Respect is Correct

The History of Political Correctness. Where Does the Term PC Come From?

The exact origin of the term politically correct isn’t known, but its first modern usage is from 1793. Meanwhile, the related political argument over tolerance is as old as politics itself.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

The Origin of the Term Politically Correct and the Concepts Behind it

Firstly, arguments revolving around tolerance (which is very similar to the argument revolving around “PC”) have long been the center of political and philosophical debate.

As a culture, how much tolerance do we show to differing views? How tolerant are our laws? What is appropriate behavior, beliefs, values, or language in our culture? Do we have tolerance toward those who have an aversion to a particular word? Do we outlaw the word or behavior? Do we favor the rights of all to use a word? Do we tolerate the freedom to worship? Do we allow the freedom to worship, or do we favor the preference of a religious majority?

To the degree that PC and tolerance share roots, one should note that we can trace the debate over tolerance back past the Greeks and the realist vs. idealist debate, and then forward to works like Locke’s a Letter About Tolerance.

Meanwhile, we speaking out PC as a modern term, the usage of the term politically correct (PC) in America can be traced back to a 1793 Supreme Court Case Chisholm v. Georgia (do a command find and you’ll see the term being used to reference for something that is not correct, politically speaking).

From there it evolves to become more of what we think of PC as being today.

For example, during the World Wars, the term politically correct picked up steam again as a comment on the Red Scare and Communism (as a way to denote the extreme social liberal / progressive tendencies of some communist and socialist movements).

Then, the usage of the term Politically Correct was revived in the 80’s as the American political parties began to polarize and TV and other media began to play a larger role in political influence. This time it came with fear that the social liberal ideals found in some forms of PC are actually just a guise for pushing “cultural Marxism” on the culture (“cultural Marxism” is a term used by critics to paint some progressive ideals of equality, multiculturalism, and internationalism in a bad light).

Affirmative Action, Family Hour, and Tipper Gore’s push for warning labels are all examples of PC in this post 1980s era.

Finally, the PC has again been used in the modern day, where its exact meaning these days reflects the current debate in respect to proper language, action, and attitudes in modern culture. Here we may be talking about gender neutral bathrooms, immigration, race (black lives matter for example), or the way people in positions of power treat women #MeToo for example).

DID THE SOVIETS COME UP WITH THE TERM POLITICALLY CORRECT? Lenin, Stalin, the Soviets, etc are often credited with coming up with terms like Politically Correct and Useful Idiot (see this article and this one). However, it is questionable if these terms truly came from what we today call Russia… and meanwhile it is certain that concepts like tolerance and respect as they relate to groups in society did not come from Soviet Russia. Russia obviously has a long history of utilizing social tactics in international games of political influence, but it doesn’t mean they coined every idea or term. They certainly exploited the concept, using progressive values as a means to create an authoritarian state, but if they truly originated the term (or the term in its modern sense) I have never found any solid proof. If you have proof of the origin of PC beyond what we present, stick a citation in the comments below and we will be happy to research. So far i’ve seen lots of claims about Russia, but far less proof. Certainly Locke’s letters and the Supreme Court Case noted precede Soviet Russia.

CAN ONLY THE LEFT BE SUBJECT TO THE ILLS OF PC? It is a myth that only leftist can be the target of psychological warfare related to exploiting a person’s good traits or that only the left can be PC (see patriotically correct for example). Yes, it is educated social liberals that tend to have their emotion of empathy exploited by tacticians, but the right-wing has their emotions related to fear, ego, and nationalism exploited just as easily. Both the left and right can be compromised in terms of PC, Useful idiot, or any other tactic (if not why would do we have left-wing and right-wing media instead of just information media in any country?). “Oh, dear!”, you say. Why, yes, that does make things complex. Here is a good first step to counteracting the mentalism: Don’t let shady counterfeit information sway your politics to the point where you divide against your countrymen and state. As, that is the point of the social tactics related to PC, useful idiot, and oh dearism in the first place. It isn’t lefties who are subject to this junk, it is liberals of all kinds (as they have the freedom to speak and act unwisely). America is a liberal nation, and the west is mostly liberal, other nations favor a more autocratic stance.

A Timeline of the Usage of the Term Politically Correct

To distill the above into a timeline:

  • A central issue to the early liberal revolution was the concept of tolerance, mainly, to what extent do we tolerate free speech, free press, and freedom of religion. Specifically, issues like tolerance and the Protestants like Martin Luther. This concept can be seen to evolve into the modern day politically correct debate. For instance, the debate over the American south’s use of slavery or later over Mormons, or more recently over LGBT.
  • Some trace usage of the term politically correct back to the first known recorded instance of its use in the late 1700’s when in 1793, the term first appeared in a U.S. Supreme Court judgment of a political lawsuit “Chisholm v. Georgia“.[7]
  • Others trace PC back to the World Wars, the Red scare, and the uprising of “cultural Marxism.” It can look like Hitler’s right-wing National Socialism or Stalin’s left-wing Communism; although this is a perversion of Marx’s altruistic philosophy. In this setting, we are talking about the tolerance paradox (tolerance as a form of intolerance).
  • Others point out that the term’s modern more optimistic and mundane meaning, which didn’t evolve until the 70’s or 80’s, started as a joke in a comic strip in an American newspaper. Its tagline was, “Buy this politically correct chair, and make sure you are sitting on the right side of the fence.”
  • From the 80’s on, as the American political parties became divided post-fairness doctrine, things got ugly, and the newly revived PC became an ideological club with which to beat liberals with. This isn’t a judgment call as much as a quickly summary of what the term often means today in a negative light.

Luther and the Protestant Reformation: Crash Course World History #218. The Jews of the 30’s-40’s, Christians of old, and today Muslims faced religious persecution. Remember, there is almost no difference between the argument over tolerance and PC. 

Political correctness is one of the brilliant tools that the American Right developed in the mid–1980s, as part of its demolition of American liberalism…. What the sharpest thinkers on the American Right saw quickly was that by declaring war on the cultural manifestations of liberalism – by leveling the charge of “political correctness” against its exponents – they could discredit the whole political project.- Words Really are Important, Mr Blunkett” (an article describing the revival of the term as a pejorative under strategists like Lee Atwater; the main GOP strategist in the 80’s and one of the least PC persons in history).

POLITICAL THEORY – Karl Marx. If you want to throw around the term “Marxism,” then you should watch a quick overview of who Karl Marx was and what his ideas were. We can learn about Aristotle without being Greek; you can read Marx without being a Communist. Marx has some utopian ideas, including the elimination of classes. Unfortunately, he uses this as an excuse to establish a dictatorship, make everyone else give up power, and then control the people.

How PC Was Used by Authoritarians in WWII

Political correctness and tolerance in general can be benevolent forces, but they can also be used to justify creating an authoritarian state where very strict rules result in a set of criteria so strict that many are in violation of it.

This form of overly strict PC that leads to “an intolerance via tolerance” is a type of PC that is mostly seen in a negative light.

This type of PC can be based on exclusion, like the NAZIs, or inclusion like Soviet Russia.

When the NAZI party enforced their culture on Germany, it became illegal to not adhere to the strict rules of the party. One couldn’t even be Jewish without being in violation. There was no tolerance for differing views, this was an exclusive form of strict PC.

Like the NAZIs, the Russians of the World War eras used PC to promote an increasingly authoritarian style of Communism.

The message of the Communists may have been more inclusive, but ultimately it lent itself to a group of people being controlled.

These are stories of extremes, but they remind us as to why political correctness, despite being about benevolent concepts like tolerance, can be dangerous in extremes.

Ex-KGB explains how PC can be used as a weapon against the left. This video explains “useful innocents.” Don’t confuse this to mean that understanding, tolerance, and respect are somehow evil. This is about good intentions being used against people with good intentions, not a call for the elimination of good intentions.

Bottom Line on the Origin of PC

The term PC has a meaning that is rooted in a long history of political and philosophical debate on one hand, and a more modern meaning that evolved over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries on the other.

Given this, it is really hard to trace the Political Correctness we know today back to any one point in time.

Those who zero in on the idea that PC is nothing more than a tool to be used as a weapon against the left, and thus focus on the Soviet origin story, are missing a long and rich history on the debate of tolerance and taking a cynical view. PC is much more than this.

The real problem of PC, how tolerance can become intolerance, is more a comment on the danger of extremes. It is not that tolerance or liberty is bad, it is that a balance of tolerance and liberty is better than the extremes of both in most cases… and as noted, the philosophy of that argument stretches back far before any modern debate.

Citations

  1. Political Correctness Early-to-mid 20th century. Wikipedia.
  2. Uncommon Differences: On Political Correctness, Core Curriculum and Democracy in Education
  3. The Origins of Political Correctness
  4. Political correctness
  5. What the Hell Does ‘Politically Correct’ Mean?: A Short History
  6. Toleration
  7. Why ‘Politically Correct’ Still Has Its Uses; Goes Back to 1793


"The Origin of Politically Correct" is tagged with: American Politics, Germany, Left–right Politics, Morality, Politically Correct, Propaganda, Russia, Social Engineering, United States of America, World War II

What do you think?

Jack Eisenberg on

Interesting that you don’t speak very much about “politically correct” was a Stalinist term for
towing the Communist line. I’m not surprised, as the first time i heard it used was circa 1970, and repelled me
as immediately it felt like a prescribed way to think. This, despite the fact I’d long been involved in
“leftist causes.”
Incidentally the term began to be used mainly amongst anti-Vietnam protestors at the very time, due
to continual frustration and feelings of failure, the Movement was becoming increasingly rigid.
But it wasn’t until today that I found it while researching a favorite String Quartet #4 of Shostakovich,
who didn’t expect it to be publicly performed until after Stalin’s death. And nothing fits better to what
the term’s all about than than Shostakovich’s terrible exposure to this, ironically Orwellian term,” and the
very basic fact that pc is closely related to leftist, not rightist history. Interesting too is the strong Jewish
themes that are found in #4, one of the reasons Stalin proscribed it.

Thomas DeMichele on

Interesting. We cover the concept of “useful idiot” here: http://factmyth.com/what-is-a-useful-idiot/

This is related. We do of course try to touch on what you say, but we are also careful to point out that there is a right-wing version of this. What did the NAZIs do if not make anti semitism the patriotically correct view of NAZI Germany?

I think any humanist with a centered position will be ultra weary of extremes, be they left-wing or right-wing, when it comes to censorship, conformity, and the state. Call it Communist of Fascist, it is a slippery and “incorrect” slope. Still, nothing of it tells us that tolerance, compassion, and sensitivity are bad traits, just that they can be slippery slopes and used against us if we aren’t vigilant.

When it turns to “beware the Russian, Jew, or German” it is big red flag!

Bob Weir on

I find it interesting Political correctness is considered a good thing on the left and that you have even tried to make the right sound as if the right were for the NAZI antisemitism. that is either ignorant or an extremely poor form of professional writing ( I am not a professional writer but I am extremely well read). Your statement: “but we are also careful to point out that there is a right-wing version of this. What did the NAZIs do if not make antisemitism the patriotically correct view of NAZI Germany?” Could you clarify your intent on that? A period does not close a paragraph or define the beginning of another statement when the next line is a question. It leads me to read it as comparing antisemitism to right-wing conservatism. As Progressives and Socialist alike, are associated with the left here in America, you have the Marxist socialist influenced NAZI government as being Right-wing? Perhaps you have yet to read Mein Kampf? Reading books written by historic people, regardless of their influences on history help one understand humanity!

Thomas DeMichele on

I’ll seek to clarify the page. Political correctness is when you censor language and behavior as to not offend, this is usually considered left wing… but there is a right wing version. We can call this right wing version. That version is the kind that seeks to censor left wing view points in favor of right wing ones. Like in America for example censoring open expression of lgbt or denouncing the Dixie chicks for speaking out against bush. It is the same pc, just a right wing version.

As for the WW2 ideologies, I’m considering the communists left and fascists right, and using this to give examples of two different forms of pc.

As for Hitler’s book, I’m well aware.

Here are my thoughts on that. In short, Hitler was an ultra nationalist right wing socialist who hated Marxism and social democracy nearly as much as he hated liberalism and traditional conservatism (with a few asides like he was for German tradition and wanted social programs). But this is all in his book and platform and history. See link below for more:

http://factmyth.com/factoids/hitler-was-a-left-wing-socialist-liberal/

That said, I am talking about right wing on a general left right spectrum, not what you are talking about which I assume is American center right conservatism for liberty and individual expression and against Nazisism. That American conservatism does tend toward its own pc, but it is generally different from populist right fascist social conservatism.

Antisemitism is a strange type of pc (an intolerance in this case), but I’m not suggesting a modern republican is anti Semitic.

To fully get my meaning, you should also check out this link: http://factmyth.com/the-left-right-political-spectrum-explained/

That said, I will clarify to make sure my point is clear, that is that there is more than one type of pc (at least a left wing and right wing version, if not multiple forms.)

GJ Tryon on

The writer attempts to obfuscate the simple question of provenance, of who first coined and applied the term. He does this by disingenuously eliding the discussion at the outset into one about “tolerance.” Tolerance in and of itself has nothing to do with political correctness per se. What a waste of time!

Thomas DeMichele on

I feel that some people want this article to say “political correctness is meaningless except in its use as psychological warfare by the Communists.” I however am asserting that the concept of political correctness is age old and essentially has to do with acceptable behavior and group dynamics in a culture. I note both things on this page and other types of origins such as in the philosophies regarding tolerance. I think it is explained well here: http://factmyth.com/tolerance-paradoxes-explained/

Jamie Karl on

I think you need to read Marx again. Not because it’s good, but because it was instrumental in intersectionality, and you’ve summarized him incorrectly.

Thomas DeMichele on

I am happy to read Marx again, any particular work? I ask because I’m not sure I exactly get what you mean?

To what I think you mean: When I say “Cultural marxism” on this page, I am implying the conspiracy theory that charges that PC is sort of a progressive, socialist, globalist plot for world multiculturalism (and thus a threat to nationalism). I am not actually commenting on Marxism. I’m just using the term to describe this idea that PC is part of the internationalist agenda.