The closest you can get to mind control is speech control

Why has the United States been transmogrified in little more than half a century from a Christian nation that joyously displayed Christmas trees and crèches in public spaces into a secular nation that bans prayers at public school graduation ceremonies, allows men who "identify" as women to invade female dressing rooms, and even celebrates a woman's constitutional "right" to snuff out the life in her womb?  These are a few of the transformations in American society that Michael Knowles analyzes in his recent work Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds — transformations broadly attributed to "political correctness" and Marxism.

As Knowles's subtitle suggests, a major component of the left's revisionist project is through control and manipulation of language, making it almost impossible to think and speak outside the radicals' linguistic box.  The apotheosis of what once seemed modest feminist-inspired changes (e.g., substituting "chairperson" for "chairman") is the modern demand (on pain of being labeled a "transphobic bigot") that everyone must call a man a woman if "she" identifies as a woman.  This linguistic project is part and parcel of the "long march through the institutions" that "cultural Marxists" deem necessary to destroy the "false consciousness" Americans imbibed from traditional culture. 

To give one salient example, if the values extant in the 1950s permeated society, most women would likely embrace the idea of being married and a mom — a decision that feminists like Simone de Beauvoir equated with being in prison.  "Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one."  Given the enthusiastic "breaking the glass ceiling" rhetoric that emanates incessantly from leftist media and the implicit denigration of women who choose to become mothers and homemakers, de Beauvoir's vision of "freedom" for women now lacks only the element of legal compulsion.  To control language, one must occupy the "commanding heights of the culture," and today, all these institutions (media, academia, Big Tech) are overwhelmingly under leftist control.

Explaining Marxist goals and their linguistic tactics, however, is only one side of Knowles' argument.  The most provocative component of his book concerns a critique of conservatives who play into the hands of their opponents by failing to see the importance of these linguistic battles or by countering them with abstract paeans to "free speech" and "free markets."  By defining the linguistic terms of debate, Marxists are able to create "heads I win, tails you lose" scenarios that revolve around putative "rights" of "marginalized" populations who "feel excluded" by traditional culture (e.g., statues of Jefferson, the National Anthem, the nuclear family).  Knowles observes that "free speech" and "anti-censorship" arguments only create a moral vacuum that the culturally dominant left inevitably fills.  He further notes that no society, including America, ever tolerated all manner of speech or failed to censor actions and ideas it deemed inimical to its welfare. 

The critical question concerns, not "censorship" itself, but the things a society censors.  Nowadays, the "n-word" is number one on the list, but only for non-blacks.  A Michael Knowles talk may also be heckled into oblivion and the speaker attacked, but anti-white racists can address a respectful college crowd, be given academic tenure, and land lucrative book deals.  Most notoriously, President Trump and his supporters can be denounced as "deplorables" or "insurrectionists" and silenced by the Big Tech communication arm of the left.  In short, we've exchanged standards for acceptable speech and practice that guided a largely religious society for standards set by leftists intent on destroying the country we once loved.

So how should conservatives oppose leftists?  Not with encomiums to "free speech" that neglect the substantive principles upon which our democratic republic was founded.  As John Adams observed, "our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."  Instead, conservatives must assert the basic principles that guided our nation since its founding — principles adumbrated in Knowles's final chapter but reserved for a book of their own.  "Any substantive conservative vision must begin with an acknowledgment of moral conscience, which is a judgment of reason whereby we recognize the moral quality of concrete acts.  This acknowledgment requires the further recognition that good, evil, virtue, and vice are not mere sentiments or superstitions but eternal realities."  

While Knowles becomes in my view needlessly pedantic when he chides conservatives for labeling as "fascist" the Marxist-led Antifa group, that picayune quibble pales in comparison to the larger message Knowles provides about the linguistic tactics of the left.   More importantly, Knowles explains how successful opposition to "political correctness" must embrace positive standards and principles rooted in moral conscience and rational judgment and must reject abstract praise of "free speech" and thoughtless denunciations of "censorship." 

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?"  is available on Kindle.

Censorship image: Tyler Menezes via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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