EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH EUGENIO CAPOZZI – A new gnosis: the ‘politically correct’

– Aurelio Porfiri

There is a book by a well known Italian scholar, Eugenio Capozzi, called Politicamente corretto. Storia di un’ideologia (Politically correct. History of an ideology, Marsilio 2018) that is really worth reading – a book that takes us into the mechanisms of this ideology with great erudition and analytical skill. Eugenio Capozzi is full professor of contemporary history at the Sant’Orsola Benincasa University of Naples.

Professor, in your book, how did you approach the topic of politically correct?

This book was the result of my research on the history of political-ideological debate in the contemporary West. In particular, the decisive element that pushed me to try to formulate a unitary definition of the phenomena grouped under the symbol of “politically correct” was the awareness that the cultural revolution produced by the youth movements of the 60s represented perhaps the most decisive break in the political history of the twentieth century, and that it marked the advent in the western countries of an ideology that then became dominant in the era of globalization.

If we look at the categories, the terminology, the clichés, the conformism of thought that currently characterizes the ruling classes of the industrialized democracies, we realize that all these elements are understandable only by reporting them to that great change of half a century ago. That sum of censorship, delegitimization, linguistic softenings that today we call “politically correct,” often considering them only as “folkloristic” phenomena or grotesque figures, are the direct consequences, in the Western civil dialectic, of the ideas that have conquered the center of the scene, starting from the turning point of what we call, reductively, sixty-eight in continental Europe.

How would you define the politically correct?

It’s a “civil catechism,” a sum of “precepts,” of prohibitions, of censures in which the rhetoric of a precise ideology is summarized: what we can call neo-progressism, the ideology of the Other, “diversionary utopia” (to use Mathieu Bock-Coté). That is the ideology that condemns the Euro-Western culture as imperialist and discriminatory, and plans to change the mentality of humanity to replace it with a radical cultural and ethical relativism. A rhetoric that has become the hallmark of political, intellectual, institutional, media, and mass entertainment in the West between the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, conquering a substantial monopoly on language and public ethics , in the absence of opposing “narratives” with equal representativeness.

Can you give us some examples of how the politically correct has entered our lives?

The precepts of the “diversitarian” ideology has become so dominant, pervasive and without opponents in recent decades that it has established itself as orthodoxy not only in political language and academic culture, but in “pop” culture, in entertainment, in analogical and digital communication. It translates into a hammering propaganda, of “Orwellian” extension and depth, which claims to eliminate from cultural products, from political dialectics, from public and private behavior, from places of formation, every term or concept that can be considered “discriminatory,” “offensive,” expressions of a hierarchical conception and of  “strong” values, to impose an idea of “respect” which in fact coincides with a total indifferentism, in which political “truth” is decided from time to time by elites who “dictate the line” to societies.

Are there any other books that you would recommend on this subject?

Since the eighties the conscience of the triumph of this ideology and its rhetoric has aroused daring reflections from obstinate nonconformist intellectuals, who, even if not responding to a unique “school of thought,” have gradually built the foundations for a critical analysis of the phenomenon. I mention in particular, among the many that have been fundamental in this sense, The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom (1987), Le Sanglot de L’Homme Blanc by Pascal Bruckner (1992), The Culture of Complaint by Robert Hughes (1993) , and in more recent times L’identite malheurese by Alain Finkielkraut (2013).

In what way is your book different from other texts that deal with the topic of politically correct?

My book proposes to go beyond the census, the analysis and the criticism of the phenomena attributable to the type of contemporary politically correct, to reconstruct the assumptions, the origins and the foundations of the ideology that produced them, and then find the unitary root , the “vision of the world” starting from which the main lines of the “precepts” that we see today are operating. The main thesis that I come to formulate in it is that the decline of the great European ideologies of the 19th and 20th century opens the way to a powerful turning point of the Western ruling classes in a relativistic-nihilistic, subjectivistic, hedonistic, anti-humanistic sense. A turning point, however, that does not come suddenly, but in turn represents the final outcome of a long process of relativistic corrosion of the civilization of European origin, which began already with the beginning of the ideological conflicts between the 18th and 19th centuries.

The premise of your book opens with these sentences: “Politically correct: in this abused and worn formula today is enclosed a powerful commonplace, a stubborn stereotype. Like all forms of hypocrisy, it is ‘a tribute that vice makes to virtue,’ according to the famous maxim of La Rochefoucauld. And, we might add, that lies makes the truth.” How does the politically correct change our lives?

The overbearing hegemony of the “diversionary narrative” insinuates itself in the dialectics of liberal-democratic societies, destabilizes and breaks down the philosophical foundations – that “lowest common denominator” that through centuries and millennia had defined a common conception of the centrality and sacredness of the derived human person from the mixture of Greek, Roman, Jewish-Christian and Germanic culture – and, under the appearance of an emphasis on individual and group “rights,” it actually produces a veritable dictatorship of relativism. A dictatorship in which it becomes almost impossible to rebel, under penalty of social un-presentability and marginalization. And that deteriorates, in reality, the same basis of liberal laws.

You call the politically correct an ideology, an ideology of the Other. Can you explain to us in what sense?

In the sense that the new progressivism imposed with the rebellion of the young Western baby boomers no longer claims the establishment of freedom, equality or justice through economic measures or political measures, but instead claims to eradicate the roots of domination and discrimination present, in its opinion, in Western cultural history through a radical process of changing the way of thinking, concepts and language. A goal that actually represents a real reset, a “parricide” of Western cultural roots. If Western man has historically incarnated violence, repression, imperialism, he must be “re-educated” by accepting all the cultural models, all existential conditions, all the minority components he has subjugated in the past to renew and regenerate. The Other, reduced to an abstract concept, becomes the savior, the redeemer of a wrong story, and the root of a new kinder, tolerant civilization, in which conflicts, once eliminated the “original sin” of domination, of the hierarchy, of “strong thinking,” should disappear.

You also define politically correct as the heir of all progressivisms. Can you explain?

Every contemporary European ideology is a form of progressivism, in the sense that it prescribes a “recipe” to “straighten out” a “wrong” story and thus lead to the elimination of Evil from humanity and the establishment of paradise on earth. Progress is an empirical fact, consisting of partial and continuous modifications of the structure of the societies. Progressivism instead is a doctrine, according to which a decisive factor will produce a regeneration, which will eliminate all negativity and lead to the “end of history,” understood as the end of conflict and suffering. The “diversitarian” utopia represents the extreme form that this aspiration assumes, when the great European “narratives” have crashed to the ground, disavowed by reality. It is as if it were a last resort of ideology: if all the ideologies before us have failed – this is the thesis that it conveys – it is because they were rooted at the root of an underlying illness of the Western mentality, and is therefore this last that must be eliminated.

You affirm in your book that ideologies are heirs of a gnostic tendency of modern culture. So the politically correct is a gnostic phenomenon?

Absolutely yes. It represents precisely the latest and most radical form of modern gnosticism. The evil to be eliminated from the world is no longer foreign domination, civil and political inequality, capitalism, or other economic and political factors of the kind, but the history of a civilization tout court, with the mentality that it has produced. This is the root of evil, so salvation can only come from the “de-Westernization” of the world and the West itself. If the perpetrators of the world’s ills are “we,” we must atone for our sins by renouncing our identity, to dissolve ourselves in the great magma of a world with fluid, precarious identities, entrusted totally once and for all to the self-determination of the subjects.

How can we get rid of the politically correct?

To think that the politically correct can be abolished by decree or in one attempt would be an equally ideological idea of those who think that diversitarian progressivism and its rhetoric represent an inevitable and salvific reality. What we can do – and what I have tried to do with this book – is to completely historicize the phenomenon: to show how it has had a precise origin, is linked to the evolution of certain economic, social, political, cultural phenomena and therefore it is neither eternal nor inevitable, and can change or end, like any phenomenon produced by humanity over time, once a given historical context changes further. In particular, the hyper-relativist ideology of the Other and the politically correct precepts have been the faithful expression of the hegemony of a given social class, the globalized “bourgeoisie of knowledge,” the elite of Western “liquid modernity,” that through it has imposed his vision of the world. And, presumably, they will decline when this class begins to lose its centrality. It is not by chance that the monolithic domain of the political-correct “narration” began to show the first, serious cracks when, starting from the great economic-financial crisis of 2008, those dominant classes entered into crisis, and began to be challenged by “losers of globalization,” with the growth of sovereign, identity, neo-nationalist movements.

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