Society Against Itself: Political Correctness and Organizational Self-Destruction
by Howard S. Schwartz,
Karnac Books, 2010. Paper, 240 pp.

The congeries of ideological positions known as “political correctness” has long posed a threat to Western civilization. As an ideology, it has played a central role in the war against the Western intellectual and political tradition. Incorporated into economics, its proponents have encouraged protests against capitalism and provided fuel to the pursuit of what they describe as “more equitable distributions” of wealth, based usually on some ideological formula. And as part of the vernacular of the last few decades, it has literally changed the lexicon in America and elsewhere.

What are the origins of a force this great? And what kind of world will ours become if political correctness continues to permeate our culture unabated?

These questions and many others are answered in Howard S. Schwartz’s Society Against Itself: Political Correctness and Organizational Self-Destruction. Using the denotative definition of words like “diversity,” the suppressed results of studies that question the benefits of political correctness, and the terminology of Oedipal and anti-Oedipal psychology, Schwartz, a professor of organizational behavior in the School of Business at Oakland University, explains the foundation of political correctness and warns readers of the great danger it poses.

Regarding the foundations, Schwartz credits the university for the creation and maintenance of political correctness as we know it today, yet he also sees it firmly nurtured and rooted in large businesses and corporations. And both of these assertions are valid within his argument, for his overarching position is that “political correctness is an organizational process.”

He explains this “process” through an argument that posits political correctness as a struggle between maternal and paternal aspects of our society and culture, and particularly our organizations.

For example, using the traditional Western psychology of the sex roles as a springboard, Schwartz shows how authority, objectivity, and truth demands are tied to the father—the paternal—while forgiveness, subjectivity and plurality are tied to the mother—the maternal. In this framework, we comprehend a literal hatred of the father, which in politically correct language has been termed “‘the white male power structure’ or ‘Patriarchal hegemony.’” We see the father—the authority in our lives—as evil for making demands on us and for standing between us and the perceived kindness, i.e., indulgence, of the mother. (Schwartz makes it clear that “individual mothers and fathers can and do differ greatly in how they represent these two distinct domains.”)

But in the traditional Western framework used by Schwartz, the father—and by extension, all demands against our self-created autonomy—are repressive in our eyes.

Our repulsion at the father—at authority, objectivity, and truth demands—is so great that we see these as representing “a devaluation and contempt for those who are not heterosexual white males.” Thus we equate the father’s constancy and refusal to change as “sexism, racism, and homophobia.”

This framing is crucial to understanding the various wars against everything from the capitalistic American economy to the traditional family. In the name of “love” and equality protestors march on Wall Street and in the same vein, same-sex couples seek to obtain the same type of marriage as heterosexual couples. What the reader sees through Schwartz’s book is that these skirmishes, though seemingly different in their aims, are actually part of the same overarching conflict. For in their simplest form, they represent the war against authority, objectivity, and truth demands.

Perhaps these things come through most clearly when Schwartz describes the impact they have on the church, and how they’ve really left us with two different conceptions of the church. One, grounded in objectivity, strives “to fulfill the demands that God has made” and to become like him. The other, having cut itself free of such moorings, “abolishes the requirement of becoming like [God]” and literally “calls for reorienting our lives to be against” authority, objectivity, and truth demands.

In the church grounded on objectivity, we find meaning outside of ourselves. In the church which has abandoned objectivity, meaning is to be found within ourselves, and the rituals and liturgies of the church are reconceived simply as modes of self-expression. Even these summaries of Schwartz’s points go a long way in explaining why the church seems so anemic in the twenty-first century. We have too often traded the truth for a lie under the assumption that the lie was just another kind of truth.

Early in Society Against Itself, Schwartz demonstrates the fallacy of “another kind of truth” by showing how the words we use to make political correctness palatable don’t actually communicate what their users claim. Moreover, they often stand for practices that are proven failures, but which we refuse to let go because we are caught in the current that flows from the Oedipal to the anti-Oedipal (and our rebellion against authority, objectivity, and truth claims is far more important to us than precision along the way).

Schwartz uses as an example the word “diversity,” which he shows is not commonly used to denote real “diversity” but as a means of warring against the natural order of society (and therefore, against the strong traits of a society aligned along the lines of authority, objectivity, and truth claims). He also demonstrates that the pursuit of such “diversity” has been an utter failure: costing billions of dollars in diversity initiative implementation, yet producing only inefficiency, lowered standards of achievement, and the slow death of organizational distinctiveness.

Yet we continue pursuing diversity, churches that reflect the times, and a societal framework in which the old and gray is traded for the new and shiny. While we may not realize it at the moment, and may not admit it, through this process we hand over the reigns of our lives to what Schwartz describes as the “emotional power” of political correctness.

Not only are we none the better for having done so, we are actually worse. For we, like the society in which we live, have taken a course that sets us against ourselves.  

A. W. R. Hawkins is senior opinion editor and writer for the Alliance Defense Fund and was a visiting fellow at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal during summer 2010. He has a PhD in military history from Texas Tech University.