Culture Wars/Current Controversies

A False Open Society: A Marxist-Anarchist Critique of Political Correctness

Political correctness is the ideological superstructure of the left-wing of capital, and the technology, ideas, and information industries are its substructure/materialist base.

By Keith Preston

The Myth of the Open Society

One of the pervasive myths of our time is that we live in an open society where contentious issues, and serious questions of public policy, are supposedly addressed by means of Socratic dialogue, or open discourse reflecting the principles of Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson or John Stuart Mill. For reasons that I will explain, this claim of an open society is false. I could certainly discuss multiple ways in which the open society claim is problematic. For example, I could examine many parallel difficulties such as over criminalization, overregulation, increasingly greater centralization, and ever pervasive bureaucratization. However, for the purpose of this discussion, I want to focus on ideological conformity, and the way in which ideological conformity is enforced in liberal democratic societies.

“Liberal Illiberalisms”

We live in an era of what has been called “liberal illiberalisms” by the libertarian writer Cathy Young. Young has provided multiple examples of how enforced ideological conformity works. Many such illustrations can be found and I will briefly mention a few examples.

  • In 2015, Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Council issued a warning against potentially offensive Halloween costumes. A professor named Erika Christakis objected that such a directive had the effect of undermining the students’ freedom of expression.  The reaction was a barrage of indignation being levied against Christakis by members of the Yale academic community, including students as well as faculty and staff members. Christakis and her husband, also a faculty member, were physically confronted by student protestors. The students subsequently demanded that the couple be terminated by the university. The Yale University administration failed to support the Christakises who subsequently stepped down from their positions.
  • In 2015, a photo shoot took place in England to promote the film Suffragette, which is about the battle for the right of English women to vote. In the film, Meryl Streep plays the role of Emmeline Pankhurst, a leading British suffragist. Streep and three other actresses were shown wearing a T-shirt with a quote from Pankhurst that read, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.” The slogan was attacked for supposedly “trivializing the black experience of slavery and allowing white women to claim it as their own.” Others criticized the use of the words “rebel” and “slave,” claiming these terms amounted to the glorification of slavery as practiced during the Confederacy, even thought the film had nothing to do with the Confederacy, or American history generally.
  • In 2014, the British National Student Union rejected a motion condemning ISIS on the grounds that the resolution could promote Islamophobia.
  • In 2015, the same reason was cited by the University of Minnesota to oppose a commemoration of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist incident.
  • Cathy Young points out how accusations of cultural appropriation are used to attack everything from yoga classes (which were banned at the University of Ottawa, apparently on the grounds that yoga involves the appropriation of Hindu culture) to white people wearing the dreadlocks hairstyle to a kimono exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
  • Ethnic food has been attacked as form of cultural appropriation. For instance, a burrito shop in Portland was closed after its white female owners’ described their having collected recipes white on a vacation in Mexico. Because of this, they were accused of stealing from Mexican culture, and practicing what was called “culinary white supremacy.”
  • Among others that have been attacked in this way was a professor who was reprimanded for “merely mentioning the belief that transgender identities are ‘not real’” or “female students having a ‘slut-shamey’ conversation about a fellow student described as a ‘bro-hopper.’”
  • Some universities have put up posters warning against the use of supposedly offensive words and phrases such as “crazy,” “you guys,” “illegal alien,” or “did you lose weight?”
  • The University of California established guidelines for avoiding microaggressions such as “asking an immigrant where she or he is from, encouraging a quiet Asian-American or Latino to speak up, or expressing the opinion that women in America today have the same opportunities as men.”
  • Within the pro-choice movement, pro-abortion rights activists have been asked to “avoid gender-specific language (such as ‘women’) so as to be inclusive to female-bodied individuals who may get pregnant and seek abortions but identify as male or non-binary.”  Likewise, “an abortion rights fundraising event humorously dubbed ‘Night of a Thousand Vaginas’ was met with anger from offended activists who thought it excluded transgender women.”

Certainly, many other similar examples of thought and speech control could be cited. But the question that arises involves the matter where sentiments and actions such as these originate from.

Political Correctness as an Ideological Superstructure

At times, I am asked by leftists why I pay so much attention to this issue when surely my time might be better spent focusing on hate crimes, or other matters that are considered to be more substantive. I do so because the ideological extremism that I just described is presently a rising force in the wider society, concentrated in influential sectors, and gradually becoming part of the elite’s ideological superstructure. In fact, in order to understand the phenomenon that I am presently describing it may be helpful to engage in the intellectual appropriation of certain insights from Marxist theory. According to Marx, all societies have an ideological superstructure that is used to justify the existing society’s dominant institutions. In the ancient world, the superstructure may have been rooted in the idea that the emperor was a descendent of the sun-god. In medieval societies, the divine right of kings served as the superstructure. In modern democracies, the superstructure is derived from the idea that the government is elected by the people. However, Marx argued that beneath this ideological superstructure is a material base that he described as a substructure. The substructure involves certain sectors of the economy or forms of production that are associated with the interests of particular classes.

I would suggest that at present there is indeed an ideological superstructure that exists in societies like our own, and that there is a system of enforced conformity to this ideology. The ideological superstructure is what is commonly called “political correctness.” It is also important to understand that political correctness comes in multiple forms. An individual that frequently reads and comments on my work has used an analogy to the Church. We might say that there is a high church liberalism and a low church liberalism. Low church liberals are simply those who sincerely favor equal opportunity in education and employment, being nice to gay people, holds to the “melting pot” view of immigration, or perhaps favor universal healthcare. I know many people like this.

However, there is also a high church liberalism that is obsessed with the eradication of offensive history, promotes concepts such as cultural appropriation and micro-aggressions, insists on calling a manhole a “people hole,” and that takes offense to Halloween costumes, or to the serving of tacos in a university cafeteria. Recently, a representative of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals made the claim that milk is a symbol of white supremacy. These are the kinds of people that think it is perfectly fine if a 12 year old undergoes transgender surgery. It should also be acknowledged that there is a far-left and a center-left version of political correctness. The far-left version is represented by the campus protestors, the Antifa, the neo-Maoists, and other representatives of the extreme left. The center-left version is often manifested as a blend of PC culture with the American civil religion or civic nationalism. For example, it will be said that the reason the United States is a great nation is because we have gay marriage.

The Enforcement of Ideological Conformity

For the most part, this ideological superstructure is not enforced through traditional state repression, such as a knock on the door in the middle of the night which results in someone getting tossed in a gulag. However, there are some disturbing trends in this area, such as the fact that Marine Le Pen was recently ordered by a French court to undergo a psychiatric examination. This practice of declaring political dissidents to be mentally ill and responding with coercive psychiatric intervention is straight out of the Soviet playbook. But for the most part, there is little formal censorship in the Western democracies (with some exceptions related to fringe areas like Holocaust denial).

Instead, the enforcement of ideological conformity is farmed out to other institutions, such as the media, educational institutions, corporations, and technology companies. The means of enforcement involve the use of social, economic, and professional sanctions rather than the outright criminalization of dissidents. Ideological conformity is also enforced by means of extra-legal methods, such mob violence, shouting down speakers, the harassment political opponents or public figures in public places or even at their private homes, and the aggressive vigilante activities of groups such as the Antifa. It is for this reason that it is often necessary for gatherings of dissidents to take place on a clandestine basis. The proponents of the ideology of political correctness are heavily concentrated in influential sectors of society. Among the more significant examples are the electronic media and professional journalism, universities and public schools, the entertainment industry, left-wing professionals such as attorneys and healthcare specialists, the left-wing of clergy, the public sector bureaucracy, social services and human services, advertising, public relations, and corporate human resources and diversity officers.

However, one of the most significant sectors of these kinds involves technology companies. For example, Facebook recently purged over 800 pages with millions of followers, including pages with left-wing as well as right-wing perspectives, with the common denominator being that all of the purged pages represented some kind of anti-establishment perspective. It is also interesting to note that similar methods are used by the professional “watchdogs,” which typically focus most of their attention on the Right, but also attack leftist, African-American or other minority perspectives that are also considered to be outside the realm of acceptable liberal opinion.

The Socioeconomic and Demographic Basis of Political Correctness

It should also be noted that what I have called high church liberalism represents only a very small number of people when compared to the general public. A recent study involving the present political divisions in the United States was conducted by More in Common, a British organization that studies political conflict around the world. In their recently released report called “Hidden Tribes,” a term that was used to describe America’s major political divisions, it was observed that political correctness is overwhelmingly unpopular among all races, classes, religions, genders, and political affiliations in the United States.  Approximately 80% of Americans expressed opposition to political correctness. The study also found that political correctness is more unpopular among Native Americans, Asians, and Hispanics than among whites, and only slightly more unpopular among whites than among blacks, with nearly three quarters of African-Americans expressing opposition to political correctness.

The authors of the report suggest that Americans are politically divided into seven so-called “tribes” with progressive activists constituting 8%, traditional liberals 11%, passive liberals 15%, the politically disengaged 26%, moderates 15%, traditional conservatives 19%, and devoted conservatives 6%.The only political affiliation of the seven where the majority of the “tribe” expressed a favorable view of political correctness was “progressive activists” who are only 8%.  Even a substantial minority of progressives expressed criticism of political correctness (about 30%). The identity of the “progressive activist” political tribe was overwhelmingly white, affluent, and educated, along with a smaller group of elites among traditional minorities. In other words, the proponents of political correctness are largely concentrated in the left-wing of the upper middle class, among urban cosmopolitan professionals, and the newly rich from outside the traditional elite whose wealth has been generated by newer, high-tech industries. These sectors constitute what we might call the “left-wing of capitalism.”

It is interesting that many on the Right continue to fetishize capitalism when it has to be considered that present day capitalism differs considerably from the capitalism of the elite, top hat wearing plutocratic families of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Today, capitalism is just as likely to be represented by Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Madison Avenue as it is by the Chamber of Commerce, and by figures such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet or George Soros. In fact, the sociologist Joel Kotkin, himself a centrist Democrat, has argued that an alliance has developed what he calls the “techno-oligarchs” of Silicon Valley and the mass media, and what he terms the “new clerisy” associated with the various sectors that are involved with ideas, ranging from journalism to education to advertising.

As an aside, I would note that, contrary to another myth, from a historical perspective it was the left-wing of the upper-middle class that was the class base of leftist revolutions. It could be reasonably argued that the liberal revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth century were driven by the left-wing of an upwardly mobile middle class whose political ambitions were frustrated by the existing political order. I would also suggest that the real class basis for the Marxist revolutions of the twentieth century likewise originated from left-leaning middle class sectors. For example, the famous Communist leaders from the twentieth century were mostly teachers, doctors, lawyers, and other middle class professionals, with only Stalin himself originating from what could be considered a proletarian background. I would suggest that present day political correctness is a manifestation of the rising left-wing of the upper middle class. Political correctness is the foundation of their ideological superstructure with the technology industry and the various professional sectors previously mentioned being their material base.


If there are any solutions to be found to the challenges that are presented by this forced ideological conformity, one of these might be to extend First Amendment jurisprudence to corporations, media companies, technology companies, schools and universities, and cyberspace. In early American history, the Bill of Rights was considered by American jurisprudence to apply only to the states and localities. As the power of the federal government has grown, and the states and localities have largely been reduced to administrative units, constitutional jurisprudence has been extended to the states and localities. It may be necessary to extend the Bill of Rights to the aforementioned institutions since these institutions are essentially the equivalent of private states. For example, I would suggest that technology companies are not private businesses, but crony-capitalist or state-capitalist institutions that have made billions of dollars by piggybacking on technology that was developed by the government with taxpayer money. Therefore, cyberspace should be regarded as public space (like parks, streets, and sidewalks), and the fight for free speech in cyberspace might be compared to free speech fights in the early 20th century by the labor movement,  or Free Speech movement of the 1960s.

6 replies »

  1. “Therefore, cyberspace should be regarded as public space (like parks, streets, and sidewalks)”

    Indeed, I agree – Right now the corporations of the size of google, facebook and so on is having it both ways and this cant go on forever without serious injury to freedom.

    If a platform isnt giving me a proper contract and rules with which we both are bound by, I’m not going to invest any serious time on that platform – We need to resist and put pressure on them as private citizens/consumers until we get common ground rules.

  2. “These are the kinds of people that think it is perfectly fine if a 12 year old undergoes transgender surgery. ”

    in the context in which it’s made, it appears this statement is meant to be condescending and demeaning.

    i would like to know at what age is it “perfectly fine” to make this decision? and who decides that, and how is that age chosen? or, is this something you think should be prevented at any age?

    in your idea of a “free society”, at what age does one become able to exercise their freedom?

    in nature, among other primates, the young are exercising their freedom from the time they are able to exert their will on the environment. the adults will attempt to control their behaviour, but they are allowed to make mistakes and even to die, god forbid! for all our talk of wanting to be liberated, i am never surprised to see how quickly we resort to totalitarianism. rather it manifests as PC culture, or shaming or bullying or outright violence. it’s hypocritical to say we want a free society and then place limits on just how much any member can have.

    • I generally hold to the standard libertarian view that whatever consenting adults do is their business (e.g. injecting heroin, BDSM, assisted suicide, etc). That would certainly include the decision to have transgender surgery as well. However, most societies make a distinction between adults and children in some way. I have my doubts about whether barely pubescent children are capable of making an informed and rational decision to undergo radically physically altering and life-changing surgery. I tend to think adults that perform surgery of this kind on children are being reckless and irresponsible. First of all, performing surgery of any kind on a child is not a good idea unless there is an immediately compelling medical reason for it (i.e. injuries and illnesses). I don’t think 12 year olds should necessarily be getting cosmetic surgery either except to repair injuries or deformities. I generally think it’s a bad idea to provide 12 year olds with heroin or grenades as well. Is it just fine for a 12 year old to work as a child prostitute in a brothel offering services to pedos?

      in your idea of a “free society”, at what age does one become able to exercise their freedom?

      I don’t have clearly defined views on that. I don’t know that it should even be a matter of law. In my world of anarchies I might be willing to tolerate pedo/bestiality brothels, child brides, suicide clinics on wheels akin to food trucks, 12 year olds having sex-reassignment surgery, vending machines for heroin, televised death matches. etc. I’m hardly a religious right “family values” or Hillary Clinton “it takes a village to raise a child” type. I just think people usually have a better time of it if they exercise common sense. And if you disagree with me, that’s fine too.

      • One thing that I would want to point out is that one reason why I have the political views that I do is so people of radically different or polar opposite political, social, economic, cultural, religious or moral views can peacefully co-exist without killing or persecuting each other (which has generally been the historical norm). He/she who wants freedom has to be willing to give it to others. The principal danger at present is the increasing concentration of political power and economic power on a global scale with the role of the US being that of the New Roman Empire. If overthrowing Caesar means tolerating these other things, like pedo brothels in Thailand or FGM in Africa or pre-adolescent sex changes in America or England, so be it. But freedom also means that other people have the right to criticize. For instance, I am often reviled by leftists for saying that, yes, in pan-anarchist/anarcho-pluralist system neighborhoods of racist whites would be able to form what used to be called “racially restrictive covenants” if they wished. But the “Racism Sucks Club” would also be able to protest, picket, criticize, ridicule, etc. all they wanted (within the limits of the non-aggression principle, of course). And leftists are perfectly within their rights for hating my guts for holding these views.

  3. i find your idealism intriguing and this belief that we can somehow all have our freedom, and live peacefully amongst one another, is admirable. i also think it’s utopian. there are just to many obstacles. i also disagree with your use of this word “rights”. any concept of this idea that i have ever heard of implies some authority determining what the rights are and then enforcing adherence to them. as i understand it, this cannot be done without some form of governing body controlling what the population does. at best, a society, or a bollo, can have more freedom, but absolute freedom is a ‘spook’ in my opinion, and struggling to achieve it is self defeating. no society of organisms can survive, let alone live, without the members of that society giving up some of their individual freedoms for the success of the group. the most successful life forms that i am aware of either live in well structured communities, bees for example, or live as isolated individuals solely responsible for their own survival, i.e crocodiles. by success i mean time on planet.

    i also disagree with you on your belief that separate groups of people with radically different BS, either ‘belief systems’ or ‘bullshit’, can co exist peacefully. i am not an historian, so i may need to be corrected, but i am not aware of any society that once it acquired enough power, didn’t try to impose it’s will on their neighbours. as i understand it most of our history is an account of how one power has tried to dominate another. i’m not saying we can’t live peaceably, i just think it’s highly unlikely. i mean i can’t imagine a situation where a society of pedo’s, who bred children to be sex slaves, would be tolerated once they were found out. i could not tolerate that and would take action to stop them. and maybe this is the problem i’m having, lack of imagination, and a distorted belief in some kind of moral and ethical objectivity
    ( superiority? ) . i seriously doubt that your ‘non aggression principle’ would do much to deter people like me from taking action. i am not comfortable saying that however, because i have enough experience to know i should not trust any ideas of moral objectivity i might entertain.

    as an aside, did you know that in the story of Isaac and Rivka, from the book of genesis, we have a tradition, that is jews, that she was only three years old at the time of the marriage! what is called ‘pedophilia’ today, was in ‘ancient’ times, a common practice and, even until recently, once a female reached puberty, she was ‘open’ to be taken as a wife. so i am aware of how custom and tradition can be changed by opinions and sentiments.

    regardless of whether i agree with you or or not, i appreciate and respect your courage. i cannot ever hope to find anything remotely like ‘Truth’, and i mean as it relates to me, if i am not willing to engage with those who think differently than me and discuss the beliefs i find most disturbing with the ones who adhere to them. thank you for providing that opportunity and i will be reading more of your work.

    i recently watched an old western and there was a line i really identified with,

    “the only thing i admire more than a loyal friend is a committed enemy”

    or something like that. i consider myself a ‘Comanche’, an enemy. i am an enemy of the society i find myself in and find inspiration in knowing i am not alone, even if we disagree.

    • I don’t really disagree with anything you said. I’m not a utopian. Just a pragmatic philosophical anarchism. If you want a good summary of my ideology check out these two lectures of mine. This was given in Madrid last year. I outline a historical/ideological trajectory that might be called an “anti-authoritarian paradigm” and related that to anti-imperialism generally.

      This was given in London earlier this year, where I describe struggles for community autonomy throughout history and the world today:

      Anarchist mass movements would involve the proliferation of the ideas and practices that I review in these videos, IMO.

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