Monthly Archives: January 2013

Language and the Progressive


If it is true that government is at best a necessary evil, then the state ought to be regarded with a wary eye and, likewise, any political party or philosophy that seeks to elevate the state to a position of esteem. And yet, rather than with suspicion, the Progressive confers upon the state a role of immense honor and importance, attributing to it almost salvific powers by which he hopes society’s ills might be cured. Like the Israelites, who pleaded with God to give them a king that they might be “like all the nations”, the Left receives with open arms the ever-encroaching intrusions of the state. But God did not give the Israelites a king as a blessing, but, granting their incessant pleas, as a curse upon their foolishness; and for which they suffered immensely. The state, on the Progressive view, is not merely the reluctant by-product of flawed men, but almost a philanthropic entity all its own – it is not a government but The Government. “Once abolish the God,” wrote Chesterton, “and the state becomes the God.” Indeed, rather than consider some transcendent Authority, acknowledging with humility the inevitable tendency of all men towards a very real moral corruption in positions of power, the Progressive will in nearly every instance exhaust himself in defense of the state, often to the point of absurdity. Take, for example, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews’ likening of the President’s recent divisive inaugural address to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; or, worse, the ease with which the President’s extraordinarily massive and irresponsible spending has been consistently overlooked and explained away, the blame often being placed on the shoulders of his predecessor. Such examples are innumerable and can be obtained fresh from any cursory viewing of the evening news.

Desiring to make his political and moral infractions more palatable to those forced to abide by his decrees, and effectively providing for his would-be defenders a more plausible ground by which to make their case, a politician need only become an expert in Orwellian doublespeak. (The chicken-and-egg question of whether excellent doublespeakers tend to become politicians or vice versa is a sociological question I shall not attempt to untangle.) So long as the language is appropriately tailored to circumvent the conscience, placing the appropriate emphasis on the absolute necessity of a piece of legislation to secure safety or health or prosperity or some other such collective good, there is no absurd or immoral policy which cannot be foist upon the citizenry. For example, it is very easy to sell such a concept as infanticide ­– one need only call an unborn child by a different name ­– a “fetus” – and proponents of the practice “Pro-Choice”; for who would dare oppose a person’s freedom to choose? Convincing a person to surrender his arms is equally as simple – gun-control need only be referred to matter-of-factly as “reducing gun violence”; for who would dare voice opposition to such a proposition? Forcibly taking a man’s money in order to give it to another need only be called “charity”; for surely none of us wishes to be thought miserly? The very term “Progressive” is itself exemplary of an attempt to rebrand old ideas.

Insofar as it concerns the passage of legislation or the attempt to persuade large groups to adopt some particular idea, the master of rhetoric need not be a master of anything else. Though the term “progressive” would seem on its face to suggest otherwise, this is not a new phenomenon. As Plato aptly observed, “In politics we presume that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state. When we are ill… we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one.” The use of language as propaganda is by no means solely a Leftist tactic, but one used by anyone seeking to circumvent the trouble of engaging with detractors. It is the Left, however, that has operated primarily and consistently by a very astute method of language co-option; and it is quite clear that if one is able to demonize his opponents, shaming them into silence, one need not go through the troublesome task of addressing and refuting arguments. Expressing dissent on matters of Progressive policy involving the legalization of gay marriage, entitlement programs, gun-control, and global warming (now, more flexibly, “climate change”) is tantamount to labeling oneself a hateful, miserly, cruel, uncaring, ignorant, “unbelievably stupid” (thank you, Mr. Morgan), child-hating, bigot. It is, unfortunately, a tactic as effective as it is fallacious.

The reason for this apparent tactical difference that seems generally to occur between Conservatives and Progressives is due simply to the fact that the advancement of Progressive goals requires the sale of a host of ideas that often defy reason or conscience (or the Constitution). For example, inclusion among the American Progressive ranks evidently requires that one promote state-funded infanticide, high taxes, federally-controlled (mandated) healthcare, and other such programs which could not be advanced or maintained without the prodigious use of smoke and mirrors to obfuscate from the public eye their many unpleasant aspects.

But the difference between Conservatives and Progressives can perhaps be observed most simply in how each regards the people – those under the domain of the state. Conservatives regard people in an optimistic light, generally believing that people are trustworthy, well-intentioned, astute, ingenious, and capable. The Conservative case for a small central government is erected upon the notion that people ought to possess the freedom to choose what is best for themselves, that the securing of liberty is morally and practically superior to any system that involves reaching into every corner of a man’s life and pocketbook. In stark contrast, rather than as a group of individuals, Progressives tend to view people as a collective mass that requires controlling, herding, restricting, whose hands need and ought to be held at every opportunity. The common man has value, but only when considered as a part of the collective whole. Liberty, on the Progressive view, is only the smattering of crumbs left over after the state has gobbled up the many freedoms it deems necessary to sufficiently control what it regards to be a largely ignorant and volatile populace. Rather than a transcendent principle to be secured, Progressive “liberty” is instead condescendingly granted by the state; rights are demoted to privileges.

The rhetorician has reached the height of his craft when he finds it effortless to say certain words and alter their arrangement and context slightly such that he means something quite different from the way in which they are normally understood. It is precisely an understanding of this keen ability that will explain how President Obama can do everything in his limited power to effectively neuter the Second Amendment, while simultaneously proclaiming his affirmation of it; how he can use words like “together” and “collective” and at the same time, under a façade of unity, deliberately slight swathes of those by whom he is employed. In Progressive hands it is only the language of the Constitution that remains – its meaning and intent is reversed, or at least severely disfigured; and it is by way of such semantic disfigurement, as well as ceaseless appeals to emotion, that Progressives seek to convince us of the state’s beneficence and efficacy, implying that we ought to put our trust in an elite few, bowing low to kiss the rings on the state’s compassionate hand.

It is not self-evident truths that must be couched in the vagueness of language, but only those ideas in which lurks something foul. A people may be led happily to their destruction so long as they are capable of taking the state at its word; but a simple question, uttered firmly and persistently, would undoubtedly be the undoing of the Progressive movement: “What do you mean by that?”

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