Sunday, May 12, 2013

Liberal Means Anything But

One of the common characteristics of dictatorial regimes is that they recognise early on the need to control the language. This is because language is a proxy for thought. People may dissent in their minds but that is of little effect if they are incapable of expressing their dissent. George Orwell recognised this in his novel, 1984, with Newspeak, the approved language of his fictional dictatorship.   Newspeak was designed to ensure people could not communicate opposition to the regime and one of the means of doing this was to confuse synonyms and antonyms, thus eliminating words like 'bad' and replacing them with euphemistic alternatives such as 'ungood'.

Orwell's novel was prescience of the Western world today.  The political left-wing in our so-called liberal democracies has achieved what Hitler and Stalin could only have dreamed of - an almost complete stranglehold on the language. 

Take the terms 'left-wing' and 'right-wing' - what do they really mean?  Left-wing originally referred to those on the left side of the French revolutionary legislative assembly.  Those who sat on the left opposed the monarchy and supported the establishment of a republic.  Those on the right side of the chamber supported the institutions of the Old Regime, although not the monarchy itself.  In other words, the left-wing supported change, i.e. they were radicals, the right-wing didn't, i.e. they were conservatives.  In the Western world of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries these terms have lost their original meaning and distinction.  Left-wingers are often the most conservative in that they want to preserve the established order of a strong, central government and comprehensive welfare state.  Right-wingers are often the ones advocating change, seeking to reduce the role of government in the economy and to roll-back the welfare state.  Thus we had Maggie Thatcher, a Conservative who was more radical in her policies than any modern British prime minister.

Left-wingers have co-opted the term 'extreme right-wing' to imply Fascist or National Socialist beliefs.  This is ironic to say the least because, as the names suggest, both Fascism (deriving from the Italian word for 'group') and National Socialism (literally Socialism to achieve nationalistic goals) have more in common, at least in desired outcomes, with the democratic Socialism that most liberals espouse than with anything their modern opponents believe.

The word 'liberal' has similarly lost almost all of its original meaning.  Today it is interchangeable with the term left-wing.  Classical liberalism, as typified by the writings of 17th Century English philosopher John Locke, was all about individual freedom and rights and had little in common with the political beliefs of latter-day liberals who advocate for an all-powerful (albeit, they would say, benevolent) state.  In the Newspeak of today's Western democracies, 'liberal' means the exact opposite and those who think of themselves as classical liberals prefer to use the term 'libertarian' to distinguish themselves from the faux-liberals of the left-wing.

There are many examples of this topsy-turvy use of plain words for political ends.  Those who advocate equal treatment of different races before the law are labelled 'racist', those who would prefer to judge individuals on their merits rather than on their sex are 'sexist', and those who dare to question the political orthodoxy on climate change are 'deniers'.

The motivation for this misuse and misappropriate of language is always the same as that of Big Brother - to prohibit debate and control thinking.  This is reason enough to resist such hegemony at every turn.  Language defines the terms of any debate.  Concede the language and you concede the argument.