U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Fun With Primary Sources: The Free Congress Foundation’s "History of Political Correctness"

William S. Lind

Last week I put up a post about the Frankfurt School in right-wing conspiracy theories.  As discussed in the comment thread of that post, a few things have become clear about this meme, largely through the work of Chip Berlet:

First, the notion that the Frankfurt School was responsible for creating “Political Correctness,” “Cultural Marxism,” and a related plot against Western civilization itself emerged from the circle around Lyndon LaRouche from the 1970s (when LaRouche’s attacks on the Frankfurt Institute apparently began) through the early 1990s, after “Political Correctness” had entered American discourse through President George H.W. Bush’s 1991 University of Michigan Commencement Address. Michael Minnicino’s 1992 article on the Frankfurt School and Political Correctness, published in Fidelio, the journal of LaRouche’s Schiller Institute, was particularly important. Minnicino has since renounced this article and other work he produced for LaRouche.

Second, the supposed connections between the Frankfurt School, “Political Correctness,” “Cultural Marxism,” and a plot against Western civilization were popularized by William S. Lind through his work at Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation.  Lind has been something of a journeyman, working on the Senate Armed Services Committee for Sen. Robert Taft, Jr (R-OH) in the 1970s and Sen. Gary Hart (D-CO) in the 1980s.  Later he wrote for paleoconservative publications like The American Conservative and for Alexander Cockburn’s leftwing Counterpunch.

Below the fold, you’ll find Lind’s Free Congress Foundation-produced video, “The History of Political Correctness,” which I believe was made sometime in the 1990s (I haven’t been able to find an exact production date.  If anybody knows when this video was made, please provide the date in the comments).

For more on this video check out this blog post over on Ecological Handstand.  You’ll see that the intellectual historian–and actual Frankfurt School expert–Martin Jay puts in an appearance here.  Lind’s surprise interview of him made him aware of this particular conspiracy theory for the first time. He has since written an article about this issue:   “Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe,” Salmagundi, 169, (Fall 2010-Winter 2011).
Even more influential than this video was the short book “Political Correctness:” A Short History of an Ideology, which Lind edited for the Free Congress Foundation.  It was apparently originally posted, free of charge, in late 2004 on the FCF’s website. 
Table of Contents
Introduction by William S. Lind
Chapter I – What is “Political Correctness?” by William S. Lind
Chapter II – The Historical Roots of “Political Correctness” by Raymond V. Raehn
Chapter III – Political Correctness in Higher Education by T. Kenneth Cribb, Jr.
Chapter IV – Political Correctness: Deconstruction and Literature by Jamie McDonald
Chapter V – Radical Feminism and Political Correctness by Dr. Gerald L. Atkinson
Chapter VI – Further Readings on the Frankfurt School by William S. Lind
The original e-book appears to have been widely linked by other conservative websites, including David Horowitz’s Discover the Networks. But the Free Congress Foundation seems to have taken the book down from its website
However, those interested can still find the .pdfs of the complete book here.

7 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Ben,

    Good stuff. Help me with the basic, rough chronology:

    1970s – LaRouche supporters create the idea of “political correctness.” Did they invent the term?
    1991 – President Bush (41) uses “political correctness” for the _first_ time in national political discourse?
    1992 – Minnicino’s *Fidelio* article links PC to the Frankfurt School.

    If I look up the history of PC in Wikipedia, is this history the one presented by Raehn in Lind’s edited collection? Does this history cross-check with Martin Jay’s findings (as far as facts go, whole or in part?)? In other words, how are historians concerned with the culture wars supposed to obtain either a solid narrative or, even better, competing narratives, to obtain a solid sense of chronology?

    Finally, and I’m giving this a separate return line: I have always thought of PC as strongly correlated with multiculturalism as it developed in the 1970s and 1980s. I wonder if Jay sees/finds it that way (i.e. meaning truly arising from that context), or if he finds some real links (even if exaggerated by conspiracists) to the Frankfurt School (i.e. did any member of the Frankfurt School really invent a term that was analogous to PC?). Note: These “links” would be tenuous or thin, as one might also finds them further back in the writings of Horace Kallen, etc.

    Perhaps you don’t know these answers (which is fine), but I at least want to get my chronology and questions right.

    – TL

  2. The first usage of “political correctness” in the contemporary sense that I’ve been able to find is in Bernard Taper’s 1963 introduction to “Mark Twain’s San Francisco,” p. xvi: “Indignant as Mark Twain had been over the mistreatment of the Chinese, he would not have hesitated to employ in his speech or writings the derogatory names by which the Chinese were commonly called – nor would he avoid doing so in regard to blacks. He was not politically correct – not then, not ever. In his time, verbal political correctness had not yet been invented.”


  3. @Tim: The primary LaRouche contribution is the notion that the Frankfurt School was plotting against Western Civilization. That goes back to the 1970s. As far as I can tell, the term “Political Correctness” only entered the LaRouchie discourse after George H.W. Bush popularized it in 1991. I should have been more clear about this above (and I could be wrong about some of it, as it’s hard to prove a negative and I can’t claim to have plowed through most of the stuff produced by and for LaRouche in the 1970s and beyond).

  4. Thanks for linking, Ben. The best source I’ve been able to find on the evolution of the mainstream “Political Correctness” controversy is Ellen Messer-Davidow’s “Manufacturing the Attack on Liberalized Higher Education,” in Social Text (Autumn 1993). There is no mention of the Frankfurt School, Herbert Marcuse or Theodor Adorno in Messer-Davidow’s article, so I would infer from it that even if there were some scattered mention of the Frankfurters, it certainly wasn’t a major theme in the controversy of the early 1990s.

    I’ve done another post at Ecological Headstand that examines Lind’s borrowing, without attribution, from Juergen Habermas’s analysis of “legitimation crisis”. In his “fourth generation warfare theory” (debunked by Antulio Echevarria of the US Army War College), Lind argues that “the root and origin of Fourth Generation war is a crisis of legitimacy of the state,” and describes that crisis in Habermasian terms. As the adage says, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” and Lind appears to specialize in scavenging “ill-digested ideas” and slotting them into his prefabricated ideological frame.

  5. …it certainly wasn’t a major theme in the controversy of the early 1990s.

    That is to say until Lind and the FCF picked up the theme from Minnicino’s article. In his account of the video, Martin Jay dates it’s broadcast from 1999.

  6. Maybe I overlooked it, but is it known over here that Breivik, in “2083”, pp 12-38 does a complete reprint of the study, only changing the occasional “US to “Europe”?

Comments are closed.