Thursday, December 09, 2004

Origins of Political Correctness

The first use of the term in commercial publishing was in 1912 in Chapter 1 of Senator Robert LaFollette's Autobiography . Speaking of his education at the University of Wisconsin, he says "In those days we did not so much get correct political and economic views, for there was then little teaching of sociology or political economy worthy the name".

Sen. La Follette of Wisconsin later ran for President in 1924 on the Progressive Party platform. The University of Wisconsin Madison campus has often been cited as the birthplace of political correctness. Donna Shalala, former Clinton Secretary of Health & Human Services and University of Wisconsin Chancellor has been called the founder of political correctness.

Here is an extended excerpt of the passage:

It is difficult, indeed, to overestimate the part which the university has played in the Wisconsin revolution. For myself, I owe what I am and what I have done largely to the inspiration I received while there. It was not so much the actual courses of study which I pursued; it was rather the spirit of the institution--a high spirit of earnest endeavor, a spirit of fresh interest in new things, and beyond all else a sense that somehow the state and the university were intimately related, and that they should be of mutual service.

The guiding spirit of my time, and the man to whom Wisconsin owes a debt greater than it can ever pay, was its President, John Bascom.

I never saw Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I should say that John Bascom was a man of much his type, both in appearance and in character. He was the embodiment of moral force and moral enthusiasm; and he was in advance of his time in feeling the new social forces and in emphasizing the new social responsibilities. His addresses to the students on Sunday afternoons, together with his work in the classroom, were among the most important influences in my early life. It was his teaching, iterated and reiterated, of the obligation of both the university and the students to the mother state that may be said to have originated the Wisconsin idea in education. He was forever telling us what the state was doing for us and urging our return obligation not to use our education wholly for our own selfish benefit, but to return some service to the state. That teaching animated and inspired hundreds of students who sat under John Bascom. The present President of the university, Charles R. Van Hise, a classmate of mine, was one of the men who has nobly handed down the tradition and continued the teaching of John Bascom.

In those days we did not so much get correct political and economic views, for there was then little teaching of sociology or political economy worthy the name, but what we somehow did get, and largely from Bascom, was a proper attitude toward public affairs. And when all is said, this attitude is more important than any definite views a man may hold.


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PC has become institutionalized at the LaFollette School of Public Affairs. Bob LaFollette touted 'the Wisconsin Idea', using stated funded educational institutions to serve State government.
Here's a quote from the introduction to the aforementioned link (appropriately published by the Wisconsin State Legislature,

"One can divide more careful attempts to define the Idea into two categories. One consists of definitions that emphasize the Idea’s political dimension, even its partisan political dimension (progressive or liberal politics)."

Anecdotally, one of my favorite stories is about a professional boxer who was denied a boxing license in virtually every state because doctors told him one more blow to the head could lead to a detached retina and permanent blindness. The Wisconsin Boxing Commission ruled they could not deny him a license based on his disability. See below

Aaron Pryor, former junior welterweight champion from Cincinnati, was granted a license to box in Madison in 1990, despite being legally blind in one eye. He was approved because of Wisconsin's strict laws against discrimination against anyone with a disability.A search of 'Wisconsin Idea' brings up all kinds of interesting results.

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