“Political correctness didn’t decline and fall. It went underground and then rose again.”
Greg Lukianoff is the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). He understands the issue of free speech in education better than most people.
He writes at Reason:
The Second Great Age of Political Correctness
The 1994 movie PCU, about a rebellious fraternity resisting its politically correct university, was a milestone. Not because the movie was especially good—it wasn’t. It was a milestone because it showed that political correctness had officially become a joke.
The derisive term “P.C.” had referred to a genuine and powerful force on campus for the previous decade. But by the mid-1990s, it had become the butt of jokes from across the political spectrum. The production of a mainstream movie mocking political correctness showed that its cultural moment had passed.
At the same time, punitive campus speech codes were being struck down. Among the most prominent cases was Stanford Law School, which boasted a notorious speech code banning “speech or other expression…intended to insult or stigmatize” an individual on the basis of membership in a protected class arguably including every living human. You don’t have to be a lawyer to see how a ban on anything that “insults” would be abused: Even showing PCU itself, which makes fun of campus activists, feminists, and vegetarians, could potentially get you in trouble under such a broad and vague rule. The 1995 court defeat of the Stanford speech code marked the end of the First Great Age of Political Correctness.
Some assumed this meant political correctness was a fad that was gone forever. On the contrary, it gathered strength over the next two decades, rooting itself in university hiring practices and speech policing, until it became what people now refer to as “wokeness” or the much-abused term “cancel culture.”
Political correctness didn’t decline and fall. It went underground and then rose again. If anything, it’s stronger than ever today. Yet some influential figures on the left still downplay the problem, going so far as to pretend that the increase in even tenured professors being fired for off-limits speech is a sign of a healthy campus. And this unwillingness to recognize a serious problem in academia has helped embolden culture warriors on the right, who have launched their own attacks on free speech and viewpoint diversity in the American education system.
We’ve fully entered the Second Great Age of Political Correctness. If we are to find a way out, we must understand how we got here and admit the true depths of the problem.
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