home > archive > 2002 > this article
Orwell, words, politics and the war for freedom
By Bruce Walker
Few areas of left wing perversion have been more successful than the conscious manipulation of language for ideological purposes. Many egregious examples are familiar. Equal employment opportunity really means mandated inequality and arbitrary quotas. Government investment really means gluttonous coercive consumption of capital. Public education really means the systematic deconstruction of learning. And so on.
The conscious inversion of the what words mean was predicted by George Orwell in his classic dystopian novel 1984. The Ministry of Truth existed to dissemble. The Ministry of Love tortured the innocent. The Ministry of Peace insured war. The Ministry of Plenty manufactured poverty. All these contortions are gloried in the infamous and public proclamation: "War is Peace", "Ignorance is Strength" and "Freedom is Slavery."
Most people understand blatant manipulation of words for the deliberate purpose of destroying meaning, but the legacy of Marxist lexicon remains with us to the present day in the words we use and this legacy -- just as Orwell dreaded -- has caused us to forget how to think coherently in important ways.
As an example, what does "capitalism" mean? The sheep of today have been taught that capitalism is the antithesis of Marxism. Those of us on the political right have tried to correct the pejorative nature of this Marxist neologism by instead using terms like "free enterprise" or "market oriented economics" but even this fails to correct the true flaw in this word.
Capitalism, market economies, and the other terms used to define a society presume that money and material production are the overriding superstructure upon which all human activity rests. This is blarney.
Consider these famous "capitalists" in history: Albert Schweitzer, Madame Curie, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Henry David Thoreau, Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein, Leonardo di Vinci, and Jonas Salk. Each acquired money through the capitalist system, but money and even material possessions were almost totally irrelevant to these great people.
The whole silliness of trying to relate all human interest around a particular area -- money, sex, popularity, physical fitness or religious devotion -- squeezes humans into the image of large rodents, driven by a few primal concerns and oblivious to the depth and breadth or reality. Words like "capitalism" as are empty in trying to capture the panorama of human action, expression and sentiment as would be words like "musicalism" or "horticulturalism."
Drawing arbitrary lines with words creates even more absurdity when applied to political ideology and the notional "spectrum" stretching from left to right. Consider the common understanding of several terms used casually in political discussions, to describe moving from the left wing to the right wing of this putative spectrum: revolutionary, radical, progressive, liberal, moderate, conservative and reactionary. These seven words do not form any sort of rational scale, as the words "hot," "warm," "mild," "cool," and "cold" form a calibrated measurement of thermodynamic activity.
The word "conservative" may conflict or complement "liberal" depending upon what is being conserved. Liberty conserved, as our Founding Fathers intended, is liberal conservatism or conservative liberalism.
What does "revolutionary" mean? That word implies overthrowing the existing and immediate power structure, but in the death throes of the Roman Republic generals like Marius, Sulla, Cinna, Pompey and Caesar were all "revolutionaries" in desiring the opposing faction ousted and its gang members placed on proscription lists. Contras and Sandinistas were both "revolutionary" depending upon which group held power in Nicaragua.
Is this in opposition to the word "reactionary"? By chance, it may be, but "reactionary" simply reflects an attitude that things have gone too far, which is precisely what the enemies of Sulla or Marius would have felt -- when they were not butchering their opponents from a superior military position. The Sandinistas were actually "reactionaries" against the Contras during the 1980s.
Words like "moderate" and "radical" likewise say nothing that would relate to a philosophy of government, laws and policies. Those two terms imply a level of commitment, but say nothing about the focus of this commitment. So a "moderate" Nazi and a "radical" Polish underground fighter during the Second World War really conveys almost nothing about beliefs or values.
Only that new disguise for old liberals -- "progressive" -- shows a bit of skirt on what the left really means by its Alice in Wonderland political vocabulary. The word "progressive" implies an inevitability of human history toward a particular beneficial direction.
How do these bogus descriptions of political belief affect our thinking? Ponder this: Thomas Jefferson was simultaneously revolutionary, reactionary, progressive, radical, liberal and conservative. Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, and was a leader in the war to end the immediate regime of King George III (clearly revolutionary.) But Jefferson was also a reactionary, because his intention was to stop the flow of events were increasingly removing the relative autonomy of the colonies. Jefferson was a progressive who believed that time was on the side of freedom, and he was a radical within the revolutionary councils: he came to believe that half-measures would not longer work. Jefferson's goal was to maximize freedom, which made him liberal. And because the thirteen colonies were the freest polity in human history, Thomas Jefferson was strongly conservative toward those values which the people of the colonies had come to accept as their birthright.
Why do those on the political left feel the need to create these nonsensical gradations in ideology? Because the truth would expose the left for what, it is: lust for limitless power over the lives of others. Calling someone a "reactionary" is utterly meaningless -- Jews, Gypsies and Poles "reacted" against revolutionary Nazism -- did that make them "reactionary" in the sense of the way the left uses it?
The ugly truth is that there is no difference at all between those monsters who are supported to be at one "extreme" on this fictional "spectrum" and those at the other extreme of that spectrum. Why? There is no spectrum, and there never has been a spectrum per se.
Those deemed at the "extreme right wing" (whatever that silly phrase is intended to mean) are supposedly fascists. The very muddling of Fascism, National Socialism and the Phalangist Party is bad enough. Fascism for much of its reign over Italy was anti-anti-Semitic (i.e. condemned anti-Semitism) and Fascist Italy was the primary geopolitical opponent of Nazi Germany for much of that period.
But pretending that somehow the National Socialist German Workers Party was "right wing" and that if America (or Amerika?) moves too far to the "right" then it will end up with concentration camps and Gestapo, while if it moves too far to the "left" then it will end up with gulags and KGB, is absurd. Moving in the direction of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Washington and George Mason almost moves away from totalitarian nightmares.
This is also reflected in real policy differences. All of the thug regimes that haunted the Twentieth Century -- Bolshevism, National Socialism, the Phalangist Party, the Kou Ming Tang, Maoism, and Fascism -- denounced "capitalism" and embraced "socialism." Why? Because that nonexistent state of "capitalism" merely means that power is decentralized among individuals rather than concentrated in the hands of party functionaries. Moreover, freedom in whatever form does not preordain the outcome of events.
This hypothetical "chaos" of markets is actually a reflection of the finite knowledge of any individual or organization. No one knows precisely what will happen tomorrow or next year, but anyone who is really serious about truth knows that the liberation of human ability and aspirations will lead to an overall rise in material, social, and cultural well being of those within the group of those liberated.
The left -- what else are we to call them? -- and the bogeyman on the ultra-extreme-reactionary-far right are actually identical creatures. Those of us who call ourselves "conservatives" simply wish to conserve that Eighteenth Century liberalism (i.e. individual liberty) which was once so much at the center of our nationhood. We are the antitheses of monolithic thinking and feeling, because our desire for freedom is to pursue our own personal and individual visions.
We want progress toward human liberty. We react against Nazis, Communists
or Fascists who try to seize that liberty. We wish to conserve all the
good that men like Jefferson and Washington left us. We understand that
America is a revolution in the way people and government related to each
other, and a very good revolution. We are radical in our insistent support
for common freedoms, but very moderate in what we expect this alone to
give us (each person does his own heavy lifting).
Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a contributor
to Citizens View, The Common Conservative, Conservative Truth and Port
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!
© 1996-2021, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.