The National Interest: Jonathan Chait
New York magazine|April 25-May 8, 2022
Political Correctness Is Losing How the Democratic Party fought back against illiberalism.

IT’S BEEN seven or eight years since a wave of illiberal norms around the discussion of race and gender began to hit an expanding array of progressive institutions. The name for this phenomenon kept changing, from political correctness to call-out culture to cancel culture to wokeness, because every time a new label came along, Republicans would slap it on literally anything that wasn’t right wing. (Mitt Romney recently blamed President Biden’s economic policies on his “woke advisers.”) What remained of the liberal left would have to clarify that, no, what they were critiquing was stuff that was really far out there: impenetrable jargon, irrational mobs, struggle sessions, creepy forced apologies, absurd firings.

In certain quarters, a deep fatalism set in about the survival of liberal values, articulated by critics including Andrew Sullivan and Wesley Yang, who has described the left’s new thinking as “successor ideology”—a term that presumes it is destined to displace the old liberal ideology. Michael Lind, a co-founder of New America, claimed that, within the center left, “debate has been replaced by compulsory assent and ideas have been replaced by slogans that can be recited but not questioned: Black Lives Matter, Green Transition, Trans Women Are Women, 1619, Defund the Police.”

But I don’t take the success of the illiberal left for granted. I think it can be halted. In fact, I suspect that the floodwaters are already receding.

The way the illiberal left has been dealing with race and gender is of a piece with the way it has approached a range of debates in the social-media era. Activists reduce nearly every issue to a moralistic binary and cast any dissent as a personal failing. Disagree with the policy activism of the Sunrise Movement? You’re a boomer happy to let the planet fry after you enjoy your remaining time on it. Not sure single-payer health care is the best strategy? You must want people to die on the street.

It is on identity-related issues that this style of thinking has made the most headway. Academia has produced left-wing philosophical challenges to liberalism that treat speech as tantamount to violence and regard political disputes as a zero-sum conflict between oppressor and oppressed. And while these illiberal norms often originated on campus, they have expanded into progressive communities like primary schools (mostly private ones), media, publishing, and political- and social-activist organizations.

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