Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Lost words

There are things we can’t say concisely and with sufficient emphasis because too many words have been softened by political familiarity.

A good word for authoritarian politics is one we could do with as a matter of some urgency. We have communist, Marxist, Stalinist, Maoist, fascist and one or two others but we already know them to be inadequate. They fail to capture the acute political danger of centralising all decisions. They fail to get behind the fluffy velvet glove.

Communist and Marxist have been shorn of their terrors by cartloads of fellow travellers infesting western politics and academia. Somehow, the human horror of killing innocent people by the millions has left no seriously indelible mark on our language. How convenient that is for modern central planners - but surely not a healthy situation for the rest of us.

As for Stalinist and Maoist I think the same problem applies. Many people of a certain age once knew self-professed Maoists and comfortable middle class faux radicals with Soviet sympathies. They were those for whom Stalin and Mao were no more than over-enthusiastic in their ruthless application of industrial scale murder.

As for fascist, it has evolved into little more than a term of abuse, although very often it is all we have. So we drift towards a kind of soft fascism because even our language has betrayal woven into its threadbare and endlessly ameliorative fabric.

What else can one say – without better words?

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Sackerson said...

I've often thought of providing some commenters with a sheet of sticky labels they can put on me, saves them the pretence of thinking.

The Arthurian said...

I was thinking, in the phrase "Stalinist and Maoist" maybe the problem isn't the "Stalin" and the "Mao" but the "ist".

... goes to what you said about labels.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - surely that would be too labelist.

Arthurian - you may be right. I don't really like "ists" applied to people, but applied to policies and ideas it isn't so bad.

The point I'm trying to make is that extremely toxic political trends can be virtually neutered by language.