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The Retreat of Reason: Political Correctness and the Corruption of Public Debate in Modern Britain

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Discusses political correctness and the freedom of debate.


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Discusses political correctness and the freedom of debate.

30 review for The Retreat of Reason: Political Correctness and the Corruption of Public Debate in Modern Britain

  1. 5 out of 5

    Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont

    The worst enemy of truth and freedom in our society is the compact majority. Yes, the damned, compact, liberal majority. Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People I was away from London, at school, on July 7, 2005, the day when the city was subject to a series of suicide attacks. In the way of such things, such traumatic events, I can remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news, the precise context forever fixed in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever been so traumatised, partially because I wa The worst enemy of truth and freedom in our society is the compact majority. Yes, the damned, compact, liberal majority. Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People I was away from London, at school, on July 7, 2005, the day when the city was subject to a series of suicide attacks. In the way of such things, such traumatic events, I can remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news, the precise context forever fixed in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever been so traumatised, partially because I was away from home and partially because I could not make contact with some family and friends for hours after. I spent most of the day in tears. That day fifty-two people died, killed by those who, on the face of it, were British, killed by their own fellow citizens. It’s one of the most awful news stories of my life, impacting in the way that it did. I expected it to run and run. But it didn’t. A few days after the police shot and killed John Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian living in England on a temporary visa, believing him to be a bomber, a tragic act of mistaken identity, though understandable in the heightened tensions of the time. At once the news focus changed, away from the outrage perpetrated on London by a group of Islamic terrorists, towards an accidental police killing. I remember being angry at this at the time, failing to understand this total lack of proportion. I confess that I even began to resent the unfortunate Brazilian and his family. I now know why the focus switched: the terrorist attack did not fit the politically correct agenda, whereas the killing of a vulnerable immigrant by a powerful police force did. The latter point I picked up from my reading of The Retreat of Reason: Political correctness and the corruption of public debate in modern Britain by Anthony Browne. Published by Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, this is not so much a book as a pamphlet in the best English radical tradition, a genre that I am particularly familiar with from my studies of the seventeenth century, when it was the favoured mode of political communication. Retreat of Reason, at fewer than 120 pages, is brilliant little polemic, a sustained exposé of the practical and moral corruption behind contemporary notions of political correctness. The argument is not completely fresh and there is much here that people will be familiar with. But Browne still makes some trenchant points. It seems obvious now that the Labour Government of 1997, which dominated our national life for thirteen years, was the first in history to come to power with an agenda based on political correctness, devoid, as it was, of any more meaningful philosophy. But it was only after reading Browne’s dissertation that the whole thing fell into place. The author identifies what might be referred to as the pre-history of PC. Although Marxism failed in both political and economic terms it made significant advances in the cultural arena, through universities and opinion forming bodies, to the point where ordinary debate was contaminated by a new orthodoxy, one which amplified the perceived injustices done to minorities, even so far as silencing debate over uncomfortable issues. The most pertinent example Browne gives here is the public health campaigns over the rise in recent years of HIV rates among heterosexuals, put down to promiscuity, when in fact it was caused by immigration from Sub-Saharan Africa. The dissimulation here benefited nobody, least of all the sufferers, while distorting resource allocation by a politically correct rather than a factually correct truth. Those who question the PC position are almost never attacked in the context of fact, no; they are most often anathematised for disrupting the official consensus, promoted most assiduously in England by such papers as the Guardian and the Independent. It’s impossible to read this book without a creeping sense of anger and frustration over the more ludicrous examples. The most ludicrous of all is surely an argument put forward by one Decca Aitkenhead. In an article headed Their homophobia is our fault, published in the sanctimonious Guardian in 2005, she said that homosexuals were hated by Jamaicans because of imperial sodomy! Yes, it’s all our fault, the hand-winging lament of the PC liberal, fawning towards the ‘wretched of the earth’, vicious when their absurd nostrums are put to the test of fact. Paradoxically their arguments are also based on the worst forms of patronising condescension, a mirror image, if you like, of old forms of imperial and racial superiority they are so anxious to eschew. In rebutting Aitkenhead’s risible argument one black gay activist said that Jamaicans were not compelled by history or poverty to be homophobic. Intolerance and sanctimonious moral superiority are among the defining features of the proponents of political correctness, people whose chief response to criticism is ad hominem attacks. Still, there are hopeful signs. Multi-culturalism, once beyond question, is now increasingly under attack for the damage that it has done to a sense of a common national identity, allowing people to embrace alien ideologies at total variance with a British way of life. Retreat of Reason is a bold and important riposte to stupidity, hypocrisy, dissimulation, cant and moral cowardice, a tool for all, myself included, who follow the path of FC – factual correctness- and despise the distortions of PC. It is we who are now the partisans of Enlightenment, rather a delicious historical irony.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Badger

    For people who, like myself, detest political correctness and need to know something of its history and its baleful modern influence this is superb. An evening's read (for me, though doubtless Ana will gobble it up between load and last spin) that has served me well in discussion and debate. In fact, I think I'll read it again. I wish I had your air miles.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Stone

    A refreshing and important treatise on the evils of political correctness Concise, well constructed and insightful, this pamphlet presents powerful and reasoned arguments to rebut the close-minded and irrational attitudes being paraded by neo-Marxist supporters of race, gender, religious, sexual and other political rights. Rather than upholding a citizen's right to express values, thoughts, beliefs and ideas freely, Anthony Browne demonstrates how political correctness is shutting down debate and A refreshing and important treatise on the evils of political correctness Concise, well constructed and insightful, this pamphlet presents powerful and reasoned arguments to rebut the close-minded and irrational attitudes being paraded by neo-Marxist supporters of race, gender, religious, sexual and other political rights. Rather than upholding a citizen's right to express values, thoughts, beliefs and ideas freely, Anthony Browne demonstrates how political correctness is shutting down debate and is vilifying anyone who opposes politically correct viewpoints.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    Clear, concise and damning. A must-read for anyone interested in preserving free speech in Western culture.

  5. 5 out of 5

    VEL – The Contemporary Heretic

    A Modern McCarthyism in our Midst Civilization has progressed. We no longer burn heretics at the stake. Instead, according to sociologist Steven Goldberg, these days:“All one has to lose by unpopular arguments is contact with people one would not be terribly attracted to anyway” (Fads and Fallacies in the Social Sciences: p222).However, Goldberg underplays, not only the psychological impact of ostracism, but also more ominous consequences that sometimes attach to contemporary heresy. Bomb and death A Modern McCarthyism in our Midst Civilization has progressed. We no longer burn heretics at the stake. Instead, according to sociologist Steven Goldberg, these days:“All one has to lose by unpopular arguments is contact with people one would not be terribly attracted to anyway” (Fads and Fallacies in the Social Sciences: p222).However, Goldberg underplays, not only the psychological impact of ostracism, but also more ominous consequences that sometimes attach to contemporary heresy. Bomb and death threats were issued repeatedly to women such as Erin Pizzey and Suzanne Steinmetz for pointing out that women were just as likely, or indeed slightly more likely, to perpetrate acts of domestic violence against their husbands and boyfriends as their husbands and boyfriends were to perpetrate acts of domestic violence against them – a finding now replicated in hundreds of studies (see Domestic Violence: The 12 Things You Aren't Supposed to Know). Similarly, in the seventies, Arthur Jensen had to be issued with an armed guard on campus at the University of California for suggesting that it was a “not unreasonable” hypothesis that the black-white IQ gap was partially genetic in origin. Political correctness has also cost people their jobs. Academics like Chris Brand, Helmuth Nyborg, Lawrence Sommers, Frank Ellis and James Watson were forced to resign for researching, or just mentioning, politically incorrect theories such as the possible social consequences of, or innate basis for, race and sex differences in intelligence. Similar fates have befallen lesser figures, some deprived of their livelihoods on account of their politics. Browne refers to the case of a British headmaster sacked for saying Asian pupils should be obliged to learn English (p50). He also notes that police and prison officers in the UK are barred from membership of the BNP, a legal and constitutional political party, but not from membership of Sinn Fein, who until recently supported domestic terror, nor of various Marxist groups that advocate violent revolution (p51-2). Sacked employees cannot even turn to their unions for support. Instead, trade unions have themselves expelled members for their political beliefs (p52) – then successfully defended this action in the European Court of Human rights by citing the right to freedom of association, the precise freedom denied to employers by anti-discrimination laws (see ASLEF v UK [2007] ECHR 184). Meanwhile, Liberty, Britain’s ostensible civil liberties group, has a long track-record of only protecting the civil rights of those whose politics it is sympathetic to, supporting, for example, the detention without trial of British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley during WWII, and protesting only when he was belatedly released. Browne concludes:“One must be very disillusioned with democracy not to find it at least slightly unsettling that in Europe in the twenty-first century government employees are being banned from joining certain legal political parties but not others, legal democratic party leaders are being arrested in dawn raids for what they have said and political parties leading the polls are being banned by judges" (p57).Members of parties like the BNP hardly represent a fashionable cause célèbre for civil libertarians. But, then, neither did other groups targeted for persecution at the time of their persecution. This is precisely what rendered them so vulnerable. If anything, the situation has worsened still further since Browne first published his book. Thus, Browne champions New Media, such as blogs, for breaking the mainstream media monopoly in order to air politically incorrect facts, thoughts and ideas (p85). Now, however, even internet platforms like YouTube, Patreon, Facebook and Twitter have begun deplatforming content providers whose views they disapprove of. Thus, the contemporary custodians of acceptable thought are rapidly attempting rein in even the internet, the last bastion of free speech in the West. Political correctness is often dismissed as a trivial issue. Free speech is never trivial. When people lose their jobs and livelihoods because of unfashionable opinions, what we are witnessing is a form of modern McCarthyism. Indeed, David Horowitz claims:“The era of the progressive witch-hunt has been far worse in its consequences to individuals and freedom of expression than was the McCarthy era… [not least because] unlike the McCarthy era witch-hunt, which lasted only a few years, the one enforced by left-wing ‘progressives’ is now entering its third decade and shows no signs of abating” (Left Illusions).Yet, while columnists, academics, and filmmakers delight in condemning a form of McCarthyism that ran out of steam over half a century ago (i.e. anti-communism), few dare to incur the wrath of the contemporary inquisition by exposing a modern McCarthyism right here in our midst. Explaining PC For Browne, PC represents “the dictatorship of virtue” (p7) and replaces “reason with emotion” and subverts “objective truth to subjective virtue” (xiii).“Political correctness is an assault on both reason and… democracy. It is an assault on reason, because the measuring stick of the acceptability of a belief is no longer its objective, empirically established truth, but how well it fits in with the received wisdom of political correctness. It is an assault on… democracy because [its] pervasiveness… is closing down freedom of speech” (p5).In fact, political correctness is not wholly unprecedented. Every age has taboos. Formerly, compatibility with religious dogma represented the primary “measuring stick of the acceptability of a belief” – as Galileo discovered. Browne acknowledges this analogy.“Christianity... has shown many of the characteristics of modern political correctness and often went far further in enforcing its intolerance with violence” (p29).He also notes that PC is:“A belief system that echoes religion in providing ready, emotionally-satisfying answers for a world too complex to understand fully and providing a gratifying sense of righteousness absent in our otherwise secular society” (p6)Defining PC Political correctness evaluates a claim, not on its truth, but on its offensiveness to certain protected groups. Some views are held to be not only false, but also unacceptable. Browne provides a useful definition of political correctness as:“An ideology which classifies certain groups of people as victims in need of protection from criticism and which makes believers feel that no dissent should be tolerated” (p4).Refining this, I would say that, for an opinion to be politically incorrect, two criteria must be met: 1) The existence of a group to whom the opinion in question is regarded as ‘offensive’; 2) The group in question must be perceived as ‘oppressed’. Thus, it is perfectly acceptable to disparage ‘privileged’ groups (i.e. white heterosexual males), but groups with ‘victim-status’ are sacrosanct. Victim-status itself, however, is rather arbitrarily bestowed. Actual poverty has little to do with it. Thus, it is perfectly acceptable to denigrate the white working-class – hence the relative acceptability of pejorative epithets such as ‘redneck’, ‘chav’ and ‘white trash’ as compared to other pejorative epithets (see The Redneck Manifesto). However, multi-millionaires who happen to be black, female or homosexual can perversely pose as oppressed. Indeed, it seems the Left has largely abandoned its traditional constituency, the working class, in favour of ethnic minorities, homosexuals and feminists. In the process, the ordinary working man, once the quintessential proletarian, has found himself recast in leftist demonology as a racist, homophobic, wife-beating bigot. Likewise, men are widely denigrated in popular culture. However, as Browne observes:“Men were overwhelmingly underachieving compared with women at all levels of the education system, and were twice as likely to be unemployed, three times as likely to commit suicide, three times as likely to be a victim of violent crime, four times as likely to be a drug addict, three times as likely to be alcoholic and nine times as likely to be homeless” (p49).Indeed, overt discrimination against men, such as the different ages at which men and women are eligible for state pensions in the UK (p25; p60; p75) and the higher levels of insurance premiums demanded of men (p73) are widely tolerated.“The demand for equal treatment only goes as far as it advantages the [ostensibly] less privileged sex” (p77).This creates what Browne calls “competitive victimhood” (p44).“Few things are more powerful in public debate than… victim status, and the rewards… are so great that there is a large incentive for people to try to portray themselves as victims” (p13-4)Groups currently campaigning for victim status, he reports, include “the obese, Christians, smokers and foxhunters” (p14). The result is perverse incentives.“By encouraging people to strive for the bottom rather than the top, political correctness undermines one of the main driving forces in society, the individual pursuit of self-improvement” (p45)Euro-Scepticism Unfortunately, despite his useful definition, Browne later extends the concept of political correctness beyond this. For example, he describes Euroscepticism as a politically incorrect view (p60-62). However, here, there is no obvious ‘oppressed group’ in need of protection. Although widely derided as ignorant and jingoistic, Eurosceptical opinions are not deemed actually offensive and are regularly aired in mainstream media outlets. Browne’s extension of the concept of political correctness in this way is typical of many critics of PC, who succumb to the temptation to define as ‘political correctness’ as any view with which they themselves happen to disagree. This enables them to tar any views with which they disagree with the pejorative label of ‘political correctness’. It also allows ostensible opponents of political correctness to condemn the phenomenon while never actually violating its central taboos by discussing genuinely politically incorrect issues. They can then pose as heroic opponents of the inquisition while never actually themselves incurring its wrath. Jews, Muslims Browne also characterises defences of the policies of Israel as politically incorrect. However, the ad hominem and guilt-by-association methods of debate which Browne describes as characteristic of political correctness (p21-2) are more often used by defenders of Israel than by her critics – the charge of ‘anti-Semitism’ here substituting for the familiar refrain of ‘racism’. Thus, in the US, any suggestion that the US’s small but disproportionately wealthy and influential Jewish community influences US policy in the Middle East in favour of Israel is widely dismissed as anti-Semitic. Browne acknowledges, “The dual role of Jews as oppressors and oppressed causes complications for PC calculus” – because their history of oppression in the past conflicts with their perceived oppression of the Palestinians today (p12). However, he hastily concludes:“PC has now firmly transferred its allegiance from the Jews to Muslims" (p12). However, in many respects, the Jews retain their victim-status despite their disproportionate wealth and power. Indeed, perhaps the best evidence of this is the taboo on referring to this disproportionate wealth and power. Thus, while the Left endlessly recycles statistics demonstrating the overrepresentation of white males in positions of power and privilege, to cite similar statistics demonstrating the overrepresentation of Jews in these exact same positions of power and privilege is somehow beyond the pale, and evidence, not of leftist sympathies, but rather of being ‘Far Right’. This is despite the fact that the average earnings of American-Jews and their level of overrepresentation in influential positions in government, media and business relative to population size surely far outstrips that of any other demographic – white males included. The Pay Gap One area where Browne claims that the “politically correct truth” conflicts with the “factually correct truth” is the causes of the gender pay-gap (p8; p59-60). This is also included by David Conway as one of six issues, raised by Browne in the main body of the text, for which Conway provides supportive evidence in an afterword entitled ‘Commentary: Evidence supporting Anthony Browne's Table of Truths Suppressed by PC’, included in later editions. Although standard practice in mainstream journalism, it is regrettable that Browne himself offers no sources to back up the statistics he cites. This commentary section provides the only real effort to provide citations for many of Browne’s claims. Unfortunately, it covers only a few of the many issues addressed by Browne in preceding pages. In support of Browne's contention that “different work/life choices” and “career breaks” underlie the gender pay gap (p8), Conway cites the work of sociologist Catherine Hakim (p101-103). More comprehensive expositions of the factors underlying the gender pay gap are provided by Warren Farrell (Why Men Earn More) and Kingsley Browne (Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality). Moreover, Anthony Browne, in common with most commentators on the gender pay gap, neglects to factor in an additional factor – namely that much of the money earnt by men is actually spent by their wives, ex-wives and girlfriends (not to mention daughters) such that, although women earn less than men, women dominate most areas of consumer spending. Browne does usefully debunk another area in which the demand for equal pay has resulted in injustice – namely the demand for equal prizes for male and female athletes at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships (a demand since capitulated to).“Logically, if the prize doesn’t discriminate between men and women, then the competition that leads to those prizes shouldn't either… Those who insist on equal prizes, because anything else is discrimination, should explain why it is not discrimination for men to be denied an equal right to compete for the women’s prize.” (p77)As Browne observes:“It would currently be unthinkable to make the same case for a ‘white’s only’ world athletics championship… [Yet] it is currently just as pointless being a white 100 metres sprinter in colour-blind sporting competitions as it would be being a women 100 metres sprinter in gender-blind sporting competitions” (p77).International Aid Another topic addressed by both Browne (p8) and Conway (p113-115) is the reasons for African poverty. The politically correct explanation, Browne claims, is that this results from inadequate international aid. However, Browne claims, “Development aid has a poor record of promoting economic development" (p48). Instead, Browne claims that the real cause is “bad governance” on the part of African leaders (p8). However, this argument merely begs the question as to why African countries are so prone to “bad governance”. Actually, in my experience, the usual explanation given for African underdevelopment is not, as Browne asserts, inadequate international aid, but rather the legacy of European colonialism. Unfortunately, this explanation fares little better. For one thing, it merely begs the question why it was that Africa was colonized by Europeans rather than vice versa? The answer, of course, is that much of sub-Saharan Africa was ‘underdeveloped’ (i.e. technologically backward) even before colonisation. This was what allowed it to be so easily conquered. A further problem is that those few African countries largely spared European colonization (e.g. Liberia and Ethiopia) are, if anything, worse-off than many of their neighbours, not least because they lack the infrastructure (e.g. railroads) which the much-maligned colonial rulers were responsible for bequeathing. Moreover, other former European colonies that achieved independence around the same time as those in Africa have often been notable success stories (e.g. Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, even India – not to mention Canada, Australia, New Zealand). In contrast, places outside of Africa, but nevertheless populated by persons of predominantly sub-Saharan African ancestry, such as Haiti and Jamaica (or even Baltimore and Detroit) seem to be afflicted with many of the same social pathologies (e.g. high rates of violent crime) that afflict Africa. This suggests that the answer is to be sought, not in African soil or geography, but rather in racial demographics (see IQ and the Wealth of Nations and Understanding Human History). However, one suspects that this is too politically incorrect a topic for even Browne to risk addressing. Is Browne a Victim of Political Correctness Himself? This suggests a single overarching problem with Browne’s otherwise admirable dissection of the nature and effects of political correctness – namely that Browne, although ostensibly an opponent of political correctness, is, in reality, neither immune to the infection nor ever able to effect a full recovery. Thus, Brown observes:“Political correctness succeeds, like the British Empire, through divide and rule… The politically incorrect often end up appeasing political correctness by condemning fellow travellers” (p37).Indeed, this is indeed a characteristic feature of witch-hunts, from Salem to McCarthy, whereby victims were able to partially absolve themselves by ‘outing’ fellow-travellers to be persecuted in their place. However, Browne ironically himself provides a neat illustration of this phenomenon when, having deplored the treatment of BNP supporters, he issues the obligatory disclaimer, condemning the party as “odious” (p52), thereby perfectly illustrating the appeasement of political correctness which he has himself identified as central to its power. Similarly, Browne fails to address any of the most incendiary issues, such as those that resulted in death threats to the likes of Jensen, Pizzey and Steinmetz. Indeed, to discuss the really taboo topics would not only bring upon him even greater opprobrium than that which he already faced but also likely deny him a platform in which to express his views altogether. Browne therefore provides his ultimate proof of the power of political correctness, not through the topics he addresses, but rather through those he conspicuously avoids. In failing to address these issues, either out of fear of the consequences or genuine ignorance of the facts due to the media blackout on their discussion, Browne provides the definitive proof of his own fundamental thesis, namely the political correctness corrupts public debate and subverts free speech.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gavin

    Pamphlet about PC by a man most famous for arguing that Britain’s AIDS came from African immigrants. Tricky: the pamphlet is pumped up with outrage, and on the face of it his central claim is hallucinatory tabloid racism at its worst. On the other hand, he’s careful to list PC’s achievements, and official figures underlie some of his arguments. I wasn't skilled enough to judge when I read this. Like everyone, he tries to claim the rational high ground over his enemies, but the connection between Pamphlet about PC by a man most famous for arguing that Britain’s AIDS came from African immigrants. Tricky: the pamphlet is pumped up with outrage, and on the face of it his central claim is hallucinatory tabloid racism at its worst. On the other hand, he’s careful to list PC’s achievements, and official figures underlie some of his arguments. I wasn't skilled enough to judge when I read this. Like everyone, he tries to claim the rational high ground over his enemies, but the connection between identity politics and postmodern irrationality is nowhere near the tight causation he claims. He seems to be genuinely hurt by the reaction to his argument. Reality is fucked up; if we can’t even test any hypothesis which offends anyone, then we are doomed to delusion and early death.

  7. 4 out of 5

    S.P.

    Hmmm. Don't agree with all the arguments (see other books!), but do agree with the fundamentals. We are a nation of PC-Extremists.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ramon

  10. 4 out of 5

    Karvi Arian

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jackie Law

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michaela

  13. 4 out of 5

    Philip Fenton

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gavin Parker

  15. 5 out of 5

    Petr

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sam Eccleston

  17. 5 out of 5

    Fran

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael Jefferies

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kopyto

  20. 4 out of 5

    Radan Elischer

  21. 4 out of 5

    Darius

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Zuvich

  23. 4 out of 5

    Isaac

  24. 4 out of 5

    Martin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Steve. g

  26. 5 out of 5

    Martin

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marek Numerato

  28. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dominic

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jake Desyllas

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