06 August 2010

Sympathy for Orthodoxies

I mentioned in this post that I managed to score a few free copies of some of ISI’s ‘A Student’s Guide’ series at the ACCS conference a while back. One that I grabbed—just because it was there—was Wilfred M. McClay’s US History, but at the time I had little interest in the subject and was not in a hurry to read it. I have since been asked to teach US history, among other things, thus bringing my employment up to full time (and unfortunately, much more severely limiting available time for blogging). Thus, I opened McClay’s book in a state of panic, and found this gem:

Avoid using the term ‘political correctness’ to describe an argument or positions that seems to you contrived or ideologically motivated. First, because it is a kind of argumentum ad hominem, which fails to engage the issue at hand on rational terms, preferring instead to cast doubt on the motives of the one who offers it. This kind of argument can rebound on those who use it, and eventually render discussion impossible. Second, because the use of such a term relies upon the lamentable assumption that all orthodoxies are ipso facto coercive and illegitimate. And that is false. It is a particularly strange development when campus conservatives, who are generally thought to look with sympathy upon orthodoxy, end up branding their opponents’ views as attempts to impose an orthodoxy. This is a lazy and uncivil way of arguing, even when it is accurate (as, alas, it usually is). The emphasis should not be on the inherent wrongness of any orthodoxy per se, but the wrong of the particular ideas that a particular orthodoxy is advocating. These days, defending the possibility of a reasoned orthodoxy may be the most radical position of all. [1]

[1] Wilfred M. McClay, A Student's Guide to US History (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2009), p. 87.

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