Proto Political Correctness

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New Yorker, February 25, 2008 (not available online). Brahmin New Yorker and novelist Louis Auchincloss writing to his mother in 1945 (itals mine):

“Of course, like so many cynical jews, he believed that all people were like him except less smart. And that, don’t you think, is their most trying characteristic: the unwillingness to concede any ethical approach in others higher than their own, the ‘oh-ho I know you‘ attitude with which they sneer at a world that is bad enough to prove them right more than half the time. All of which, I suppose, would brand me as a hopeless anti-Semite, Nazi, etc., but one simply can’t be bothered with labels any more

Anti-semitism: just a ‘label’, an ipso facto slur and act of intellectual fascism since no decent white person like him could actually be guilty of that failing. It wasn’t his fault the jews are so inferior but it was his duty to point it out. How he suffers under the white man’s burden of saying what so obviously must be said. Gifted writer though he is, he didn’t think to come up with the concept of ‘political correctness’. So he could denounce it.

I love happening upon this kind of thing because it’s so drearily amusing to hear whites go on today about how no one can speak “the truth” without running afoul of political correctness. “There used to be a time…” No, there hasn’t been, not for a long time now.

Before the ink was dry on Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, whites were baying about how blacks (though they used a slightly different term) were getting all of society’s bennies and a poor white man didn’t stand a chance, couldn’t speak his mind. Kid you not. (The books I need are elsewhere, and we’re snowed in up here in the north country, but I’ll track them down.) Reconstruction didn’t derail itself; whites had to get themselves good and rage-filled over their oppression at the hands of their newly freed slaves first. They weren’t bigoted, anti-democratic barbarians after all. When the Radical Republicans called them on their racism and violence, guess what? They couldn’t be bothered with “labels” either. They had a duty to perform, they had a country to take back from the freedmen who were oppressing them.

Writing in 1945 with the world torn apart after having grown up in wealthy Whartonian, exclusive New York, Auchincloss was acutely feeling the loss of his privilege to be chauffeur-driven around his own psyche. What with all the dark/poor peoples of the world rising up and Rosie the Riveter freed from her kitchen, it’s only human that he felt besieged, deprived of goodies he’d thought his birthright (like not having jews criticize whites). I’m not playing gotcha! with history; it’s far too facile to collect chestnuts like this one and think you know who that person is today. It matters only in showing that the change isn’t that conservatives can’t speak their minds “anymore”. The change is that we little people get to answer back, finally. Entrenched power just never gets used to that.

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