The cultural rigor mortis of our elites really is a thing to behold. In any other area of political life things have moved on in the past 30 years: from Maastricht to Brexit, from the free market to the financial crisis and beyond, the threat of Soviet Russia to the rise of China, from automation to artificial intelligence, things have changed, as they do.
Not with Political Correctness, however. As was once said of Clint Eastwood’s iconic character Dirty Harry, it is the ‘one constant in an ever-changing universe’. Monday’s dismal news that Theresa May is considering promoting female ministers merely to improve the gender balance in her Cabinet could have been written five, ten, 20 or 25 years ago. Yes, the causes have become a little zanier, the shouting thanks to social media somewhat shriller, but otherwise identity politics remains as it was, and firmly in the ascendant. First laughed at, then resented, finally feared but never respected, PC is an intellectual zombie: dead yet refusing to die, endlessly gripping our collective windpipe and ever more tightly.
And yet again we are forced to ask ourselves – why? No shortage of theories have been put forward: the influence of the Frankfurt School; the Gramscian long march through the institutions; the supposedly sinister machinations of Common Purpose. Doubtless a few radicals here and there really did set out to transform society from top to bottom, but for them to achieve the complete dominance that PC has done would require truly supernatural powers, unless such agents were acting in concert with other far more powerful forces. Instead, PC identity politics is a symptom, not a cause, of the estrangement of our elites from the people: indeed it is the inevitable consequence of the loss of an organic link between the rulers and the society they rule.
In all areas of endeavour, in science, philosophy, politics and even commerce, humans impose artificial taxonomies and categorisations on complex systems that they seek to study but cannot fully understand: proletariat and bourgeoisie; men, women, black and white; ABC1 and C2, D or E. Whether you are a Marxist theorist, ambitious politician or marketing guru, such crude classifications can make it much easier to interpret a society you observe externally rather than personally live in. Of course they also remove vital information from the system, and in politics especially this has had truly catastrophic consequences, as the subtle organic links that connect us all as individuals are replaced by rigid, discrete and internally homogenised categorisations. Thus, for example, politicians for decades have wilfully disregarded the real-world dynamics of family life and end up treating men and women as atomised individuals.
PC has triumphed therefore because it exploited, rather than created, the complete sundering of the cognitive elites from the common people that has been such a feature of sociological development for the past few decades. From the sexual revolution onwards, increasingly narcissistic and self-centred elites have rejected the natural, organic socially conservative traditions of its forebears in favour of an atomised individualism that suited them well, but served wider society very poorly. However, having done so, they still needed a method of classification in order to describe and understand the society they stood increasingly aloof from, and thus the taxonomy of identity politics was born. Militant political radicals such as third-wave feminists, today’s social justice warriors and post-modernists merely exploit the template provided in ever more extreme ways.
In essence, in attacking PC directly all these years we have been aiming at the wrong target: reconnect the governing elites organically to wider society, and PC politics will automatically fade away. Fail to do so, and no amount of intellectual bombardment will remove it.
And that, finally, is what makes Brexit so exciting: uniquely in the Western world, Britain does have a chance to redefine and unify itself around a new collective, organic identity. It is of course our great tragedy that we are led by an intellectual mediocrity wedded to the existing dogma, but a silver lining is that the behaviour of our leaders and Parliament since the revolution began has made it clear that existing mechanisms of governance are no longer acceptable. The best way of reconnecting our political elites to the people and ending the grip of identity politics on our lives is simply to make the demos the governing elite, and direct democracy is the answer.