If you have any social experience with libertarians, you will often find that many have no affection for “political correctness.”  The term itself generally refers to socially enforced language and ideas addressing perceived discrimination against political, social or economic groups. I guess I grew up in a reasonably politically correct environment, but I’ve always considered being thoughtful about not offending people basically “manners.”

In the 1990s, there was a considerable pushback on political correctness. There’s a definite connection with the rise of identity politics and the conservative and libertarian backlash against accommodating various interest groups. People referred to political correctness as “thought policing,” and suggested that by adopting various inoffensive ways of communicating we were making certain topics taboo: When and how is it appropriate to criticize a “protected” group?

Political correctness isn’t simply the “liberal” phenomenon many claim it to be, as there have been conservative attempts to control language that is critical of traditional religion or values. Or, in Bush’s presidency, to deem criticism of his foreign policy “unpatriotic.” Many groups not protected by mainstream PC have wanted a lot of qualifiers (#notallmen) to speech. It is interesting how quickly any group, when it perceives itself to be a minority or oppressed in some way, often desires the protections it thinks other groups are getting.

These protections, however, are not legally enforceable ones. That’s what I find so interesting about political correctness: it’s a social thing, not a legal one. When talking about libertarian ideals, many people worry that certain values will be lost if the government doesn’t have power to enforce them—but political correctness is a clear example of social enforcement of particular standards. I’ve encountered a certain level of it anywhere I go, even anti-PC circles. There are subjects in any social situation that one treads lightly around, and there are stereotypes you don’t voice, or words you don’t use.

Often when PC “protected” individuals come into the libertarian fold, they can be met with tactless anti-PC rhetoric, particularly if they ever object to the use of a term or stereotype in casual conversation. Though perhaps overzealous political correctness can lead to censored speech, it is important to recognize that not all political correctness is so bad. The use of inclusive language, tact, and not offending people with everything you say is a sign of a good communicator who wants their ideas to be broadly considered and spread. It’s a good idea if you’re planning on trying to communicate liberty effectively. 

Some words inherently cause hostility between people, or instantly make people defensive. This makes them far less likely to listen to your ideas or to consider your points. Not using terminology that dehumanizes individuals is essential for liberty. When you dehumanize other people, you begin to reduce their connection with human rights, with liberty. Political correctness might be one of those things that has “gone too far,” but instead of going “anti-PC” and throwing baby out with the bathwater, it can be beneficial to realize we can be compassionate, tactful and friendly in our speech without censorship. Most importantly, when spreading ideas of liberty, it is essential to have some manners.