Friday, October 28, 2005

Neither consistent nor liberal

Why do conservatives oppose "political correctness"? Over the last few days, we've seen a lot of bluster about how "political correctness" is about minorities attempting to impose their views on the majority, an attack on freedom of expression, and a threat to secularism. But looking past that, it seems that exactly the opposite is the case. Opposition to "political correctness" is primarily about the imposition of majority opinion onto minorities, rather than the protection of a free and neutral society or a marketplace of ideas.

There was an excellent example of this in Wayne Mapp's interview with Sean Plunket on Morning Report yesterday (hat tip: Keith Ng):

Mapp: Another example: the government now puts into law Maori spiritual values, and yet we don't even have Grace at state functions. Now that's wrong. In a secular state, all beliefs - you know, spiritual beliefs, religious beliefs - should be treated equally, because that's actually what secularism means. Instead, this government puts it into law that one set of values has preference. That's where the whole thing's got completely out of control, and we need a systemtic review of all of that to fix it - [in the name of?] freedom of speech.

Plunket: I'd presume you'd also get rid of the Lord's Prayer at the start of each Parliamentary session

Mapp: No, I think that's part of our history. I mean, things are part of our history.

Plunket: OK, so whose history? Whose history is that part of?

Mapp: The Nation's history, the nation's history.

Plunket: OK, because it would seem to me that if you're going to be secular right across the board, then that's got to go to.

Mapp: Well, there was this issue in North Shore, I can tell you the majority of the public did not like it, and the councillor who promoted it did not retain his position. Part of this whole issue is respecting the views of the majority, not always pandering to minority views...

So, minority religious expression must be eradicated from public institutions, but majority public expression is acceptable - because they're the majority. Similarly, laws outlawing "hate speech" against gays are bad, but laws outlawing blasphemous libel - "hate speech" against (the Christian version of) god - are OK. You don't have to be a genius to see that this position is neither consistent nor liberal. Instead, it is an appropriation of liberal language to mask gross illiberalism and the imposition of majority opinion. And even if the majority existed somewhere outside the National party's heads, it would be wrong. As John Stuart Mill famously pointed out,

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

This doesn't just follow from one interview. The idea that "political correctness" is about the struggle between majorities and minorities is encapsulated in Wayne Mapp's definition of the term in his speech "The Problem With Political Correctness":

A person, an institution or a government is politically correct when they cease to represent the interests of the majority and become focused on the cares and concerns of minority sector groups.

According to Mapp, democratic government means that "the ideas and values of the majority are able to prevail over other choices". According to liberals, they should not, at least in certain areas. And those areas - religion, sexuality, equality, substantive freedom - overlap precisely with the battlegrounds of "political correctness".