Musings on PC tyranny, ruling classes, and empty formalisms
July 23, 2010 §
Our country does have a ruling class. All countries always have a ruling class. There isn’t anything outrageous or objectionable about this. There are doubtless objectionable things about the content of our ruling class: who they are and what they do. But there isn’t anything objectionable about having a ruling class. Every community of any significant size throughout all of history has had and will have a ruling class.
The big difference in America is that our country is founded on the idea that ruling classes are illegitimate: that just powers of government do not by nature inhere in a ruling class, but rather derive from the consent of the governed. This is demonstrably false. As a result, we Americans spend a tremendous amount of energy telling lies to ourselves and pretending that things are different than they are in reality.
We put great stock in ignoring substantive content and leaning on empty formalisms. So for example we invoke a formal “right of free speech” – independent of the substantive content of our speech – as the reason why we should be permitted to protest at abortion clinics; not realizing that by invoking this empty formalism we are making the same kind of error as those we protest against. The “pro-choice” advocate asserts a right to “free choice” divorced from evaluating the actual content of that choice, much as we insist on a right of “free speech” divorced from evaluating the actual content of that speech. We could defend our right to protest murder specifically because it is murder, acknowledging at the same time that not all speech is acceptable nor should all speech be legal in every context. “Pro-choice” speech is not morally acceptable, and arguably – as incitement to commit murder – ought to be illegal. But we don’t do that; so we end up undermining ourselves. Socially conservative protest in a modern polity, because of the particular forms it takes, does little more than reinforce the foundations of the very things protested.
Generalized, the principle behind content-agnostic “equal rights” seems to be the formalization of agreeing to disagree. Agreeing to disagree is something civilized people often do: indeed agreeing to disagree is a basic feature of the civilized as contrasted to the barbaric. The problem with making “agree to disagree” the foundation of politics though is that it mostly works for things which aren’t politically important: the more crucial the exercise of political power is to a particular subject of dispute, the less “agree to disagree” works. After all, pro-choicers simply want pro-lifers to agree to disagree that abortion is murder.
As a result of all this a mature liberal society like ours is founded on PC tyranny: at one and the same time we have to pretend to support free speech and – because the content of speech actually does matter, despite the lies we tell ourselves – ruthlessly punish un-PC speech. PC tyranny isn’t an unnatural abberation. It is the natural, adult stage of a polity founded on empty Enlightenment formalisms. And the only way to fight it is to reject its foundations.