This is a guest post from FJ Rocca. While not exactly about education, those of us in the classroom play a role in how students understand and use language. The ideas in the piece definitely apply to the history classroom.
In a civilized, authentically free society, the dangers of the disintegration and corruption of language are sometimes treated as curiosities or they are overlooked completely. But the dangers are serious, because language must be stable to ensure the exchange of ideas. Communication is a fundamental necessity if free people are to guard against encroachments upon their freedom. But over the past hundred years, and especially in recent decades, political philosophers and their pragmatic goons, the politicians, have often deliberately if gradually subverted the meanings of certain key words in our language which are vital to discourse. This has been done for the express purpose of changing the understanding of those concepts, and thus to fool people into believing what they want people to believe, not the truth, but a semblance of it, which is wholly or partially false. Politicians do this in order to promote ideas and ultimately to enact laws that will give them more power, whether it is the power of the academy or of government, and they know that without the corruption of certain words and the concepts behind them, intelligent people will find these ideas and laws unpalatable and will reject them. Therefore, the corruption of these vital concepts is done so slyly and gradually as to go nearly unnoticed, thus introducing confusion and encouraging needless time-wasting debate over fundamentals. In this way, actual changes to society can be made apace without objection because the changes will not be noticed.
The most dangerous and damaging of these conceptual changes is the corruption of the terms “freedom” and “liberty.” Clearly and simply defined, freedom and liberty mean the lack of encumbrance. In a free society, the greatest encumbrance is the entity which has the power to restrict freedom and to interfere with one’s life, namely, government. Therefore, we Americans often invoke the maxim quoted by Thoreau and wrongly attributed to Jefferson, but which was actually the creation of American journalist and editor John Louis O’Sullivan, that a government is best which governs least.
In our country, we have a constitution, the purpose of which is to protect each and every individual citizen from the intrusion of government. In a true, free republic, the government may act ONLY to protect each and every individual citizen’s liberty and freedom and to guarantee the unalienable rights of each and every one of those individual citizens, those rights having been granted to him and her not by government, but by their “creator,” whoever or whatever that may be. Moreover, it does not matter who or what created those citizens and gave them life, because they exist and, while who or what made them exist is open to conjecture, the fact of their existence is NOT. And it is by their very existence that those unalienable rights exist.
Originally, the term liberal meant some person or principle dedicated to the unalienable rights of each individual human being in a society. This concept came to be during the Enlightenment when people desiring freedom wanted liberation from the yoke of tyranny, from whatever form that tyranny had taken, whether by Royalty, by dictatorship or by religion. Europeans, imbued with the urgency of liberation, came to the New World seeking freedom. But, gradually those seeking control over governments, for profit or for power, began to overtake the concept of liberalism. They began applying the concept of freedom and liberty inaccurately, until the definitions of freedom and liberty described the opposite of the original and authentic meanings of those terms.
The real meaning of freedom is the lack of restriction; therefore, there cannot be a “freedom” which gives something to someone. For example, there cannot be a “freedom from want” because guaranteeing to provide goods or services to “free” someone from “want” does not mean freedom from restriction. If anything, want is the normal state of human beings and creates their greatest motivation, the urge to find legitimate ways to survive and better their lot. Freedom from prejudice does not exist either, because such “freedom” restricts the right of people to think or feel however they wish, regardless of the feelings of others. So long as no one acts on his or her prejudice, by violating another person’s rights, there can be no violation of anyone’s freedom.
Franklyn Delano Roosevelt arrogantly proclaimed and presumed to guarantee to Americans what he called the Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom of Religion and Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. The first two were already and continue to be guaranteed not by Roosevelt, who was a politician, but by our Constitution, the irrevocable document by which our government exists. The second two, even by their grammar in the use of from, are illegitimate. No one can guarantee that fear will not encumber anyone’s thoughts. And what Roosevelt falsely called freedom from want can only be achieved by seizing property from some and giving it away to others, chosen by the government.
What is really intended by the assertion of these falsely defined “freedoms” is the imposition of restriction or encumbrance on some people in order to provide something for other people. Thus, these definitions of freedom do not free anyone, but, in reality, they abrogate freedom of those from whom they take. Nor are the recipients of what is taken free either. Government does not produce wealth. It can only have wealth if it seizes wealth from someone. It is naïve to think that recipients of the wealth of others are free to do whatever they like, because their wealth is also to be taken for yet those others requiring some kind of “freedom.”
The Socialists have adopted and adapted the use of these terms to say that society in general should be free of the restriction of the needs, desires, wants, hopes, etc. of individuals where the needs, desires, wants, hopes, etc. of society at large should predominate. And, of course, the government would be the arbiter in such cases, deciding who should get what and be treated in what way. This is the exact opposite of the purpose freedom and of a constitution which guarantees freedom in an authentically free society.
In relation to all of this, the definition of government itself is often purposely skewed, in order to keep people from rebelling against it. This is to say that the people are the government. It is true that in a free society, the people at large are supposed to be able to control government. We are often reminded that we have the vote, which is supposed to encapsulate the people’s power, enabling the people to choose representatives who will make decisions about the scope and power of “our” government. But it is foolish to believe that “we the people” are governing ourselves directly. We are actually governed by those other people in whom we have invested the power to use government to control and govern us. Presumably, we are protected from the encroachments of government, i.e., from those other people who are governing us, by laws which are supposed to be derived from the constitution and guarantee our liberty. But the power to make laws to protect us is also the power to make laws that subvert and erode our freedom. And those lawmakers rarely speak out in their own names, but invoke the term “government” equating political power with an art.
George Washington, arguably our first, most capable leader, said that “government is not reason or eloquence. It is force, and, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a cruel master.” He was right. In a free society, the people need only as much or as little government as it can manage.
FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.