Libertarians seem to hate Political Correctness (PC). A lot of
them see it as a statist ideology that needs to be fought.
Certainly, PC has become a political tool for censorship. There are
now laws in place that punish people for speaking out politically
incorrect thought and for discriminating against the wrong people.
This is without any doubt a very bad development and indeed needs to
be fought.

However, does this mean that everything about PC is bad? Does it
mean that a Libertarian has to be anti PC? First of all one has to
say that the term is not very clear. Different people mean different
things by it. It can range from ‘taking care of your choice of words’
to being synonymous to an egalitarian political agenda. The latter
can certainly not be defended by Libertarians. However, I think there
is an important idea in PC that I find attractive and that is
compatible with Libertarianism. That is not to say that Libertarians
have to be PC, but they certainly can be. Here is what I like about
PC.

I would like to live in a society that is polite and peaceful. In
principal we can of course think of a libertarian society in which
people hate each other, but nevertheless leave each other alone.
However, if people really hate each other, the peace within that
society would certainly be fragile. Besides, I personally simply do
not find such a society attractive. I would much rather live in a
society in which tolerance and mutual respect is the norm.

How are we going to get there? In social situations, humans, like
many other mammals are normally playing tit for tat strategies. That
means that you always tend to reap what you sow. If you are nice to
people, people will be nice to you. If you are hostile, you will get
hostility back. Of course, I am not naïve enough to believe that
this works with every single human being. There are certainly truly
bad people, social predators that will hurt you no matter what you
do. Those people need to be avoided under any circumstance and if
possible, removed from society. But there are not many of these
people and there usually is a brought coalition across cultures and
races against them. They should not concern us too much here, as they
are not a vital part of society. The vast majority of people,
everywhere in the world is basically decent. They don’t want to hurt
you, even if they would get away with and profit from it. Ok, maybe
if you make the incentive high enough, that changes. I would not
necessarily trust every stranger with a suitcase full of my money,
but for all practical circumstances this seems to be a good
assumption.

However, if it is a good assumption, then how come people often
end up in conflict with each other? One of the biggest sources of
conflict is of course the fact that we live in a scarce world. One
way of dealing with that situation is to start fighting over who is
going to be allowed to use these resources. However, as David
Friedman writes in his book ‘The Machinery of Freedom” this is such
a primitive solution that it is only being done by small children and
great nations. A much Better way of dealing with it is of course
capitalism. The division of labour and accumulation of capital has
reduced the scarcity of all essential resources to a degree that no
one needs to fight for it anymore. Or at least no one would need to
fight for it anymore, if only politics was staying out of it.

Another big source of conflict seems to be intolerance. There are
two countries in Europe that have developed real freedom in the past.
One is Switzerland, the other is England. Both of course in very
different ways. However, what I find interesting about it is that
both countries have developed similar ideas about politeness. From a
German point of view, the English rules of politeness are probably
the most confusing thing to deal with, when coming to this country.
German politeness is fundamentally different from the English one. Of
course, different parts of Germany have different mentalities. The
Rhineland around Cologne is much closer to the english mentality then
say the one from Bavaria or Berlin. But none is really close to the
english.

Before I came to this country I of course did some research on it.
I asked people who had spend some time here, how they liked it. I got
confusing answers. Half of them really loved it and could imagine
living here. The other half however was the exact opposite. They
really hated it and told me I could not trust the English. The
picture that they draw was the picture of a country of liars and
crooks. Very confusing. How could these two extremes be explained?
When I came her to study a Masters degree, I got an idea where these
differences in opinion came from. One half understood english
politeness the other one did not.

Germans have a very direct mentality. Honesty rules. The concept
of telling white lies only exists in extremes. If you ask a German
for his opinion, he will most likely tell you exactly what he thinks.
And if you don’t ask him, chances are he will tell you anyway. In his
criticism, he will most likely start by telling you what he does not
like. I guess the idea is to prove that one is honest and
trustworthy. “Look, I am not some slimy salesman trying to sell you
a used car. You can trust me and to proof that to you, I am going to
tell you the full nasty truth, because you deserve the truth”.

The English on the other hand seem to perceive direct criticism as
a personal attack. Of course, the direct criticism of the Germans is
an attempt to change things. Honesty might sound good at first, but
what this is really all about is to put pressure on people to conform
to a certain standard. Individualism and non-perfectionism is not
welcome. The only way to escape this constant stream of brutal
criticism is to do as everyone else does and to not make mistakes. A
very humourless exercise.

Having been a free country, England on the other hand has
developed a real sense of privacy. This might sound a bit ironic,
giving that this country is by far the worst surveillance state in
history. But on a personal level, people do respect privacy. That is
why direct criticism is considered so rude. It is simply none of my
business to criticise you, unless you explicitly ask me for it.
Interestingly, although Switzerland is a lot closer to Germany, both
geographically and culturally, it has developed independently a
similar idea of politeness. In Switzerland privacy matters and German
directness is unwelcome.

What does this all have to do with PC? It shows that tolerance is
essential for a free society. In order to reduce conflict and make a
peaceful society possible, people in England are willing to
constantly outright lie to each other, whenever the truth becomes a
bit inconvenient. They are not just willing to do this, but they are
put under big pressure to do so. People who do not comply with these
politeness rules are facing social sanctions. I have experienced this
myself, by loosing some customers for being too direct with them. In
my German mentality I thought, when someone hires me to fix the sound
on a film, it would be best to start analysing what is wrong with the
sound so that it can be fixed efficiently. Why waste time pointing
out things that are already good. But starting out with negative
criticism before saying anything nice was perceived as a slap in the
face and they never came back. This, in my view is a good example of
where politeness goes to far. It is just time and resource consuming.
But that is the way it always is with social norms. They are usually
simplistic and unable to differentiate between different situations.

Today we live in a very unequal world, with huge differences
between poor and rich countries. These differences set in motion big
streams of people of different cultures and races moving from
unproductive to productive areas. That means inhomogeneous,
multicultural societies will be the norm. In my view this is a very
welcomed development. But even if you look at this with a bit of
worry, it is clear that only states are powerful enough to reduce
these streams in any meaningful way. Supporting these states is
nothing Libertarians should have an interest in doing. We will need
to find a peaceful solution to potential problems. The only way to
make this work is by practicing some tolerance. You leave me alone
and I leave you alone. We both don’t antagonize each other.

PC in my view can be seen as an extension of politeness from
protecting the privacy of individuals to protecting the dignity of
cultures or races. If we make it acceptable for people to spread
hostility towards other people for being different we will saw more
hostility. Once started, these hostilities can escalate more and more
and turn into and outright war. Some might say we already are in the
mids of such a war. I would disagree, but even if this was true the
answer would be tolerance. Everything else would escalate this war
and that is certainly in no ones interest.

I see two big problems with PC as it is today. The most obvious
one is that PC is more and more enforced by the state. If the state
was to enforce politeness it would turn into a nightmare. Sometimes
negative criticism is necessary. Only individuals can decide where
the line between being honest and being polite is. The same is true
for PC. Sometimes differences between groups matter and need to be
addressed. When an employer does not have the right to pay his female
employee less for the real risk of her becoming pregnant, then PC has
gone too far. Only state laws can enforce this nonsense.

The second problem of modern PC is that it is unequally applied.
Only certain groups are shielded from criticism while it is open
season on others. A PC like that will lead to power imbalances and a
force for bad. So in a way, we are not PC enough.

A voluntary PC that restrains unnecessary, open criticism of
groups via social pressure is a good thing in my view. I don’t think
that this idea should be part of Libertarianism itself, but
personally I find it very hard to imagine a free society without
these forms of social rules. There is a reason, why similar ideas
have emerged in both England and Switzerland. And I expect them to
see in future free societies.