Political <i>In</i>correctness run amok

Roderick T. Long, in a post on Liberty & Power, points to his excellent (partial) defense of political correctness.

He begins by criticizing those who "embrace viewpoints, not because they're true, but because they're politically incorrect." There is certainly a value to contrarianism - going against the grain - but only insofar as it allows us to reject the false views of the majority. However, those who reject the accepted wisdom simply because it is accepted are taking things too far. Truth should be the ultimate goal, not popularity nor dissent in and of itself.

Long then makes a spirited argument in favor of speech codes on college campuses:

Another issue that inflames many libertarians against political correctness is the issue of speech codes on campuses. Yes, many speech codes are daft. But should people really enjoy exactly the same freedom of speech on university property that they would rightfully enjoy on their own property? Why, exactly?

If the answer is that the purposes of a university are best served by an atmosphere of free exchange of ideas -- is there no validity to the claim that certain kinds of speech might tend, through an intimidating effect, to undermine just such an atmosphere?

Or if the answer is that universities, as recipients of tax-supported funds, are representing the public and must therefore administer those funds in a nondiscriminatory manner -- does that mean that welfare recipients, too, must be prevented from spending their relief checks in a discriminatory manner? If taxation is theft, as we claim to believe, it's hard to see how tax funds for universities with speech codes are a worse violation of rights than tax funds for universities without speech codes. The real problem is that universities are being funded by extortion at all.

At my university, several white fraternity members were recently disciplined for dressing up, some in Klan costumes and others in blackface, and enacting a mock lynching. Is the university guilty of violating their freedom of expression? I can't see that it is. Certainly those students have a natural right to dress up as they please and engage in whatever playacting they like, so long as they conduct themselves peacefully. But there is no natural right to be a student at Auburn University.

While I certainly agree that universities do not have the same legal or moral obligations to refrain from abridging freedom of speech that governments do, this is a dangerous road to follow. Who decides what kinds of speech are acceptable and what kinds of speech create a "hostile learning environment?" There is no bright line demarcating acceptable speech from unacceptable speech, and these decisions will ultimately be made by the arbitrary and capricious whims of the university administrators. Better to err on the side of permissiveness, I say.

Long concludes,

Is it not true that the contributions of women, minorities, and nonwestern cultures have traditionally been marginalised and excluded? One needn't want to give George Washington Carver more pages in the history textbooks than George Washington to agree that the PC folks are on to something here. And look at the anti-Muslim, pro-war hysteria that's sweeping the country these days. The PC crowd, bless 'em, are certainly on the right side of that one. Libertarians should regard the PC crowd the way we regard conservatives: as potential allies. Often infuriating and wrongheaded potential allies -- but nonetheless people to cultivate, not to insult.
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"Who decides what kinds of

"Who decides what kinds of speech are acceptable and what kinds of speech create a "hostile learning environment?"

Private individuals and institutions. And anyone who doesn't like it can deal with somebody else.

John, I certainly agree with


I certainly agree with you that private individuals and institutions have the right to make these decisions. But put yourself in the position of someone who determines policy for a private university or business. What kind of rule will you choose? One which provides broad free speech protection for its members, even when this may result in offensive speech? Or will you leave these kinds of decisions up to the individual administrators?