Political correctness is detrimental to language

Pros and cons
Do we need political correctness?

Yes, because it ensures that discussions remain free from discrimination, says Max Tholl. No, thinks Alexander Grau. Because actually they mean the "morally" correct and are therefore totalitarian.

By Max Tholl and Alexander Grau



Political correctness in language is the attempt to do justice to social changes, says Max Tholl

Political Correctness (PC) is exhausting and confusing. What once passed as colloquial language is now taboo. Anyone who talks about “refugees” instead of “refugees” is directly under general suspicion of being “xenophobic”. Anyone who still tells children about Astrid Lindgren's “Negro King” or jokes about blondes - God forbid. No wonder that the criticism of the PC has reached the middle of society and that politicians like Sigmar Gabriel or Winfried Kretschmann are already warning that we “suffocate in political correctness” and “exaggerate” it. Does the pc harm us in the end? Not at all.

Political correctness means consideration and lived empathy

With the PC it is primarily about the question of what one can still say and mean and where discrimination begins. So far there are no answers. Instead, names are argued with verve. Can you still say “foreigners” or do you have to speak of “people with an immigrant background”? Does the German national anthem have to be made gender-sensitive? “One can still say that!” Chant the opponents of the PC in the face of such discussions and warn against bans on opinion and the “tyranny of the minorities”.

For many of them, however, it is about much more than the use of language: They fear about their position of power within society. They fear that others will now be in charge. That their opinion is no longer the only one. That the pc is taken to extremes until it culminates in absurdity. Your criticism of the PC is a veiled longing for a clearly divided world order and a declaration of war on progress.

Anyone who believes that the PC curtails freedom of expression or the right to criticism is wrong

Because that's what the PC is all about. The fact that society is becoming more colorful and diverse has a major impact on how we work together. Women are no longer subordinate to men, foreigners and people of different faith are an integral part of the population and different sexualities are normal. The pc is an attempt to accommodate these changes. Because terms like “negro”, “fagot” or “woman” are leftovers from a time in which differences were not respected, but used to discriminate.

Anyone who believes that the PC curtails freedom of expression or the right to criticism is wrong. Both are not weakened by the PC. It just ensures that the discussion remains free from discrimination. This is also what the Basic Law wants. And that's pretty German and traditional.

Political correctness means consideration and lived empathy. That is their strength and justification. It makes it clear that you take the feelings and sensitivities of others seriously, even if you do not share them personally. You don't have to support the gender asterisk in order to respect the feelings of the people behind it.

Political correctness is an act of strength. It demands that we not only adapt our use of language, but also our view of the world. That you put yourself in the shoes of a black or intersex person. Would one perceive the world as discriminatory? Should injustices be accepted because they have been around for a long time or the majority do not recognize them as such? No.

Instead of bans of opinion, it promotes the exchange of opinions

There is still much to be done about what can be said, even among proponents of the pc. But such an effort is important - as a signal. Politically correct language makes it clear that one accepts the other person as an equal. Instead of bans of opinion, it promotes the exchange of opinions.

Of course, the pc can "exaggerate" and must also respect the sensitivities of their opponents. Not every PC critic is automatically misogynistic, racist, homophobic or generally discriminatory. The pc has the potential to go overboard on occasion, but that doesn't ruin its usefulness. Society is strong, it can endure and tolerate a lot. Discrimination in everyday life does not have to be a part of it. One can still prevent that.

The journalist and proud Luxembourger Max Tholl was editor of the debate magazine The European and the Tagesspiegel. He is co-founder of The Idea List and loves to write about how and where pop culture is changing our society.


Alexander Grau believes that moral attitudes are a private matter in liberal democracies for good reason

"Political Correctness": In the ears of the enlightened citizen of western industrial nations, that sounds good and, above all, harmless. Because who wants to be incorrect, and politically incorrect at that? But what is actually politically correct? And: who determines that?

The fact that answering these simple questions is difficult is due to the strange linguistic composition of the expression "politically correct". Because correct, based on the Latin basic meaning, is everything that has been corrected, i.e. that which is free of errors, correct or - in the figurative sense - appropriate.

“Political” is a deliberately vague placeholder

But it is precisely about what is politically appropriate if you understand it to be a kind of civil treatment in public. And that is due to the banal attribute "political". The word here is a deliberately vague placeholder that is intended to hide the fact that it is not about appropriate action for the community. It's about tough ideology. Because “political” here means the twisting of the actual meaning of the word “moral”. According to his apologists, especially academic apologists, the politically correct is nothing other than the morally correct. And this morally correct should apply to the entire community and be enforced by means of social sanctions - language regulations, renaming, removal of works of art from public space. It's totalitarian. With the exception of very few actions - violations of the right to physical integrity, self-determination and property, for example - moral attitudes are a private matter in liberal democracies for good reason. Worldview and religion are a matter for the individual. They only become a problem when they result in actions that do not fit the criminal code.

The representatives of the PC do not want to accept the right to free, unpleasant opinion

The greatest good in a liberal society is freedom of expression. As long as a criminal offense is not called for, the citizen in liberal states like Germany - with few restrictions and considerations - has the right to think and say what he wants. Even if that doesn't suit some.

It is precisely this right to free, unpleasant opinion that the representatives of political correctness do not want to accept. They are concerned with re-education using language and symbolic politics: everyday language is to be morally cleaned up, old books are searched for unpleasant formulations, street names, monuments, museum holdings, etc. are to be adapted.

At its core, it's about a culture war, and it has little to do with morality, the protection of minorities or humanism. The ideologues of political correctness are concerned with the pursuit of a social revolutionary agenda. The beginning of the systematic movement towards “political correctness” is often dated to the 1980s in the USA. In my opinion, the ideological roots lie much earlier, in neo-Marxism of the 1920s: Since a revolution due to economic circumstances was not to be expected, the focus was on the conquest of cultural hegemony, i.e. the interpretative sovereignty in public opinion through a targeted language policy and the assumption of key positions in the culture and media industry. The aim of this revolutionary strategy was to destroy civil society by discrediting its central institutions: family, university, cultural institutions.

In the late 1960s, this cultural revolutionary concept was picked up by the ideologues of the 1968 movement. The philosopher Herbert Marcuse, for example, explicitly recommended a “linguistic rebellion” and emphasized “that the realization of tolerance requires intolerance of the prevailing political practices, attitudes and opinions”. This strategy is legitimized by the pathologization of society. The average petty bourgeoisie, filled with secret resentment, is seen as a patient who needs to be “cured” through appropriate speech therapy. It's presumptuous, repulsive, and bizarre.

To be against political correctness does not mean to approve of discrimination

This impression is reinforced by the fact that this dispute bears unmistakable features of a class struggle from above: A small academic minority of well-off prosperous offspring presumes to re-educate the masses who are allegedly trapped in their stereotypes. One could dismiss that as presumptuousness of pampered affluent children. But the matter is not that harmless. Too many people who argue for the protection of minorities for good reason, for example, turn themselves into willing henchmen on an aggressive agenda for restructuring Western societies. But to be against political correctness does not mean that discrimination is good. It means defending our freedom.

Alexander Grau has a doctorate in philosophy and works as a freelance culture and science journalist. He writes for Cicero, among others, and recently his book “Hypermoral. The new lust for outrage ”at Claudius Verlag Munich.