From the very beginning, the doctrines of political correctness were intended to silence and paralyze the Right. The locus classicus of this demand is Herbert Marcuse’s essay on “Repressive Tolerance,” written in the early 1960s when he was a Brandeis professor:
Liberating tolerance…would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left. As to the scope of this tolerance and intolerance: … it would extend to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda, of deed as well as of word.
Tolerance would only be granted to those with proper ideas, and committed to proper actions. And who would decide which ideas and actions were proper, and which were to be forbidden?
People rather like himself:
…everyone “in the maturity of his faculties” as a human being, everyone who has learned to think rationally and autonomously.
His students and followers, in other words. He wanted to create:
[a] democratic educational dictatorship of free men… in Mill, every rational human being participates in the discussion and decision–but only as a rational being. (In contemporary America) this would be a small number indeed, and not necessarily that of the elected representatives of the people. The problem is not that of an educational dictatorship, but that of breaking the tyranny of public opinion and its makers in the closed society.
Marcuse denied he was an elitist, insisting that once people were “educated” to accept ideas and actions that the society at large considered subversive, true freedom would reign supreme.
He’d be quite surprised to learn that his proposals are gathering momentum, precisely among those who consider themselves members of the intellectual elite. The movement extends from college campuses (for which he had some hope) to international “scientific” bodies (think about the campaigns against those who refuse to accept the dogmas of “climate change”), to the broader society. We have reached a point where a radical “activist” can go on national TV and call for the imprisonment of anyone in public office who disagrees with him. And the host murmurs that there might not be enough room.
Like Marcuse, the advocates of this rule-by-right-thinking-inellectuals invariably claim to be democracy’s best friends, even as they work for its doom. Take David Brooks for example, who proclaims that we’re in an era of democratic complacency and decay. He thinks that we’ve recently learned about the shortcomings of democratic republics: “The events of the past several years have exposed democracy’s structural flaws.”
And then he tells us things we learned back in the 1830s from Alexis de Tocqueville: democratic countries are lousy at long-range planning, our system of checks and balances can paralyze badly needed policies, etcetera etcetera and so forth. We show up badly, he says, when compared to innovative “Guardian States” like China and Singapore. Our schools stink when compared to South Korea’s. And best of all, he insists, “They are better at long-range thinking and can move fast because they limit democratic feedback and don’t face NIMBY-style impediments.”
Brooks, just like Marcuse, insists that he has come to save democracy, not to bury it. He wants “a strategy to make democracy dynamic again…use Lee Kuan Yew means (aka benevolent dictatorship, ML) to achieve Jeffersonian ends — to become less democratic at the national level in order to become more democratic at the local level.”
And what is his glorious solution? The model for the revivification of democracy? Why, it’s that towering achievement known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission.
You say you never heard of it? It was a December, 2010 report modestly titled “The Moment of Truth,” and it proposed various economic measures to get the United States out of its (2010, remember) unsustainable debt. Cut government programs, raise some taxes, cut some other taxes, permit the bureaucracy to slowly contract…you know the drill. Dead On Arrival here in Washington, DC.
Brooks knows that, but he’s got a remedy. It’s Marcuse’s, as luck would have it. Put the power in the hands of his friends, and crush those who disagree. He lets down his democratic mask just long enough for us to see the Marcusian dialectic at work:
The process of change would be unapologetically elitist. Gather small groups of the great and the good together to hammer out bipartisan reforms — on immigration, entitlement reform, a social mobility agenda, etc. — and then rally establishment opinion to browbeat the plans through.
What’s so great about that? For Brooks, like so many of his fellow self-proclaimed intellectuals, it’s great because the elite is himself and his friends, and the rest of us are just grist for the great browbeating mill.
He would do well to listen to the wisdom of my late grandmother, who came here from Russia. Grandma Mashe was a political whiz: “Best government, good czar. Worst government, bad czar. Many more bad czars than good czars.”
No thanks. I don’t greatly envy the citizens of China or Singapore, and I certainly don’t want to be ruled by the latest versions of Herbert Marcuse. Hell, they can’t even run a decent newspaper, let alone a great nation.