Monday, August 11, 2014

Proposal For A Counter-Hijacking

Say, I've got an idea. (Translated into the Southern: "Hey, y'all, watch this!") It derives from a widely cited column by Kurt Schlichter:

For the liberals who aren’t liberal solely because someone is handing them checks for plopping onto the couch all day instead of working, liberalism has become less an ideology than an attitude. It’s an attitude of serene superiority over everyone else based upon absolutely nothing more than liberals’ utter certainty of the rightness of their collectivist cause. [Emphasis added by FWP]

The original meaning of liberal was "favorable toward freedom." Americans' use of the word as a political label has been utterly severed from that dictionary definition for quite a long time now. So complete is the disconnection that the great Ludwig von Mises's landmark book on political philosophy, which he titled Liberalism, caused such confusion that shortly after its appearance in the United States was reissued under the title The Free and Prosperous Commonwealth.

But in recent years -- roughly since the Reagan Administration -- social-welfare fascists whose ideological ancestors succeeded in hijacking the word away from its proper meaning have largely abandoned it, preferring to style themselves "progressives." Granted that that's at least as much of a misapplication as "liberal," nevertheless it means that the ideology they attached to that noble term had acquired a taint they found they could no longer bear. Thus, today "liberal" lies pretty much unowned -- fallow -- vacant and begging for a new tenant.

Perhaps it's time to take it back.

I wrote quite recently that:

To be truly useful, a word must have an exact meaning. It cannot have more than one without becoming dangerous to one's thought processes. What recent political discourse has done to the critical labels has made them extremely dangerous to our thinking, and to the future of our already endangered Republic.

First consider liberal, a word whose original, exact meaning has been severed from it for practical purposes. Have a gander:

Liberal \Lib"er*al\, n. One who favors greater freedom in political or religious matters. [Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, 1913 edition]

Anyone who hasn't spent the last fifty years in a coma will immediately see how far the word liberal has been carried from that meaning. And it has indeed been carried away; it didn't migrate to its contemporary usage all by itself. The kidnapping of liberal was quite deliberate.

Similarly, we have conservative, whose original meaning has also been lost:

Conservative \Con*serv"a*tive\, n. One who desires to maintain existing institutions and customs. [Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, 1913 edition]

Contemporary American conservatives could hardly be accused of that with any justice. Most of then are as hostile to the existing state of things as Bakunin or Kropotkin. Yet they stubbornly clutch the label conservative to their breasts rather than use a more accurate one, perhaps out of a misplaced...conservatism.

The damage consequent to these distortions has been incalculable. It's been inflicted upon us with malice aforethought. The profit has accrued entirely to the Left.

My suggestion proceeds from those observations as well as from Schlichter's skewering of the "progressive" mindset. How to go about it? Ah, that's the fun part!

Two hypothetical conversations follow. First:

Random I favor greatly reduced taxation and regulation, a repeal of all laws that infringe upon individuals' Constitutionally protected rights, an end to the pervasive snoopery of the federal government, and a renewed emphasis on American sovereignty and American interests in all our foreign dealings.
FWP: Ah, so you're a liberal then.

RC: WHAT!??! Liberals don't hold those positions!
FWP: Then I must be confused. My dictionary says that "liberal" means "One who favors greater freedom." That sounds quite a bit like you.

RC: But...but...people who call themselves liberals disagree with me entirely!
FWP: Then they shouldn't be allowed to use the word, should they? Let's reclaim it for the true friends of freedom.

RC: What's wrong with "conservative?" It's what I've always called myself.
FWP: Out of habit, no doubt. My dictionary defines "conservative" as "One who desires to maintain existing institutions and customs." That doesn't sound like you at all.

We'll pause that exchange here to look at a second conversation:

Random taxes really have to go up, especially on the rich, we've got to put an end to private ownership of firearms, and we need much more stringent regulation of all businesses to do something about racism, sexism, sexual orientation discrimination, and the rise of inequality.
FWP: Ah, so you're a conservative, then.

RL: Excuse me!??! Conservatives don't hold with any of that!
FWP: Let's see now (flipping through imaginary Webster's Unabridged): "Conservative: One who desires to maintain existing institutions and customs." You're advocating taking existing practices and intensifying them. You could only be more conservative if you were to argue for keeping everything exactly as it is forever.

RL: (grimly) I'm proud to call myself a liberal, and I've done so for a very long time.
FWP: I can't imagine anyone with a dictionary letting you get away with that. (Flips a few more invisible pages) Ah, here we are: "Liberal: One who favors greater freedom." All your positions are very anti-freedom. Every one of them infringes upon private enterprise, private property, and private decision making. You have no rightful title to that word.

If properly executed -- i.e., with complete courtesy and the appropriate deadpan -- each of the above exchanges would eventuate in the same conclusion: A befuddled conversational partner with a single question on his lips:

Random Conversational Partner of either disposition: Well, what do you call yourself, then?
FWP: An American.

It could be both effective and fun, Gentle Reader. And we could abandon that sesquipedalian word libertarian in the bargain. Give it some thought.


Pascal Fervor said...

I've long advocated for someone to begin a campaign to reclaim the language*. My own attempts have fallen flat again and again, in great part because my command of grammar and love of writing are not in your league.

Your laying out of conversational scenarios is a good training tactic. I hope you gather enough experience to write of actual implementations (successes and failures) soon.

* Language would appear to have been a natural target of Critical Theory (with goals akin to those of Newspeak as explained by Orwell).

Do you know if anyone has identified such a specific project (out of the Frankfurt School or elsewhere) by name? It might be helpful in coming up with a name for your project other than "counter-hi-jacking."

A Reader said...

I think the process by which Critical Theory works is called "deconstruction". This is the case at least in the realm of literary criticism. Since the process seems to deny objective truth and assert the instability of definitions the 'con' in deconstruction is misleading. They pull things apart looking for hidden meanings while denying there are any to be found, and so find only what they expected from the outset, which is their own godless ideology. Critical theory is a clever way of making 'confirmation bias' sound like a virtue.

RichJ said...

I like the idea of taking back the language as well, but from my experience, like Pascal Fervor's, is failure.

I would argue, though, the reason isn't necessarily the inability to articulate the issues surrounding the meaning of these words as much as it is the inability of the so-called liberal to reason... to have rational thoughts regarding anything.

It's about feelings for them, not any logical conclusions/deductions. The smarter ones are conscious of what they are doing, but many simply have no clue.

This is not to say that taking back the words that have been hi-jacked is not the right thing to do. It is. I might also add that you are doing this every day via your posts.