Doris Lessing

British writer Doris Lessing died in London today, aged 94. She had become a communist in the 1940s about the time she married Gottfried Lessing but had abandoned such ideas by 1949. 1 2

In 1992, Lessing wrote and lectured about “Unexamined Mental Attitudes Left Behind By Communism.” 3 A brief of that essay appeared in the New York Times, called “Language and the Lunatic Fringe.” 4 In it, she warns of vestiges that remain after the “apparent death of Communism.” She was particularly concerned one of those vestages not “as immediately evident,” namely “Political Correctness.”

Lessing was a fair-minded writer and so is careful to note, “I am not suggesting that the torch of Communism has been handed on to the Political Correctors. I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.” She does concede that Political Correctness can have a “good side” in that it challenges us to “re-examine attitudes, and that is always useful.”

Lessing did not address other political movements or their own tendencies toward Political Correctness. For instance, the Encyclopedia Britannica notes Political Correctness as a characteristic of the American Neo-Conservative movmement: “It also encourages the excesses of “political correctness”—that is, an overly acute sensitivity to offending people of other backgrounds, outlooks, and cultures.” 5 And Republican Ted Frier noted the same recently in the American Conservative party: “…More clear-eyed Republicans like Bruce Bartlett see today’s conservatism for what it is: a movement in decline, trapped by its own ‘PC thinking,’ condemned to ever-diminishing influence in American politics since it is incapable of ‘serious introspection’ and disinclined to rethink or rehabilitate either its philosophy or its strategy.” 6

Perhaps most importantly is Lessing’s conclusion: “We need to do some rethinking. It is a time, I think, for definitions.” 7 A similar call for new definitions came from the late Tony Judt in one of his last books, Ill Fares the Land. 8

(Photo of Doris Lessing by Chris Saunders)

Notes:

  1. BBC: “Obituary: Doris Lessing” November 17, 2013
  2. BBC: “Doris Lessing, Nobel Prize-winning author, dies aged 94” November 17, 2013
  3. Dorothy Lessing, “Unexamined Mental Attitudes Left Behind By Communism” in Our Country, Our Culture: The Politics of Political Correctness, edited by Edith Kurzweil and William Philips (Rutgers: Partisan Review Press, 1994)
  4. Dorothy Lessing, “Language and the Lunatic Fringe” New York Times (1992.06.26)
  5. Neoconservatism,” Encyclopedia Britannica
  6. Ted Frier, “Conservative Political Correctness,” Salon.com, 2013.01.08
  7. Dorothy Lessing, “Unexamined Mental Attitudes Left Behind By Communism” in Our Country, Our Culture: The Politics of Political Correctness, edited by Edith Kurzweil and William Philips (Rutgers: Partisan Review Press, 1994)
  8. David Chambers, “What Then Must We Do?,” Washington Times and Whittaker Chambers in Books (2010.05.20)
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One Response to Remembering Doris Lessing: Political Correctness

  1. […] —Doris Lessing, “Unexamined Mental Attitudes Left Behind by Communism.” (Note: there are some typos in […]

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