One of my constant complaints–one that undoubtedly gets tiresome–is that the words we use in political discourse no longer mean what they used to. Or for that matter, much of anything.
Thanks to Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, “liberal”–which used to refer to 18th Century libertarian Enlightenment thinkers and later was used to mean “open minded”– was twisted into an epithet and replaced by “progressive.” (“Progressive” gets applied to pretty much anyone who doesn’t hate government and gay people, and send racist emails.)
I used to consider myself something of a cross between an Eighteenth-Century liberal and an Edmund Burke conservative, back before the term “conservative” didn’t call up the image of an angry old white guy in a tricorner hat demanding the return of “his” country. So I was nostalgic reading this recent post about Burke by Andrew Sullivan. I really encourage you to read it in its entirety, but here’s a taste:
For a conservative should not be implacably hostile to liberalism (let alone demonize it), but should be alert to its insights, and deeply aware of the need to change laws and government in response to unstoppable change in human society. Equally, a liberal can learn a lot from conservatism’s doubts about utopia, from the conservative concern with history, tradition and the centrality of culture in making human beings, and from conservatism’s love and enjoyment of the world as-it-is, even as it challenges the statesman or woman to nudge it toward the future. The goal should not be some new country or a new world order or even a return to a pristine past that never existed: but to adapt to necessary social and cultural change by trying as hard as one can to make it coherent with what the country has long been; to recognize, as Orwell did, that a country, even if it is to change quite markedly, should always be trying somehow to remain the same.
This means a true conservative – who is, above all, an anti-ideologue – will often be attacked for alleged inconsistency, for changing positions, for promising change but not a radical break with the past, for pursuing two objectives – like liberty and authority, or change and continuity – that seem to all ideologues as completely contradictory.
I miss the days when labels had content.
7 thoughts on “The Death of Language….”
The recent hagiographies of Burke tend to overlook that his conception of an intellectual conservatism is as utopian — if not more utopian — than any of the liberal* dreams that he criticizes.
That goes double for Andrew Sullivan, who wants to acknowledge and channel the “sub-rational parts” of humanity, as long as he doesn’t have to mix with those tea-party/John Birch types who have — and always have — served as part of the core population of conservatives.
* in the Burkean sense of the word, of course.
Don’t worry about labels. Right now we need to worry about efforts to redefine core words, like Sarah Palin’s effort to redefine “slavery”.
That association with liberals/progressives and ideologues is really bizarre to me, because I perceive conservatives as ideologues, rather than the other way around. In fact that whole last paragraph:
That sounds to me like what I would consider a liberal. I certainly don’t believe we’ll ever achieve anything approaching a utopia, and that doesn’t seem like it should even be a goal. But recognizing that “what the country has long been” can be filled with unacceptable flaws doesn’t seem like a demand for perfection; rather an acknowledgement that there’s room for improvement.
That sounds to me like what I would consider a liberal.
And that’s how Andrew Sullivan works: He describes what liberals are actually like and ascribes that to himself and the few other cons who aren’t slobbering sister-humpers, and asks why, oh why, oh WHY can’t those damned Dirty Frelling Hippies be like that, and why, oh why, oh WHY can’t we have some Magical Third Party for the just-like-him totally-not-a-conservative-but-no-I’m-not-some-dirty-hippie-liberal folks?
Free tip, Andy: We have that party. They’re called the Democratic Party. You might have heard of them during those decades you spent bashing them every day on behalf of the Bus Full of Klansmen and Torquemadas we call the modern Republic party, the bus you rode on for 11/12ths of your adult politcial career before you looked around, saw you were surrounded by Klansmen and Torquemadas, and jukped off while denying you were ever a passenger on their bus.
This angry interlude brought to you by driftglass, who would have written it better than I did and maybe not stolen all his phrases from, uh, himself.
Okay, and even mildly relative links don’t work properly here. Please to be fixing, thanks.
No matter what word or terminology you use to express whatever message you are trying to impart to others; remember to print it carefully so that future generations will be able to read it. With cursive being removed from schools, it may appear to be a foreign language to them. Then again, by the time future generations are reading these messages, meanings will probably have changed. Some old friends and a few family members were not implacably hostile to me, considering me to be a liberal, they just cut me out of their lives. One did verge on demonizing me when I tried to explain (using carefully researched information) that President Obama is not a Muslim; she did become rather hostile when I tried to explain that he was born in America and is thereby an American citizen. There is the staunch Republican, gay, Catholic former friend who couldn’t believe I agreed with the death penalty when I am a libera, refusing to believe I WAS an Independent. He is a college graduate and retired from Michigan University Administration; he decided that due to our political differences our friendship needed a hiatus – that was 7 years ago and I haven’t heard from him since. If a college grad and former administrator doesn’t know the meaning of the word “hiatus”, this doesn’t bode well for the survival of language on any level.
Reconcile your belief in the death penalty with the actions of the Gov of Ill who commuted all sentencs in his state, Jo.
Comments are closed.