Howard S. Schwartz
Professor of Organizational Behavior
Department of Management and Marketing
School of Business Administration
Oakland University
Rochester, Michigan 48309-4401



Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 33 (2), 1997: 133-149. I have had the benefit of some extremely valuable criticism in the development of this paper. Without being able to thank everyone, I would especially like to express my appreciation to Robert Maxwell Young, Howell Baum, Ann Penner Winston, Larry Hirschhorn, Yiannis Gabriel, Mary Van Sell, and the reviewers of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.






Political correctness represents a regression in university functioning in which paternal influences are repudiated and a biparental model of authority is replaced by one revolving around a primordial conception of the mother. Paternal influences are those which represent the engagement with external reality, and regression to the primordial mother is therefore a rejection of external reality. Aspects of university functioning that are explained by this model include the inversion of valuation, the assault against the white males, the subordination of rationality in decision making, the balkanization of the university, the drive to the extreme, and the anomaly of female power.




The term "Political Correctness" made its way into public consciousness through an article by Richard Bernstein in the New York Times (1991). It referred to a strain of post-Marxist leftist thought in which the struggle between economic classes had been replaced, as a primary ontological framework, with a more differentiated set of oppositions based on such differences as gender, race, and sexual orientation. Thus, as Bernstein put it:

Central to pc-ness, which has its roots in 1960's radicalism, is the view that Western society has for centuries been dominated by what is often called 'the white male power structure' or 'Patriarchal hegemony.' A related belief is that everybody but white heterosexual males has suffered some form of repression and been denied a cultural voice ... (Section 4:1)

But, to many of those concerned with this phenomenon, the disturbing thing about political correctness ("PC") has not been the content of its ideology, but the principle of argumentation that it has employed:

… more than an earnest expression of belief, "politically correct" has become a sarcastic jibe used by those, conservatives and classical liberals alike, to describe what they see as a growing intolerance, a closing of debate, a pressure to conform to a radical program or risk being accused of a commonly reiterated trio of thought crimes: sexism, racism and homophobia. (4:4)

In response to these charges, those who felt themselves criticized for PC have responded in a number of ways. Often they have both denied that any coercion to be PC existed and accused the critics of the same thought crimes the accusation of which was said to constitute PC in the first place (Fried, 1991). Generally the response has been to attack the motives of PC's critics. For instance, those critics have been accused of being agents of right-wing think tanks (e.g. Wiener, 1992), or otherwise right-wingers who had nobody to direct their venom against now that the cold war has ended (see, for example, Gitlin, 1992, although his own perspective is much broader, nuanced and in no way an example of PC itself.)

These arguments have no apparent application me. I have never received any money from a right-wing think tank and my objection to PC long antedates the end of the cold war. Actually, my first experience with it was in 1971. But it may be useful, by way of introducing PC, to report on my first experience with it during the relatively recent past.

This was in 1987, after I had returned from a sabbatical where I had been working on a book on narcissistic process in organizations. The campus minister was interested in my work and asked me to make a presentation at an institute that he was starting. The presentation, which ultimately grew into Chapter seven of my book Narcissistic Process and Corporate Decay (1990), required a presentation of Freud’s concept of the Oedipus complex.

As I was going through this part of the argument, a woman in the audience, who happened to be the chair of the psychology department at the time, had what can only be called a fit. Without addressing herself to anything I was saying in particular, and without any apparent attempt to control her rage, she said that Freud was a sexist and a misogynist, and went on to condemn the entire psychoanalytic enterprise, which she said was "shot through" with sexism and racism. As she talked, it became clear to me that she had little idea of what she was talking about. She said, for example, that the Oedipus complex did not apply to women, which was why Freud invented the idea of the Electra complex. She was evidently unaware of the fact that it was Jung, not Freud, who used the term "Electra complex."

Despite this woman's evident lack of grounding in what she was talking about, her voice seemed to express a feeling of absolute authority. I recall that at the time this struck me as very peculiar. But what struck me as even more peculiar was that as she engaged in this frenzied performance, the other members of the audience were not looking at her as if she were acting strangely, but were looking at me as if I had done something contemptible and despicable. I remember thinking at the time that what was going on in that room was not the way things ought to be done in the university.

I cannot say that I felt wounded by this interaction. I was more bemused than anything else. But I did have the feeling that if events like this were becoming characteristic of the university, this indicated that there was something terribly wrong in an institution that was very important to me, and I felt a degree of outrage over that. I also felt that I should make such processes into a focus of investigation.

The results of this investigation are what I present in this paper. In a previous paper (Schwartz, 1993), I described a number of instances of PC and attempted to explain them within a theoretical framework. The present paper represents a more sophisticated development of that framework.

My argument will be that the processes involved in PC represent a regressive shift in organizational functioning from what I will call the "biparental" model, which involves both maternal and paternal elements, to a primitive maternal model from which paternal elements have been purged. I will begin by elaborating the psychological basis on which this analysis will rest.

Narcissism, The Ego Ideal, and the Superego

According to the standard account in psychoanalytic theory (e.g. Mahler, Pine, and Bergman, 1975), in the beginning of psychological life, the infant has not yet formed a boundary between itself and its mother. The total devotion to the infant of the mother, who is the world to the infant, results in the infant experiencing itself as the center of a loving world. Freud referred to this experience as "primary narcissism." As time goes by, the infant is painfully alerted to the fact that the world does not lovingly revolve around it, and comes to feel isolated and helpless as a result. To escape from its helplessness, the child fantasizes an omnipotent mother who loves it entirely and with whom it may fuse to return to the original narcissistic state.[1]

The phantasy of oneself as having returned to the state of narcissistic fusion is referred to by Freud (1914, 1921) as the ego ideal. For Freud, the development of the theory of the ego ideal, as a psychological configuration distinct from the superego, was a short foray. Elaborating this theory more fully in its own right was the work of others, notably of Chasseguet-Smirgel (1985, 1986). For her, the ego ideal represents a world without obstacles. In such a world, we would be able to do exactly what we want and have it turn out to our benefit, since the world would be structured to fulfill our desires. According to this vision, we would be perfectly at home in the world, without anxiety or shame, sure of ourselves, certain of the validity of our behavior, without doubt or marginality. On the individual level the ego ideal underlies our loved images of ourselves. On the collective level, the idea of a society manifesting the ego ideal lies behind our image of utopia.

The problem is that, short of psychosis (Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1985), our experience never fully corresponds to the ego ideal. We never get to be the center of a loving world. The problem is that the world is not our mother. It has an independent existence outside of ourselves. Far from being structured by love for our selves, the world manifests a cold, powerful indifference. It does not simply give, but makes demands on us which we must fulfill if it is going to sustain us.

For Freud (1923), in the course of normal development we internalize these demands during the oedipal stage to form the superego. As the ego ideal is structured around an idealized mother, the superego is structured around an idealized father. [2]

The differentiation between maternal and paternal roles naturally grows out of, and expresses itself in, somewhat different patterns of development for boys and girls. The point I will make in this paper is that maturation requires the development of capacities for both roles, but it is certainly correct that the two sexes have different inclinations in this regard. Chasseguet-Smirgel’s analysis (1986), which I follow here and whose implications I have developed more fully elsewhere (Schwartz, 1995), maintains that all children feel helpless in the face of the omnipotent mother, who they nevertheless deeply love. Girls can resolve their helplessness by identifying with her and her power. Boys do not have that option and must find a way to secure an independent identity which will be, at the same time, valued by women. This has been the root of the paternal role.

The father's function, as it has emerged in this connection, has been to engage the indifferent external world and to make that world amenable to the life of the family. His role has been to create a distance between the family and external reality so that the ego ideal, represented by the mother, could operate within the family, giving the children a deep feeling that they were important and loved. The role of the father with regard to the children, was to inculcate the superego by representing indifferent external reality within the family so that, by introjecting him, the children could learn to cope with that reality. [3]

Thus, the father acts as the agent of the external world. Through his prohibitions, he represents its indifference and its demands. Over time, the children take the father’s prohibitions into themselves. They build the structure of the world's constraint into their own character, fashioning it around the core of what they come to call "reality." This is how children learn the rules of exchange that operate within their culture: what they must do to get along, in a reciprocal way, with others who are indifferent to them. Making sense of these rules, they turn external demands into obligations, and thus come to understand what they previously could not understand: why they must do what they do not want to do.

Through the superego people, especially males, are enabled to give up the love of the primordial mother on the promise of being able to earn the ego ideal later through worldly activity. One can easily see the value of the superego by reflecting on the culturally useful activity that it generates. At the same time it is also possible to observe that the superego preserves society from the distortion of reality and the sense of infinite entitlement that narcissism would otherwise generate.

None of this takes away from the value of the ego ideal and the maternal role. Only the ego ideal can give inspiration to what would otherwise be a dry and joyless pattern of obligations. Thus, the superego structures our understanding of how we are separate from the world around us, and therefore how we must engage it on its own terms. The ego ideal provides a meaning for this engagement by giving us an image of overcoming our separation and becoming one with the world.. Society can be seen to involve an intimate interaction of the ego ideal and the superego.

The traditional family, as Freud understood it, manifests what I shall call a biparental model of child rearing along these lines. It incorporates both paternal and maternal elements, recognizing the difference and the value of each. It leads to an image of authority that is both realistic and loving.

PC and Regression

In order to understand PC one needs to recognize that in recent decades, specifically since the late sixties, the role of the father, the superego, has come to be repudiated. Taking its place has been the domination of pre-oedipal narcissism, whose central feature is fusion with the primordial mother.

This development has a number of aspects, but two are of particular importance. First is the philosophical current typically referred to as postmodernism or poststructuralism, associated with the various writings of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Francois Lyotard, and others. What one finds in these works is the general position that there is no objective external world. Knowledge is only language and language refers only to other language. The idea that there is an external world is associated with patriarchy, which uses it in the service of male oppression, keeping down and marginalizing the spontaneous, the organic, the feminine.

At the same time, the maternal orientation itself has made a bid for dominance through a number of varieties of feminism. Setting up an opposition between, on one hand, the supposedly rule-bound, hierarchical, aggressive orientation of men and, on the other, the supposedly spontaneous, caring, non-hierarchical, receptive orientation of women, a broad spectrum of writers has sought to portray what they see as the distinctive psychology of women, which I shall refer to simply as the feminine, as an alternative organizing principle to what they see as male domination (e.g. Gilligan, 1982; MacKinnon, 1989; Calas and Smircich, 1991; Irigaray, 1985).

To the extent that feminist writers propose the feminine as a complement to the masculine, as a side of the personality that, in our society, and especially outside the family, has needed additional expression, their work seems to me to represent an interesting, valuable, and essentially correct point of view (e.g. Benjamin, 1988). Seen within the postmodern context, however, the simultaneous assault on the male and apotheosis of the female mean something else. They do not represent a revision of the idea of optimal development by adding maternal to paternal elements. Rather, we can see a shift in the embodiment of authority from the biparental model to one based on the more primitive primordial mother. The danger of this shift is not so much that it repudiates the father, but that it puts into political form the repudiation of what the father represents – external reality itself. This is what we see happening in PC.

From the Biparental to the Primitive Maternal in the University

To understand the meaning of a revolt against the paternal within the university, we need to understand how the superego, the institutionalized paternal, traditionally operates in that institutional context. This is an easy matter. In the biparental model, the meaning of the university is the generation of achievement. We may think of this as the beneficial transformation of reality, whether physically or through an increased understanding of that reality.

The function of the superego in the university is primarily the inculcation of standards. The university presumes that there is an external world which can be known in better or worse ways. The meaning of standards is the establishment of the best ways of knowing the world, based on the whole history of human engagement with that world. The function of research, of course, is to get to know the world better, and thereby to raise the standards of knowing. With regard to teaching, the university functions ideally as a father, who prepares students to achieve something in the world based upon the modeling of good work, work in accordance with the highest standards, and the differential reward of good versus bad work. If the process is successful, the student internalizes this polarity between good work and bad work as part of the superego, and goes out into the world where he or she does good work based upon this internalization.

With regard to decision making in the biparental university, the superego manifests itself as intended rationality. The superego, by acknowledging the existence of an objective external world that can punish us if we get things wrong, places a premium on getting things right. The whole panoply of procedures for making decisions in the university exists for the purpose of taking possibilities for action and subjecting them to rational, logical criticism, of eliminating parochial and narcissistic bias and getting as close as possible to a course of action that will have the desired concrete result. Surely this is not to say that the university, any more than anyone or anything else, always gets things right. Certainly this does not mean that university professors are less narcissistic than anyone else – a view that only those unfamiliar with the university could uphold. It is simply to say that rational criticism is an accepted and legitimated mode of university discourse, that the distortions that narcissistic bias creates are recognized as distortions, and that the structures created to limit their effects are seen as legitimate.

None of this is to deny that the ego ideal is present in the university in equal measure to the superego. The ego ideal is necessary to transform demands into ideals, without which the university would lose the spirit of its existence, and without which, indeed, it would be impossible to give meaning to the idea of the beneficial. The ego ideal is also present, perhaps most importantly, in the nurturance of the individual student, bringing that student to be able to accept his or her own spontaneity, which is the well-spring of creativity. It should never be forgotten, in this connection, that the muse is a female figure. But within the biparental university, the pursuit of ideals is channeled by the representation of external demand into good work and concrete achievement.

Put the idea of a self-subsistent, objective external world into question, however, and one undermines the meaning of the father. Take away the idea of an objective world and you deny the legitimacy of external demand and the superego that represents it. Demands come to be seen as oppression. Deny the superego and all that is left is narcissism; the only question becomes whose narcissism. The idea of achievement, and the distinction between good and bad work, then, come to seem arbitrary categorizations whose meaning is to be found in the expression of the father's narcissism. No means remains to explain why the children should not be able to live in permanent enjoyment of their closeness with the primordial mother. Her power would guarantee their happiness, if only his could be gotten rid of. The attempt to expel the father, and the external world he represents, is the meaning of the PC university.

Structure and Process in the PC University

In order to understand both the appeal and the danger of organization based on the primitive mother, it is necessary to underscore the fact that the primordial mother is a phantasy. She is not a real mother. She is the image of mother cast in the mold of the infant's desire. The primordial mother is the phantasy of a person who would complete the circle of a loving world centered upon the child. In other words, she is the complement of the child's narcissism. When individuals identify with her, when they re-form themselves in her image, they give up their own adult character and remake themselves on the basis of the most primitive levels of their psyches.

The appeal of this regression is clear enough. We all desire to fuse with the primordial mother and again be the center of a loving world. But, as a principle of organization for the university, the rule of the primordial mother is not as perfect as we might imagine.

First, notice that the loving world of which the person would be the center would have only one person in it, plus that person's reflection: it would contain no independent others. This is not recognized as a problem by the narcissistic child, who sees no need for independent others. But as a principle of organization in a real world which contains real others, it has a contradiction at its core.

Narcissism, which the connection with the primordial mother enshrines and guarantees, makes it impossible to live peaceably in a world in which there are real others. I demand that you take me as the center of your world, and you demand that I take you as the center of my world. There is no way in which we can make sense out of the otherness of the other. It has to be met with total emotional rejection and hatred. It does not belong in the "good" world which has me as its center, and so therefore must be "bad." The gulf between us is absolute. How can organization be possible at all?

In a word, the love of the primordial mother, which it seems to us would make the world complete, appears to be a perfect principle of organization. In reality, however, it would shatter the world. It is a principle of perfect disorganization, of chaos. [4]

The problem here is that love is specific. The kind of unconditional love that defines the primordial mother for us means that she (or he) takes our point of view without subjecting it to judgment or to categorization. Love means being accepted because we are exactly who we are. But our own inclusion on the grounds of such specificity defines for us a moral universe which excludes everyone who is not who we are, which is to say everyone else.

At one level, this problem is resolved by the psychology of the group. If the person can substitute a group identity for an individual one, social organization becomes possible at the level of the group. An idea of oneself as a member of a group can serve as one’s ego ideal. This opens the possibility that others can adopt the same ego ideal. Those who do so may identify with each other based on that fundamental similarity. In this way, relations previously characterized by envy and antagonism are transformed into group feeling (Freud, 1921).

But this means that the problem of narcissistic disorganization will reappear between groups. Instead of believing that the world should revolve around us as individuals, we come to believe that it should revolve around us by virtue of our group identity. It is those outside the group, those who do not take the group as their own ego ideal, who are now experienced as threats and as not belonging in the world. Thus, for mutually antagonistic individuals, we have simply substituted mutually antagonistic groups. This is the first element of the structure of the PC university.

The second problem of organization based on the primordial mother is the need to provide an affective connection through which the group can make claims on her. In the family, or for that matter in Japanese organizations where the maternal principle is powerful (Doi, 1973), a strong interest on the part of the mother is sought through an appeal based on continual association. But in the university, where people come and go, this is not a viable option.

In the university dominated by the processes of PC, which I shall refer to as the PC university, [5] this problem is dealt with through an abstraction. The abstraction is the idea of the child who needs love the most, the one who has been least loved in the past, the victim. It is this abstraction, this specific claim to having been damaged in a certain way and at a certain time, therefore, that provides the basis of the group's identity. This provides the reason why individuals who deviate from the group with regard to the ideology of its victimization are treated as if they do not belong to the group. (See, for example, Carter, 1991). It is a mistake, therefore, to think of these groups as defined by demographic characteristics. At their root, they are defined by an ideology about demographic characteristics. My point here is that the idea of these group conflicts, to use a familiar phrase, is a social construction. Understanding such conflicts rests less on understanding the claims of the specific groups against each other than on understanding the fundamentally intrapsychic dynamics of the social construction of the idea of such conflict itself.

This differentiation into groups based on level of victimization determines the logic according to which social structure develops within the PC university. It also gives rise to the basic social process within the PC university, which is to differentially love the victim and, by the same token, to withdraw love from and to hate those who have previously been loved, who come to be seen as having stolen that love from those who now are in need of it.

Thus, PC transforms the university into a battleground between the forces of goodness, as personified by the victims and their righteous allies, and the forces of evil, personified by the oppressors: those who previously had status, and the whole panoply of social institutions through which they gained that status and have maintained it.

Dynamics of PC

The Inversion of Valuation and the Transformation of the University

The premise of the superego is that love needs to be earned through good work. To be sure, the superego cannot provide us with love, but only with respect. Love attaches to who we are, not what we do; it cannot be earned (Sennett and Cobb, 1972). But the superego can provide the criteria on which people agree that persons should be loved, based on the fulfillment of its requirements. This provides the basis for the social dramatization of love that we call status or prestige, and this is what those of low status feel deprived of.

When the idea of an objective external world is lost, the idea of achievement, of earning love on the basis of good work, no longer has meaning. Individuals who have had status in the past, and who legitimated that status by claims of achievement, come to be seen instead as having acquired their status illegitimately. The idea of gaining status through achievement comes to be seen as a smoke-screen for theft. Those who have had status are thus redefined as having stolen love from those of low status. They are seen as oppressors who deserve to be hated and attacked, and to have their power destroyed. On the other hand, those of low status, under the primordial maternal principle, are those who need love the most. Thus, the social dramatization of love comes to be focused on them.

In the absence of the superego, this dual process of excoriating the oppressors and expressing love for the victims becomes the whole meaning of the university. For example, the entire nature of what constitutes knowledge changes in the PC university. Knowledge becomes whatever ideas express hatred of the oppressors and love of the victims.

Along with this change go changes in the ideas of the transmission of this knowledge, in the form of teaching, and the creation of new knowledge, in the form of research and scholarship. For example, teaching is no longer the study of intellectual and artistic achievements, characteristic of the superego, but becomes a politicized process in which the forces of goodness are trained and mobilized and the forces of evil are subverted. Everything that is done is legitimated by reference to its function in this battle. The narcissistic premise here is that anything else serves the purpose of oppression. As the well-known slogan of the 1960s put it, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

In all of this, we find a disparagement of the idea of great works which is closely related to the depreciation of achievement I have already discussed. The very idea of great works comes to be seen as a technique of oppression (Searle, 1992).

The Assault Against White Males

This line of reasoning helps to provide an understanding of one of the most striking cultural developments of our time: the assault against white males. As Richard Shweder, writing in The New York Times has observed, "‘white male,’ dead or alive, is now used as an accusation.... a slur." Following with the usual thinking behind the charge, he says

The left relishes the usage. It thinks that white males have held center stage too long, that it's time for their victims. (1991: Section 4:15)

Clearly enough, the assault upon white males is an attack upon what is seen as the dominant group. To me, that is relatively unimportant. For the reasons Hegel (1964) referred to as the dialectic of lordship and bondage, the replacement of old elites by new ones is an old and familiar historical pattern. The effects of this pattern have, no doubt, often been salutary.

More important is that the assault on white males is an attack against the superego itself. That this assault on white males is an assault on the superego is shown by the fact that the ground upon which the prestige of the white males rests is rarely mentioned. This is an important omission. For surely, if white males have had prestige in the past, this has not been entirely undeserved. Science, technology, social, economic, and political institutions, indeed, the university itself, all reflect the contributions of Western men far out of proportion to their numbers. Casting white males on the bad side of a clean distinction between good and evil at the very least fails to recognize, let alone express appreciation for, these contributions.

This stance only makes sense if one supposes, in accordance with narcissistic psychology, that good things simply happen, as if by magic, because they are supposed to, without anyone having had to make them happen. The psychology of the superego is a psychology of doing, while pre-oedipal narcissistic psychology is a psychology of being. It is only within this primitive psychology that the fact that many good things happen only because somebody worked to make them happen can simply disappear.

The Subordination of Rationality in Decision Making

This last point points to another interesting and important dynamic. I think of that dynamic as the subordination of truth to goodness. The premise of the superego is the indifference of the world. Truth is seen as neutral and is given independent standing. On the other hand, narcissistic psychology rests all consideration on a prior differentiation between good people and bad people, whose ideas contain this goodness or badness within them. The idea of an independent truth is replaced by a notion of relative "truths" which are not presumed to have even the possibility of validity outside of the community that uses them (e.g. Fish, 1992). Strained through the moralism I have described, this approach comes to mean that the expression of the feelings of a good person must be granted validity without any independent measure of the agreement of those feelings with facts being necessary. By contrast, it is enough to classify a speaker as a member of a bad group in order to discredit what that person says, with no need for any consideration of the content of what is said. Within the context of PC, that is to say, the criterion of logic is replaced by the argumentum ad hominem.

This, by the way, provides an answer to those who maintain that what is going on in the PC university is the same thing that has always gone on. The university, these individuals maintain, has always been a contentious place. In response one may acknowledge that the university has always been a contentious place, but its contention has been concerned with with what is true and who is right. In current PC times, the question has become who is good.

At any rate, one can imagine the effect that this development would have on decision making. Decision making in the PC university loses even the intention of being rational. Argument about possible courses of action no longer involves consideration of the actual effects policies will have. The process instead turns to the avowal of one's own goodness and the imputation of badness to one's opponents (Schwartz, 1993).

The Balkanization of the University

Structure under the superego is a behavioral structure: the division of labor. The purpose of this behavioral structure is to organize the pursuit of achievement and the competition to set its standard. Under the unalloyed operation of the ego ideal, structure rather becomes a moral structure: good group versus bad group.

From this vantage point, we can understand why, instead of competing for achievement, students come to engage in a competition for sympathy and even pity. By showing that they have been victimized, oppressed, abused, devalued in the past, the students assert their claims to compensatory appreciation and resentfully depreciate the claims of others. From this standpoint, we can understand the development which balkanizes student bodies into hyphenated groups proclaiming their competing histories of oppression and grievance.

This emotionally charged conflict, when it takes place in our intendedly multicultural universities, undoubtedly is a source of constant surprise, perplexity, and sadness to the well-meaning individuals who have given rise to it. Certainly they meant nothing of the sort. For them "... the point is to join differences in such a way that the integrity of none is destroyed." They had in mind a mosaic, or a quilt in which "differences are sutured together at their edges to form a whole." (Choi and Murphy, 1992) But by establishing narcissism as the norm for university life, PC advocates made it inevitable that the actual university would be the locus of bitterness, envy and ill-will. Resentment and hostility are not just temporary feelings which will be outgrown in the PC university; they are built into its very structure. The fact that each of these groups recognize and are constituted by the difference of the others does not mean, as Choi and Murphy appear to believe, that they appreciate those differences. All it means, within narcissistic psychology, is that they define themselves against the others.

It is the superego, from whose indifferent vantage point each voice is only one among many, that makes it possible for groups to get along with each other. Of course, the superego can be changed. The fact that it can be changed in accordance with differing and developing reality is implied by the term "rational" in the concept of legal-rational authority (Weber, 1947). But the superego is not just one voice among many. It needs to be located at the top of a hierarchy, not only if it is going to function at all, but also if other voices are going to function without engaging each other in a duel to the death. Arguably legal-rational authority is the greatest achievement of Western civilization. The idea that, with its rules, its reliance on reason, its demand for superordinate status, legal-rational authority is seen by the PC as the very source of oppression (e.g. MacKinnon, 1989), is properly a cause for concern.

The Drive to the Extreme

The psychology of the superego contains a built in conservatism. This psychology rests on an internalization of external order and places a premium on the maintenance of established structure. In politics, the superego presses toward a solution that can be applied universally and then toward the acceptance and maintenance of that system. Narcissistic psychology, because it presses for the attainment of something that cannot be attained, has a built in radical bias. The psychology of the superego is realized through creation of an organization. The ego ideal attempts to realize itself through creation of a movement. History, it seems to me, embraces both of these dynamics, and recommends a proper balance between them. When the realism of the superego is repudiated, however, the sole operation of the ego ideal creates a politics that manifests what I think of as a drive to the extreme. There are a number of dimensions to this.

First is what we may see as the insatiability of demand. In the absence of a superego which can adjudicate between reasonable and unreasonable claims, the measure of victimization must be the subjective feeling of being victimized. To be sure, the feeling of being victimized may come from real victimization, but the exploration of narcissism shows that this feeling also can come from interpreting the indifference of the world as a personal threat. This, of course, is the mechanism of paranoia. This means that, as real victimization is eliminated, the university's process stands in danger of coming under the control of the community's most easily offended, most paranoid elements.

The insatiability of demand has another dimension to it. As Maslow (1970) observed, most of us want a positive conception of our self. We want to see ourselves, and wants others to see us, as persons who have done something worthwhile: to have a sense of our self as strong and active. In a word, we want respect and self-respect. But this is not something we can attain on the basis of having been victimized in the past.

At its best, recognition of oneself as having been victimized reflects a sense of the self as comparatively weak and passive. To be sure, the circumstances of victimization may have been such that any self would have been overcome. But be that as it may, there is no way of resolving this dilemma. Failure, no matter how inevitable, is still failure. And the pity of others can never help us to get beyond the sense of ourselves as pitiful. At its worst, the claim of victimization may fall on deaf ears, and be met with increasing resentment, hostility, and a feeling that one is getting more than one deserves.

In the absence of a superego that could offer a program for the attainment of respect, the perception that others pity or resent them is likely only to raise the level of the victim group's feeling of being unloved. Sadly, the logic of narcissism leads victim groups to redouble the efforts which caused them this pain in the first place.

Another reason why PC tends to move the university toward the extreme has to do with the logic of moral debate. As I have said above, under the superego, debate centers around the issue of what is true and what course of action is right. Under the rule of the primordial mother, debate becomes a matter of who is good. The aim of the debate is to show that one's opponent is bad (in this case racist, sexist, homophobic or the like) and that one is good. For some groups, being good just means being a member of the group, as defined by its ideology of victimization. For others, and specifically for white males, being good means proving that one is good despite one's group identification. The result of this is that, for white males who make up the university power structure, goodness is always in question and must be demonstrated continually, through a kind of moral one-upmanship that operates by an incremental ratcheting up of the stakes.

On top of this, one must see the intrapsychic dimension that operates here. The PC individual, especially the white male, must not only operate according to the rules of a game of moral goodness. He also must prove to himself that he is good. But goodness in this case means the absolute love of the oppressed. There is no room here for ambivalence or measure. Yet love is within the domain of the ego ideal. It is irreducibly narcissistic. Even the love of the mother for her child is based on her identification with the child.

The love of the oppressed demands something that is psychologically impossible, the permanent abandonment of one's own separate identity in exchange for enthusiastic subordination to the narcissism of another. Individuals who accepts this demand must experience their own spontaneous responses as a continual indictment and condemnation of themselves. The point is that in a moral universe defined either by being or by loving the oppressed, one's own ego ideal and superego are defined as oppression. This is intolerable to the self, which must be permanently vigilant against this perception of badness, political incorrectness, at the core of its own being.

Notice again how this process differs from what one would find under the superego. The superego attaches goodness and badness to behavior, and permits behavioral acts of reparation as ways of compensating for previous badness. Narcissism attaches goodness and badness to the self, and does not permit reparative actions as a way of reestablishing one's goodness. Narcissism demands an absolute, perfect goodness, and our own recognition that we fall short of that ideal drives the continual recreation of a perfect fictional identity and the abandonment of who one is.

One way of dealing with this dilemma is by finding political incorrectness in others before they can find it in oneself. In effect, this is projecting one's own badness onto others and attacking it there. This phenomenon is a manifestation of the dynamic which psychoanalysis refers to as "projective identification." (Klein, 1975). Such projection offers one the aspect of perfect goodness as a righteous warrior in the struggle against absolute evil, a role which offers narcissistic benefits, especially in the form of self-righteousness, in excess of anything the real world can provide. This, no doubt, helps to explain some of the vigor and verve with which the campaign for PC is pursued. The other way to experience one's own political incorrectness is with shame, which delegitimates the self and takes one and one's own good sense out of the way of the PC tide.

There is an irony to this that is worthy of mention. If PC is to be justified, it must be justified as a way of combating racism. But Young (1993) has observed that racism is itself a form of projective identification. Seeing PC as a form of projective identification leads us to wonder how effective it possibly can be in this combat. This notion suggests the alternative possibility of complementary dynamics of projective identification, each reinforcing and justifying the other.

The Anomaly of Female Power

One further point which needs to be made about the psychodynamics of the PC university relates to the ambiguous position of women. Within the psychology I have outlined here, women are seen as defenseless victims of male oppression on one hand, and as exemplars of the omnipotent primordial mother on the other. Thus, we find, on the one hand, that the image of the woman as passive, helpless victim is ubiquitous in our society, with whole classes of institutions having been created to protect these victims. On the other hand, and indeed partly through the manipulation of this image, women have manifested enormous power in the transformation of almost every aspect of society. This paradox is particularly interesting in connection with the theory developed here because it is difficult to think of any other way to explain it. [6]


Having maintained that PC represents psychological regression, it is important to reiterate that regression is not necessarily bad. On the contrary, as psychoanalytic thinkers such as Kris (1952) have observed, regression is a necessary element of creativity. Again, it might be argued, times of continuous change such as those we live in call for the enhancement of creativity in all areas of life. This may be, putting the best light on it, the deeper social function of postmodernism and the rise of the maternal. But Kris’ point was that, in order to contribute to creativity, regression has to be in the service of the ego. What we see being played out in PC, however, and in the war of the primitive maternal against the paternal generally, is not regression in the service of the ego. It is regression against the ego. That is its danger.

How the idea developed, in our time, that the maternal and the paternal are fundamentally in opposition to each other is an interesting question, but one that I cannot engage here (See Schwartz, 1995, 1996). It will suffice to say that this idea of fundamental opposition is in serious error. Far from being in opposition, the maternal and the paternal require each other if they are to be themselves. The paternal without the maternal manifests itself as form without content; the structure the isolated paternal creates is not the structure of anything. But the maternal without the paternal leads to helpless immersion in unrealizable, sterile fantasy, and makes it impossible to rationally engage the world. In the end, the result for those mothered in this way can only be grief. On the level of personality, the hypertrophy of the paternal is represented by the obsessive-compulsive; but the type representing the unadorned maternal arrays itself against external reality itself. It moves toward the psychotic (Frosh, 1991). Putting the matter this way may help us avoid the temptation of trying to choose between them.

To be fully adult means having internalized both the maternal and the paternal. It means being both father and mother to oneself. The university serves the purpose of maturation when it provides students with maternal and paternal influences which they can bring into themselves. But when the university structures itself as a battle between these two essential principles, standing for the destruction of one by the other, it takes a stand against maturation, and tends to make the difficult process of maturation all the more difficult.



[1] Klein (1975) refers to this primordial, all-loving, omnipotent mother as the "good breast."

[2] Idealization, in my view, always relates to the ego ideal, which is based on the idealized mother. Idealization of the father refers to the belief that the father has himself attained fusion with the idealized mother.

[3] It is critical to note that this happens to girls as well as boys, even if not entirely in the same measure. Thus, consider this from the columnist Anna Quindlen:

My relationship with my father was more man to man. He required of a fully developed human being that she have exhaustively studied both Max Shulman and Machiavelli, Django Reinhardt and Louis Armstrong... His motto was "winners need not explain." He treated B's as if they were F's.... If you couldn't keep up, you got left.

I kept up....

My father exercised only the tyranny of his expectations, but it was tyranny enough. And then, not so many years ago, I realized that, like a heart transplant after the rejection phase, his expectations for me had become my own. And I stopped valuing myself by how my father valued me. I know from literature and life that is perhaps the greatest passage that human beings ever make. (1993: E17)

[4] Hobbes (1939) put it this way:

Again, men have no pleasure, but on the contrary a great deal of grief, in keeping company, where there is no power able to overawe them all. For every man looketh that his companion should value him at the same rate he sets upon himself; and upon all signs of contempt, or undervaluing, naturally endeavors, as far as he dares (which amongst them that have no common power to keep them in quiet, is far enough to make them destroy each other), to extort a greater value from his contemners by damage, and from others by the example. (emphasis added, 160)

Which contributes strongly to this:

In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death..

[5] Universities clearly differ in their degree of PC. Moreover, it inevitably generates resistance to itself. It is therefore unlikely that any university can be said to be entirely PC. Nonetheless, it is possible to think about the PC university as an ideal case, which is what I am doing here.

[6] I cannot resist mentioning an example of this contrast that arose at the University of Michigan in 1992. This case involved a sophomore student in an introductory Political Science course. The student, in a paper criticizing telephone polling, invoked a hypothetical "Dave Stud," who, while "knowledgeable" about a certain area of taxation, refused to answer a pollster's question because he was busy "entertaining three beautiful ladies in his penthouse."

This male student’s female teaching assistant responded this way in the margin of the paper:

This is ludicrous & inappropriate & OFFENSIVE. This is completely inappropriate for a serious political science paper. It completely violates the standard of non-sexist writing. Professor Rosenstone has encouraged me to interpret this comment as an example of sexual harassment and to take the appropriate formal steps. I have chosen not to do so in this instance. However, any future comments, in a paper, in a class or in any dealings w/me will be interpreted as sexual harassment and formal steps will be taken. Professor Rosenstone is aware of these comments -- & is prepared to intervene. You are forewarned! (The Michigan Review, 1993)

The disparity here between the frail, vulnerable woman, grievously damaged by the merest mention of male sexuality; and the powerful woman, capable of mobilizing the full weight of the University of Michigan against a hapless sophomore, is breathtaking.


Benjamin, J. (1988) The bonds of love: Psychoanalysis, feminism, and the problem of domination. New York: Pantheon.

Calas, M. B. and Smircich, L. (1991) Voicing seduction to silence leadership. Organization Studies, 12 : 567-601.

Carter, S. A. (1991) Reflections of an affirmative action baby. New York: Basic Books.

Chasseguet-Smirgel, J. (1985) The ego ideal: A psychoanalytic essay on the malady of the ideal. New York: Norton.

Chasseguet-Smirgel, J. (1986) Sexuality and mind: The role of the father and mother in the psyche. New York: New York University Press.

Choi, J.M. and Murphy, J.W. (1992) The politics and philosophy of political correctness. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.

Doi, T. (1973) The anatomy of dependence. New York: Kodansha.

Fish, S. (1992) There's no such thing as free speech and it's a good thing, too. In P. Berman, (ed.), Debating P.C.: The controversy over political correctness on college campuses. New York: Laurel.

Fried, C.(1991) Letter to the editor, Academe, November-December: 10.

Freud, S. (1914). On narcissism: An introduction. Standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud,14. London: Hogarth Press.

Freud, S. (1921) Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. .

Freud, S. (1923) The ego and the id. Standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, 19. London: Hogarth Press.

Frosh, S. Psychoanalysis, psychosis, and postmodernism. Human Relations, 44 (1): 93-104.

Gilligan, C. (1982) In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Gitlin, T. (1992) On the virtues of a loose canon, in P. Aufderheide (ed.) Beyond PP: Toward a politics of understanding. St. Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf: 185-190.

Goffman, E. (1967) Interaction ritual: Essays on face-to-face behavior. New York: Pantheon.

Hegel, G. W. F. (1964) The phenomenology of mind. New York: Humanities Press.

Hobbes, T. (1939) Leviathan. in E. A. Burtt (ed.) The English philosophers from Bacon to Mill. New York: Modern Library.

Irigaray, L. (1985) This sex which is not one. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University.

Klein, M. (1975) Love, guilt, and reparation, and other works, 1921-1945. London: Hogarth Press.

Kris, E. (1952) Psychoanalytic explorations in art. New York: International Universities Press.

MacKinnon, C. A. (1989) Toward a feminist theory of the state. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Mahler, M.S, Pine, F. and Bergman, A. (1975) The psychological birth of the human infant. New York: Basic Books.

Maslow, A.H. (1970) Motivation and personality. (2nd ed.) New York: Harper and Row.

Mead, G. H. (1934) Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Michigan Review. (1993) U-M mishandles Poli Sci 111 incident, January 13: 4.

Quindlen, A. (1993) Daughter of the groom, The New York Times, June 20: E17.

Schwartz, H. S. (1990) Narcissistic Process and Corporate Decay: The Theory of the Organization Ideal. New York: New York University Press.

Schwartz, H. S. (1993) Narcissistic emotion and university administration: An analysis of "Political Correctness," in S. Fineman (ed.), Emotion in organizations, London: Sage, 190-215.

Schwartz, H. S. (1995) Masculinity and the emotional basis of work: A response to Manichean feminism. Administration and Society, 27 (2): 249-274.

Schwartz, H. S. (1996) The Sin of the Father: Reflections on the roles of the corporation man, the suburban housewife, their son and their daughter in the deconstruction of the patriarch," Human Relations, 49 (9), August, 1996.

Searle, J. (1992) The storm over the university. In P. Berman (ed.), Debating P.C.: The controversy over political correctness on college campuses. New York: Laurel.

Sennett, R. and J. Cobb. (1973) The hidden injuries of class. New York: Vintage.

Shweder, Richard A. (1991) The crime of white maleness, New York Times, August 18, 4:15.

Weber, M. (1947) The theory of social and economic organization. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wiener, Jon. (1992) What happened at Harvard. in P. Aufderheide (ed.) Beyond PP: Toward a politics of understanding. St. Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf: 97-106.

Young, R.M. (1993) Racism: projective identification and cultural processes, Psychology in Society, 17: 5-18.