This past Thursday and Friday, I enjoyed the warm hospitality and vibrant intellectual company of professors and students at Louisiana Tech University. The historians at Tech host an “International Affairs” speaker series every year; this year their theme is “America and the World in the Age of Trump,” and they kindly invited me to participate.
A few weeks ahead of the event, I sent a title for my talk to Drew McKevitt, one of my marvelous hosts, so that he could pass it along to the student who would be designing the poster. My title was, “Toward a Correct History of ‘Political Correctness.’” Here’s the poster for the event:
When I saw that poster, I said, and I quote, “Holy shit.”
I mean, that is one provocative image.
Right up to the moment that I started to speak on Friday, I was pretty worried that what I had planned to talk about and how I planned to approach the subject just wouldn’t measure up to the expectations prompted by this image, in terms of controversy or boldness or political critique. But the talk went well, and it was well received. I got to throw a little shade at Stanford (more on that below) and at the people who are continually invoking some version of the canon wars or the abandonment of “Western Civ” or the rise of “political correctness“ as a pivotal moment of cultural declension.* The problem, of course, is what people are trying to do with that already problematic narrative: delegitimize and defund traditional institutions of higher education, turning what was once viewed as a public good into a private financial burden, while at the same time figuring out ways to turn a profit from the public’s distrust.