Monday, August 15, 2005

What's In A Name?

Having just gotten finished with Ron Chernow's epic biography of Alexander Hamilton, I was struck by the vitriolic divisions in American politics early into George Washington's first administration; alas, they were much more splenetic and more violent than I had originally thought. As I've written in past postings, the Founding Fathers really didn't like each other very much. Despite being somewhat ideologically sympatico, Adams loathed Hamilton, which was probably the result of Hamilton's superior political talents, as well as the fact that Hamilton was, without a doubt, Washington's favorite subordinate. Adams hatred for Hamilton was personal, but Jefferson's hatred of Hamilton was both personal and ideological (as was Hamilton's for Jefferson's). The ideological division between the Hamiltonians, who favored strong central government with superior legal authority over states, and Jeffersonians, who favored weak central government with strong state government influence, led to the two party system we now have today. But what of their titles? For the Jeffersonians, they picked the name "republicans", which was picked for the purpose of semantically boxing-in the Hamiltonians and affixing in people's minds that the Hamiltonians were monarchists and for aristocratic rule, since they weren't "Republicans". Well, they were all republicans, they just had different views of republican government. Mind you, in the days following the American Revolution, the worst type of ideologue you could be was a monarchist, therefore, if you're not a republican, if would naturally follow that you're a monarchist. That was the point. The title of the party was a declaration of war, with words as the weapons. The Hamiltonians became Federalists, a title which prior to its assumption by the Hamiltonians actually meant a loose confederation of states. However, when Hamiltonians co-opted the term, it came to mean dominant federal authority. The title of the new-born political party came to mean the opposite of its original, intended meaning.

Today we have two major parties, Democrat and Republican. They're not entirely honest names for them, either. A Democrat, of course, subscribes to the concept of republican government, which by definition is rule by a non-monarch. A Republican, of course, subscribes to the concept of democracy and thus could ingenuously be called a democrat. (Although the Left can't stop calling them fascists, but I digress...) But the titles of these parties do not successfully denote what they stand for. The titles of British political parties are much more honest and self-explanatory: Conservative and Labour. Labour is for labour, the working folks, and Conservative are for a slow implementation of reform when needed, and if not needed no reform necessary. Even the term "liberal" isn't really an honest political term anymore. It now means one who is a quasi-socialist, a peacenik, and inevitably, one who calls conservatives "fascists". 'Twas not always so. Liberal, in the original sense of the word, means one is open to new ideas, new concepts, and an exploration of a wide range of alternatives to battle social ills. Unfortunately, a liberal in today's sense of the word typically is dogmatic, close-minded, and more times than not, noxious and hateful of anything that is not socialist or pacifist. (Just ask Michael Moore.) Conversely, conservatives are still conservatives: they're still reactionary in most matters, some seriously religious (although I don't come across those types in these parts), mostly hostile to social engineering and the de-stigmatization of taboos. Fairly consistent with the original meaning. Then there's neo-conservatives, who essentially are for social engineering but through private (as opposed to governmental) means. They're for pro-active nation building, by force if necessary. They've essentially co-opted Harry Truman's foreign policy. Progressives, on the other hand, can be classified as somewhat reactionary. They're still touting the same socialist prescriptions for the nation's and world's woes. And they're stuck having to defend the status quo of socialist programs that already exist in this country from the neo-cons. And how can one be a "new" conservative? Is that not in essence an oxymoron? And what is so "progressive" about defending old socialist programs, most of which have already been implemented, or have been tried and failed already? Language has been co-opted, twisted, and re-assigned new meanings, while the original meanings have been bleached. Orwell warned about this stuff in Politics and the English Language.

A neighbor that lives across the street from my father has a son who became a priest. I happened to have witnessed an interesting conversation between his brother-in-law and him. The question was a simple one: why does the Vatican still speak Latin? The answer was one I'd never thought of, but made perfect sense. It went something like this, "In popular culture, hot becomes cool, cool becomes hot, and essentially the words, which are opposite of one another, become the same. Latin is a dead language save the Vatican, so the meanings of the words never change. 'Hot' in Latin will always mean hot, and 'cool' will always mean cool." As for me, I'm still trying to figure out how they came up with the term "home economics" to describe a curriculum class that essentially teaches you how to bake a cake.

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