being rapidly de-Britainized, and they have scarcely noticed. While they have pontificated on the peripheral and plotted their progress up the career ladder, semantic termites have been gnawing away at the West’s linguistic and cultural assumptions, to the extent that the West is in danger of fragmenting entirely under the combined assault of myriad voracious jaws. While we were all chuckling at “personholes” and “waitrons,” pale-eyed zealots tightened their grip on the town halls of Islington and Sheffield and Glasgow and grasped the machinery of state.
All of our countries, to a greater or lesser extent, are now submerged under a tsunami of increasingly loaded language that, as Ellis puts it, is “not primarily used to communicate ideas but rather to signal the speaker’s willingness to submit to the politically correct register.” This flood of foolishness is lent impetus by a dualistic mentality that, in effect, insists that “you are with us or against us—and if against us, you are evil and must be crushed.”
As a result, expressing any idea about any subject is increasingly fraught with danger—danger of signaling that the speaker is “insensitive” or actually inhuman; danger of “offending” one or another multifarious minority; danger of social ostracism; danger of professional repercussions; danger, even, of legal penalties. “Correct thinking,” Ellis points out, eventually means “no thinking at all.” This “anti-thought” is certainly no laughing matter and allows nothing for British (or American) conservatives to feel superior about; if anything, political correctness is further advanced in our countries than elsewhere in the West. We now scarcely even notice as autocue readers utter such inanities as “firefighters” or “fishers,” as politicians demand sex- or race-specific quotas, or as we are corporately denounced for our “racism,” “sexism,” and “homophobia.” Anyone who cleaves to unfashionable views, or unthinkingly accepts the “wisdom of the ages,” is becoming a dissident by default.
This is the great drawback of that “pragmatism” of which conservative Britons are so bootlessly proud, and of taking no interest in ideology. Faced with an ideological assault, it is not enough to rely on healthy instinct or bluff refusal to engage. Healthy instinct can easily become diseased reflex, while isolated redoubts can easily be bypassed for later slighting. A global vision must be matched by a rival global vision, an ideology by a counter-ideology, a disciplined foe by a disciplined defense—or else, eventually, “pragmatism” becomes a fluid accommodation to an ever more sinistral status quo. The conservative establishment in Britain—and everywhere else—has, in general, been unequal to the task of holding the Occidental line against the forces of massed cretinism. It has fallen back in disarray all along the front and ceded key strongholds —while trumpeting about economic “triumph” and the downfall of communism, like British troops in France in 1940 singing, “We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,” as they were being rolled back to Dunkirk.
There have always been honorable exceptions to this Blimpish rule—although the holdouts are almost always to be found firing their counter-countercultural broadsides from the pages of the Daily Mail instead of from the Conservative Central Office. Yet even within this audacious rear guard, there is a lack of knowledge about the true origins of the p.c. cult and even a creeping acceptance of p.c. “logic.” These commentators will probably be vaguely aware that political correctness has Bolshevik origins. Yet, amazingly, no previous studies have considered the connection between Maoist notions of correctness and higher education in America. No one else has gone to the trouble of investigating the links to give us, as Frank Ellis does in his book, a unified field theory of this fad, a time line of this tremendous twaddle.
Ellis is, in certain ways, uniquely qualified for his self-imposed task. Fluent in both Russian and German, a widely recognized authority on the communist era and all things Russian (he is lecturer in Russian and Slavonic studies at the University of Leeds and has just completed a book on Soviet war propaganda), Ellis is also uncompromisingly committed to Western values, as was demonstrated some years ago, when he refused to bow to media and university pressure not to speak at an American Renaissance conference in the United States. He has long since realized that, as he says in this book, “Concessions of any kind earn no good will at all. On the contrary, they tend to confirm the radical in his contempt for the society around him.” He has also contributed to all of the UK’s right-of-center journals—Freedom Today, the Salisbury Review, and Right Now!—and written a booklet (for Right Now Press) on the Macpherson Report on the police investigation of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, which invidious document introduced to an ungrateful nation Stokely Carmichael’s notion of “institutional racism.”
A tall and imposing man who has served in both the Parachute Regiment and the Special Air Service, Frank Ellis positively relishes confrontation—a characteristic not attributable to many conservatives, and one which has given rise to his nickname, “Frankly Hellish.” Ellis positively fizzes with passion and is greatly to be admired for his assiduity in plowing through these unutterably dreary documents (communists manage the remarkable feat of being simultaneously crazy and boring) to locate the earliest usages of tendentious terms in the arid wastelands of Leninist rhetoric. The bibliography for this little book is an impressive eight pages in length. No one can pretend any longer that p.c. is just some fluffy little well meaning wish not to offend (although it is that, too); Frank Ellis reveals it unequivocally as the spiritual legacy of the most murderous regimes of a murderous century.
Pulling together this indefatigable research, Ellis has subordinated it to his own well-expressed summations of the p.c. mind-set. Of these, there are many highly quotable examples, such as “The politically correct commissariat condemns us for being ‘judgemental’, yet reserves the right to pass judgement on us.” Or, “the more hostile the New Left was to bourgeois mores and behaviour and the more outrageous its claims, the more tightly it controlled the minds of its youthful followers.” Or,
if money is power, then some will have more power than others. If, however, language is power, then anyone can partake of power, and groups and factions who might otherwise have very little to say to one another, now find they are united in their desire to impose new linguistic norms on mainstream bourgeois society.
Sometimes, Ellis’s profound knowledge of communism leads him to overlook explanations necessary for those who are far less knowledgeable. For example, he does not explain who Bukharin was, nor Liu Shao-Chi, merely telling us that they were brave or foolhardy enough to stand up to Stalin and Mao, respectively. There is an intriguing reference to an unnamed director-general of the BBC, whom one presumes to be Lord Reith, but it would have been nice to have been told. There is a non sequitur regarding “the gradual loss of religious conviction — especially strong in the feminised Anglican church.” One knows what he means—thatAnglicans have moved away from tradition, and from traditional unquestioning faith—but the thought could perhaps have been phrased differently. A noncommitted reader coming across this sentence might well conclude that the author is saying that women are intrinsically less religious than men—a conclusion clearly open to question. There is at least one highly fanciful mixed metaphor, in the unzoological shape of “a giant arachnid . . . which . . . manages to ejaculate a stream of spores” (by which is meant p.c. carrying on despite the collapse of the Soviet Union).
It also has to be observed that Ellis’s title is a little dull, making what is a lively and lucid book sound like an dry academic treatise —although it is pleasingly laid out, nicely edited, and does feature several apposite cartoons. It is a pity that Political Correctness and the Theoretical Struggle has not found a publisher in the United States or the United Kingdom. New Zealand has many estimable qualities, but it is inconveniently far from the rest of us and something of a backwater. (What wag was it who said, “I went to New Zealand—but it was shut”?) The reason it was published in New Zealand is that the country formed part of Dr. Ellis’s triumphant lecture tour there last year, in which he addressed legislators and academics and was interviewed on radio shows and in newspapers, all on the subject of political correctness—a much-needed antidote to the Pollyannish NZ permanent regime, almost as egregious as Canada in its pursuit of cultural self-degradation. The Maxim Institute is to be commended for its enterprise and energy in organizing what was apparently a stunningly successful program. Dr. Ellis’s booklet is relevant—even vital—to all who suffer from the effects of the p.c. virus, and it is profoundly to be wished that this coruscating work will become widely obtainable far beyond the confines of New Zealand.
[Political Correctness and the Theoretical Struggle, by Frank Ellis (Auckland: Maxim Institute) 86 pp., NZ$19.95]