“Every single American needs to read Michael Knowles’s Speechless. I don’t mean ‘read it eventually.’ I mean: stop what you’re doing and pick up this book.” —CANDACE OWENS. "The most important book on free speech in decades—read it!” —SENATOR TED CRUZ. A New Strategy: We Win, They Lose. The Culture War is over, and the culture lost. The Left’s assault on liberty, virtue, decency, the Republic of the Founders, and Western civilization has succeeded. You can no longer keep your social media account—or your job—and acknowledge truths such as: Washington, Jefferson, and Columbus were great men. Schools and libraries should not coach children in sexual deviance. Men don’t have uteruses. How did we get to this point?
Publisher: Regnery Publishing (June 22, 2021) Language: English Hardcover: 256 pages ISBN-10: 1684510821 ISBN-13: 978-1684510825 Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
It is ironic that the author of a bestselling blank book should choose for his next subject language itself. But irony lies at the heart of political correctness. To call something “politically correct” is to acknowledge that it is not correct, at least by the standard of reality. A man in a dress is a man, but according to political correctness he is a “trans woman,” a term with the same ironic structure. To call someone a “trans woman” is to acknowledge that he is not really a woman.
Moreover, few people who support “political correctness” invoke the phrase in earnest. More often they will do so with tongue in cheek, as if to acknowledge their own overreach. But though self-aware progressives may not always use the term with sincerity, they always seem to enforce the standards with severity.
My wordless bestseller took aim at the Left. Ironically, my second book spills more ink on the failures of the Right, which through decades of incompetence has permitted political correctness to invert our culture. The more conservatives attempt to fight political correctness, the worse the problem seems to get. The situation recalls Chesterton’s distinction between progressives, whose business “is to go on making mistakes,” and conservatives, who exist “to prevent mistakes from being corrected.”1
Americans became aware of political correctness during the late 1980s and early 1990s, as debates over language roiled college campuses and corporate boardrooms. The speech standards had developed gradually since the early twentieth century with little notice from conservatives, who would spend the next several decades fighting against them in vain.
Conservatives have failed to thwart political correctness because most do not understand what it is. They have portrayed political correctness and its derivatives, including “wokeism” and “cancel culture,” as “censorship,” which we must oppose in the name of “liberty.” These bumper sticker arguments reveal that conservatives understand as little about liberty and censorship as they do about political correctness.
Despite the vague complaints of many conservatives over the years, political correctness is not merely a synonym for “censorship,” though the two concepts are related. Political correctness (PC) is a standard of speech and behavior along leftist ideological lines. It no doubt censors certain words and actions, but then so does chivalry. All societies embrace and enforce standards. Yet today this basic social fact seems to be lost on many conservatives. Ironically, the putative defenders of tradition have come to eschew standards altogether.
The social engineers who developed political correctness set out with the explicit goal of destroying traditional standards and establishing new standards of speech in their place. As politically correct orthodoxy has progressed, its proponents have often contradicted themselves. But though PC’s positive claims may change by the hour, its attack on traditional mores remains constant.
Conservatives have reacted to the new standards in two ways. The more compliant among them have acquiesced to the radicals’ demands, adopting politically correct language as a matter of convenience and, they believe, politeness. The slightly more stalwart conservatives have declined to accept the new jargon, but they have grounded their refusal in vague appeals to liberty and denunciations of censorship. Rather than making a substantive defense of the culture they claim to wish to conserve, these conservatives are left making limp defenses of “free speech” in the abstract, with nothing to say in practice.
Both conservative reactions advance the purpose of political correctness: the more compliant surrender, the more stalwart self-immolate. Either way, the traditional speech standards are abandoned. And since nature abhors a vacuum, the new standards take their place, in a process by which the latter category of conservative eventually transforms into the former.
Conservatives have wasted decades attempting to thwart political correctness through dime-store philosophizing over “free speech,” progressively abandoning their substantive cultural inheritance for a misbegotten notion of liberty that can never exist in practice. They marvel at the supposed irony that leftists now advocate censorship while conservatives endorse the anything-goes approach to speech that liberals of a prior generation once disingenuously demanded. They fail to realize that they have fallen into PC’s trap.
While these befuddled conservatives gawk, political correctness progresses apace, suppressing and even prohibiting words and ideas considered common sense for millennia. To stop it, conservatives must ditch the shallow slogans and take their opponents’ arguments seriously. Contrary to center-right self-flattery, the leftist intellectuals who developed political correctness understand speech, censorship, and even liberty far better than the conservatives who have thus far opposed it. Politically correct radicals wield speech, censorship, and liberty in a war against our civilization. And none can doubt they are masters of these tools: they have thoroughly succeeded in reordering our words, thoughts, and culture.
Either conservatives will summon the courage to enforce traditional standards, or we will all succumb to the new rules. The choice between “free speech” and “censorship” is illusory—a false dichotomy from which political correctness has profited for a century. We will speak and act according to some set of standards or other, whether conservatives are willing to admit it or not. Political correctness has left us speechless, but the right to speak means nothing to those who have nothing to say.
January 18, 2021