Summary: The corruption of our language, mostly by the Left, already is producing a host of ill effects. We cannot communicate with each other. Increasingly we are incapable of clear thought. Perhaps worst of all, we are alienated from our own history and culture.
As with so much going wrong today, we long ago were warned about the on-going corruption of our language. In April 1946 Horizon published George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” For those that missed the message, in June 1946 he published Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell described controlling people by regulating allowed language (Newspeak) and re-writing history. No need to read those works today; just read the news. These are powerful methods to shape our minds, but effective only on sheep.
James Bowman explains how
the corruption of our language makes clear thought impossible.
The corruption of our language by the woke left continues apace. Having changed the meaning of the word “science” from a system of inquiry and verification to whatever knowledge or pseudo-knowledge, verified or not, supports their political agenda, they have now turned their attention to “traitors.” We had a foretaste of this when John Brennan accused President Trump, a little prematurely, of having committed treason, which certainly implied the treachery of a traitor. But at least Mr Brennan could claim that he was using (or implying) the word, however dishonestly, in its proper sense of one who, while professing loyalty to his country, secretly treats with its enemies to the latter’s advantage. What the woke left now appears to be doing is to regard anyone holding a different opinion from their own as a traitor – or “racist”, “white supremacist” or any other boo-word that might come into their mind while they express nothing but their own feelings.
It might be thought that there is a better case for regarding Confederate generals as “traitors” – as The Washington Post, for example, now routinely does. Perhaps in imitation of such emotive language, Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois recently claimed, quite falsely, that President Trump in his Mt Rushmore speech “spent all his time talking about dead traitors” – though the Confederate generals that were not, in fact, mentioned by Mr Trump on this occasion, were not so-called in their own lifetimes, or by those who had suffered the most from their rebellion. Although there was some talk of treason when the Southern rebellion broke out, in retrospect and in the spirit of post-war reconciliation, their Union opposite numbers generally regarded them as men of honor who felt, as many others did at the time, that their principal loyalty was owed to their states and not to the United States, now disunited, which they had joined voluntarily and believed they could withdraw from in the same way. People then were capable of understanding the difference, in honor, between open rebellion and surreptitious treachery.
Not any more. Now even the generals themselves appear to be so far strangers to the canons of honor that they don’t know the difference. So, at least, we are forced to conclude if a report in the Post is to be believed, that “the military’s top officer,” General Mark Milley, has taken it upon himself to describe the rebellion of the Confederacy as “an act of treason” in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. Leaving aside the fact that he doubtless knew he’d better so describe it to the Democrat-controlled committee if he valued his job, why didn’t any of the Republicans on the committee think to ask: if they had committed treason, why did the victorious Union choose not to prosecute them for this crime? Indeed, they were more honored than despised by their erstwhile enemies, and many were received back into the Federal army that they had supposedly betrayed.
Of course we must make allowances for the fact that the whole kerfuffle over statues and base names is arising over a century and a half after the rebellion because the Post and other new-minted propaganda sheets find it a convenient weapon in their on-going war against President Trump and a way to exacerbate racial division at a time when, so they suppose, this will work to their own political advantage. But it also ought to be a teaching moment for Republicans seeking a way to respond to the left’s assault on American history which, as we have lately seen, is very far from being limited to the original topoi of slavery and the Civil War. The New York Times’s “1619 Project” – explicitly designed as yet another anti-Trump missile – regarded the whole country, along with its laws and Constitution and even its economy, as tainted by the institution of slavery, not just a few Confederate generals.
It should not be necessary, though no doubt it is necessary, to say that “honorable” does not mean and never has meant the same thing as “moral.” That bad people can also be honorable – although, as it should also be unnecessary to say, they often are not – has been the biggest objection to the whole idea of honor for centuries, and the reason why America and most European countries did away with their old honor cultures during the last century. But anyone who passes moral judgments on the past also has a moral obligation to try to understand it first. And you can’t understand the American Civil War – not to mention much of the rest of American history – without understanding what honor meant to those on both sides who fought it. The armed forces were, until recently, one place where a sense of honor survived the general wrack, but that seems to be the case no longer. If so, in the words of that guilty but much-honored slave-owner Thomas Jefferson, I tremble for my country.
Posted at James Bowman’s website on 20 July 2020.
Reposted with his generous permission.
“Indeed I tremble for my country when reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events …”
— Jefferson discussing slavery in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785). He was almost proven wrong 75 years later. We avoided that outcome only by paying a horrific price.
About James Bowman
Bowman is a Resident Scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
He has worked as a freelance journalist, serving as American editor of the Times Literary Supplement of London from 1991 to 2002, as movie critic of The American Spectator since 1990 and as media critic of The New Criterion since 1993. He has also been a weekly movie reviewer for The New York Sun since the newspaper’s re-foundation in 2002. He has also contributed to a wide range of other major papers.
Mr. Bowman is perhaps best known for his book, Honor: A History, and his essay “The Lost Sense of Honor” in The Public Interest. See his collected articles at his website, including his film reviews going back to 1994.
For More Information
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Info & disinformation; about journalism, about political debate, about ways to reform America, and especially these …
- Important: Politics in modern America: A users’ guide for journalists and reformers.
- The secret, simple tool that persuades Americans. That molds our opinions.
- We cannot agree on simple facts and so cannot reform America.
- American politics is a fun parade of lies, for which we pay dearly.
- Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda.
- The secret, simple tool that persuades Americans. That molds our opinions.
About Bowman’s great book
By James Bowman (2006).
I strongly recommend reading this book about a lost but vital element from our culture. A sense of honor was a strength of the West from its earliest days. Now we have lost it. From the publisher…
“The importance of honor is present in the earliest records of civilization. Today, while it may still be an essential concept in Islamic cultures, in the West, honor has been disparaged and dismissed as obsolete.
“In this lively and authoritative book, James Bowman traces the curious and fascinating history of this ideal, from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment and to the killing fields of World War I and the despair of Vietnam. Bowman reminds us that the fate of honor and the fate of morality and even manners are deeply interrelated.”