The Great Political Correctness Panic, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Thought Police

by Brian Siano

A shorter version of this article appeared in Skeptic magazine, Vol 4, No. 3., 1996


Charles McCay did not make an idle choice, in titling his classic study, by explicitly mentioning “popular delusions” and “the madness of crowds.” Panics and hysterias are always associated with screaming, frenzied mobs. But– in the same way that policemen are more forgiving of cops who break the law– the hysterias of a culture’s thinkers, opinion-makers and educators aren’t examined nearly as often. After all, the intelligentsia are the people who do the cultural studies. But such panics do happen, and we’re going to take a long look at a real doozy.

Within the space of one year, “political correctness,” a phrase of self-mockery and irreverence among the American left, had turned into a post-Communism threat to our national freedoms. That’s the amount of time that elapsed between the New York Times‘s October 1990 article,[1] and President George Bush’s denunciation of PC at the University of Michigan. Within the first half of 1991, cover stories in New York, Newsweek, The New Republic, and the Atlantic‘s excerpt of Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education, as well as innumerable secondary sources, reported the now-canonical tales of political correctness to hundreds of thousands of readers,[2] and these were circulated even more widely through hundreds of newsletters, magazines, conservative college newspapers, radio talk-show hosts, and time-surfeited Usenet cranks. In his book The Myth of Political Correctness, John K. Wilson refers to a search of the NEXIS database listed 15 incidences of the phrase in 1990, 1,570 in 1991, and 6,985 in 1994.[3] “Politically correct” and its variants even became marketing catchwords, turning up in Gap ads, frat-boy movies (P.C.U.), and Comedy Central’s Politically Incorrect. There are hundreds of newsletters, magazines, conservative college newspapers, radio talk-show hosts, and time-surfeited Usenet cranks all too happy to circulate the PC scare.

The PC Panic has a certain congruency with the things I’ve written about previously in this magazine. I’d discussed the tendency of some of the notable skeptics to use apocalyptic imagery of unlearned hordes laying seige to science and civilization, and expressed concern that skeptics were aligning themselves with the more regressive armies of the Culture Wars.[4]

Paul Kurtz included multiculturalism and feminism, classic villains of PC terror tales, among his Rogue’s Gallery of antiscience threats published in the Skeptical Inquirer.[5] In a Free Inquiry editorial on the Culture Wars, Kurtz sides with National Endowment for the Humanities chair Lynne Cheyney in denouncing what he calls the “postmodernist bias” of the 1994 National History Standards Project: rather than discuss its contents, Kurtz asserts that “the disciples of political correctness, feminist epistemology, and multiculturalism have endeavored to water down the integrity of education.”[6] He has also designated the usual gang of French philosophers (Derrida, Foucault, etc.), postmodernist or not, as nihilistic, antihumanist “Heideggerians,” alleging a taint with pointed reminders of Heidegger’s Nazi politics.[7]

The March/April issue of the Skeptical Inquirer brought in a set of guest writers whose books had contributed to the anti-PC hysteria. Paul Gross and Norman Levitt, authors of Higher Superstition, characterize an “academic left” as a “new and fashionable cottage industry among the intelligentsia” ridden with “back door utopianism,” “inverse intellectual snobbery,” and a regime of “political correctness” that is “antagonistic to science and rationality in general.”[8] Noretta Koertge, in an essay derived from her book Professing Feminism: Cautionary Tales from the Strange World of Women’s Studies, argues that feminists were turning women away from science with strange, mystical doctrines.[9] Even more sweeping in scope is Robert Sheaffer, who in Free Inquiry denounced “the politically correct feminist movement,” a socialist, lesbian-inspired doctrine “which reigns virtually unchallenged in academe and in government.”[10]

It’s not as though we haven’t seen this before, in the guises of Satan scares or UFO flaps. People around the country start reporting on unusual and shocking phenomena of a particular kind. The incidents reported are widely separated, but they share many similar aspects and details. The news media, always on the lookout for novel and surprising stories, begin to cover the phenomena in earnest– but without the critical thinking we’d like to expect. Certain accounts become canonical though repetition and recirculation in the handful of books that promote the reality of these phenomena.

Although differing in particulars, the authors make grand and sweeping claims as to the importance of the phenomena. They claim that these phenomena are emblematic of a great danger to the strength and security of our greatest American values, and that our most important institutions are under seige. They then call for tremendous, even censurious and oppressive efforts on the part of Americans to battle the scourge before great damage is done. Eventually, even elected officials begin calling for these measures to get this country “back in line” again.

However, there are scholars who have doubts about the whole story. Some of them have relatively prosaic explanations for the individual incidents described. Others investigate particular, canonical incidents, and find that in many cases the accounts are inaccurate, under-researched, or exaggerated. Others point out that the dangers described by the phenomena’s proponents are exaggerated well out of reasonable consideration. Some detect a slightly paranoid tone to the accounts– the people who report the phenomena (some repeatedly) have a tendency to describe it as a siege, a conspiracy, a virus-like entity that’s out to get them, personally. Some of the critics point out that the people writing about this phenomena are supported by organizations with distinct social or political goals, and that the proponents are making lots of money with best-selling books, articles, and lecture tours. However, as the original accounts enjoy wide circulation in the mass media, the doubters remain marginal and ignored.

Storm Troopers, Raging Mobs, and the Naked Maja

“Nobody did anything to Steve except say he had been insensitive. You’d think, ‘Jesus, he ought to be able to get over that.’ Instead, Steve just weirded out. He became very combative. He acted as if his very reputation as a liberal was being wiped out… To my amazement, this has now become an issue that stands in the annals of free speech.”

John Womack, head of Harvard’s history department, commenting on the Thernstrom case.[11]

            Are we talking about scare stories or urban legends? Well, it’s obvious that we can’t investigate every PC sighting out there, so we have to confine ourselves to a handful of oft-repeated, canonical examples. The following stories have turned up in most of the major books and articles on Political Correctness; it’s possible that one or two might’ve gotten under your skin as a prime example of intolerance or crackpottery.

The Insensitivity Police

According to D’Souza and the New York article, Prof. Stephan Thernstrom was teaching a course titled “The Peopling of America” at Harvard University. Thernstrom reportedly claimed that Jim Crow laws were beneficial in some ways, read aloud from plantation owners’ journals, and claimed that “black men beat their wives, and then their wives kicked them out.” Three black students, rather than confronting Thernstrom directly, complained to an administrative committee and the Harvard Crimson about “racial insensitivity.” University officials characterized the students’ action as “judicious and fair.” Thernstrom, in turn, compared himself to a rape victim and denounced the “McCarthyism of the Left.” Eventually, Thernstrom decided not to teach the course again. In their reviews of D’Souza’s book, Eugene Genovese and C. Vann Woodward, both respected liberal-left scholars, cited the Thernstrom case as an especially striking instance of leftish intolerance.[12]

Jon Weiner investigated D’Souza’s account shortly after Illiberal Education was published, and in the Sept. 30, 1991 issue of The Nation he reported that “almost every element of the story D’Souza tells is erroneous.” Most of the following is based on Weiner’s account.

One of the students, Paula Ford, told Weiner that they had spoken to Thernstrom after class, several times. Regarding his remarks on black men and their wives, Ford claims, “We complained to him after class that this was offensive and inaccurate. He said, ‘If you don’t believe me, read Toni Morrison.’ I felt that was completely trivializing what’s out there.” It was after this remark that Ford and another student went to the campus race relations committee– which told Ford that they had no jurisdiction over the content of Thernstrom’s course.

Wendi Grantham, another student, was unaware that any complaint had been filed against Thernstrom– although D’Souza states she’d been one of the three who’d filed it. She’d written to the Harvard Crimson that she did not charge Thernstrom with being a racist. She told Weiner that she agreed with Thernstrom’s use of slave owner’s journals, but inclusion of slave narratives alongside of these journals would have provided a broader perspective on slavery.

In short, one student criticized a professor’s presentation. Another asked that a broader range of material be used in the course. Both students complained about the manner in which the Harvard Crimson played up the incident as a grand battle over racism, and felt that Thernstrom overreacted by dropping the course entirely. A statement issued by Harvard about the case affirmed that “instructors exercise full discretion over the content of lectures and the conduct of classroom discussion,” and Thernstrom suffered no disciplinary action at all. Neither Grantham or Ford were were interviewed by D’Souza; he interviewed three first-year Afro-American Studies majors instead.

But by the time Weiner’s article saw print, Thernstrom had emerged as the Captain Mantell of PC mythology. New York magazine opened its article describing Thernstrom walking through Harvard Yard, hearing people hiss “Racist!” and “That man’s a racist!” in the best Bonfire of the Vanities tradition. Even Thernstrom felt that was a bit much. “I was appalled when I first saw that,” he told Weiner. “Nothing like that ever happened.”

The Decline of Western Culture has been Greatly Exaggerated

Our next PC flap comes from the hinterlands of Stanford University. A six-track course titled “Western Culture” had been a required part of the curriculum since 1980. However, student feedback forms revealed complaints about the narrow range of required texts, so a proposal for an expanded course titled “Cultures, Ideas and Values” (CIV) was presented to the Faculty Senate in 1988. The proposal, “while requiring few changes in existing tracks, allows for courses that examine other cultures… and that fully recognize the multicultural character of the United States.”[13]

Even before Stanford began debate on the proposal, former Secratary of Education William Bennett denounced it. “There is no intellectual or academic defense for such a thing,” he said, even though the course was being expanded to encompass more material. D’Souza and Bennett led conservative critics in charges that a “vocal minority” was trying to “drop the West.” (CIV was eventually approved by a 39 to 4 majority in the Faculty Senate.) Allan Bloom, with customary understatement, wrote that “Everyone knows that the white, Western male hegemony in the curriculum was overthrown there.”[14] One national newsmagazine reported that “the original 15 books, all of them written by white, Western males, will be pared down. Out goes Homer, as well as Darwin and Dante.”[15] D’Souza’s account claimed that Stanford was teaching “little more than crude Western political slogans masquerading as the vanguard of Third World thought.”[16]

Here are the facts. In CIV, incoming students can choose between eight tracks with different emphases (relationship between technology and ideas, the development of philosophy, etc.). The new eighth track is titled “Europe and the Americas,” and it has an enrollment of about 50 freshmen in a class of 1,500. The classics remain dominant throughout CIV: all eight tracks require the Bible, Freud, Shakespeare, Aristotle and Augustine, and six tracks require Plato, Machiavelli and Aquinas. One instructor’s CIV reading list included, in addition to the above, Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, Dante’s Inferno, More’s Utopia, Flavius Josephus’s History of the Jewish Wars, and much more.[17]

In Illiberal Education, D’Souza claimed that CIV would “substitute a multiple-track system,” for a course that was already six tracks. He also cited the “Europe and the Americas” track as an example of the course as a whole. In turn, he presents one book, I, Rigoberta Menchu, as emblematic of this one track– and thus, of the entire CIV program.[18]

William Bennett continued to denounce the course as “not a product of enlightened debate, but rather an unfortunate capitulation to a campaign of pressure politics” from the forces of “ignorance, irrationality, and intimidation.”[19] (If the above reading list is a result of these forces, then Bennett’s standards must be far loftier than his Book of Virtues indicates.) Bennett also claimed that a subcommittee meeting had been disrupted by students chanting “Down with racism, down with Western culture, up with diversity.” Stanford faculty report that there had been no disruptions, intimidation or coercion, and that the only name-calling came from outsiders like Bennett.[20]

Brownshirts at SUNY Binghamton

Return of the Storm Troopers appeared as a headline in the Wall Street Journal in early 1991. Comparing the event to “the reign of Hitler’s brownshirts,” the WSJ reported that a “mob” of about 200 students, armed with canes and sticks, entered a lecture hall and jeered the speakers. “An elderly, distinguished professor barely escapes a beating at the hands of one of this mob,” the account ran.[21] This allegedly occurred at SUNY Binghamton on March 14 1991, at a lecture sponsored by the conservative National Association of Scholars (NAS).

As David Beers of Mother Jones later found out,[22] events were considerably less dramatic. Prior to the lecture, a rumor circulated on campus that the Ku Klux Klan might attend; this was apparently inspired by one of the professors’ having had a Klansman speak in one of his classes some years before. About two hundred students arrived. Gonzalo Santos, branded the “mob instigator” in later accounts, told the students that they should challenge the NAS instructors “with our minds, with our arguments.” The “canes” reported were flimsy pledge canes carried by fraternity members; no person in attendance says these were ever used in a threatening manner.

Professor Richard Hofferbert handed around a photo of his granddaughter at the ruins of the Berlin Wall. A single student, one Marcello Tarry, threw the photo to the back of the room, traded insults with Hofferbert, put a used Kleenex in Hofferbert’s coffee cup, and tossed a wad of gum at the other lecturer. Members of the Black Student Union, seated nearby, restrained Tarry and had him removed from the room. The whole incident lasted four minutes. (Beers, and Newsday‘s Ken Fireman, reviewed tapes of the lecture while writing their nothing-special-happened articles.)

The 200-person-mob-waving-canes stories originated in about two dozen memos on “Intimidation and Terrorism at NAS lecture,” which were sent to college president Lois Defleur. All were written by NAS members on the faculty. These memos, not eyewitness accounts, formed the basis of accounts that appeared in the Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin, the New York Post, and the Wall Street Journal article about ‘storm troopers.’

The WSJ‘s Dorothy Rabinowitz did talk to Defleur, who explained that the NAS faculty had hyped the facts– to no avail. When Beers contacted Rabinowitz, she stated that Defleur “has not a leg to stand on, because they refuse to see what happened… They live in terror of being politically incorrect. So that’s what it is and that’s the explanation for everything.” So there.

Freedom to Buy a Curriculum

One thing the PC hordes did not do was cost Yale University twenty million dollars for the sake of multiculturalism.

In a talk before the National Association of Scholars in June 1990, Yale dean Donald Kagan denounced the Yale curriculum as a “mutual massage.” “People in the humanities don’t experiment, don’t have controls. [They] disagree about what’s good and bad, and overall seem a very funny bunch of guys.” Kagan’s remarks sparked a number of arguments with the faculty, which soon died down; but within a few months, a budget crunch forced Kagan to step down as dean.

Kagan’s speech did reach the receptive ears of Lee Bass, heir to the Bass oil fortune and Yale alumnus. The Bass family was making $20 million gifts to the university (brother Ed Bass’s contribution was part of his Biosphere II project), and Lee, inspired by Kagan’s speech, specified that his money was to be spent on an intensive study program on Western Civilization. The gift and the program were announced at a press conference by Kagan and former President Benno Schmidt in April 1991.

That summer, Kagan and other “Bass Professors” had developed an outline for what was shaping up to be a very intensive course indeed. The course would meet five times a week, with professors– not grad students– running even the discussion sections. One week they’d study Dante and the Black Death, another, Marx and 19th century technology.

There was criticism, of course, but it wasn’t about the course’s content. The budget crunch that had felled Kagan had caused a lot of bad feelings among faculty, and while the Bass gift would have helped things somewhat (Yale had a $12 million budget gap at the time), current president Richard Levin and provost Judith Rodin (now president of the University of Pennsylvania) argued that the course was logistically impractical. The course required 11 professors committed to a small group of students– thus diminishing the classes of other students. Also, the course as designed would have required the hiring of four new junior professors, at a time when Yale was making a 6 percent cut in faculty: Levin wanted to use that money to pay for junior faculty who were already at Yale. Some of the Bass professors argued for the new hires, while others felt Levin had a point. Logistics, not ideology, was the sticking point on the Bass money.

A student named Pat Collins was the man who cost Yale its money. Collins was writing for Light and Truth, the publication of William F. Buckley’s Intercollegiate Studies Institute. ISI spends roughly $2.4 million a year to pay for lectures and fellowships, and for targeting older alumni for financial aid and conservative lobbying efforts. Collins’s article claimed, erroneously, that the Bass money was mired in multicultural infighting– a point disputed by nearly every Bass professor involved. Collins also claimed, falsely, that Levin had planned to divert some of the Bass money to gay and lesbian studies.

The Wall Street Journal picked up the story, stating that “the faculty quarters ideologically opposed to the Western Civilization program… played a crucial role in derailing the initiative.” The New York Times followed suit soon after. For good measure, ISI President T. Kenneth Cribb met with Lee Bass to brief him on the matter. By the time Levin got in touch with Bass, the conditions on the $20 million had changed.

Levin agreed to implement the course according to Kagan’s original plans, including hiring new junior profs. But Bass attached the demand that he, personally, approve the professors who would be teaching the course. Levin regarded this as a compromise of the university’s academic freedom, and Yale’s trustees concurred: they voted in February 1995 to turn down the money should Bass remain intractable on this point. A last-ditch effort to lobby Bass to change his mind was scuttled when the Wall Street Journal reported, as fact, that Yale had formally refused the gift. The Journal, without an ounce of shame for the debacle that was substantially its fault, declared that “multiculturalists… and the inability of Yale’s administration to move off the dime on the Bass gift, has now produced bitter fruit.”[23]

Hiring the Experientially-Challenged

The 1991 nomination of Carol Iannone to the National Endowment for the Humanities provides a striking example of hysterical thinking, where the PC hordes lurk behind everything. Other NEH leaders, including William Bennett and Lynne Cheney, had published prolifically and, for better or for worse, had earned dozens of literature citations. Iannone, however, was an academic nonentity whose work had been confined to book reviews for Commentary and other conservative journals. She was, however, Managing Editor of the NAS’s Academic Questions and a member of Scholars for Reagan-Bush, which at least secured her a nomination to the department. Before we go on, take a moment to imagine the reaction should a liberal or leftish candidate, with similar credentials, were to be nominated to the NEH.

When several academic organizations announced their opposition to Iannone’s nomination (the Modern Language Association, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Organization of American Historians, among others), conservatives like George F. Will and William F. Buckley portrayed their objections as mere Political Correctness. When Iannone was voted down by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee– even after intensive lobbying by Cheyney, Dan Quayle, John Sununu and others on her behalf– the fight didn’t end. Daniel Moynihan denounced the “intellectual decline of the Democratic Party,” and accused the committee of voting against Iannone because of her Italian Catholic background.[24]

PC from All Over

            The PC Terror Tales accumulate. Heterodoxy reported that the women’s studies department at Wellesley sent letters to Modern European History majors, accusing them of perpetuating ‘dominant white male’ attitudes. Wilson reports that “there is no Modern European history major at Wellesley.” A reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education went to the College of Wooster to see if its freshman seminar lived up to Lynne Cheyney’s appraisal as a “re-education camp”; rather than a Stalinist collective, the seminar was described as “positive, allowing students to discuss controversial issues without feeling shut out,” and “none of [the students] said they felt that they could not speak out or disagree about politics.” The Wall Street Journal ran a story about a scribbled annotation on a private departmental memo at the University of Pennsylvania. The word “individuals” had been circled by an administrator as a “RED FLAG” phrase, “considered by many to be RACIST.” This example of petty bureaucratese, reaching clumsily for a safe place, is pretty minor as far as thought-control goes. But does it warrant the thirty five outraged recitings that Wilson tracks? (Wilson 1995)

Charles Ogletree, a black professor of law at Harvard, was up for tenure in 1993 when people began whispering that he hadn’t actually written an article he’d submitted to the Harvard Law Review. One professor anonymously noted that “If race were not involved, [the students at the journal] might feel able to go to the dean about it… The whole thing is so unethical it’s outrageous.” As it turned out, the charges were bogus, and Ogletree’s tenure vote was unanimous. A sane person might suspect that racism may have contributed the rumors; instead, The New Republic blamed “the excesses of victim politics” which “have engendered a new skepticism on college campuses, a culture of suspicion in which rumors of inferiority can spiral out of control.” (Shalit 1993, Wilson 1995)

Newspapers and magazines had a field day with Penn State professor Nancy Stumhofer, who reportedly accused a painting of sexually harassing her. The painting was Goya’s Naked Maja, and a number of Stumhofer’s male students were whispering comments about it during class. Most teachers like to keep order in the class, so Stumhofer had the picture moved to the Student Center. Two facts got lost in the PC-mythmaking machine: Stumhofer never made any accusations of “sexual harassment,” and the painting had been moved to a more public area of campus. It takes work to see this as thought control, but with the help of popular stereotypes of female academics, a few lazy reporters going for the easy jokes, and the suspicion that such a thing might conceivably happen, even Nat Hentoff and the ACLU’s Nadine Strossen can be convinced (Wilson 1995, Stumhofer 1994).

The Counterforce

            “In the absence of firm facts, it is scarcely strange if, to many Americans, the gusts of strident liberal fear suggest a persecution delusion in which the unhappy victim is sincerely terrified, by nobody in particular, but by a vaguely menacing ‘they.’ They are after him. They are about to subpoena him. They are silencing him.”

Whittaker Chambers, on academic freedom in 1953.[25]

            History doesn’t record what Harry Truman did when he heard about those mysterious “flying discs,” but George Bush’s reaction to the reports of Political Correctness in the nation’s colleges was swift and decisive. In May 1991, at the University of Michigan, his commencement address included the following:

            “What began as a cause for civility has soured into a cause of conflict and even censorship. Disputants treat sheer force– getting their foes punished or expelled, for instance– as a substitute for the power of ideas… They’ve invited people to look for insult in every word, gesture, action. And in their own Orwellian way, crusades that demand correct behavior crush diversity in the name of diversity.”[26]

            I guess the sanctions weren’t working there, either. That same month, journalist Alexander Cockburn characterized the hysteria as

“the age-old fear of antinomian beastliness, lesbians holding deconstructionist black masses over copies of Derrida and so forth. . . Indeed, the uproar over P.C. and the destructive mania about ‘ritual abuse’ and child abuse in day care address similar terrors, about the theft of innocence, the intrusion of alien molesters into the natural rhythms of an American upbringing. The Satanists who coaxed children onto broomsticks and these by rapid aerial locomotion to a lonely cemetery and unspeakable acts become, amongst the P.C. cohort, the heirs of St. Just and the Red Guards, tossing the Great Books of ancient wisdom on the pyres of the new intolerance.”[27]

I’m sure some readers might argue, in defense of the PC terror thesis, that Bush had a point and that Cockburn’s remarks are a bit much. Defenders might argue that the reports aren’t coming from rubes in the boondocks; PC sightings are coming from university professors, scientists, elected officials, educators, political experts, essayists, and journalists. These people aren’t like those unstable souls who regularly report UFO abductions or conversations with Jesus. These are intellectual workers of America who care about the eternal verities. It’s not like they’re equating minor inconveniences to global-scale atrocities– in fact, many are on record as denouncing what they call “victimology” and a “culture of complaint.” We’re not talking about a crew of paranoids, living in irrational fear of deconstructionists in woodpiles or other pervasive, alien presences.

Robert Clark, Dean of the Harvard Law School in 1989, accused the leftish Critical Law Studies organization of attempting “a ritual slaying of the elders.”[28] Alan Kors says that his home base, the University of Pennsylvania is becoming more like the “University of Peking,” with its sensitivity seminars and its “totalitarian, new-age Leninist approach”; full of apocalyptic fettle, Kors urges his allies to “become the monasteries of a new dark ages, preserving what is worth preserving amid the barbaric ravages in the countryside and towns of academe.”[29] Terry Teachout claims “tenured radicals are turning [universities] into stalags of state-subsidized sensitivity fascism.”[30] Walter Williams calls it “the equivalent of the Nazi brownshirt thought-control movement,” and asks donors to “de-fund pre-Nazi” universities.[31] Mixing his metaphors, Heterodoxy co-editor David Horowitz says “The radical left is a fascist force with a human face, the carrier of an ideological virus as deadly as AIDS.”[32] His long-time partner, Peter Collier, claims Heterodoxy is a “samizadt publication” whose goal is “to comfort the oppressed, the reader out there in the gulag of the PC university.”[33] Eugene Genovese names Joseph Stalin as “the father of political correctness.”[34] At the NAS’s 1988 conference, keynote speaker Jeane Kirkpatrick described its enemies as the “fascist Left.”[35] Robert Brustein refers to PC “tentacles” spreading “into television, radio, journalism, childrearing, even the Academy Awards.”[36] Peter Drucker denounces PC as “a purely totalitarian concept,” relegated to “Nazis and Stalinists,” who allegedly tried to beat academia into conformity in the 1930s.[37] Morgan Knull, a Wabash College student, claimed that the college was “flirting with Stalinism” because the Student Senate denied his conservative newspaper $1,947 in funding.[38] Michael Pakenham, in a favorable review of a collection of essays on rap music, denounces “PC proponents, the foaming‑mouthed rottweilers of neo‑Stalinist anti‑intellectual totalitarianism.”[39] USA Today compares university ‘sensitivity sessions’ to “a kind of Western gulag.”[40] Advertising Age editorialist James Brady writes, “Some of the Nosy Parkers who run political correctness here in the States these days seem to have been inspired by the Kremlin’s techniques.”[41] In a bizarre triple-play, the Orlando Sentinel‘s Charley Reese calls PC “a hatchling of the reptilian intolerance of the 1960s New Left,”[42] “out and out neo-Marxist censorship” which is “as anti-free speech as you can get this side of a gulag,”[43] and claims that its goal “is the same as that of the instructors in the Cambodian re‑education camps.”[44] He also writes about “tight‑lipped, grimly serious, politically correct gangs roaming around the country, spoiling people’s enjoyment of life.”[45] Paul Hollander calls it “the most widespread form of institutionalized intolerance in American higher education.”[46] Rush Limbaugh, whose books and radio and TV shows  have no trouble bypassing the PC police, calls PC “the greatest threat to the First Amendment in our history.” Calling it “political cleansing,” Limbaugh compares it to Serbia’s “genocidal scorched-Earth policy against the Muslim population in Bosnia.”[47]

Truly, the courage to stand against such forces is inspiring.

The Counterforce

“I’m protected in my eccentric ivory tower. It’s worse in the departments. . . It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t in the universities how extraordinary it is. I’m like one of the first people out of Cambodia.”

The late Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind[48]

            The angel that provided Allan Bloom with his refuge from the Khmer Rouge– or liberal academics, at least– was the John M. Olin Foundation, which had $57,571,966 in assets as of Dec. 1992. Bloom spent the last years of his life as director of the Olin Center at the University of Chicago, which receives nearly one million dollars a year from the Foundation.[49] In addition to the organizations I will outline here, Olin provides several million dollars a year to various “Law and Economics” programs at universities across the country– programs devoted to promoting law based on extreme laissez-faire economic theories.[50]  Like many other academics who receive grants of this size, Bloom was able to take a reduced teaching schedule in order to crank out further polemics against PC, feminism, and other menaces to the nation.

They aren’t alone: in fact, most of the promoters of the Great Political Correctness Hoax have been promoted and funded, to a phenomenal degree, by a handful of conservative organizations and foundations. The four largest and most consistent donors are, in addition to Olin, the Sarah Scaife Foundation (assets $212.2 million as of 1992), the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (assets $406.9 million), and the Smith Richardson Foundation (assets $366 million).

In other words, shed no tears for our midwestern Solzhenitsyn, Morgan Knull, whose failure to get less than two thousand dollars inspired his “flirting with Stalinism” remarks. Unlike most undergrads, he’s probably earned his tuition money back by now. The origins of the anti-PC effort rest in attempts to intimidate and suppress the academic freedom of academics perceived to be liberal or leftish, and not— as we shall see– in any honest attempt to promote academic standards.

In 1985, Reed Irvine, founder of the right-wing media watchdog group Accuracy in Media, decided to expand his efforts into colleges where, it was claimed, “10,000 Marxists” were lurking in the woodpiles. Accuracy in Academia encouraged students to spy on professors, and to report any “political bias based on incorrect information” to the home office, which would then publicize the incidents. There were several incidents where AIA recirculated material compiled by the FBI. One ad for an AIA speaker listed the names of liberal professors at the University of Chicago, with a picture of an eye and the caption “We Are Watching You.”[51]

Needless to say, this ham-handed approach didn’t make conservatives look like defenders of free speech and apolitical learning. Even members of its own advisory board (notably Midge Decter and Boston University’s John Silber) denounced the organization’s Red Channels methods. Within seven months of its inception, half of AIA’s two-person staff had resigned, and they’d abandoned plans for a network of classroom informers– although the Washington Times reported recently that AIA was restarting the “classroom monitoring.”[52]

The obvious question is whether the academy really was in jeopardy from radical extremists. According to a survey conducted in 1984 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, academics just aren’t that radical. Out of 5,000 teachers surveyed, 5.8 percent considered themselves “left.” 33.8 ranked themselves as “liberal,” 26.6 were “middle of the road,” 29.6 were “moderately conservative,” and 4.2 were “strongly conservative.”[53] Bell curves weren’t in conservative fashion those days, so the hordes-of-Marxists claim kept getting recited.

Enter the National Association of Scholars, whose efforts are central to our story. Its origins lie in the Campus Coalition for Democracy, founded in 1982 by a handful of New York-based conservative academics. The CCD’s first president was Stephen Balch of CUNY; another board member was Herbert I. London of NYU, who was writing for various Sun Myung Moon-owned publications like The World and I and the New York City Tribune. The best indication of the CCD’s political roots can be seen in the speakers at its first conference: contra leader Arturo Cruz, and Under-Secretary of State Elliott Abrams.

The CCD’s earliest conferences spawned a number of articles (published in Society and the conservative Commentary) decrying the “Tenured Left.” Balch and London called for a campaign from within academia that would be more effective than AIA’s plebian, bad-cop approach.[54] By 1988, the CCD was rechristened as the National Association of Scholars, with Balch as chairman and London editing its journal, Academic Questions. This was accompanied by a massive increase in cash flow: its Olin funding increased from $85,000 a year in 1988 to $125,000 in 1989, and the Sarah Scaife Foundation increased its share to $300,000 by 1991– a sixfold increase over previous years. As of 1996, Academic Questions has a paid circulation of less than 5,000.[55] Christina Hoff Sommers notes that the NAS has a six-person staff, a tiny membership, and a massive $900,000 yearly budget– and manages to describe it as a hardy band of lone champions of reason.[56] While the NAS’s advisory board has included notable conservatives (Jeanne Kirkpatrick, John Silber, Irving Kristol), it also recruited the likes of Michael Levin of CUNY– best known for his endorsement of race-and-IQ theories, the rights of storekeepers to discriminate against black customers, and racial segregation on subway cars. (Levin was asked to resign from the NAS board in 1990.)[57]

Checkbooks to the Rescue

“I’ve noticed that we have all kinds of young people who want to be pontificators. They’re not learned, and they’re not particularly eloquent either. I don’t know where they get the idea.”

Emmett Tyrrell, editor of the American Spectator[58]

            Imagine, for a moment, if the editors of a national magazine were to ask their readers to send in first-person accounts of their striking coincidences, psychic experiences, encounters with Satan cults, or sightings of flying saucers or black helicopters. Well, you know that a sizable database would accumulate pretty quickly. And there’s always someone who will present samples from this growing mountain of anecdotes, and claim that this was merely the tip of the iceberg: something really major is going on here. Logistics being what they are, skeptics might be able to debunk only a handful of the incidents. But the rest of this database would remain ‘unchallenged’– to be trawled out by the faithful, proudly and frequently, when doubters open their mouths.

Now, imagine if you could spend a half dozen years and millions of dollars on such a project.

The Madison Center for Educational Affairs (MCEA) came into being in 1989-90 with the simple merger of two other conservative academic organizations– the Madison Center (founded by Allan Bloom and William Bennett) and the Institute for Educational Affairs (founded in 1978 by Irving Kristol and William Simon). The main efforts of the MCEA and its parents have been the subsidizing of conservative college students, and the establishment of a network of conservative college newspapers. The Dartmouth Review, Dinesh D’Souza’s launch point, was one of the earliest of these papers: Olin provided $10,000 in startup funds, a $150,000 multiyear grant in 1989, and $295,000 for legal expenses.[59]

The pre-merger Madison Center owes its existence to the half a million dollars it received in 1989 from the Bradley foundation.[60] Likewise in 1988, the IEA received $108,000 from Bradley and $85,000 from Olin: the next year, Olin provided $123,402.[61] The now-combined MCEA, according to the Foundation Grants Index, received at least $432,990 from Bradley, Olin and Scaife in 1993: it disburses approximately $300,000 a year ($330,617 in 1990) to maintain its network of conservative college newspapers.

The MCEA’s programs reinforce each other very effectively. The newspapers– practically any that could compile a grant request– received semesterly grants, use of a toll-free hotline for advice, and syndicated columns by national conservative columnists. An advertising consortium sells advertising space to conservative corporations (like Coors or Domino’s Pizza). An editorial internship program provides the newspaper staffers with internships at magazines and institutions like The New Republic, the Heritage Foundation’s Policy Review, the Moonie-owned Insight, the National Endowment for the Humanities (then run by Lynne Cheyney), the National Review, and many others. While many young conservatives were beneficiaries of these programs, Dinesh D’Souza is clearly the most successful (see sidebar).

One should also remember that individual members of these organizations receive generous funding for their own projects. As of 1990, Irving Kristol, editor of The National Interest and founder of the IEA, received $376,000: some for his AEI fellowship, the rest for his John M. Olin Distinguished Professor-ship at NYU. Madison’s William Bennett nimbly worked both ends of the pipeline, as a board member for the Scaife foundation– which consistently provided $100-150,000 yearly sums to IEA and MCEA– and as a “culture czar” at the Heritage Foundation, which receives roughly $850,000 to a million dollars a year from Scaife.

The amazing thing is that, among conservatives, this kind of cash-fueled promotion is nothing special. According to Wilson, the Olin foundation “spends $15 million annually on grants to practically every conservative magazine,” including the National Review, Encounter, Business Today, and several others.[62] The American Spectator received a total of half a million dollars between 1990 and 1993, including $225,000 from the Carthage Foundation and $120,000 from Scaife. National Affairs Inc., which publishes The National Interest and Public Interest, received $350,000 from Olin, $100,000 from the Smith-Richardson Fund, and half a million dollars from the Bradley Foundation.[63]

Let’s take The New Criterion, formerly edited by Roger Kimball (Tenured Radicals), now helmed by Hilton Kramer. This small-circulation cultural digest reports to the IRS that its annual income is $750,000. In 1990, at least half of this ($395,000) came from private foundations. Between 1990 and 1993, The New Criterion received slightly over one million dollars from Olin ($330,000), Bradley ($350,000), and Scaife ($325,000), among others.[64] These figures jibe well with Wilson’s report that the journal received “a total of $1,425,000 from the Olin, Scaife, and Bradley foundations from 1984 to 1988.” Olin also provided office space and $100,000 start-up grant in 1982.[65]

And during the 1980s, the Heritage Foundation’s “Third Generation” project provided another avenue to success. These networking gatherings at Heritage were designed to select out the likely high-steppers from the twentysomething Republicans who’d flooded into Washington in the mid-1980s.[66] Through fellowships at conservative think-tanks, magazine internships, or jobs in the the Reagan administration, they’d receive credentials. Francis Fukuyama, a policy staffer at the State Department, hit pay dirt when he delivered his “The End of History?” paper at Chicago’s Olin Center in 1988: The National Interest ran the paper, with responses by fellow Olin scholars Irving Kristol, Allan Bloom and Samuel Huntington. Time, the Washington Post, and the New York Times picked up the pseudo-debate, and suddenly Fukuyama was elevated to substantial-thinker status. With this kind of network, who needs grad school or a doctoral dissertation to become an “expert?”[67]

            Heterodoxy editors Collier and Horowitz are also eager feeders at the Olin breast. Their Center for the Study of Popular Culture receives roughly $700,000 a year, which finances the mailing of roughly 80,000 free copies– ten times the number of its paid subscriptions. Their 1987 “Second Thoughts” project and their book Destructive Generation received $350,000. It’s fair to note that, although NAS President Stephen Balch praised its “rock-em, sock-em commentary” and “investigative jouralism,” many NAS members have denounced Heterodoxy‘s yellow-journalism approach and apparent obsession with gay and lesbian issues.[68]

And then there’s the miscellany. Richard Bernstein, the New York Times reporter whose 1990 article “The Rising Hegemony of the Politically Correct” helped kick off the Great PC Hoax, was rewarded with funding from Bradley and Smith-Richardson to expand the article into a book. Rejected NEH candidate Carol Iannone got $18,000 from Olin to vent her spleen in another book.

Anti-feminists are similarly blessed. In the foreword to her bestseller Who Stole Feminism?,[69] Christina Hoff Sommers writes that “It is not so easy to receive grants for a study that criticizes the feminist establishment for its errors and excesses.” She then goes on to acknowledge the Carthage, Bradley, and Olin foundations, which provided her with $164,000 between 1990 and 1993.

The Independent Women’s Forum, founded in 1994 with $100,000 from the Carthage Foundation, exists mainly to provide anti-feminist “experts” for television news shows and Congressional testimony against women’s issues. (The Bradley Foundation paid $40,000 to distribute the IWF’s media directory nationwide.) Typical positions include opposition to increasing welfare payments to larger families and the Violence Against Women Act, and support for tort reform. Notables of the IWF include tobacco-industry lawyer Melinda Sidak, gay-bashing Dartmouth Review editor Laura Ingraham (see sidebar), and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, who denounces feminists for being elitists.[70]

And on the off-chance that the Culture Wars might enter a courtroom, there’s the Center for Individual Rights, a D.C.-based center which provides legal assistance to campus conservatives in speech cases. According to the Legal Times, the center’s annual budget is $300,000, 90 percent of which comes from Olin, Smith Richardson, Scaife, Bradley, the J.M. Foundation, and others.[71]

The Golden Boy

“I see my role in the [conservative] movement as helping push the intellectual debate farther and farther right,”

Dinesh D’Souza, speaking at the January 1984 “Second Generation” forum at the Heritage Foundation[72]

            When one reads Illiberal Education, one gets the impression of a slightly conservative idealist upset over the balkanization of college campuses. But those people familiar with Dinesh D’Souza’s record at the Dartmouth Review know a very different man. D’Souza is the end-product of six years of career management and the learning of spin control; he is the greatest success of the credentialling process described in the main article.

The Dartmouth Review, one of the IEA’s earliest projects, was D’Souza’s launch point in 1981. During D’Souza’s editorship, the Review ran a not-very-confrontational interview with Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke: the interview was illustrated with a photo of a staged lynching. Another column on affirmative action, written in a parody of black vernacular, read in part, “Now we be comin’ to Dartmut and be up over our ‘fros in studies, but we still be not graduatin’ Phi Beta Kappa,” and “I be practicly knowin’ Roots cova to cova, ’til my mine be boogying to da words!” And black professor William Cole– compared to a “used Brillo pad” by the wags at the Review— eventually resigned over the paper’s campaign against him.[73]

D’Souza didn’t restrict his attention to black students. In 1981, the Review published, alongside of the Dartmouth Gay Student Association’s officers, quotes from “personal letters of students confessing their gay sentiments.” D’Souza claimed that the documents were publicly accessible “documents filed with the college.” But Dolores Johnson, then the director of the council on student organizations, reports that the documents printed in the Review were the same ones stolen from the GSA’s desk some time before. In the wake of Illiberal Education publicity, D’Souza claimed that he’d left the paper before its most notorious moments.[74]

D’Souza’s successor, Laura Ingraham– now at the Independent Women’s Forum– continued the jihad against the GSA. In 1984, the Review sent one Teresa Polenz into a GSA meeting with a hidden tape recorder, posing as a gay student. Ingraham ran transcripts of the meeting in the Review, denouncing the organization as “cheerleaders for latent campus sodomites.”[75]

When D’Souza graduated in 1983, he moved to Prospect, a Dartmouth alumni magazine that was another Third Generation process point. During his Prospect stint, D’Souza managed to write a fawning biography of the academic-freedom advocate and noted evolutionary biologist, Jerry Falwell (Falwell: Before the Millennium). Moving on to the Heritage Foundation and Policy Review (where his defense of Reverend Sun Myung Moon made note of Moon’s lavish funding of right-wing efforts worldwide), D’Souza refined his polemical style. A short stint as a “domestic policy analyst” in the Reagan administration followed in 1987. Thus gilded with Third Generation credentials, D’Souza moved on to an Olin fellowship at the American Enterprise Institute, where he wrote Illiberal Education. (The book cost Olin $150,000, including $100,000 for the fellowship and $20,000 paid to MCEA for promotion.)[76] William F. Buckley’s Intercollegiate Studies Institute paid D’Souza $173,975 for speaking engagements.[77]

Let us take a breath and gain some much-needed perspective. We have an author who makes accusations of distortion, intolerance, and bigotry– yet does not disclose his own extensive history of such behavior. When he reports on specific incidents to support his case, he interviews witnesses selectively, ignores contrary evidence, and omits several important facts that would undermine his case.[78] His publishing history has been almost entirely within a circle of ideologically partisan journals. While this doesn’t rule out D’Souza’s making a good point or two, or any future growth or revision in his ideas, these facts are reason enough to regard his work with skepticism. Instead, his recent book The End of Racism received heavy promotion, and was widely reviewed as an important perspective on major social issues.

Case Studies in Ethical Hygeine

In the mid-1970s, Tom Wolfe described American intellectuals as playing “the Adjectival Catch-up,” where they desired to endure the same kinds of life-validating persecutions of their European counterparts. “The American intellectual did the best he could. He could position himself against a backdrop of… well, not exactly rubble… but of the booboisie, the Herd State, the United States of Puritanism, Boosterism, Greed and the Great Hog Wallow.” While most college students were happily focused on frisbee, Wolfe wrote, a leftist academic like Herbert Marcuse or Michael Harrington was more like “the medieval cleric, most of whose energies were devoted to separating himself from the mob.”[79] Wolfe has one of the sharpest eyes around for social pretense, but by the time he came up with the above, he was tilling an already well-plowed field.

Bashing universities as citadels of alien thinking has had a steady audience since… well, probably ever since Darwin. Once higher education began questioning the verities that sure seemed eternal– the divine origin of the Universe, the moral superiority of Christianity, the natural hierarchy of sexes and races– ideologues have been denouncing what they imagined was going on behind those ivy’d walls. The higher and more elite the university, the better: remember, William F. Buckley didn’t kick off his career by writing God and Man at Rutgers. Or, consider this sample from the same period:

            Egghead: A person of spurious intellectual pretensions, often a professor or the protege of a professor. Fundamentally superficial. Over-emotional and feminine in reactions to any problem. Supercilious and surfeited with conceit and contempt for the experience of more sound and able men. Essentially confused in thought and immersed in mixture of sentimentality and violent evangelism. A doctrinaire supporter of Middle-European socialism as opposed to Greco-French-American ideas of democracy and liberalism. Subject to the old-fashioned philosophical morality of Nietzsche which frequently leads him into jail or disgrace. A self-conscious prig, so given to examining all sides of a question that he becomes thoroughly addled while remaining always in the same spot. An anemic bleeding heart.

— Louis Bromfield, “The Triumph of the Egghead,” The Freeman, December 1, 1952.[80]

            Say what you will about Bromfield’s definition– I, for one, shook my head with disbelief over that “morality of Nietzsche” line– he did manage to summarize one of the more persistent stereotypes in the American pantheon. In one of those coincidences that no reader of Skeptic should believe, NBC is premiering a show called Boston Common as I write this. One of the minor characters is a snotty, pretentious communications professor spouting postmodern jargon: he’s easily outwitted by the show’s hero, a down-to-earth Regular Guy from rural Virginia.

Much of the PC Hoax seems built upon a contradiction in our attitudes toward the university. When we’re in our idealistic moods, the University was a pastoral place, where youth is inducted into the centuries-old community of scholarly endeavor. Free and open intellectual work reigns in the hallowed halls of academe, where students spend their days under instruction from their learned masters while cutting fresh, new pathways towards the heart of knowledge. In this Golden Age, when universities were really like this, admissions and tenure were guided solely by the impartial judging of each students’ individual merits, political ideology was scrupulously avoided by stern-but-fair professors, and the college towers were constructed of the finest ivory, and inlaid with platinum thread. Call it a “stolen legacy,” if you like.

However, most people adopt a more nuts-and-bolts view. College is where you send the kids to get a diploma, so they can make a decent income when they graduate. That higher learning stuff is nice, but times are tough: parents don’t spend forty grand in tuition so their kids can become philosophers when they graduate. Sometimes the sentiment gets nasty: those teachers damn well better not be filling our kids’ heads with any flaky crap like women’s studies, histories of slavery, or this “theory” of Evolution.

From the beginning, the NAS straddled these views: despite invocations of merits and standards, its attitudes towards academic freedom was at best equivocal, and at worst, openly hostile. Academic Questions editor Herbert London claimed that “academic freedom” was a “refuge for radicals”[81] and merely “a defense for intolerant positions and those hostile to free inquiry.”[82] Thomas Short announced that “Academic freedom is not free speech for professors: in particular, it is not freedom for political speech. It is the freedom to do research and to teach as one sees fit to teach within the discipline or disciplines in which one has proven competence.” This version of academic freedom “calls for [outside] interference when that freedom is being subverted from within.”[83]

These arguments have a long and revealing history. During the 1950s, philosopher Sidney Hook encouraged the purging of Communists from their posts in universities. (Remember that Golden Age I mentioned earlier? This was it.) This was to avoid “playing into the hands of native reaction which would like to wipe out all liberal dissent,” i.e., let’s clean our own house and maybe J. Edgar won’t come after us. Since Hook was also claiming Communists were incapable of deviating from approved doctrine, their purging was really “the enforcement of the proper professional standards” which “is a matter of ethical hygeine and not of political heresy or persecution.” And when professors asked to “name names” invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, Hook– drawing an amazing analogy between Communists and drug dealers– argued that this was reason enough to dismiss them from their jobs.[84] The NAS honors this heroic and principled stance by offering a $2,500 “Sidney Hook Award” every year to “uncommon service in the defense of intellectual freedom and academic integrity.”

To put Hook’s ‘ethical hygeine’ into action, the academic right made an attempt at epidemiology. Shortly before the Madison-IEA merger, these two organizations collaborated with the NAS to compile a guide to undergraduate education. A 36-page survey was sent to a self-selected sample, the NAS membership. The investigators (MCEA staffers) were paid to answer their own questionnaires ($25), or write essays ($100). The survey included such questions like, “Are there any groups on campus critical of the core curriculum?”, “Do homosexuals comprise a vocal, active interest group on campus? What are their objectives?” and “Are many courses used for indoctrination?”[85]

The results turned up in The Common Sense Guide to American Colleges, which parents would consult before sending their kids off to some campus filled with, well, pollution of their ethical fluids. (The Humanist reports that this project cost the Madison Center $120,930 in 1990.[86]) The survey provides an idea of what the academic right desires in a university. Many of the approved colleges were small Christian colleges in the South. Others were considerably less than free institutions: Grove City College spent much of the 1980s under investigation for violation of anti-discrimination laws. Hillsdale College in Michigan, which also received high ratings, has a 98% white student body: the college avoids compliance with the Civil Rights Restoration Act by disallowing federal funding to students, including the famous G.I. Bill. Even conservative instructors have been dismissed for minor slights, like calling the university’s harassing lawsuits against former faculty “outrageous.” One former teacher calls it a “feudal manor run by George Roche.”[87]

But Hillsboro and Grove City are relatively minor institutions: NAS board member John Silber has had Boston University for his own project of academic cleansing. Silber, who once said that “the more democratic a university is, the lousier it is,” proclaimed his BU had resisted what he termed “epistemopathologies,” academic trends that were “inhospitable to free intellectual inquiry”: his list included structuralism, critical legal studies, the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, and radical feminism. But Silber runs BU in the self-aggrandizing manner of a Third World tyrant. University personnel who criticize Silber or his administration are routinely fired; the director of the campus radio station was discharged when he refused to delete a joke about Silber from a tape. He is known to bully and harass professors up for tenure, and to deny raises and merit pay increases to activist faculty members who’ve earned it. (Historian Howard Zinn had been a perennial target of Silber’s until his retirement. Education theorist Henry Giroux had been recommended for tenure by all pertinent deans and review committees, but Silber organized an ad hoc committee of conservative scholars. This committee’s recommendations were used to fire Giroux.) Long-time Silber cronies of little academic ability were hired, promoted, and tenured. The political science department has been effectively gutted, while Silber has created the richly-endowed “Department of International Relations.” Although the university’s endowment has increased twenty-fold, its debts have increased thirtyfold and tuition has nearly tripled. Silber rewards himself with the highest salary of any university president in America.[88]

Boston University is, at least among the PC critics, very much the model for a modern university– so its example allows us to see the true outlines of the Great Political Correctness Hoax. The claim that a Golden Age of scholarly purity and impartial truth is being restored by the anti-PC factions is, simply, untrue: the people who have promoted this hoax are far more politically doctrinaire than any of their targets. The complaints about “McCarthyism of the Left” and PC intimidation have been collected and circulated not out of a genuine concern for academic freedoms, but as propaganda for a set of conservative ideologies.

Ivory Towers and Rising Tides

I hope it won’t damage my case too much to say that I feel a bit like the medical student preparing to perform his first autopsy. The corpse is wheeled out, riddled with bullet holes, the marks of a ball-peen hammer’s repeated blows denting the back of the skull… and the instructor announces that the cause of death was advanced lymphatic cancer. Without much enthusiasm, the student makes the incisions, puts the recovered bullets in the specimen tray, makes certain the notes are in order, and then decides to have a look at those lymph nodes anyway. Turns out there are indications of lymph cancer: it’s not fatal, not yet at least, but it’s certainly there.

This is where I have to fudge the “PC Hoax” bit, and acknowledge that whatever this Political Correctness thing is, there does seem to be something there. Yes, there are incidents of students with leftish sentiments who are intolerant, professors lost in Derridean cul-de-sacs, wild accusations of racism or sexism made without careful consideration, and genuine crackpots like the melanin-surfeited Leonard Jeffries.[89] After all, the political left came up with the phrase “politically correct” in the first place– to ridicule the self-absorbed louts who were giving their efforts a bad name.

And likewise, there are incidents of teenagers spraypainting occult symbols, and psychotics using Devil imagery in their crimes, but these don’t constitute evidence of a national menace of Satanists working to undermine Western Civ.

Still, we have to ask what this “political correctness” thing really is, so the tagging of organs and scraping of tissue samples must be done. Wilson cites one possible origin in an obscure 1793 Supreme Court case. Herbert Kohl mentions its use among American Communists in the 1930s,[90] and Todd Gitlin calls it a “Stalinist relic” in The Twilight of Common Dreams. Ruth Perry traces it to Maoist elements in the Black Power movement.[91]

But its modern use in the political left, however, has consistently been to disparage those who were overzealous or excessively doctrinaire. Maurice Isserman recalls using the phrase in the early Seventies; “It was always used in a tone mocking the pieties of our own insular political counterculture, as in ‘We could stop at McDonald’s down the road if you’re hungry,’ or ‘We could spend good money to get the television fixed,’ etc., but it wouldn’t be politically correct.”[92]

Personally, I think Perry and Isserman are closest to the mark. The translation of The Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung[93] distributed by the Black Panthers uses an awkwardly exact English that’s ripe for parody. And my own memory corroborates Isserman’s almost precisely. As an undergrad at Temple University in the early Eighties, I’d heard the phrase only as irony; “I’m getting something to drink. Which is politically correct, Coke or Pepsi?” “Well, who shot more labor organizers in Guatemala this week?”

Perhaps most damaging to the anti-PC consensus is Ruth Perry’s account of a Barnard College debate over feminism and sexuality. The Lesbian Sex Mafia, a group of sado-masochism enthusiasts, protested what they beheld as an anti-S&M orthodoxy among straight feminists by conducting a “Speakout on Politically Incorrect Sex.” As Perry writes, “the LSM in turn gleefully appropriated this terminology and began to flaunt it as enviable, sexy, radical. Within lesbian circles, being ‘politically incorrect,’ like being a ‘bad girl,’ was coming to mean hip, sophisticated, rebellious, impulsive.” This was in 1982– years before anti-feminists, or Johnny-come-latelies like Camille Paglia, followed the lead of the Lesbian Sex Mafia.[94]

By now it shouldn’t be surprising that this history went completely unmentioned by Dinesh D’Souza. In Illiberal Education he claimed that “The revolutionary ideologues of that period were serious people, and there is no indication that they spoke of political correctness with any trace of irony or self-deprecation.”[95]

Whatever its use or history, the phrase “political correctness” conjures something in peoples’ minds, and we might learn something if we do a little biopsy work. The following items are among the more widely-cited as symptoms of PC.

  1. Campus speech codes, usually directed at suppressing “hate speech”;
  2. Codes of conduct for dating and sexual activity on campus (most famously, those of Antioch College);
  3. Discussion and support of feminist, gay and lesbian issues;
  4. Marxism, socialism, and the presence of political radicals in academe;
  5. Certain literary and cultural theories, most notably deconstructionism and postmodernism;
  6. Efforts to include Third World writers and artists in college curricula, ostensibly at the expense of “Western” writers;
  7. Various theories of history and science, usually termed “ethnocentric”;
  8. Affirmative action programs for college admissions and faculty selection;
  9. Certain euphemisms and recommended phrases (such as “physically challenged”).
  10. Something called “victimology.”

I’m sure I’ve left out a few: the list of activities variously promoted as “politically incorrect” has included smoking cigars in restaurants, voting Republican, enjoying Rush Limbaugh’s shows, denouncing women on the Internet, or shouting racial slurs at passersby. I’ve tried to keep out these colloquial uses of the term, but the Top Ten list above seems to capture the main themes.

I’m never comfortable with drawing analogies between diseases and ideas: the Third Reich appealed to doctors and scientists using a great deal of infected-body-politic, racial-health jabber.[96] But what we have here is a variety of symptoms that don’t really fit any etiology of a disease. If someone can provide a direct, explicit ideological connection between sexual conduct codes and Jacques Derrida, or terms like “differently abled,” and Leonard Jeffries, I’ll eat my copy of Illiberal Education.

The most charitable way to look at this is to mention the fallacy of “reification,” where something that’s perceived as a single entity is then evaluated as a single entity. For example, instead of regarding an assortment of traits– physical coordination, math ability, social skills, facility with the language — as separate traits, we tend to lump them in together and call it “intelligence.” We do this in everyday conversation without any harm, but it can deform whatever scientific approaches we take.

Gross and Levitt commit a similar fallacy in Higher Superstition. Despite their stated desire not to malign all academic leftists, and although they address a variety of issues individually and on their own issues, large sections of their book are devoted to portraying the “Academic Left” as an enemy of natural science. The PC hoax seems to commit a similar fallacy, in that a wide variety of items– speech codes, gay and lesbian activism, feminism, black nationalism and separatism, left-liberal activism, suspect philosophical methods, and the like– are “reified” into an all-encompassing whole called “Political Correctness,” where the virtues are slight, and the sins of one are the sins of all.

Take feminism, which gets blamed for just about every sin in American society (especially that “victimology” business). Christina Hoff Sommers complains that feminists “have made the American campus a less happy place,” partly by turning undergrads into steely-eyed, anti-sex fanatics, and partly by exaggerating the issue of rape on campus.[97] In denouncing studies of the incidence of rape, Sommers relies on the severely flawed work of Berkeley’s Neil Gilbert (as does Katie Roiphe in The Morning After), who regards date rape as analogous to a “common cold” and claims that its incidence is exaggerated.[98]

Despite the assertion that feminists are “virtually unchallenged,” Wilson reports that “Most women’s studies programs are marginally funded and use ‘borrowed faculty.'” Instructors known for feminist activity (involvement with women’s studies programs, membership in NOW, participation in clinic defense, etc.) report allegations about their morals and sexual orientation, suggestions from male faculty to avoid feminist scholarship and political activity, and greater difficulties in finding work.[99]

And sexual conduct codes, also blamed on feminists, really don’t seem to fit at all with the rest of the PC Top Ten. Consider this: PC hoaxsters like William “Virtue” Bennett regularly complain about sexual activity among undergraduates, denounce any and all homosexual acts, call for efforts to censor the mass media and the Internet, and never criticize sexual conduct codes at religious colleges. Their favorite targets include gays, lesbians, and feminists, and these groups have tended to promote sexual self-determination for their respective constituencies, as well as the practices of contraception and safe-sex procedures. (Remember the Lesbian Sex Mafia?) The PC hoaxsters denounce efforts to reduce nonconsensual sex, such as the widely-parodied Antioch Rules– and simultaneously denounce consensual sex activity, such as in John Silber’s prohibition on overnight visitors of the opposite sex in Boston U.  dormitories.

About the best that can be said for speech codes is that they’ll provide smooth driving on the Gehenna Expressway. Wilson provides a decent chapter on the speech code debate, which– in the hands of the PC hoaxers– has transmogrified a number of drunken, loud-mouthed bigots into the heirs of Patrick Henry. Wilson’s discussion of these codes ranges over several points: universities have always had restrictions on speech and behavior; the speech codes attracted attention only after they were changed to reflect liberal, minority, women’s or gay and lesbian concerns; and most speech codes are extremely vague to begin with. But his finest passage is where he presents what Dinesh D’Souza, George Will, Nat Hentoff, and other anti-speech-code mavens would restrict– and demonstrates that they’re actually more restrictive than the nebulous speech codes they’ve denounced.

The complaints about euphemisms are more of those strange unquantifiables. Sometimes it makes sense to ask for different terms: “Ms.” is certainly an improvement over reinforcing the marital-status issue for women, and Robert Hughes notes that “Asian American” has appreciable neutrality over the term “Oriental,” which “suggests a foreignness so extreme that it cannot be assimilated, and raises the Fu-Manchu phantoms of 19th century racist fiction.”[100] On the other hand, phrases like “differently abled” are, clearly, the gropings of managers for inoffensive speech: they’re so easily parodied that I suspect many of the examples cited by PC hoaxers were originally offered as casual jokes (“Hey, how about ‘living impaired’ for dead people!”).[101]

Sadly, Wilson falls short on item number 5, Postmodernism and Deconstructionism, which are mentioned only in passing. I regret to say that I’m simply unequipped to deal with this as well. I’ve heard the colloqual uses of the terms, such as ‘deconstruction’ as synonym for critical analysis, and ‘postmodernism’ for a kind of grab-bag approach to popular culture. But denouncing them on the basis of their colloquial bastardizations may be like denouncing quantum physics after reading the gimcrack Zen of Fritjov Capra or Gary Zukav. It may very well be that deconstruction is every bit as vapid and worthless as its critics say it is, but for obvious reasons, I cannot trust the anti-PC critics.[102] I’ve made a few attempts to read what have been recommended as good surveys, but after a chapter or two I find myself getting lost in the apparently standard terms of the field. I’m not proud of this intellectual failure, but it doesn’t follow that something that I don’t understand should be purged from the universities.

(I’m still surprised that Michel Foucault’s name turns up in these denunciations of PC. Foucault discussed the rise of nominally liberal and progressive institutions– clinics, asylums, psychiatry, and the like– as well as their immediate uses to coerce human beings according to the needs of powerful institutions. Personally, I like Foucault’s work: like Nietzsche, he’s sloppy with facts, but he’s capable of spectacular insight.[103] Why conservatives should denounce Foucault, yet emulate him in their denunciations of coercive aspects of anti-racism, “sensitivity seminars,” speech codes, and other nominally liberal efforts, is one of life’s little mysteries.)

Let’s take Item #6, the Tale of the Collapsing Canon. The idea of a ‘canon’ for Western Civilization should give any pause for consideration. I recall a remark made by one of my lecturers at Temple University about a retiring conductor who, upon retiring, said he was proud that he’d conducted all of the finest music of mankind. The lecturer said that this was an astounding statement to make, considering that Indian music uses a scale with 32 notes in the Western “octave,” and thus, its finest examples are bound to be more complex.

Gerry O’Sullivan reports that the idea of a “Western canon” has its roots during World War I, when “a generation of self-styled ‘humanists’ insisted upon the adoption of British styles, manners, tastes, and customs as a cultural bulwark against Bolshevism and the Huns, and as an Anglo-Saxon antidote to the perceived vulgarism of Eastern European immigrants.”[104] This was mainly promoted by one Irving Babbitt, who denounced social reform, educational experimentation, John Dewey, Abraham Flexner and as evils of the time, tracing their lineage back to Rousseau and Thomas Paine.[105] Amusingly enough, Babbitt and his ilk regarded themselves as “New Humanists” defending Western Civ against the foreign hordes– who were surging past Ellis Island by the thousands in those days, diluting the “American character” with their sinister Irish, German, Italian, Slavic and Jewish influences.

To hear the NAS’s members tell it, Shakespeare has been consigned to the bonfires while wild-eyed Jacobin postmodernists force Alice Walker down students’ throats. Why Alice Walker should be singled out is anyone’s guess– but if we factor in NAS member Thomas Short’s denunciation of The Color Purple as a “black lesbian saga,” we can make a pretty good guess.[106] But surveys of college courses regularly show that the Dead White Males, from Shakespeare on down, are the consistent favorities of English instructors. The MLA’s Online Bibliography shows that the ten most cited authors begin with Shakespeare and James Joyce, and the top ten included Chaucer, Milton, Faulkner, Dickens, and other DWMs.[107]

As long as we’re on the subject of race and non-evidence, consider Paul Hollander’s article “‘Imagined Tyranny?’ Political Correctness Reconsidered,” for the NAS’s journal Academic Questions. Hollander begins with the observation that “it is most often used to refer to left-liberal orthodoxies,” while acknowledging its occasional use in addressing the PC of the right. But then Hollander wanders off into the thickets, first invoking “two closely-related dimensions” of PC, the “procedural-institutional,” (i.e., speech codes, sensitivity training programs) and the “ideological.” He blames the difficulty in defining PC on “the disfiguring of language that PC has brought about,” with such terms as “heterosexism.” Hollander provides a list of various attempts at definition, including “a form of groupthink fueled by paranoia and demonology imposed by political or social intimidation,” and “the drive to cast all matters of culture and intellect in political terms.” These gaseous non-arguments fail to discourage Hollander from denouncing others for not recognizing the really real dangers of PC: the decline of academic standards, the “countless” qualified white males denied admission into college, and an “unknown but probably large number” of white males’ “not being hired, promoted, or given tenure,” and “those terminated for violating some canon of PC,” and the amount of time “wasted” on debating PC.[108]

Wilson isn’t content to leave these white males as “uncounted,” so his chapter on “The Myth of Reverse Discrimination” is especially valuable in dealing with #8 above. A 1994 survey in the Journal of Higher Education provides an echo of the fabled “10,000 Marxists” claim; white males make up 47.5% of all tenure track positions, while blacks amounted to only 5.8% percent of the total. As for non-tenure track positions, such as lecturers and instructors, white males were 44% of the instructors and almost 30% of the lecturers, while blacks comprised 6.9% and 6.3% of these same groups. The demographics of full-time faculty at research universities are similar: whites make up 87.5 percent (66.5% male, 21.0% female) of faculty, while blacks and Hispanics amount to 3.2% and 1.9%, respectively.[109] (This does lead to a fascinating question for Hollander: if even these meager representations are a result of affirmative-action malfeasance, then what would he consider to be the acceptable percentage of black faculty? And why such a small number?)

Minorities among the student body have not escaped the heartfelt concern of the PC hoaxers. One argument, advanced by D’Souza, is that affirmative action has forced universities to lower their admissions standards in order to admit the prescribed number of black students. This may be true, considering that many American blacks would be coming to the admissions process after eighteen years of what Jonathan Kozol called the “savage inequalities” of America. It is not unreasonable to suppose that underfunded schooling, poverty, crime, and the like might pull one’s SAT scores down a notch or two. This does leave D’Souza in the lurch, as the game-plan of his mentors has consistently been to cut funding and social programs directed at improving those eighteen years for black Americans.

Many conservatives have argued that the beneficiaries of affirmative action programs suffer a social stigma, and crippling self-doubt, because their achievements weren’t made entirely by the merits of their work on a level playing field. Shelby Steele is frequently cited as the proponent of this argument:[110] Dinesh D’Souza and Charles Murray[111] even go so far as to claim that the rise in racist incidents on college campuses is due to white resentment of affirmative action. D’Souza claims racist attitudes are based on “direct and first-hand experience with minorities,” and Murray says it’s a “factually correct appraisal of the world they see around then, systematically fostered by affirmative action.”[112]

Rarely have the PC bashers spoken about an older form of affirmative action: the relaxing of admissions standards for alumni “legacies.” A 1991 Department of Education investigation into Harvard’s admissions policies revealed that children of alumni (legacies) were the beneficiaries of preferential admissions policies– and that Yale, Dartmouth and Stanford also have a preferential nod to legacies. Comments scrawled on the applicants’ folders showed a concern with heredity that Francis Galton might have found restricting. A few examples: “Lineage is main thing,” “Without lineage, there would be little case. With it, we will keep looking,” “Double lineage but lots of problems,” “Double lineage who chose the right parents,” and “lineage tips it, i guess.”[113] The DOE report concluded that legacies’ SAT scores were, on average, 35 points lower than those of other students, and were admitted at more than twice the rate of other applicants.[114] At Harvard, this difference amounted to two hundred students– a greater number than the aggregate of black, Mexican‑American, native American, and Puerto Rican enrollees at the time.[115] (To compound the ironies: the investigation was the result of Asian-American students’ complaints that these schools passed them over in favor of less-qualified white candidates.[116])

When challenged on these polices, universities usually present the specious argument that such admissions encourage donations from alumni. (A similar argument is made for athletic scholarships and college sports revenues.) These claims may or may not be true, and they’re worth considering… but we’re no longer talking about academic standards now, are we?

Katha Pollitt points out that

            “As long as we’re talking about white men competing with each other, we tacitly acknowledge that we live in a realistic world of a Balzac novel, a world in which we know perfectly well that Harvard C’s beat A’s from Brooklyn College, in which family connections and a good tennis serve never hurt, and sycophancy, backstabbing, and organizational inertia carry the undeserving into top jobs every day of the week. Add women and blacks into the picture, though, and suddenly the scene shifts. Now we’re in Plato’s Republic, where sternly impartial philosopher-kings award laurels to the deserving after nights of fasting and prayer. Or did, before affirmative action threw its spanner into the meritocratic works.”[117]

            To my knowledge, Shelby Steele’s argument about the stigmas of affirmative action has never been made about legacies, trust-fund babies, people who have inherited great wealth, or– if we really want to extend the argument– white men admitted to universities before the feminist or civil rights movements brought in more competition for the admissions and tenure slots.[118] It certainly hasn’t been made against such conservatives of color as Steele, D’Souza, Alan Keyes, or Clarence Thomas, whose prominence among affirmative action critics may be due to more than their individual accomplishments.[119]

John Larew, writing about legacy admissions in the Washington Monthly, reports that this policy

            was a direct result of the influx of Jews into the Ivy League during the twenties. Until then, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale had admitted anyone who could pass their entrance exams, but suddenly Jewish kids were outscoring the WASPs. So the schools began to use nonacademic criteria‑- “character,” solidity,” and, eventually, lineage‑- to justify accepting low‑scoring blue bloods over their peers. Yale implemented its  legacy preference first, in 1925‑- spelling it out in a memo four years later: The school would admit “Yale sons of good character and reasonably good record . . . regardless of the number of applicants and the superiority of outside competitors.” Harvard and Princeton followed shortly thereafter.[120]

            I hope we’re all reminded of Irving Babbitt and his Anglophilic canon, because we seem to be nearing a conclusion on this Political Correctness issue. It’s not just the millions dumped into the cause by right-wing foundations, and it’s not just a credulous public meekly accepting a slew of bogus news stories. It’s the fact that American universities reflect massive cultural changes that have occurred over the past thirty years or so. Thousands of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and poor whites are attending colleges that would have been overwhelmingly white and middle class in 1966. Women are attending college for career training more often than the fabled M.R.S. degree. Whole new disciplines have opened up in scholarship: the histories of women, gays and lesbians, and Native Americans were ignored or simply unknown prior to the 1960s.

(Many of the study programs for these cultures suffer from a kind of Catch-22. They don’t attract students who are outside the group, so to speak: white students rarely sign up for black studies courses, men are rare in women’s studies, and heterosexuals aren’t exactly jumping onto the Queer Studies enrollment lists. The result is that classes are made up of students who are, substantially, their own subjects, so the content of the course will reflect personal needs and concerns. This enables conservatives to describe these classes as either amorphous self–help seminars, brainwashing sessions, or Two-Minute-Hate rallies, whether they are or not.)

We’ve also had large numbers of Asian and Hispanic immigrants over the past twenty years, and that’s changing the American character as much as the European arrivals did seventy years ago. The unique situation of black Americans– the civil rights movement, advancement of millions into the middle classes, consistently disproportionate poverty, and the edgy and conflicting reactions of white Americans to all of it– has provided a fascinating series of subcultures that few people can discuss comprehensively. In short, American culture is doing what comes naturally: it’s changing, very quickly.

In his book Bread and Circuses, Patrick Brantlinger discusses the many guises of an intellectual tradition: the centuries-old notion of the Civilization In Decline, where the enlightened few are brought low by alien or plebian cultures. Brantlinger draws a useful distinction between the “positive classicism” of looking to an idealized past civilization, and the “negative classicism” that casts the contemporary world into a recreation of some disatrous past. The common example cited by the doomsayers is the fall of the Roman Empire, but Brantlinger traces the overall notion as far back as Heraclitus in 500 b.c.

Negative classicism, Brantlinger writes,

            “transcends the specific ideologies– conservativism, liberalism, radicalism, fascism, socialism, Marxism– and is used in different ways by them all. Its most thoughtful expositors elaborate and qualify it with great sophistication and rationality, but it still functions more like an article of faith than like a reasoned argument: in many cases, a mere passing allusion to  ‘bread and circuses’ or to such related notions as ‘decadence’ and ‘barbarism’ is meant to trigger a chain of associations pointing to a secularized Judgement Day in which democracy, or capitalism, or Western Civilization, or ‘the technological society’ will strangle upon its own contradictions, chief among which is likely to be an amorphous monstrosity called ‘mass culture.'”[121]

            Theodore Adorno– one of those Frankfurt School intellectuals who keep John Silber in cold sweats– once wrote about that most influential of intellectual apocalyptics, “The forgotten Spengler takes his revenge by threatening to be right.”[122] This is the great, sour comfort to apocalyptism. The feeling of alienation or exclusion from the mass culture becomes proof of one’s own righteousness. Vindication comes with every scrap of bad news. Displeasing elements of the culture are reified into appendages of a singular cause: agents of Satan, heads of the Hydra, tentacles of the Red Menace. And the apocalyptic’s tastiest ambrosia are the dreams of when society does collapse, and the masses feel the richly-deserved pain of realizing what they’d foolishly rejected.

It’s hard to break this particular Jones without finding comfort in another of its many flavors. Even as Tom Wolfe denounced the bitter-monk tendencies of some leftist professors (in the previously-cited essay), he went on to quote approvingly from Jean-Francois Revel, whose Why Democracies Perish argues that the freedoms of democracies are merely the seeds of their restrictions and eventual downfalls.

Denouncing “Political Correctness” doesn’t require much effort: find some incident of academic stupidity, wax poetic about the imminent apocalypse, and you’re done. But doing the opposite– which no more constitutes “defending political correctness,” any more than debunking Satan-cult myths constitutes “defending ritual murder”– takes work. One has to present academic controversies fairly, talk about each incident on its own issues (which requires bringing in political discussion) and above all, get the facts right.

The little evils of cant, phrase-mongering and reaction incubate everywhere, and academics and the political left are less resistant than they believe themselves to be. But consider the hypocrisies we’ve seen. Efforts to open higher education to minorities are denounced as a subversion of educational standards– but were those standards ever so sturdy and ironclad? Study programs devoted to women, blacks, Asians, and Native Americans are denounced as victimology and self-help mythmaking– yet the “Western Canon” must be preserved to ensure the cultural and moral fiber of our citizens. Excesses and mistakes by feminists, corporate critics, black studies professors and others are trumpeted to the heavens as unforgivable transgressions. Yet the PC mythmakers, with their substantial record of sloppiness and excess, are rewarded with oceans of Olindollars, book contracts, jobs at think tanks and journals to publish their future efforts, while presenting themselves as a besieged and persecuted minority.

People have always had good reason to be concerned about the state of higher education. But we won’t find reasoned debate in the chicken-little, stop-the-new-dark-age hysteria of the PC myth-mongers, and I hope Skeptic readers will be warier of their claims. After all, if there really are barbarians at the gates, it helps to know whether we’re keeping them out… or if they’re inside, cursed with visions of enemies, and ordering the rest of us to the battlements.

I’d like to thank David Twery, Rachel Rawlings, Seth Kulick, Gerry O’Sullivan, Rick Szykowny,  and Lionel Ginzburg for their various acts of kindness, assistance, advice, conversation, and material support. Errors made and opinions expressed are mine alone: any credit should be shared with them.


[1]           Bernstein, “The Rising Hegemony of the Politically Correct,” New York Times, October 28, 1990

[2]           Taylor, “Are You Politically Correct?” New York, Jan. 21, 1991; Genovese, “The Chilling of Intellectual Life,” The New Republic, April 15, 1991; D’Souza, “Illiberal Education,” excerpt, The Atlantic, March 1991; “Thought Police,” Newsweek, Dec. 24, 1990.

[3]           Todd Gitlin, using “politically correct” and its variants, reports the following breakdown: 15 times in 1989, 66 times in 1990, 1,553 times in 1991, 2,672 times in 1992, and 4,643 times in 1993. (Gitlin, “Demonizing PC,” Dissent, Fall 1995: adapted from The Twilight of Common Dreams.)

[4]           Siano, “Culture Wars,” Skeptic, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1995.

[5]           Kurtz, “The Antiscience Threat,” Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Spring 1994). Other such “threats” included anxieties about nuclear holocaust, “phobias” about chemical additives, and”suspicion of biogenetic engineering.”

[6]           Kurtz, “Notes from the Editor: Revising History Texts,” Free Inquiry, Winter 1994-95.

[7]           Kurtz, “Toward a New Enlightenment,” Free Inquiry, Winter 1992-1993.

[8]           Gross and Levitt, “Knocking Science for Fun and Profit,” Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 1995.

[9]           Koertge, “How Feminism is Alienating Women from Science” Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 1995. Wilson characterizes Professing Feminism as “anonymous interviews with thirty people involved with women’s studies. But it isn’t difficult to find thirty people to complain about intolerance and ideological conformity in any field.”

[10]          Sheaffer, “Feminism: The Noble Lie,” Free Inquiry, Spring 1995.

[11]          Jon Weiner, “What Happened at Harvard,” The Nation, Sept. 30, 1991.

[12]          In a reprint of his original review (in Beyond PC, Aufderheide, ed.), Woodward acknowledges that he had been misled by D’Souza’s account.

[13]          “Reports and Documents on Stanford,” Minerva, Autumn 1989. Cited in Wilson, page 65.

[14]          Commentary, January 1991. Cited by Wilson, p. 65.

[15]          Seinfeld, “Culture and Curriculum Reform at Stanford University,” Centennial Review, Spring 1992. Cited by Wilson, page 65.

[16]          Illiberal Education, p 32. Cited by Wilson, p 66. See also Isserman, “Travels with Dinesh,” Tikkun, V. 6 No. 5. for another examination of D’Souza’s Stanford account.

[17]          These points were taken from three sources: Raoul V. Mowatt, What Revolution at Stanford?, reprinted in Aufderheide; Isaac Barchas, “Stanford After the Fall; An Insider’s View,” Acadamic Questions, Winter 1989; Judith Brown, “CIV: Don’t Forget the Facts,” Perspectives (AHA), Nov. 1992. All are cited by Wilson, page 65.

[18]          For a dissection of D’Souza’s analysis of this book, see Wilson, pages 70-71.

[19]          Minerva. Cited by Wilson, page 67.

[20]          Minerva, Autumn 1989, cited by Wilson, page 68.

[21]          Wall Street Journal, April 1, 1991. Cited by Beers.

[22]          David Beers, “P.C.? B.S.” Mother Jones, Sept-Oct. 1991.

[23]          The entire passage on Lee Bass and Yale is based on Karp, “A Whiter Shade of Yale?” The Washington Post, June 4, 1995.

[24]          “Exhibit A,” Lingua Franca, June 1991, and “The Accused,” Lingua Franca, October 1991. The former article reprints all three pages of Iannone’s resume.

[25]          Chambers, “Is Academic Freedom in Danger?” Life, June 22, 1953. Reprinted in Ghosts on the Roof: Selected Essays, edited by Terry Teachout. Transaction Publishers, 1996.

[26]          New York Times, May 5, 1991. Cited in Wilson, page 8.

[27]          The Nation, May 27, 1991. Reprinted (edited slightly) in The Golden Age is Within Us, Verso 1995. The broomstick-and-cemetery remark is a reference to the McMartin Preschool child-abuse allegations, which Cockburn had denounced in his columns.

[28]          Wilson, page 38.

[29]          Weisberg, “NAS: Who Are These Guys, Anyway?” Lingua Franca, April 1991. Cited in Wilson.

In a recent exchange with Seth Kulick on the Usenet newsgroup, Kors states that his original “barbarians at the gates” remark was made to summarize the statements of another panelist at an NAS conference, and was thus taken out of context. As for the quote cited above, Kors writes:

“The second use– at a second NAS convention– was an “in your face,” the hell with it use, after the phrase had become so associated with me that I had given up on trying to correct the first case. I even said to the audience, after a speech devoted to the need for honest intellectual analysis, debate, and pluralism on the academic “Right,” “Ok, want to see the sound bite from this talk? Here goes.” And, smiling, used the metaphor again, predicting to the audience that, despite the content of my talk, this one line would be the tag-line attached to the talk. My ire, explicitly, was directed against the media and what it would do to the talks. Indeed, I looked directly at reporters as I repeated by by-now “infamous” phrase. From my own perspective, it was gentle irony.” (April 17, 1996)

[30]          Teachout, “Dead Center: The Myth of the Middle,” National Review, Nov. 2, 1992. Cited by Wilson, page 23.

[31]          Williams, “College Administrators Aiding Campus Leftists,” Human Events, March 20, 1993. Cited by Wilson, page 23.

[32]          All quotations up to this point are from various examples in Wilson’s book.

[33]          Kahn, “The Attack of the Ex‑ Leftists,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 1993, and Diamond, “Notes on Political Correctness,” Z Magazine, July-August 1993.

[34]          Eugene Genovese, “Stalin’s Letters to Molotov, 1925-1936,” The New Republic, V. 213 No. 10

[35]          Weiner, “A Tale of Two Enclaves,” The Nation, Dec. 12, 1988.

[36]          Cited by Hollander, “‘Imagined Tyranny?’ Political Correctness Reconsidered,” Academic Questions, Fall 1994.

[37]          Drucker, “Political Correctness and American Academe,” Society, V. 32, No. 1.

[38]          Innerst, “Student Senate kills funds for conservative magazine,” Washington Times, Oct. 10, 1995

[39]          Pakenham, “The ideas front: Climb on the hip‑hop express,” Baltimore Sun, march 19, 1995

[40]          Kreychte, “The Prostitutuion of Higher Education, “USA Today (Magazine), November 1994.

[41]          Brady, “White for Black?” Advertising Age, August 23, 1993.

[42]          Reese, “’60S Radicals Left a More Lasting ‑ and Worse ‑ Legacy than Apollo,” Orlando Sentinel, July 31, 1994

[43]          Reese, “There’s No Good Reason Not to Fight for What You Know is Right,” Orlando Sentinel, Feb 22, 1996.

[44]          Reese, “Tolerance Doesn’t Mean Accepting Others ‑ Just Leaving Them Alone,” Orlando Sentinel, July 24, 1994

[45]          Reese, “We Should All Lighten Up – Feminists, This Means You Especially,” Orlando Sentinel, February 28, 1996.

[46]          Hollander, “‘Imagined Tyranny?’ Political Correctness Reconsidered,” Academic Questions, Fall 1994

[47]          Limbaugh, See, I Told You So. Simon and Schuster, 1994. Cited by Wilson, page 7.

[48]          Faludi, Backlash. Crown, 1991.

[49]          Olin’s funding of the Center is mentioned in Wilson, page 26. The 1992 assets were published in Schulman, “Foundations for a Movement: How the Right Wing Subsidizes Its Press,” Extra!, Mach/April 1995.

Jon Weiner reported in 1990 that Bloom was getting $3.6 million to run the Center, although this did not specify how these monies were disbursed. (Weiner, “Dollars for Neocon Scholars,” The Nation, January 1, 1990)

[50]          Soley, Leasing the Ivory Tower, South End Press, 1995. The “Law and Economics” programs lie outside of the scope of this essay. But as Soley makes clear, the narrow ideological range of the programs themselves, the massive amounts of money that go to support them, and the actions some universities have taken to attract and support these bought-and-paid-for scholars, have dark implications for higher learning.

[51]          Grey City Journal, May 29, 1987. Cited in Wilson, page 11.

[52]          Wiener, “Reed Irvine Rides the Paper Tiger: Accuracy in Academia,” The Nation, April 5, 1986: Landau, “Dress Rehearsal for a Red Scare: Students for a Better America,” The Nation, April 5, 1986: Ledbetter, “Campus Double Agent: I was a Spy for Accuracy in Academia,” the New Republic, Dec. 30, 1985. Marshall, “New group targets political bias on campus: Accuracy in Academia,” Science, V. 229, August 30, 1985: “Profiles in Education,” Education Update (Heritage Foundation), 1987 Summer: Newman, “Radical leftist group wins apology from conservatives,” United Press International, June 27, 1987: Bonafede, “One Man’s Accuracy,” The National Journal, May 10, 1986. Innerst, “Watchdog Back in Class,” Washington Times, Sept. 15, 1995.

[53]          Cited in Weisberg, “NAS: Who Are These Guys, Anyway?” Lingua Franca, April 1991.

[54]          Balch and London, “The Tenured Left,” Commentary, October 1986.

[55]          Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation for Academic Questions, filed Oct. 1, 1995. Total press run is 4,720 copies.

[56]          Sommers, Who Stole Feminism?, Simon and Shuster, 1994.

[57]          The race-and-IQ stuff had been acceptable to the NAS: Stephen Balch claimed that Levin’s explicit endorsement of racial segregation was the reason they’d asked him to resign. Innerst, “Scholar forced out of NAS over persistent racist work,” Washington Times, June 11, 1990. Levin has reiterated these claims in “Race Differences: An Overview,” Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, Fall 1990.

[58]          Mack, “The Boys who Would be Buckley,” Spy, July 1989.

[59]          Henson and Philpott, “The Right Declares a Culture War,” The Humanist, March/April 1992. The authors report that Dartmouth’s student population numbers approximately 4,500.

[60]          Henson and Philpott, 1992. This amount was not listed in the Foundation Grants Index for that year.

[61]          Henson and Philpott.

[62]          Wilson, page 27.

[63]          Schulman, Extra!

[64]          Schulman, “Foundations for a Movement,” Extra!, March/April 1995.

[65]          Wilson, page 26.

[66]          According to conference founder Benjamin Hart, the “First Generation” consisted of laissez-faire theorists such as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and former isolationsists and communists such as James Burnham, who had turned to anti-Communism after World War II; their unifying forum was William F. Buckley’s National Review. The “Second Generation” were the influential conservatives of the mid-1970s, including Rev. Jerry Falwell, Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley, and Heritage Foundation president Ed Fuelner. (An admirably complete history, though not using Hart’s three-generation schema, can be found in Diamond, Roads to Dominion, Guilford, 1995.)

[67]          Weiner, “Dollars for Neocon Scholars,” The Nation, January 1, 1990. For commentary on Fukuyama, see Hitchens, “Minority Report,” The Nation, September 25, 1989.

[68]          Diamond, Z Magazine, July/August 1993.

[69]          Flanders, “The ‘Stolen Feminism’ Hoax,” Extra! Sept./Oct. 1994. This article cites the Boston Globe, May 17, 1992 for its sourceon the $164,000 figure.

[70]          Flanders, “Conservative Women are Right for Media,” Extra!, March/April 1996.

[71]          Kornhauser, “The Right versus the Correct; Free-Market Firm Sees Campuses as Fertile Battleground,” Legal Times, April 29, 1991.

[72]          Henson and Philpott, 1992.

[73]          Henson and Philpott, The Humanist, March/April 1992.

[74]          D’Souza and Corn, “Letters,” The Nation, July 8, 1991. (This exchange of letters was prompted by an item by Corn in the May 13, 1991 issue, which D’Souza had claimed was factually inaccurate. Corn retracted some of his points (June 24), but a subsequent letter from D’Souza prompted him to re-investigate. My account is based on Corn’s final, summing-up letter. The theft of the GSA’s papers wasreported in the New York Times, Oct. 13, 1991.)

[75]          Cockburn and Silverstein, “That Dingy Dartmouth Dame,” Counterpunch, Sept. 1995.

[76]          Henson and Philpott. They note that D’Souza has occasionally denied ever having received funds from Olin.

[77]          Karp, “A Whiter Shade of Yale?” Washington Post, June 4, 1995.

[78]          In “D’Souza’s Critics: PC Fights Back,” (Academic Questions, Summer 1992), the NAS’s Heather MacDonald purports to reply to the critics of Illiberal Education, saying, in summary, “D’Souza’s evidence has not been discredited, except on the ground that it reaches a ‘politically incorrect’ conclusion.” MacDonald makes no mention of D’Souza’s factual errors over the Thernstrom and Stanford CIV cases– even though debunkings of these accounts were published and available.

[79]          Wolfe, “The Intelligent Co-ed’s Guide to America,” Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1976.

[80]          Quoted in Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Knopf, 1963.

            The Freeman was published by the Foundation for Economic Education, mainly to promote the free-market-capitalism economic theories of Freidrich Hayek and Ludwing von Mises. Businessmen who made large contributions to the FEE would get copies distributed to their employees. (Diamond, Roads to Dominion, Routledge 1995, p. 27-28.)

[81]          London, “Marxism Thriving on American Campuses,” The World & I, January 1987. Cited by Wilson, page 32.

[82]          Wilson, page 12.

[83]          Wilson (page 32) cites three pieces by Short. “‘Diversity’ and ‘Breaking the Disciplines’: Two New Assaults to the Curriculum,” Academic Questions, Summer 1988; “Making the Campus Safe for Bureaucracy: Reflections on the 1990 Carnegie Foundation Report,” Academic Questions, Fall 1990; “What Shall We Defend?” Academic Questions, Fall 1991.

[84]          Material on Hook is from Schrecker, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities, Oxford University Press, 1986.

[85]          Henson and Philpott.

[86]          Henson and Philpott.

[87]          Wiener, “God and Man at Hillsdale,” The Nation, February 24, 1992

[88]          Gross, “Under the Volcano,” Lingua Franca, Nov./Dec. 1995: Lambrose, “There’s Always a Silber Lining,” Lingua Franca, April 1991: Soley, Leasing the Ivory Tower, South End Press, Boston, MA 1995. Factbook on John Silber, published by the Concerned Faculty and Students of Boston University, 1990, cited by Wilson, page 34-36.

[89]          Todd Gitlin writes, “Though many on the left were reluctant to admit it in public, many true stories could be compiled to plug the holes in D’Souza’s research. Professor Leonard Jeffries of the City College of New York plugged a lot of holes all by himself.” (Gitlin, “Demonizing PC.”)

[90]          Social Policy, Summer 1991. Cited by Wilson.

[91]          Perry, “A Short History of the Term ‘Politically Correct,'” from The Women’s Review of Books, February 1992. (Wilson cites the reprinted version in Aufderheide, Beyond PC: Toward a Politics of Understanding, Greywolf Press, 1992.)

[92]          Isserman, “Travels with Dinesh,” Tikkun, 1991, V. 6., No. 5. Cited in Perry.

[93]          Foreign Languages Press, 1967: the famous “little red book.”

[94]          Perry, 1992.

[95]          D’Souza, Illiberal Education, xiv. (Cited by Wilson, page 5.) D’Souza’s comment about the period seems fantastic when recalling Abbie Hoffman, Timothy Leary, or Paul Krassner, parody phrases like “Better Living Through Chemistry,” underground comics, and the emergence of what Tony Hendra calls “boomer humor” (see Going Too Far, 1987, Dolphin/Doubleday, New York).

[96]          Lifton, The Nazi Doctors, Basic Books, 1986. It is genuinely illuminating to read Lifton’s early chapters on the use of biological metaphors under National Socialism– and then to turn to page 23 of The Myth of Political Correctness, and read the paragraph’s worth of biology-based quotes from William Bennett, Roger Kimball, David Horowitz, Stephen Balch and others.

[97]          The degree of terror expressed by many men, over the possibility that they might be subjected to false accusations of sexual harassment or attempted rape, deserves further study. Especially striking is the symmetry between the fear-object (the brittle feminist who might misinterpret a compliment as a sexual advance), and what these men claim are irrational feminist fears of a monstrous male. This may be seen as yet another example of “the personal is political.”

[98]          Wilson, page 112-117, includes a lengthy discussion of the flaws in Gilbert’s work.

[99]          Wilson, pages 128-135.

[100]        Hughes, Culture of Complaint, Oxford University Press, 1993. (I should add that Sax Rohmer wrote his first Fu Manchu story in 1912.)

[101]        Maurice Isserman points out an example from Illiberal Education that serves as a good example. D’Souza talks about how feminists have urged such changes in language as ‘first year student” for “freshman,” and then he writes, “Yale historian Howard Lamar says that his course on ‘Cowboys and Indians’ should now be called ‘Cowpersons and Native Americans.'”

Isserman points out that “Cowboys and Indians” had been a long-standing informal name Yale students gave Lamar’s two-part course: the official names were “The American West to 1850,” and “The American West since 1850.” In other words, Lamar had been joking. (“Travels with Dinesh,” Tikkun, V. 6., No. 5.)

[102]        One compelling argument turned up in the New York Times (May 18, 1996) as I was cleaning up my final draft. Alan Sokal, an NYU physicist fed up with what he saw as arrogance on the part of the cultural-studies crowd, devised a marvelous hoax. He compiled an article of quasiscientific gibberish and pomo phraseology, and submitted it to the cultural studies journal Social Text. Wonder of wonders, the article was published.

Sokol revealed the hoax, and his reasons for doing it, in the May/June 1996 issue of Lingua Franca. Briefly; Sokal considers himself a “leftist in the old-fashioned sense,” and a reading of Gross and Levitt’s Higher Supersition left him embarassed and angry that this was being promoted as work of the “academic left.”

[103]        One of the flaws of Higher Superstition is that it ignores any substantive discussion of Foucault. A footnote reads, “It goes without saying that… many historians are highly critical of his selective and impressionistic methodology,” and yes, it does go without saying, throughout the entire book. Gross and Levitt content themselves with the ad hominem observation of “revelations of his deeply neurotic and self-despising personal life which, one cannot help feeling, dictated the tone of his speculations, as well as giving them their peculiar emotional force.” (Page 77)

For a good overview of Foucault’s ideas, I recommend Paul Rabinow’s introduction to The Foucault Reader (Pantheon 1984). David Macey’s The Lives of Michael Foucault (Pantheon 1993) and James Miller’s The Passion of Michel Foucault (Simon & Schuster, 1993) both discuss Foucault’s personal life. Alan Ryan’s review of Miller and others in The New York Review of Books (April 8, 1993) struck me as a decent appraisal.

[104]        O’Sullivan, “The PC Police in the Mirror of History,” The Humanist, March/April 1992.

[105]        Rousseau and Paine have a knack for inspiring postmortem denunciation. Lyndon LaRouche, for example, traces much of his opponents’ malfeasances to Rousseau. And Irving Kristol, in his Reflections of a Neoconservative, describes Thomas Paine as “especially worth ignoring.”

[106]        Short, “‘Diversity’ and ‘Breaking the Disciplines’: Two New Assaults on the Curriculum,” Academic Questions, Summer 1988. Cited by Wilson, p 85.

[107]        Berube, Marginal Forces/Cultural Centers; Tolson, Pynchon, and the Politics of the Canon, Cornell University Press, 1992. Cited by Wilson, page 85.

[108]        One aspect of Hollander’s essay deserves special attention. He writes that those who doubt the PC myth make two claims, the first being that “reports of its manifestations are based on unreliable, anecdotal evidence, with which conservatives and right-wingers vastly exaggerate the phenomenon.” (The other is that such exaggerations divert attention from other problems.) But Hollander does not discuss the fact that many of the canonical examples of PC are based on unreliable and anecdotal evidence, as we’ve seen, and he makes no mention of the examples I’ve mentioned in this article.

[109]        Johnsrud and Heck, “Administrative Promotion within a University,” Journal of Higher Education, Jan.-Feb. 1994. Cited in Wilson, p 138-9.

[110]        Steele, The Content of Our Character, Basic Books, 1991.

[111]        Herrnstein and Murray, The Bell Curve, Free Press, 1995.

[112]        Cited in Wilson, page 152.

[113]        Muro, Boston Globe, 1991.

[114]        Leslie, “A Rich Legacy of Preference,” Newsweek, June 24, 1991.

[115]        Larew, “Why are droves of unqualified, unprepared kids getting into our top colleges? Because their dads are alumni.” Washington Monthly, June 1991. Larew writes: “As sociologists Jerome Karabel and David Karen point out, if alumni children were admitted to Harvard at the same rate as other applicants, their numbers in the class of 1992 would have been reduced by about 200. Instead, those 200 marginally qualified legacies outnumbered all black, Mexican‑American, native American, and Puerto Rican enrollees put together. If a few marginally qualified minorities are undermining Harvard’s academic standards as much as conservatives charge, think about the damage all those legacies must be doing.”

[116]        Wilson discusses the controversy at University of California’s various branches over Asian admissions, which held steady over five years despite increased numbers of Asian applications and higher average SAT scores: evidence indicates that the UC schools were admitting less qualified whites once a rough quota of Asians were admitted. Not surprisingly, conservatives have simultaneously decried the diminishing numbers of white students, while blaming affirmative action programs for other minority groups as the cause of this anti-Asian bias. (Wilson, page 144-146)

[117]        Pollitt, “On the Merits,” 1985. From Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism, Knopf, 1994.

[118]        D’Souza’s opinions have shifted, somewhat. At a recent debate on affirmative action (May 13th, 1996, co-sponsored by The Nation and the National Review), D’Souza acknowledged that legacy admissions were analogous to affirmative action policies, and that a flexible, more merit-oriented policy was desirable.

[119]        The day of Bush’s U. Mich. speech, Harvard’s Stephan Thernstrom appeared on This Week with David Brinkley (May 5, 1991). On that program, he blamed PC on a “minority mismatch problem,” a “degree of frustration on the part of many minority students who have been placed through affirmative action in institutions where they’re not doing well on average.” Citing this remark, Alexander Cockburn asks, “What kind of atmosphere does it create in a classroom when a professor believes minorities are ‘mismatched’ to higher education?” (Cockburn, The Nation, May 27, 1991.)

One very critical examination of Steele can be found in Reed, “Steele Trap,” The Nation, March 4, 1991.

[120]        Larew, June 1991.

[121]        Brantlinger, Bread and Circuses, page 18. The phrase ‘bread and circuses’ dates to Juvenal’s tenth satire, where he denounces the Roman populace for favoring sensationalist entertainments and creature comforts rather than political involvement (panem et circenses).

[122]        Adorno, “Spengler Today,” Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, 9 (1941), 305-25. Cited by Brantlinger, page 223-4.

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