Thursday, June 1, 2017

The First Responsibility of Liberalism

To preserve the meaning of words is the first responsibility of liberalism.

–Daniel Patrick Moynihan


G. Verloren said...

"To preserve the meaning of words is the first responsibility of liberalism."

You can't preserve the meaning of words. Language is constantly changing and evolving. Even the people who have tried to control their language, like the French, have failed in the face of organic linguistic growth.

Language isn't what matters in the end. Communicating clearly is, and upholding the truth is. If the specific language used changes, but people still understand each other and fact is still upheld over fiction, that's what's important.

I don't know how a career sociologist like Moynihan can get that so wrong, particularly when a bunch of television writers for a campy 1990s science fiction show managed to get it so right.

"The first duty of every Star Fleet officer is to the truth. Whether it is scientific truth, or historical truth, or personal truth. It is the guiding principle on which Star Fleet is based. And if you can't find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don't deserve to wear that uniform." ~ Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

Replace "Star Fleet officer" with "liberal", and "Star Fleet" with "Liberalism", and you get a far more apt and meaningful commentary on the philosophy than Moynihan seems to offer.

John said...

Moynihan was writing in the context of totalitarianism, and like many other thinkers he found the totalitarian habit of reversing the meaning of words to be its most insidious long-term threat. By co-opting words like freedom and revolution and changing their meanings, they hoped to make serious threats to their regimes impossible because inconceivable. Many people who actually lived under Stalinist regimes ended up believing this.

szopen said...

Hear, hear!

Also, what John have said. It was and it is a practice, when someone co-opts the word for slightly different or even totally different meaning. Natural evolution of language is one thing, but this conscious practice of changing word meaning in order to advance political goals is another thing.