Is Political Correctness a Reality?

Although each new generation of American historians is compelled to explore new perspectives about our past, they should be careful before labeling prior interpretations as mythology. Even if earlier viewpoints are flawed it is does no good to replace one myth with another. Once a new myth becomes politically correct, alternate interpretations are not tolerated no matter how valid.

Typically, new myth defenders contend that their “recent scholarship” merely reveals truths that inconveniently undermine the cherished beliefs of those still clinging to traditional interpretations. “There is no such thing as political correctness,” they argue, “merely inconvenient truths to those with hidebound beliefs.” Older textbooks, therefore, must be abandoned. According to Wikipedia, one example is Robert Selph Henry’s The Story of Reconstruction, which may not be cited.

But is political correctness a reality?

Perhaps, one way to answer the question is to examine the writings of recent scholars about one politically correct historical personality who held currently politically incorrect opinions. Consider Mary Elizabeth Lease (1850-1933).


Lease’s Wikipedia article champions her progressive characteristics as an early opponent of big business, which she accused of making slaves out of common Americans. She campaigned vigorously for the Populist Party making over 160 speeches. When one male Populist leader tried to remove her from a board appointment, she accused him of opposing her because she advocated female suffrage. The Wikipedia offers only moderate criticism of Lease limited to her blunt speaking style, which was sometimes illogical. It concludes, however, by suggesting that the Populist Party collapsed partly because she left it.

Dr. Brooke Speer Orr, who received her PhD from George Washington University about a dozen years ago, wrote a 20-page article on Ms. Lease for Kansas History in the winter of 2006-2007, which is consistently flattering. Dr. Orr repeatedly connects Ms. Lease’s “moral superiority,” “moral authority,” and “moral virtue” to her female gender. Although Dr. Orr is undeniably a feminist and the Wikipedia articles tend to reflect the latest feminist scholarship, neither article reveals anything about Ms. Lease’s white supremacy, as disclosed in her own book, The Problem of Civilization Solved.

Her white supremacy is, however, disclosed by an historian of an earlier era. As explained by Pulitzer Prize winning Richard Hofstadter in his 1956 The Age of Reform:

She proposed a vast reshuffling of peoples in which the tropics in both hemispheres be taken over by white planters with Negroes and Orientals as “tillers of the soil.” [Quoting her] “Through all the vicissitudes of time the Caucasian has arisen to the moral and intellectual supremacy of the world, until now this favored race is fitted for the Stewardship of the Earth…This stewardship, far from being an imposition on the lesser breeds…would be an act of mercy; it would take the starved and miserable ryots and coolies of the world…and provide them with a means of life as well as rescue from paganism.”

The role of the United States in this world was to be the head of the federated American republics. Canada, Cuba, Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Hawaii should be annexed. The Latin republics would be fertile fields for colonization by the surplus USA population and North Americans would import “vast swarms of [Asians] for the plantations.”

The suppression of Elizabeth Lease’s white supremacy is one example of how many modern historians sanitize the history of politically correct groups. It is doubtful that such historians would have failed to castigate her for her racism if she had been a white, Southern, male. Aside from rummaging though endless manuscripts of unfamiliar historical people, the truth can be best discovered by reading older textbooks written when the applicable events were in the more recent past. As Yale’s Carlos Eire puts it, “Show me history untouched by memories and you show me lies. Show me lies not based on memories and you show me the worst lies of all.”


5 thoughts on “Is Political Correctness a Reality?

  1. josepharose

    I would disagree somewhat that this ignoring of unpleasant facts in this case is necessarily based on political correctness. It could easily be argued that anti-White Supremacy is also “politically correct.” Lease could well be a hero to many feminists, but not to those individuals who argue for the importance of Black and Asian civil rights.

    This may be more an example of how people mythologize their heroes, of whatever stripe, by whitewashing history.

    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      Although both held similar white supremacist beliefs, modern historians give Elizabeth Lease a free pass whereas Andrew Jackson is condemned. Lease was a northern feminist and Jackson was a southern male.

      1. Peter Holman

        And no one has heard of Lease whereas everyone has heard of Jackson. One supposes even “modern historians” (whoever they are alleged to be) might suffer from the same affiliction

      2. Phil Leigh Post author

        Oh, modern historians have heard of her. They just choose to ignore her racism because of her membership in a “politically correct” group, to wit feminists.

        H. W. Brands, for example, discusses her in The Reckless Decade but fails to mention her racism.

        Do you think Brands would have ignored her racism if she had been a white Southern male?

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