Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Paul Gottfried’s Book on Political Correctness

Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt

One of the more difficult books I read recently was the short but shockingly dense Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt.  I had started it before last night –the announcement of the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson–but was only about 75% through as I had been distracted by other things.  Today though, inspired as I was by all the recent chattering on all issues race and culture (even though we should be talking about the militarization of police and other such matters), I completed it. Yay me.

Issues relating to race and political correctness are quite interesting to me.  Author Paul Gottfried did not at all let me down and in fact has brought new energy to my fascination with the nature of the Politically Correct sociological atmosphere that surrounds us.  I hope to be blogging through the book in the next several weeks.  I was shocked at the extent to which these trends are managed by the liberal elite who seek to engage in various levels of social engineering and cultural mindset shifts.

The title itself is well chosen.  It really reflects and summarizes the theme of the book as revealing the near-religious nature of the manufactured social narrative.  The guilt complex, which is a carefully selected tool, is utilized for political means and it has proven to be successful since its inauguration.  The subtitle too speaks volumes as it describes what quickly becomes apparent throughout the book as a whole: “Toward a Secular Theocracy.”  The PC trend has an eerie similarity to the Christian doctrines of sin, repentance, salvation, and all the rest.  And in fact, Gottfried traces the movement back to the rise of the religious liberals during the end of the twentieth century. With their popular social gospel and social justice, the roots of the modern PC movement were founded early on.  Anyone who is familiar with the work of J. Gresham Machen will understand the anti-Christian worldview that was put forth during these years.  Many Christians understand that these liberal ideas have not died, but many do not understand the extent to which they have swept through even conservative churches in our present society.

After Liberalism

Gottfried sees this book as the follow up to his previously written overview of Liberalism and what he calls “the managerial state.” The managerial state was supposed to be the perfection of social democracy, with the victim groups similar to Karl Marx’s: the laborers, the proletariate, the impoverished, etc.  The managerial state spoke out in terms of expanding in order to protect the economically under privileged.  It developed cases for things like minimum wage laws, labor unions, and rent control.  But the managerial state eventually gave way to a different kind of state, with new classes of victims and new programs to fix the “problems.”  The new costume that the state has put on is what Gottfried refers to as “the therapeutic state.”  Rather than seeing the victim classes in terms of economics, the new victims are those who are culturally underrepresented and “socially oppressed.”  The three main key terms in this new phenomenon are “racism,” “sexism,” and “homophobia.”  And more are on their way or currently given smaller scale status [i.e., the transexual movement].

Gottfried mentions that this study of the transition from managerial statism to therapeutic statism should “[begin] with a treatment of the turning of the administrative state, particularly in the United States, away from purely material programs, such as expanded entitlements, toward behavior control.”  This treatment is handled in chapter one.  In it, he discusses the rise of an emphasis in state-drive “multicultural educational plans” and stiff laws against “insensitive speech and writing.”

After chapter 2 in which he discusses the relevant history and role that liberal “protestantism” (quotation marks) played in the foundation of the therapeutic state, Gottfried moves on to chapter 3 and looks into the actual shift. What happened, who the major power groups were, and why they did it.  It is here that he comments that the multicultural vision, in which society was by definition unjust unless there was equal amount of various cultures and codes of morality, is purposefully so utopian that it can never be achieved.  This makes the goal always one step in the future and makes the political environment such that there will forever be a need for the state’s oversight across the entire society to reinforce political correctness and sensible speech and content.  He also explains some of the influences which made this arrangement into a “starkly totalitarian” one.

Chapter 4, called A Sensitized World, is about “the crusades” of the modern PC movement and tells the tale of expansion and the international growth of these trends.  The United Nations itself and other international bodies and NGOs began to take on this very political culture.  Talk of “xenophobia” and “ethnic hate” became the keywords of intervention and growth of the international states.  In this context, French professor Jean Bricmont’s book Humanitarian Imperialism is not only relevant but another piece of the puzzle as to why and how the governments use words like “humanitarian rights” in order to dominate and acquire more control.  This chapter was the most fascinating for me.  He develops the idea of “right wing extremists” as being the label which is placed on anyone who does not agree with the “cultural consensus” on a whole plethora of matters.  If you, for instance, disagree with the idea that the state should make specific efforts to ensure that the “representation” of minorities is equal in universities, you are dismissed as a racist and hateful right winger, regardless of the actual logic of your objection.

Chapter 5 discusses the “conflicts produced and exacerbated by the therapeutic state.”  He looks at the rising right wing populist movement that arose as a reaction to the “war on the west’s culture.”  This is one historical area of libertarian culture in which there developed a split.  Seeing the short lived “paleolibertarian” movement (represented by Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard, and even, perhaps behind the scenes, Ron Paul and the young Mises Institute) in this context is very helpful.

Everything for the therapeutic state (TS) boils down to what social class to which you belong.  You are seen not as an individual with rights and the opportunity to make yourself successful (this is dismissed by the TS as the “heresy of meritocracy”). You are seen as a member of either a minority and oppressed class, or a member of the oppressing class based on things which are beyond your control.  In this way, one can’t help it if they were born in oppression and only the state can save them from the evil environment which surrounds.  The state is changing it’s garments. It does not emphasize in the propaganda outlets as having as its primary role in lifting the impoverished man out of poverty as it once did.  It certainly does claim to play that role still, but the dominant social themes of today are things like multiculturalism, racism, sexism, and homophobia.  The state is rushing to make people feel better, to blame the world around for too much “judging” and “shaming” and “hating.”  You know the keywords, I am sure.  We see it in the media and in the movies. We hear it on the radio and on the talk shows.  It is all around us and it is intentional. These social themes aren’t arbitrary or random.

I hope to comment more on the actual content of the book in coming posts.