Neue Zürcher Zeitung, ZEITFRAGEN, Saturday, 12.06.1999 Nr. 133 94
Political Correctness, originally a well-intentioned Code of Conduct, has rapidly turned into a morals terror in Germany. The self-appointed "politically correct" think of themselves as the sole possessors of the truth and refuse anyone the right to differ. As pointed out by Martin Walser, this applies particularly to the most notorious German taboos: Germany's National Socialist history, women and foreigners. When one attempts to deal with any of these themes even in the most open-minded way one is beat down unmercifully with the "fascism club", a concept named by political scientist Helmut Knütter. If one has been labelled racist or fascist or sexist by means of this deadly argument, one will become an outcast to whom no further opportunity to defend his outlook will be given.
The harmful thing about Political Correctness is that frequently disputations or discussions either do not take place at all or take place in the form of a campaign of defamation or a show trial. This prescribed thought control has led to the crushing of intellectual freedom in the former land of thinkers. Political Correctness shows itself as the instrument of intellectual channelling and represents an extraordinary precedent for censorial manipulation of political consensus.
We will illustrate this manipulation with some suitable examples: For some time now in Germany, presumably from grounds of anti-discrimination, it has no longer been thought correct to speak of Gypsies. In German now the politically correct terms are "Roma" and "Sinti", but these terms are actually not correct because these are merely the two main branches of the Gypsies. Closely looked at, the terms "Roma" and "Sinti" are themselves racist, inasmuch as they ignore and thereby discriminate against the smaller branches of Gypsies, such as the Lallers, the Manusch, the Joneschti, the Polatschia, the Sikligars, the Boschi or the Calé.
In Spring 1996 in their journal Eine Welt, the authorities of the Lutheran Mission Society advocated human rights for apes! They based their demand on the fact that humans and chimpanzees are almost alike genetically. The theologian Martin Brückner claimed that there was an "unbelievable closeness" and stated in all earnestness that the withholding of human rights from apes was no different from racism or denigration of women. Today no idea seems too absurd to be introduced as a new and general rule of conduct. Absurdity and undermining of the feeling of self-worth are the price.
The direct consequence of the establishment of politically correct modes of behaviour, which can be observed daily in many German media, is the formation of a sexless, expression-poor, uniform mode of speech, behind which lurks a political calculation. In this way the once alien workers became guest workers, then foreign employees and foreign citizens and are now treated as immigrants. In the course of the Socialist equalization the apprentice became a developing person, who quickly resented the infantile nick-name "Azubi" ("one being developed"). The cleaning woman became almost a social shooting star - she is now the parquet beautician who no longer cleans but instead devotes herself to the care of inner architectural beauty.
Today it is especially important to fight against thought control in science, research and education. In these areas Political Correctness frequently impedes serious undertaking in that it taboos certain research objectives and problem areas and thereby puts them off-limits to research.
It is by no means only politically correct or "anti-fascist" publications that denounce "political incorrectness". The self-appointed morals police have been able to spread their influence to all high offices and positions. It is not surprising to find that the Office for Defense of the Constitution uses their jargon. In their chilling conception the claim of "defense against Political Correctness seeks to immunize one's own extremist viewpoints from criticism". In this denunciatory passage not only political opponents and critical scientists, but every unprejudiced contemporary who makes open use of his right to freedom of information and expression is condemned out-of-hand as an extremist. To inflict such a stigma on free expression will extinguish it.
Recently, the Historian's Battle in the mid-80's has shown how science has become divided up into various spheres of influence. What Ernst Nolte and other famous historians demanded was nothing other than the beginning of a revisionist view of history. This does not mean anything unhealthy - the critical re-examination of previous research is essential to every science. The word "Revision" is derived from the latin word "revidere", meaning "look at again". To review the technical subject matter is the highest task and the natural task of any scientist. It is therefore binding on historians to continually peruse and if necessary correct the writing of history through new understanding, discovery and research. This is the one and only tool of serious science.
At this point it would be worthwhile to comment on Revisionism, because it is the principal point of attack of the Politially Correct. One may perhaps remember one of the many "historical facts" of this century that needed to be revised. Not many years ago millions of god-fearing pilgrims admired the grave-clothes of Christ, until laboratory research established that the cloth dated from the Middle Ages. To my knowledge the pope did not excommunicate the scientists who did the research - Revisionists! - nor were they reproached with misleading methods.
New knowledge is achieved almost daily not only in the political and social sciences but especially in the physical sciences and technical fields. Here is a representative example from Paleontology: Most readers of these lines probably believe that the largest and oldest flesh-eating reptile was the Tyrannosaurus rex. In September 1995, however, Argentinian paleontologists discovered the petrified remains of a hitherto unknown kind of dinosaur (Giganotosaurus carolinii) that was bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex and lived 70 million years ago in the chalk age. Yet those who then thought they were in possession of "the truth", that Giganotosaurus was the largest flesh-eating reptile, were taught better in May 1996. In Morocco scientists discovered a creature 20 million years older and even larger - Carcharodontosaurus saharicus, and this entailed the necessary revisionist consequences. What applies to paleontologists, genetic scientists or nuclear physicists, naturally also applies to researchers in the human sciences. At the beginning of his scientific study the historian questions or reexamines the previous knowledge and the current state of research. Today if he proceeds to research in that fashion he will be suspect in the eyes of the politically correct. However, scientific research cannot be conducted otherwise than by investigating existing premises and not assuming existing conclusions to be correct. Otherwise we would still today think of the the earth as flat.
To defame the Revisionists as right-wing extremists has nothing to do either with a proper appraisal of their work nor with the necessary critical discussions within science and research. In my opinion it is politically motivated. The motto is equally simple as effective: Make your political opponents contemptible instead of respecting them with counterarguments, and so establish your position in a broad spectrum as the single power to be acknowledged. Certainly, what is left behind is the oft-praised democratic order in which a free development of political opinion is guaranteed. Horst Mahler, the defense counsel of the Red Army Faction terrorists, said recently, "In France it is calculated that today in Germany there are more political prisoners than in the DDR in the year before it collapsed." This is a shocking indicator of the state of freedom of expression in this country.
Political Correctness sets up rigid barriers to thought that block an open discussion oriented at solving a problem and thus diverts progress toward further intellectual development. Freedom of research cannot be restricted in advance by any power that prescribes in advance what is allowed to be considered true. Otherwise research threatens to become the ideological instrument of an opinion cartel and thus of a power cartel, and in so doing to lose its place as a precondition of intellectually active and creative people. Political Correctness is a threat to a politically free state, because at the end it will produce the state of mass conformity, the Thought Supervision state. According to writer Reiner Kunze, political correctness is fed by the merciless ideological remaking of intellectual life in Germany. Steffen Heitmann, Minister of Justice of Saxony, sees this as the symptom of a spiritually sick people. One need not be a psychoanalyst to recognize in this the source of German self-alienation.
*The author has written: Sind Gedanken noch frei? Zensur in Deutschland - Munich: Universitas 1998.