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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Mar-18 > Battle for the mike

Battle for the mike

Free speech is never as free as we’d like to think—who gets to be heard depends on who’s got power

Political correctness has gone mad, but not in the way that you think.

Our language has finally cast out most of its demons, and words that once promoted hate towards minority groups have—rightly—been relegated from everyday discourse. The ancient lexicon of hate speech—which, as Simon Lancaster explains on p30, has so often gone hand-inhand with physical violence—is today heard less often. Travellers and transgender people have finally earned the right to hear others describe them in the same way that they describe themselves.

Even language that isn’t obviously nasty has been tidied up.

“Housewives” are no more: they have become stay-at-home mothers.

The revolution might seem complete.

But listen a little more closely, and you will find that among those fluent in the new more polite language are those for whom the traditional spirit of hate is alive and well. Across the UK, Europe and America, mainstream pundits, instead of labelling others “savages,” as they might have a hundred years ago, now speak of protecting “our civilisation.” They “defend secular culture from the threat of immigration,” whereas their counterparts 40 years ago would have warned of having a “nigger for a neighbour.”

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s March issue: A series of writers turn their thoughts to the developing war over words in the UK and the US. Lionel Shriver, Afua Hirsch, Simon Lancaster, Hugh Tomlinson, Tom Clark and two students ask if free expression is truly compromised? What’s really going on in our universities? And what do voters think? Elsewhere in the issue: Michael Ignatieff questions why today’s left-wing leaders can’t live up to the high mark set by FDR, Sameer Rahim shows how western powers have been trying to dictate what Islam should be, and Mary Beard asks “How do we look?” as our perceptions of what is beautiful have changes over the centuries.
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