The politically correct class in Australia bears many similarities to an evangelical religious movement and it is perhaps no accident that its rise has coincided with a sharp decline in the membership of traditional Protestant church groups.
The desire to belong to an organisation with a coherent body of beliefs and to spread this gospel to others has always been a strong one for many people.
Like these older religions, the PCC subscribes to a long list of doctrines, among the most prominent of which are:
• Formal legal status for same-sex marriage.
• An alarmist view of climate change and its causes.
• Depiction of Australian society as essentially racist.
• Support for a bill of rights.
• Scepticism about the police and other law enforcement agencies, especially in relation to anti-terrorism legislation.
• Indifference to issues of border security.
• Hostility to Israel in the context of conflict in the Middle East.
It may be noted that none of these views involves any economic costs to those who hold them.
The PCC is generally wealthy and concerned to stay that way. Most of its members are not particularly interested in the distribution of society’s resources.
There is also some overlap between these views and the policies of the Greens, although the PCC generally prefers not to be identified with any particular political party.
Some of these views, of course, may be justifiable in whole or in part, but the PCC is not interested in debating them. Like many religious movements in history, it considers that anyone who rejects even one of these doctrines is not merely misguided but part of an evil conspiracy and deserving of suppression.
The debate over freedom of speech and section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act exemplified this. By making it unlawful to insult or offend some sections of the community, this provision, if the PCC were to be believed, was necessary to prevent Australians engaging in racist behaviour as bad as in the US deep south in the 1950s and 60s.
The PCC is relatively small in a numerical sense and many of its tenets are not supported by popular sentiment in the wider community. But its influence is considerable because of where its members are located.
This is because its members dominate large sections of the media; most teaching staff in universities; all legal professional bodies; the senior ranks of the federal and state bureaucracies; and the management of several large corporations.
It is not true, of course, that every person in these organisations shares all or even some of the PCC doctrines. But any dissenters must be well aware that their career prospects could be seriously harmed by expressing a contrary opinion.
This is particularly true for people at the start of their careers and not yet established in a secure position. And it is again reminiscent of many religious groups: it is not enough to accept most but not all of the doctrines. Disagreement with any one of them leads automatically to exclusion from the group. As in many previous periods of history, silence is often the safest course of action.
There is an interesting question as to how the PCC came to capture so many influential organisations in Australian society, especially since this phenomenon seems to date only from the early 80s.
It is true that there are some strong strains of political correctness in other countries, including Britain and the US, but Australia seems to have led the way in this exercise and produced a much greater stifling of public debate on social and political questions.
Why this is so is a conundrum, although the answer may have something to do with the huge expansion of universities over this period and the introduction of PCC material into school curriculums.
The difficulty about reversing this situation is that once people in organisations realise that a particular set of views is expected of them, they are unlikely to advertise any contrary opinions, so the present system is self-reinforcing.
There are still contrary voices in Australia to this stifling regime, but any dissenters need to have an established position in society so that they are immune from persecution by these grimly determined and utterly humourless zealots.