I’ve just finished reading Bruce Charlton’s new book Thought Prison, the most radical attack on political correctness (by which Bruce means more or less what I mean when I say “liberalism”) that I’ve yet encountered. You may be wondering why we need another book attacking liberalism and PC. For a social view of PC as an instrument for smashing rival loyalties to the market and managerial State, we’ve got Jim Kalb’s excellent The Tyranny of Liberalism. For a historical view of the rise of PC and the managerial/therapeutic elite, we’ve got Paul Gottfried’s trilogy of books of the subject. For critiques of PC considered as an erroneous political philosophy, there are blogs like mine and Kalb’s. Bruce has done something quite different, which makes his contribution essential; he’s provided a sort of existential analysis of the PC mindset, how from the PC adherent’s general sense of his place in the universe (or lack thereof), certain exigencies follow. (This is not the same as a psychological analysis. You all know that I hate explanations of one’s enemies’ beliefs in terms of their psychological or moral failings: “He just doesn’t agree with me because his mom didn’t love him enough”, etc. People of any caliber may fall into the PC perspective and be drawn to the same inhuman conclusions.)
The PC adherent sees the universe and human life as meaningless, and he sees truth as an arbitrary social construct. He regards natural and customary human behavior as irredeemably corrupted with selfishness. He finds moral purity rather in abstract organization, which alone can be truly altruistic because it can be undeniably unnatural and unspontaneous. The specific nature of the alleged moral failings of prior systems are of secondary importance–more a matter of justification than real motivation. How well the PC-managed replacement works is entirely irrelevant, because it is morally superior by definition. The struggle to destroy the old, unjust, “reactionary” organizations re-fuses the world with pseudo-meaning; PC has a greater need to identify enemies than belief systems that acknowledge an objective ultimate Good. Bruce believes the PC overvaluation of abstraction goes back to the Great East-West Schism and is a core feature of the West. Western civilization thus cannot be saved, because it contains the seeds of its own ruin.
The book is written in a brief, almost aphoristic style. Bruce seldom deigns to give examples or evidence for the accusations he makes against PC. He assumes his readers are already aware of the grotesqueries of PC and jumps straight to explaining them. Not every objection or defense a PC defender might make is countered. I expect this book will not convert many of the enemy, and Bruce says that this is not his goal. The goal is to help those who are already somewhat alienated from PC to understand their adversary and to safeguard their souls against backsliding and despair. The book’s ideal audience, then, is readers of this blog, who will profit, as I have, from Bruce’s many insights on the perverse workings of the modern world.