Thursday, January 16, 2020

Modern times

In his Conservatism (2017) Roger Scruton contrasts the experience of an American conservative with one in Britain by observing that an American "can confess to being a conservative without being socially ostracised." Maybe, but it probably depends on where the American lives or works. Scruton:
...Orwell's political fables contain an accurate and penetrating prophecy of the political correctness that has since invaded intellectual life in both Britain and America. The humourless and relentless policing of language, so as to prevent heretical thoughts from arising, the violence done to traditional categories and natural ways of describing things, the obliteration of memory and assiduous policing of the past — all these things, so disturbingly described in Nineteen Eighty-Four, are now routinely to be observed on university campuses on both sides of the Atlantic, and those conservatives who draw attention to the phenomenon, as Allan Bloom did in his influential book The Closing of the American Mind (1987), are frequently marginalised or even demonised as representatives of one of the forbidden 'isms' or 'phobias' of the day — racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, etc. In a society devoted to 'inclusion' the only 'phobia' permitted is that of which conservatives are the target.

This situation, which puts conservatives at an enormous disadvantage in the intellectual world, has inevitably changed their way of defining themselves, and made the 'culture wars' central to their sense of what they are fighting for and why. Understanding political correctness and finding the ways to combat it have therefore become prominent among conservative causes. Is political correctness simply the final stage of liberal individualism — the stage at which all barriers to a self-chosen identity are to be removed? If so, which of those barriers can conservatives still defend against the onslaught, and how can they justify the attempt? Or is it rather a derogation from the great liberal tradition, a way in which equality has become so urgent and dominating a cause that nothing of liberty remains, and all social life is absorbed into a relentless witch-hunt against the defenders of social distinctions? ....
Roger Scruton, Conservatism, Chapter 6, "Conservatism Now," Profile Books, 2017.

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