A New America rises by manipulating our language and thoughts

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.

Spirit Under Attack - AdobeStock - 57445030.
By Nejron Photo. AdobeStock – 57445030.

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.


James Bowman

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

Ideas! See my recommended books and films at Amazon. For something different, see “The Swallow – a story of the WWII Night Witches.”

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 …

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Honor: A History
Available at Amazon.

About Bowman’s great book

Honor: A History.

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.”


20 thoughts on “A New America rises by manipulating our language and thoughts”

    1. Raymond,

      Orwell wrote 1984 with the knowledge of revolutionary and totalitarian methods developed in the first half of the 20th C.

      Much progress in those methods has been made since, esp by Mao & Co.

      That’s what is inspiring any of the Left’s leaders.

      1. I’m a fan of your contrarian viewpoints. However, you misrepresent the gist of the “take em down” movement. It’s not about erasing the honor and history of those who fought for the South in the Civil War, but enlighting the public about why they got erected in the first place, most put up 50 plus years after and were part of the terror campaign to keep “n*****s” in their place at the bottom of the socio-economic class system. Was there honor in fighting to subjugate humans? Only in your most narrow sense. Especially true for the white propertyless laborers. Fighting for their overlords. Is American military service honorable in defending and expanding Empire? Sorry Larry, your view of history and who it serves is biased to the status quo when the world has moved on from self-serving rationalizations.

      2. Henry,

        Thank you, it’s alway hilarious to read erudite justifications for mobs’ actions. All that democracy stuff is so old-fashioned in our New America. As the violence spreads – since it works – you can give more justifications for each step. You’ll be busy.

        Esp. With mobs destroying statues of Spanish explorers and monks, Christopher Columbus, Kit Carson, Alexander Andreyevich Baranov, Jesus Christ, the Texas Rangers, and many 20th century figures now deemed politically incorrect.

        “Was there honor in fighting to subjugate humans?”

        Bad news for you, Henry. History is mostly a series of struggles to subjugate “humans” (and animals, for which you might be held accountable by future generations). Although our Leftist have raised a generation ignorant of the ubiquity of slavery -including among most indigenous peoples.

        That there is progress means that the past isn’t up to our standards. Apologists for tyranny, like you, approve of vandalizing remnants of the past (an endlessly expanding process) so that everything meets our standards. It’s a powerful tool of social control, esp when enforced by mobs.

        “Is American military service honorable in defending and expanding Empire?”

        It’s a sign of a rant when such things are thrown into the mix. I’m sure you feel yourself able to makes such moral judgements for the rest of us. Please excuse the rest of us if we fight against mobs seeking to impose them on us.

      3. John F Pittman

        Henry: The animal, that man had to domesticate first, was himself. We are still working on the job.

        At this point, those showing the behavior of wild animals are the violent Left and Right. The numbers, at present, are on the Left, as are the number of actions. It is not a matter of supporting the status quo. “Just what is the world moving on to?” is what we are pondering and discussing.

      4. John,

        “At this point, those showing the behavior of wild animals are the violent Left and Right.”

        Mobs are people. Mob behavior is a natural and common behavior of people. Properly managed – as the Left is doing today – mobs are proven and often-used political tool.

        Mobs excited about political issues are seldom “wild”. Rather they are domesticate folk, carefully shepherded against politically useful targets.

        Such misunderstandings lead to surprise at inevitable outcomes.

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  2. By oblique implication, Henry came very close to calling our host ‘racist’ in a typically woke shaming attempt that only served to prove Larry’s point about the dangers of neologism.

    For once the final remnants of Civil War Era honor culture have been completely discredited & discarded, so go the associated concepts of honesty, integrity, justice, decency, virtue & rule obedience.

    It’s the equivalent of defunding the police or killing god, this invalidation of the existing rule set that the woke mistake for a tactical advantage.

    But, it’s a fatal error, mostly because the woke tend to assume that the discarded rule set will still protect them when it will not.

    Or, do I have explain what the term ‘no rules’ really means?

    1. Recidivist,

      “it’s a fatal error, mostly because the woke tend to assume that the discarded rule set will still protect them when it will not.”

      That’s an important point, made best in “A Man for All Seasons” by Robert Bolt (play 1960; film 1966).

      Alice: While you talk, he’s gone!

      More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

      Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

      More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

      Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

      More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you are just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

      But there is an exception. The Left plans to win, after which they will make (and enforce) new rules.

    2. Talk about Orwell, this comment is re-imagined history gold. To think that honesty, integrity, justice, “decency,” and virtue in America comes from “civil war era honor culture” is insane. These may be the most basic and universal human values and concepts, there’s no need to assign them to any era that you’re nostalgic for.

      Democracy is gone / statues – great let the people of the city vote directly on it. No, most don’t want statues paid for by the sisters of the confederacy to humiliate former slaves in their town. Usually statues commemorate great people, to see someone who historically called for your subjugation literally idolized is, let’s say, not good for social cohesion. Any decent, honorable, virtuous person would do the just thing by their fellow American and see confederate statues removed. As for the other statues, mobs are mobs. Don’t let things get to this point in the first place. It doesn’t invalidate the very real and just reasons for wanting a slaver in an action pose removed from a city center.

  3. Orwell’s piece, Politics and the English Language, is great. It could have been written last week. Its eerie how many of the examples, made up 70 years ago, read like they could have been from recent publications. It really is essential reading for today, as much as or more than when it was written.

    1. Randolorian,

      “Something tells me they haven’t really thought through the implications of what they’re saying…”

      Why do you say that? The leaders of these mobs are quite clear. The US government is illegitimate – corrupt since its founding – and they intend to replace it. That’s war.

      Of course, they also say that using force against the mobs is illegitmate. But propaganda is an essential tool of war, useful because it works.

  4. Regardless of who is using word corruption more, the result for those of us trying to make out what’s going on is that we can’t trust any media output, and what we as a nation collectively consider our understanding of reality fractures. I see Russel conjugation from one end of the media spectrum to the other, and it gets tiring translating and taking windage to guess what really happened.

    While the left are harnessing the energy of the mob to the nation’s harm, the number one corrupter of language and debasement of public discourse is President Trump.

  5. Larry, its time we heard from you again! Watching bits of the conventions with a dismay I am sure you share. Lets have your thoughts!

    This is written hoping nothing more serious than discouragement is stopping you, and that you don’t have problems in your life or health…

  6. I’ll second that thought and feeling Henrik.

    After 10 days of choking on smoke I am ready for some clean air when I go outside. The Air Washer takes care of our indoor air. I am missing Larry’s insights as they help clean out some of the kaka that have set up residence in my mind.

  7. Larry, are you OK? Don’t want to intrude if things are difficult, but I think quite a few will be concerned, if you could find time to post a few lines it would be nice.

  8. I disagree that one could print Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and it be understood today. Most anyone under 40 could not understand the language used as English.

    1. Phil,

      That’s an incisive point. The Hemingway Editor gives the opening 2 paragraphs a grade level of 13 – vs the usually recommended level of 9 for a mass audience.

      I’ve written about this a few times. Contrast one of our political debates on TV with the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Would many Americans have much interest in speeches of such length and complexity? How many people could even understand them?

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