Everything “politically correct” threatens to strangle the public conversation that nurtures democracy, and the growing numbers of skeptics eager to show their righteous contempt for it might be interested to know the origins of the term, which has been revived from its original use. It’s a wicked attitude intended to stifle the conscience and suppress belief and conviction.
The term “politically correct” was coined in the late 1920s by the Soviets and their ideological allies around the world to describe why the views of certain of the party faithful needed correction to the party line.
The great example was the Spanish-French artist Pablo Picasso. Picasso, a commercial opportunist and a gifted and original artistic thinker, signed on to Communist causes from his sinecure in the West. It was always healthier and more convenient in the era of Josef Stalin be a Communist at a safe distance from the original source. No one wanted to risk joining the long line to the graveyard of Stalin’s domestic enemies, as his ideology zigged and zagged according to the needs of the Kremlin to keep a firm hold on power.
Stalin was determined to control every aspect of life. He didn’t know much about art, but he knew what he liked. He proclaimed “Soviet realism” as the only norm at the artists’s easel. Soviet realism was the art of the poster, usually of big-muscled men and women working on tractors or harvesting grain. The art was less inspired and refined as Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers, but realistic in the Rockwell way. Abstract art, which deviated from “photographic realism,” was taboo, and Soviet artists who dared to stray suffered for even attempting anything original.
This created a problem, particularly in the West. What must be done with Picasso? The Communists wanted to make maximum use of Picasso’s name to recruit followers and to support Communist initiatives in the West. Picasso’s art was anything but photographic, depicting brawny farmers and resolute ironworkers, and there had to be an explanation of why the contradiction was tolerated. The phrase “politically correct” was introduced as the “but” of why a public figure could be nominally considered a loyal and faithful member of the party while straying. Because he was useful to the party, Picasso was nevertheless to be regarded as correct for politics’ sake.
So now we’ve come full circle. The young “revolutionaries” on the college campus who style themselves “leftist,” can be politically correct. They demand suppression of the virtues of the larger public in pursuit of an unassailable noble cause.
Liberty and freedom of expression are always vulnerable, and in any society. Listening to someone with whom you disagree can make your head ache and your teeth itch. Their defense requires a subtlety far beyond being politically correct. The lodestar of conscience, attributed, falsely, to Voltaire (the sentiment is older than he is) is the guide to a free and open society: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
The young self-proclaimed idealists are far from understanding, appreciating and implementing this basic demand for human liberty. It’s a sad comment on our times that the spirit of the university, which is meant to be the heart of free discussion and exchange of ideas, has been abandoned on many campuses. The Communists invented the term “politically correct” to camouflage their destructive manipulation of idealism to suit it for totalitarian purposes. The term carried no honor then and it carries none today.