Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart freely admitted he could not define pornography. “But,” as he once wrote in an opinion, “I know it when I see it.” Likewise, The Heterodoxy Handbook: How to Survive the PC Campus does not attempt to define what, exactly, “politically correct/PC” means, or is. Nor, as promised in the book’s subtitle, are readers supplied with specific suggestions for “surviving” PCism on campus, or anywhere else.
Nevertheless, this loosely organized collection of essays from the pages of Heterodoxy, a right-reasoning monthly launched in 1992, cogently forwards conservative opinions on (in)tolerance, multiculturalism, and free speech. Its editors, David Horowitz and Peter Collier, have looked at life from both sides now, and come out hawks.
Founders of Ramparts, one of the counterculture’s most indignant organs, Horowitz and Collier had switched faiths by the mid-’80s and become, as Bob Dole crowned them, “a two-headed nightmare for the left wing.” Collowitz followed the only-Nixon-could-go-to-China tack and argued that their renounced liberalism gave them special insight into the left’s inadequacies. As with Nixon, it takes a special chutzpah even to attempt such treachery; only for that reason might we forgive them for making it a cottage industry.
The Heterodoxy Handbook concedes that American liberals once advanced some valid social criticisms. But, Collier and Horowitz argue, militant leftists have overpowered reasonable reformers, wrested control of high culture and academia, and begun to remake the nation’s political and military spheres. So, adopting what their anthology correctly identifies as PCers’ favorite trick, the editors fashion themselves as underdogs: “The Left is the cultural establishment….Those of us linked only by a mutual loathing of their smelly little orthodoxies are now the real counter culture and we had better start acting like it.”
Well, hold on. Interchangeably assailing purveyors of PCism and “the Left” constitutes a “false, lazy historical disjunction,” to borrow William F. Buckley’s phrase. This effectively suggests that liberalism has produced no valuable champions or ideas—a notion the former Ramparts-menschen would likely reject. Certain documentary evidence marshaled in Heterodoxy was, after all, accessed through the Freedom of Information Act—an example of legislation for which we don’t have conservatives to thank.
To be sure, left-wing extremists have perpetrated some genuine outrages. The editors of The Heterodoxy Handbook string together, Ripley’s-style, several strange-but-true tales of absurdity: A university attempts to expel fraternity students for perpetuating “stereotypical” Mexican images on T-shirts hyping “South of the Border Night”; a University of Wisconsin feminist group advertises the names of innocent male students as “potential rapists.” But the Handbook does not deepen our understanding of the PC debate; it mostly feeds pre-existing beliefs.
Gender and sex pulsate at the heart of this book and of the entire politically correct controversy. Although the Handbook‘s contributors never acknowledge the libidinous preoccupation they share with their tormentors, it’s a fact that before we become black or white, liberal or conservative, advocates or opponents of an ethnic studies department at PCU, we are men or women. This most basic ordering of the debate explains why issues of sexuality consume the minds of the boys, and the smattering of girls, at Heterodoxy.
Horowitz himself tackles academic lightning-rod Catherine MacKinnon, the Harvard Law professor who boldly goes where Justice Stewart dared not when she argues that “pornography is rape.” MacKinnon derives this conclusion from her “empirical” finding that “all pornography is made under conditions of inequality based on sex, overwhelmingly by poor, desperate, homeless, pimped women who were sexually abused as children.” Horowitz interviews female porn actresses who defy MacKinnon’s matrix, and reports that most enter their profession willingly, often earning more than male counterparts. Without further ado, he declares victory: “Like all radical elitists, MacKinnon’s rhetorical compassion is driven by actual contempt for the victim group she pretends to defend.”
Horowitz’s rejoinder to MacKinnon, though ultimately sound, lacks supporting data. These guys are, after all, polemicists and not sociologists. But at least some writers here gather the evidentiary goods first, then overstate their case. K.L. Billingsley, a Heterodoxy staff writer, introduces the Wade family of San Diego. In 1989, the Wades’ 8-year-old daughter was molested; the girl claimed that an intruder with a green car had entered her room through a window. But despite her repeated testimony that her father, James Wade, never harmed her, and despite reports of an actual molester with a green car, child-abuse authorities charged James Wade with rape, removed the girl from parental custody, and didn’t return her until two-and-a-half years later, by which time conclusive DNA tests convicting the real offender, immeasurable pain and humiliation for the Wades, and protracted, expensive litigation had all passed.
Here is PCism incarnate: An intervention-hungry state undertakes ill-advised remedial action against the very people and institution (the victim and the family) it’s empowered to protect. Yet Billingsley undermines the case by illogically concluding that the Wades’ ordeal stemmed from the “proliferation of feminist ideologies about the evils of patriarchy and politically correct thinking about the nuclear family as a locus classicus of sexual oppression and violence.” Can such a link really be proven? Accordingly, the Handbook clings to Hillary Clinton’s 1974 declaration, in the Harvard Educational Review, that marriage is “a depend ence relationship” akin to “slavery and the Indian reservation system.”
Speaking of which, Native American Indians also join the Handbook‘s PC jamboree. Radical activists among native tribes have been astonishingly successful in their 15-year fight to force museums and medical institutions to “repatriate” excavated remains from their cultures. According to contributor Anita Sue Grossman, this battle is self-defeating. She writes:
[A]rchaeologists and physical anthropologists…for over a century have seen themselves as allies of American Indians, unearthing and preserving aspects of their cultures which otherwise would have been unknown. Indeed, their disciplines have provided the basis of what information we have about preliterate peoples. In attempting to shut down future study of Indian remains, these activists…are working against the long-term interest of their own people, destroying the source of any future knowledge of their history….[This] movement seems ultimately unconcerned with true knowledge of the groups in whose interest [it] purports to act.
Grossman’s piece is unique in that it suffers from no discernible lack of evidence or logic, and she asks a valid question: Can the politically correct define their own best interests? Michael Fumento, author of The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, takes the same tack when he notes that gay organizations oppose on civil rights grounds all measures to force HIV-infected patients to notify their former sexual partners, a proposition that could substantially reduce the number of new HIV cases. Yet Fumento’s larger argument—that booksellers suppressed his book because of its iconoclastic conclusions—goes unproved. Absent a smoking gun, we hear only the voice of a writer disappointed with the 12,000 copies his book sold.
Other essays are more effective. In the book’s sharpest reportage, complete with transcripts from Pentagon depositions, Horowitz and Michael Kitchen, editor of the Gauntlet, revisit the Tailhook scandal. They persuasively depict the affair as a trumped-up excuse for longtime military-bashers to retool the armed forces’ personnel, policies, and mission. There were more perpetrators and victims of assault identified by official inquiries, the essayists write, than attendees of the infamous 1991 Navy flyers’ convention; more women were officially deemed victims than claimed such status; and as many women participated in frowned-upon activities as men, though only men were prosecuted. “The agenda of the Pentagon Inspector General did not include looking at the misconduct of women,” a Pentagon official told the San Diego Union. Once again, the backhanded “remedial” effort by PCers scarcely concealed contempt for their chosen beneficiaries. As Elaine Donnelly, head of the Center for Military Readiness, wrote to Navy Secretary Dalton: “The apparent double standard at work here is…demeaning to military women….[Y]ou apparently have no intention of [demonstrating that] prosecutions must be conducted fairly, without regard to rank or sex of [those] who allegedly engaged in improper conduct at the Tailhook convention.” Score one for the Handbook.
Collier and company also take aim at advocates for homosexuals in the military, the New York Times Book Review, Donna Shalala, NEA funding, nihilistic literary deconstructionists, lesbian groups that exclude transsexuals, anti-fraternity jihads, neo-Sandinistas polluting the Methodist Church, and so on. Some alternately profane and congratulatory letters to the editor, as well as a completely pointless selection of fictional PC cases invented by Heterodoxy staffers, pad the volume.
Yet if The Heterodoxy Handbook offers rigorous argumentation and brims with cases of far-left madness, it is not an easy read. Do we really need 14 pages on the Native-American-bone-repatriation controversy? Should we care what literature the United Methodist Women distribute at their gatherings?
Furthermore, you might annoy your liberal pals not only with this book’s content, but with its style. The contributors invariably adopt an overheated, tendentious tone that essayist Steve Kogan, in a bit of Freudian projection, correctly detects in the writings of the literary critics he skewers: “There is always a sour note in their politicized interpretations, an unpleasant carping that makes me wonder why they bother with it in the first place, if it is such a negative experience.” An astute observation, indeed.