YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

June 30, 2013

The origins of “political correctness” (2)

political-correctness2[Update, 9-20-13: rules against "hate speech" were enforced by the institutionalized censorship in the movie industry long before the 1960s. "Entertainment" was sharply differentiated from "propaganda" or any movie that portrayed other countries unfairly. I.e., "Love" trumped "hate". Amor vincit omnia. Thank you Will Hays and Joseph Breen]

The Paula Deen affair has returned the subject of “hate speech” and “political correctness” to the headlines. In part one of this sequence (http://clarespark.com/2013/06/23/the-origins-of-political-correctness/ and http://clarespark.com/2013/07/04/independence-and-the-marketplace-of-ideas/.) I tried to correct the widespread impression on the Right that “cultural Marxism” was responsible for what is considered to be an infringement on the First Amendment. Indirectly, I sharply criticized “paleoconservatives” for aligning themselves with such as Willis Carto’s Liberty Lobby that blamed the imputed Jewishness of the German “Marxist-Freudian” refugees for gagging white, Christian Americans. (This was especially notable in Bill Lind’s piece on the origins of PC. See the dissemination of his line here: http://monroecountydailytest.blogspot.com/2011/06/politically-correct-attitudes.html. For more on Willis Carto see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willis_Carto).

In this blog, I will extend my discussion, taking into account 1. The hypocrisy of punishing Paula Deen for using the “N” word long ago while liberals deploy a racialist discourse that fails to criticize the very notion of “race”; and 2. The understandable confusion arising from the politics of the [Comintern initiated] “Popular Front” against fascism in the 1930s, wherein communists and New Deal liberals were seen as one coherent political entity, which they were not. Both were statists and bureaucratic collectivists, but whereas New Dealers were conservative reformers trying to stabilize capitalism, communists were revolutionary socialists, hoping to turn the world upside down.

First, the question of hypocrisy. Even before the Soviet coup, it was the progressive movement that dreamed up the notion of the hyphenated American in the nineteen teens (1916). Their purpose: to counter the then left-wing generated notion of proletarian internationalism with the notion of ethnicity. Out went the melting pot, and in came the hyphenated American, thanks to such as Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen (the latter a teaching assistant to William James, the pragmatist philosopher).

(See http://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/, and http://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/. The latter blog quotes Horace Kallen.)

American nationality was thus redefined. The syncretic melting pot American was out. The hyphenated Americans were in. There would be a mosaic or salad of grouplets, sharing the same capacity for love and compassion. Hence was born “multiculturalism” prefigured by the German Romantics as a weapon against rootless cosmopolitans. The very notion of the individual was erased, for “individualism” was associated with narcissism, selfishness, jingoism, and hateful big business, the latter allegedly disgraced during the Gilded Age. The “individual” was all Head and no Heart; such a demon atomized society, leaving in its wake the lonely crowd. He was the generic “Jew,” and was indistinguishable from the WASP elite.

As a further weapon against class politics during the Great Depression, the big liberal foundations adopted the notion earlier popularized by William James as cultural pluralism: that social conflict could be managed with better intercultural communication: there would be no problem with “compromise” if we understood each other better. Later progressives would see that abusive language hampered the rational state of mind that would allow warring parties to submit to mediation. Ralph Bunche saw through the intercultural strategy in his lengthy memoranda to Gunnar Myrdal (ca. 1938-1940), and was stigmatized as an “economic determinist” for his pains in Myrdal’s An American Dilemma (1944). (See http://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/. Also http://clarespark.com/2011/06/16/the-antiquated-melting-pot/.)

Thus the stage was set for Ivy League professors and big liberal foundations to bargain with troublemaking blacks during the late 1960s. (See http://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/.) I have shown in this review of progressive politics that there was no critique of race or ethnicity, but rather an assault on the dissenting or “different” individual. Paula Deen was caught like a fly on flypaper, and no public figure has, to my knowledge, criticized the liberal media for hypocrisy, for it is they who persist in the racialist language of groupiness, and who believe that keeping the “N” word to oneself will solve major structural problems, e.g., the opposition of teachers unions to school choice and/or merit pay.

Second, the confusing Popular Front. Some readers were unconvinced by part one of this blog sequence. They persist in seeing a purely communist lineage for PC. For many on the Right, the boundaries between social democrats and communists have been blurred. For this, we can blame the Comintern that initiated the coalition of bourgeois parties and revolutionary parties from 1934 onward. But make no mistake: the Democratic Party remains a bourgeois party, making strategic gestures that only appear to be anti-racist, but this strategy will not bear close scrutiny as I argued above.

This passage from Hugh Thomas on Spanish politics at the time of the Popular Front (1934) may help to explain why there are divergent views on the origins of political correctness:

“At this time, with the shadows of war and fascism alike growing, the Soviet Union had a good reputation in Spain as elsewhere among Left and progressive people. The great Russian experiment did not yet seem to have betrayed its ideals. Thanks to an extraordinary programme of propaganda and unprecedented secrecy, the facts of agricultural collectivization were as yet unknown, and the persecution of Trotsky not understood. The communist party was to claim that they were responsible for the pact of the Popular Front which fought the Spanish general elections of February 1936. But it required little prompting for the socialists to adopt the salute with the clenched fist and bent arm (originated by German communists), the red flag, the revolutionary phraseology, the calls to unite in the face of international fascism demanded throughout the world by communist parties. ‘Anti-fascism’ and ‘the Popular Front’ were becoming powerful myths, almost irresistible to those who both loved peace and liberty and were impatient with old parties. Equally important on the Right were the myths of empire and national regeneration. The appearance in the Cortes elected in 1933 of a fascist and a communist was a portent and a warning.” (p.117, The Spanish Civil War)

In Thomas’s account, communism and social democracy bled into one another, thanks to the [preventable] polarization in Spain. Extend that bleed to Europe and to the United States, and you have the impasse of today.  Bereft of history, but armed with groupiness, the First Amendment becomes an item in the arsenal of demagogues where “ignorant armies clash by night.”

Paula Deen is road kill.

Paula Deen

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9 Comments »

  1. You aren’t going to clear up this dicussion in one short essay.

    I know there’s a difference between progressives and communists, and the origin of PC might be blurry… but it doesn’t matter. When you have a big bottle of butterflies, it is useful to try to sort them out individually as a exercise in science. But in the end, it’s still a big bottle of butterflies.

    Comment by albert8184 — November 3, 2013 @ 7:58 am | Reply

    • The origins of PC are not blurry. I have tracked them in many manuscripts, and before that, radio programs. The CPUSA was strongly antiracist as policy, but ended up supporting black nationalism. As for the New Left, the liberal foundations tried to co-opt their critique and did a great job at it as I showed in http://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/, quoting from relevant sources.

      Comment by clarelspark — November 3, 2013 @ 3:08 pm | Reply

  2. […] of “cultural Marxism” for “political correctness” and anti-Americanism in general. (See http://clarespark.com/2013/06/30/the-origins-of-political-correctness-2/, and […]

    Pingback by The nefarious “cultural Marxists” | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — July 31, 2013 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

  3. The term “political correctness” comes from Soviet Communism. What conformed to the party line was “politically correct,” e.g. the Stalin-Hitler Pact in 1939. I believe that a reporter at the N. Y Times found it being used at a conference on education.

    Comment by pathen1 — July 14, 2013 @ 2:55 pm | Reply

  4. Have you seen the autobiography of Bea Lumpkin? She was a CPUSA militant for many decades and a Chicago school teacher who claims, with some credibility imho, to have invented what is known today as multicultural approaches to education although she preferred calling it anti-racist pedagogy. It started with her attempt to create an “African Math” that would help her relate to her black students at Crane H.S. on the Chicago South Side. Lumpkin was an organic activist in the stalinist milieu of the south side and the steel industry belt running to Gary. And as the wife of a black CPUSA steel worker was part of the very milieu that helped nurture Barack Obama.

    Comment by btraven — July 5, 2013 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

    • What does this have to do with my argument? The motives of liberal foundations and communist theoreticians and activists were not the same. The liberals hoped for stability and co-option; the communists hoped for working class revolution sometime in the future. As I have shown throughout this website, the “anti-racists” said they were against racism, but did not attack the very notion of “race.” They all came out of German Idealism, which was my point.

      Comment by clarelspark — July 5, 2013 @ 7:10 pm | Reply

  5. […] I asked Facebook friends where they thought “political correctness” came from, and I was referred to three authors: William Lind, Roger Kimball, and Diana West. I am in sharp disagreement with their work, which is all too reminiscent of the John Birch Society, “paleoconservatism,”  and the most paranoid populism. (The second in this sequence is http://clarespark.com/2013/06/30/the-origins-of-political-correctness-2/.) […]

    Pingback by The origins of political correctness | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — June 30, 2013 @ 8:03 pm | Reply


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