While conservatives are often considered moralistic to a fault, liberal moralism has become so repressive that some liberals now fear everyday conversations.
In a Tuesday article for New York Magazine, a liberal publication, Jonathan Chait wrote about the new "political correctness," which now comes in the form of phrases like "trigger warnings," "microaggressions" or "mansplaining." These new liberal rules, Chait wrote, is a "system of left-wing ideological repression." Those rules are so stifling, any meaningful debate in liberal circles is cut off.
"A community, virtual or real, that adheres to the rules is deemed 'safe.' The extensive terminology plays a crucial role, locking in shared ideological assumptions that make meaningful disagreement impossible," he explained.
The victims of the new political correctness, Chait pointed out, are not just conservatives; often, they are liberal. He interviewed several liberals for the article and his thesis was provided further confirmation when some asked not to be identified for fear of retribution from their fellow liberals.
An unidentified "professor at a prestigious university" told Chait that she and her colleagues are so "terrified of facing accusations of triggering trauma" that they avoid "traditional academic work of intellectual exploration." "This is an environment of fear," she said in explaining her need for anonymity.
Chait also spoke to Hanna Rosin, a liberal feminist. Rosin's book, The End of Men, which argues that women are better positioned to succeed in our post-industrial society than men, was mocked so much by her fellow feminists (because it was insufficiently outraged at sexism) that Rosin now says she avoids publicly making arguments that are out-of-step with feminist norms.
"The price is too high; you feel like there might be banishment waiting for you," she told Chait.
Whenever one is accused of an offense in "p.c. culture," Chait explains, there is no use in trying to defend oneself. Any attempt to do so is also considered an offense. And if you ask your accusers to be less hostile in their denouncements you will be accused of "tone policing."
"Political correctness makes debate irrelevant and frequently impossible," Chait complained.
Chait also wrote about the pro-life activists who were assaulted by a feminist studies professor on a California college campus. The pro-life students were holding signs in a designated "free-speech zone" on campus. Chait was astounded at how many liberals came to the defense of the professor. Merely expressing a conservative viewpoint is considered a "threatening act" which justifies "vandalism, battery, and robbery."
"By the logic of the p.c. movement, [the professor] was the victim of a trigger and had acted in the righteous cause of social justice," he wrote.
The p.c.-culture-liberals are not liberal at all, Chait wrote. He made a distinction between "liberals" and "leftist" or "the Marxist left." Liberals still believe in freedom of speech and expression, while the Marxist left, which has moved from academia to the mainstream of the American Left, is dismissive of liberal's commitment to protecting the freedom of political opponents.
Chait predicts (or maybe just hopes) that the new political correctness will fade away, much like it did in the early 1990s. The "fatal drawback" of p.c. culture, he wrote, is that the constant policing of the boundaries of what is considered proper behavior, and keeping up with what those rules are when everyone claims some form of victimhood, requires too much time and energy. "It is exhausting," he wrote.
Chait's article has received much attention from both the left and right of the political spectrum. Indeed, the reactions have been so numerous that the whole episode has been dubbed, "Chait vs. the Internet."
Most of the conservatives said they agreed with Chait but complained that he has been part of the problem he describes. Many of the reactions from liberals, meanwhile, appear to confirm Chait's argument.
Chait claimed that for modern liberals ideas themselves do not matter as much as the race, gender or sexual preference of the person putting forth the idea. Almost on queue, Alex Pareen began his response for Gawker with: "So, here is sad white man Jonathan Chait's essay about the difficulty of being a white man in the second age of 'political correctness.'"
Writing for Talking Points Memo, Amanda Marcotte agreed that some of Chait's examples, such as the professor who assaulted a pro-life activist and harassment of conservatives, point to some serious problems among liberals. But his other examples, such as the mocking of Rosin on Twitter, were innocent fun and examples of the free speech Chait wants to protect.
On the conservative side, Sean Davis at The Federalist and Kevin Williamson at National Review both argued that Chait is a flawed messenger because he has engaged in the same type of behavior he has criticized. He has only come to notice the left-wing's authoritarian instincts after they were directed toward him.
"I'm glad Chait has suddenly decided that speech policing is a terrible idea. He's only a couple hundred years behind the times, but better late than never, I suppose. Unfortunately, I don't think he's all that sincere about it. In fact, I think he just opposes speech codes when they're used against him or his fellow travelers. And the reason I think that is because I've actually read what Jonathan Chait has written about people on the right who disagree with him," Davis wrote.
"Chait is stumbling, in his way, toward the realization that in political arguments intelligent adults pay attention mainly to what is being said, while fatuous children pay attention mainly to who is saying it. Chait is hardly in a position to complain about that, given his own heavy reliance on that mode of discourse. Chait isn't arguing for taking an argument on its own merits; he's arguing for a liberals' exemption to the Left's general hostility toward any unwelcome idea that comes from a speaker who checks any unapproved demographic boxes, the number of which — 'cisgendered,' etc. — is growing in an appropriately cancerous fashion. "White males" is a category that includes Jonathan Chait and Rush Limbaugh, and Chait, naturally, doesn't like that much," Williamson concurred.
National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg urged Williamson to show more leniency toward Chait: "If, for the sake of argument, Chait was completely wrong until now, this article demonstrates he's at least a little less wrong. That's progress. Most intellectual awakenings happen in pieces."