It’s interesting and informative to remember the origins of that phrase “politically correct”, now being thrown, probably accurately, at the young student demonstrators at the University of Missouri, Yale and other campuses.
Literally, of course, the term means an attitude toward public affairs or in general human concerns that is legitimate in that it falls within a certain political framework.
It came alive in the late 1920s and 30s, used by the Soviets and their Communist allies around the world, to describe the views of certain of their followers who might differ on a number of issues.
The arch-typical example, of course, was the world renowned Spanish-French artist Pablo Picasso. Picasso, as much a commercial opportunist as a gifted original artistic thinker, signed on to Communist causes from his sinecure in the West. [It was always more convenient – and healthy – in the days of Josef Stalin’s dictatorial rule of the Soviet Union and arbiter of world Communism to support it from a safe distance.. One did not risk thereby becoming part of the terrible toll Stalin took of his domestic enemies as his ideology zigzagged according to the needs of the Kremlin’s hold on power.]
Among the many dictates for every aspect of Communist life, Stalin had proclaimed “Soviet realism” as the only norm for painting in his realm. That was a sort of poster art, less inspired but as realistic as the then contemporary Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers. Abstract art which deviated from “photographic realism” was taboo, and the product of Soviet artists who dared to stray would never see the light of day, or worst still, they might suffer for even attempting anything original.
So while the Commintern directing world Communism made maximum use of Picasso’s name to support and to recruit for every Communist initiative in the West, there had to be for more loyal members an explanation of the contradiction. It was then that the phrase “politically correct” would be introduced; it was the “but” of why a public figure could be nominally considered a loyal and faithful member of the Party even though the product for which he was famous [and useful to the Party] might stray.
So now we have come full circle. The young “revolutionaries” on the college campuses, who style themselves “leftist” [whatever that may mean in this day and age of a totally discredited Communist and socialist ideology], are politically correct. Though they call for suppression of opposition to their own catalogue of virtues – many of them acceptable to a large part of the public opinion, as for example, anti-racism – it is “politically correct”. That is, it is politically correct to suppress free speech, one of the essentials of the democratic tradition and our own contemporary freedom, if it is in the pursuit of what they consider unassailable noble ambitions.
Liberty and freedom of expression have always been extremely vulnerable in any society. Their defense requires a subtlety far beyond being politically correct. The quote [falsely attributed to Voltaire but much older and anonymous] has to be our guide: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it:”
Our young self-proclaimed idealists are far from understanding, appreciating and implementing this basic demand for human liberty. It is a tragic comment on our times that the university, which is supposed to be the heart of free discussion and exchange of ideas, should be a vulnerable battleground for this old and battleworn principle. And it is well to remind the more vociferous that they are as wrong as their Communist forbears who invented the term politically correct to camouflage their destructive machinations of idealism for totalitarian purposes.