Untimely Observations

Where Calvin Meets Mao

In this interview with Craig Bodeker, AltRight contributing editor Derek Turner provides what may be the most concise yet penetrating explanation of the origins and nature of political correctness I have yet to encounter. The full video is available on the website of the National Policy Institute.

Critics of PC have advanced several theses regarding its origins. Paul Gottfried has suggested that it is largely an outgrowth of left-wing American Christianity. Bill Lind considers it be a form of “cultural Marxism” derived from an inversion of orthodox Marxism advanced by the Frankfurt School. David Heleniak has an interesting thesis suggesting that PC is largely a derivative of the Christian doctrine of original sin that subsequently took on a secular form through the influence of the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Still others regard PC as good old fashioned Communism wearing a different set of clothes. My own efforts to investigate the historical development of PC (which I prefer to call “totalitarian humanism”) have led me to a position that is something of a synthesis of these narratives.

Derek points out that political correctness has become the most deeply entrenched in historically Protestant countries, primarily the nations of Scandinavia and the Anglosphere. Presumably, this can be explained as a manifestation of the sense of Calvinist guilt that has been woven into the cultural fabric and historical memories of Protestant societies. That colonial American Puritanism was a rather extreme manifestation of the Calvinist ethos, and that American left-wing Christianity came about largely as an eclipsing successor of orthodox Calvinism in the American northeast, may help to explain why PC first took root in America and exported itself throughout the Western world the way that it did. If indeed Rousseau’s philosophy provided a secular transformation of the notion of original sin, then it is not improbable that such thinking would take root in a cultural milieu where orthodox Calvinism had once been virulent, but was in the process of shedding that history while retaining some of its residual influences, which would have been the case with northeastern American Protestantism during the developmental periods of this country.

It should not be surprising then that the Frankfurt School found a home for itself in northeastern American universities following its exile from Nazi Germany (and after an ironic stay in Geneva, the city most closely associated with the legacy of Calvin!). Some of the iconic figures of the New Left, such as Angela Davis and Abbie Hoffman, were personally students of the Frankfurt School’s most extreme left-wing advocate, Herbert Marcuse, and it is another irony that just as Marcuse eventually settled in California, it was at West Coast universities such as Berkeley that the leftist student rebellions of the 1960s began to emerge before spreading throughout the West and even elsewhere. As for the relationship between orthodox Communism and PC, in my efforts to trace the origins of the term, I have encountered phrases such as “correct politics” or “correct political line,” and references to persons being shunned or dismissed from organizations for “incorrect politics” in old radical literature from the late 1960s and early 1970s, particularly among Weather Underground-influenced groups or the most extreme offshoots of the “black power” movement. The Maoist influence on these groups is well-known, as is the fascination of some of the more extreme New Left radicals of the era with the Chinese Cultural Revolution. PC in many ways resembles a Maoist self-criticism session, so there is likely a connection there.

I actually grew up in part as a Calvinist fundamentalist myself during the 1970s. My family were adherents of old-style orthodox Calvinism of the kind represented by theologians like J. Gresham Machen and Cornelius Van Til, and for a time we were involved with a church associated with the theocratic “Christian reconstructionist” movement of R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North. All of my education up through and including my sophomore year of high school was done at a fundamentalist academy that adhered to dispensational Christian Zionism (think of Bob Jones University and you will get an idea what the atmosphere there was like). During the late 1980s and early 1990s I was a left-wing Chomskyite and it was during this time that I first began to personally encounter PC. Observing the psychology of PC and its behavioral manifestations up close and in an unadulterated form gave me a sense of déjà vu: “Where I have seen this kind of thing before?” Having long since abandoned my previous Christianity by that time, I came to realize that PC essentially amounts to Christian fundamentalism without a Christ (perhaps this explains the Left’s habit of elevating perceived progressive saints such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the status of Christ-like semi-divine figures).

Whatever the true historical trajectory of PC may be, its obscurantist and totalitarian nature is obvious enough. It is ironic that eccentric religious subcultures such as the ones I came from are demonized by the anointed as dangerous theocratic fascists about to carry out an Taliban-like coup any minute now (a view that wildly exaggerates the influence and degree of extremism of such subcultures), while a form of obscurantist totalitarianism that has actually has the support of elites, intellectuals, academics, journalists, and others of genuine influence continues to entrench itself in Western cultural and political institutions.