Salvo 06.24.2020

The Terms of Our Defeat

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How the left usurped our language—and the Right let it happen.

Not to be outdone by stampeding woke corporations desperate to appease the radical Left, Merriam-Webster announced this month that they will alter their definition of racism to include “systematic racism.” This decision was taken after a campaign by Kennedy Mitchum, a 22-year-old Drake University graduate, who wrote: “Racism is not only prejudice against a certain race due to the color of a person’s skin, as it states in your dictionary. It is both prejudice combined with social and institutional power. It is a system of advantage based on skin color.”

While the notion that racism is inherently tied to power is nothing new, the decision to embrace this definition formally in a bid to quell the Leftist mob stands as a warning of a far greater threat. While conservatives are sporadically distracted by other key ideological firefights—pausing at odd intervals to wring our hands over the Left’s domination of entertainment, education, and media of every kind—we are in danger of completely ignoring the most important fight of all: the fight for our language.

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

These words, written by George Orwell in 1984, are depressingly relevant. The Left’s fundamental goal is to take ownership of our very language and so constrict our ability to counter their flawed ideas. When you control the very meaning of words, you control the subjects these words are used to describe and explore. In simplistic terms, by controlling our lexicon, the Left control the terms of our every debate.

The pattern here is the restriction of thought under the guise of expanding the breadth of language. Including “systematic racism” under the definition of racism may seem more comprehensive, even if does foster an absurd circularity of meaning. But in reality the Left’s clear objective is not to expand our understanding but to restrict racism within the confines of the intersectional hierarchy, effectively reserving the label of racism only for the “powerful” while absolving the “powerless” of any such judgement. The result is the disregard of clear racism from anyone who isn’t a white male.

Words into Weapons

After all, by their lights, words mean whatever those in power “get to” say they mean. That false logic is how the Left has achieved such outsized ideological victories over and over again. In some cases, complex issues are lazily diluted to the point at which they seem axiomatic, such as when they sidestep the philosophical debate surrounding the definition of life with the slogan “my body, my choice.” Or when they reject fundamental scientific truths (and most kinds of feminism in the process) with the claim that “women can be men and men can be women.” Or dismiss intricate debates regarding religious freedom beneath the banner of “love is love.”

In other cases, unanimous positions such as the abhorrence of sexism, racism, or violence are weaponized through the use of intentionally vague and vacuous language, so that those who question the language used to describe the conclusion are mischaracterized as questioning the unanimous premise. The result: refusal to accept the existence of systematic racism without question is proof of racism. Identification of “Believe All Women” as a sexist phrase is proof of sexism. And rejection of the false premise underpinning phrases such as “protect children not guns” is proof of support for gun violence.

The reason the Left uses the synthetic mutation of language as a Trojan horse for the dissemination of “progressivism” is that they have discovered its proven efficacy. Conservatives love to repeat Andrew Breitbart’s famous quote, “politics is downstream of culture.” But they completely ignore this basic fact of culture: language is the boat with which ideas are able to travel. We have failed to protect this crucial portion of our cultural heritage.

As a result, the Left are able—quite unchallenged—to achieve their goal of altering societal attitudes without the use of factual or logical arguments. Whether through naivety, ineptitude, or disinterest, conservatives have failed to counter the careful and targeted use of such linguistic tools and allowed the Left to grasp control of our cultural—and therefore political—narrative.

As a result, our traditional systems of power are being overridden and overtaken by this strategy of linguistic manipulation. After generations of letting reality be altered in a politically motivated manner, it will become increasingly difficult for us to turn the tide. Cultural influence will continue to bleed into political power until the two are indistinguishable and, more worryingly, inseparable.

The eventual result will be the full entrenchment of assumed “truths” into our very language, shrouding us in an ideological veil from which there will be no escape. For those who seek such political domination, the path of least resistance is provided by a compliant populace who voluntarily and unwittingly surrender the ability to debate, question, and explore ideas. After all, winning a game becomes trivial if you are also the referee.

Speak the Truth, Save the Truth

The core mistake underpinning the failure of the American Right to defend against this war on language is the refusal to acknowledge the links between language, culture, and politics. Many conservatives still believe that they can change culture through the noble pursuit and promotion of ideological principles. The American Left understands that they can pursue and promote their ideological principles by molding our language and culture to epitomize those principles.

While conservatives engage in necessary but irrelevant debates over the devilish details which lie beneath the idealistic naivety of “progressive” policies, they remain blind to the fact that the Left understand this crucial point: legislation is the final and redundant step taken when the victory has already been won.

We must understand that the key battle against the Left’s myopic dystopia is being fought over our very words, and we can no longer avoid entering the “culture war” if we hope to emerge victorious. This doesn’t mean resorting to lazy political tactics, pandering hackery, or abandoning our propensity to remain rooted in factual reality. It does mean, however, returning to the battles we have foolishly decided not to fight, taking a stand when the Left assumes control of the narrative, and refusing to remain timid in the face of cynicism and malevolence when standing for what is true against what is false.

If we fail to insert conservative voices into the currently undefended areas of American life, the only words on our screens, in our books, or in our mouths will be the ones crafted by Leftist minds. If we fail, conservatives will have no one to blame but themselves for allowing our world to descend to the point where up is down, wrong is right, and racism isn’t always racist.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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