Apropos Austrian Aphorisms

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Language: The toothpick of politics

Language in the course of politics today is like a toothpick—it is forever being used to clean the people of ugly little blemishes that would otherwise keep them from smiling. For example, take the recent buyout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. What would have been before called nationalization was instead titled a conservatorship. For another example, look at the proposed $700bn 'solution' to the current 'financial crisis'. What was first, aptly, titled a bailout is now being termed a rescue plan. And we can go back further to when Ron Paul's foreign policy was denounced as isolationist when the popular energy policies of John McCain and Barack Obama is called independence.

The reason for these changes, as I said, is to keep the public a little more in the dark about certain matters. If the clean labels of conservatorship, rescue plan, and independence were replaced with their 'dirty cousins' then the public would be a little wiser, a little more hesitant about proposed policy. Despite no official language existing in the United States, it is clear one language—the government's—is far and away the number one language.

I remember a discussion in one of my linguistics classes about how language is shaped and changes. Where do new words come from? This is certainly a relevant question for a country that has no official language or Bureau of Language. The answer in the discussion was that words are introduced and spread through dictionaries, teachers, and, as Hayek would term them, intellectuals. Perhaps politics was one but I cannot remember. Yet it is clear today that the government and a lapdog media are the purveyors of the correct speech. As with anything and the government, language should be separate from government.

This is nothing new, though. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Garet Garrett wrote about the assumption of isolationism as a pejorative when he wrote 'The Revolution Was'. And as someone said in a reply, maybe I should look into how words that were previously used, such as 'The People', are no longer used and instead replaced by supposedly better words and ideas, such as 'The Nation'. I've been thinking more and more about this, especially after just reading Ronald Hamowy's essay on Mises.org, 'Some Comments on the Rhetoric of the Environmental Movement'. The topic of language in relation to its political use is something that has always interested me about the Austrian school. Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell are just a couple of authors among many Austrians who are always good at noting political changes in words. Because I studied rhetoric in college, I'm also always curious how rhetoric itself is now a pejorative for 'empty political talk'.

So whether there's an interest in this subject, I'm going to look further into the relationship between language and government. I can already envision a book that details linguistic changes by the government for its power and benefit: a libertarian examination of the damaging effects when governmental mouths speak. I just think of H.L. Mencken's investigation of language, 'The American Language', and I think of how the chasm between British and American English somewhat developed as an American antithesis to British rule. I shall delve deeper.

I would love to read and hear any comments any of you have on this matter and if it is at all widely interesting.


Published Sat, Sep 27 2008 9:05 AM by thedo
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