I originally wrote this on August 14, 2004, just after the Democrat Party National Convention just before the 2004 Presidential election. I was prompted to post it by this similar essay on the Campaign for Liberty website: http://www.campaignforliberty.com/article.php?view=461. -Publius.
Last weekend I read a syndicated column in the Baltimore Sun written by a chap named James Bovard (“Protests Pre-Empted”, August 6, 2004). He is author of a book entitled, The Bush Betrayal, and at first glance, perhaps not someone with whom I would have much common political ground (until I learned reading the blurb of his book in Barnes and Nobles today that his book is a criticism of G.W. Bush from the right, and from that direction there is plenty of room to criticize…). But his column got me thinking. He was talking about the designated protest areas at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. I must admit when I first saw the news reports of these fenced off areas for protesters, I was a little concerned. But it was the Democrats, and the party itself was not complaining about the security or calling the Dept. of Homeland Security heavy-handed. The news reporters were nonplussed in their coverage of it and I let it go by as an unfortunate but necessary measure in a post-9/11 world…
It wasn’t until I read Mr. Bovard’s column that I began to re-think the issue. I learned from Mr. Bovard that the areas were called “free speech zones.” More than the existence of these extra security measures for the first post-9/11 political conventions (I think everyone acknowledges that finding the right balance between liberty and security after 9/11 is going to be a process of trial and error), I was upset by the name. How can they call a fenced in area, the sole purpose of which is to restrict protest a “free speech zone?” This reeks of Orwellian Newspeak. Orwell understood well the importance of language control in thought control and in 1984, introduced us to the principle of Newspeak. In Orwell’s totalitarian regime, WAR IS PEACE, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, and FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. Many words mean their opposite: The War Department is the Ministry of Peace. The secret police that enforce, through suppression and torture, the political orthodoxy work for the Ministry of Love. In Boston last month, zones restricting protest were called, “free speech zones,” and instead of having an anti-terrorism bill after 9/11, we have a PATRIOT Act, implying that criticism is unpatriotic (On the surface, I think the bill is a responsible one. Some of the provisions make good common sense, like issuing wiretap warrants for individuals, not specific land-lines. Most of the provisions are identical to ones proposed by President Clinton in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. Further, taking the UK example, the provisions expire, so that provisions that are ineffective, or oppressive will be up for review by Congress. It is a responsible bill, but irresponsibly named).
At the end of Orwell’s novel there is an appendix explaining Newspeak:
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium
of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to
devotees of IngSoc [English Socialism], but to make all other
modes of thought impossible.
Orwell further explains that, “This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words…” In other words the goal of Newspeak is to indirectly control thought by controlling the medium through which thoughts are expressed. This is done insidiously, not by restricting access to airwaves or publishing (although in the novel Big Brother did that too), but by restricting the actual language that is used for expression. In the end, “the expression of unorthodox opinions…was…impossible…” Such opinions, “…could not have been sustained by a reasoned argument, because the necessary words were not available.” Orwell further describes how all words, other than those devoid of political meaning, developed orthodox political connotations.
In our society, for the last two decades, Newspeak has been the tool of the political left to win debate by shaping its expression. It is called political correctness. Of course this expression itself conveys the oppressive nature of the movement. If something is politically correct (orthodox), something else is by definition politically incorrect (unorthodox) and therefore wrong. Political correctness seeks to promote use of language aimed at promoting this acceptable point (goodthinkful in Orwell’s language) of view and limiting the conventional use of language that would express a contrasting point of view which is by implication politically wrong (crimethink). Fortunately for the left, since the term political correctness carries with it the implication of thought control, it has it’s own politically correct word – cultural sensitivity.
Political correctness is the spearhead of an atrocious assault on our language and an alarming assault on our liberty. In this world-view, policies favouring the expansion of government authority to address domestic problems is, “progressive.” Domestic problems become “crises” so large that only federal government can solve them (i.e. health-care crisis) and to oppose granting that authority is to be selfish or to be against some group that the proposal is supposed to benefit (the children, the elderly, the poor, etc…). It is all eerily reminiscent of James Madison’s warning that, “Crisis is the rallying cry of the tyrant." Believing that the U.S. Constitution grants women the right to terminate a pregnancy is called being, “pro-choice.” But being for educational choice is being “against public education.” Diversity is defined as a group of men and women of different outward appearance and sexual orientation (but not different religious traditions) who share the same political view. Expressing a divergent political view is being against diversity, bigoted, or narrow-minded. Being black and expressing a divergent view is to be, “an Uncle Tom.” How close does that come to Orwell’s FREEDOM IS SLAVERY? At its most comical, the assault on language is reflected in Bill Clinton’s attempt to re-define “is” so he can explain how he didn’t perjure himself. At its most insidious, it designates hate as a crime. Hate crimes legislation imposes an extra penalty on a convict for his unorthodox world-view that motivated one to commit a crime. Homicide itself is a crime, but homicide with hatred is two crimes. How close is this to “crimethink?” How long before the hating becomes a crime without the associated act of violence?
But now, the right, through the vehicle of the Republican party, with George W. Bush as the standard-bearer, is in on the act. Expanding the role of federal government is “leaving no child behind,” and by implication opposing the bill is supporting leaving children behind. Opposing expanding the surveillance capacity of the federal government is unPATRIOTic. And speech is restricted in “free speech zones.” Of course the Democrats don’t oppose it, they have been doing it for two decades. Both parties now participate in the assault on liberty and language, and both see things through the same politically correct prism. Perhaps Ralph Nader is correct for the wrong reasons when he argues there isn’t any significant difference between the two parties.
Further, we finally have the final piece of the puzzle in Orwell’s recipe for tyranny. Orwell recognized that citizens will accept an expansion of governmental authority, even if it curtails some of their liberty, during time of war. Even our founding fathers, the gurus of limited government, acknowledged this and granted the Executive extra authority in wartime. Therefore, Orwell's novel, Oceania is perpetually at war. It is a war that continues day after day and year after year, a war with no end in sight, a war with an enemy that can never be completely defeated. We now have such a war, it is the “War on Terror.” Although (despite my opposition to invading Iraq), I fully acknowledge the necessity of taking measures to prevent future terrorist attacks on our soil and of taking the fight to the terrorists in the countries that harbor them (like Taliban-controlled Afghanistan), what I find frightening is the knowledge that we will be perpetually at war. As such, we most certainly will accept encroachment on our liberty as “necessary.” My fear is, that we will accept too much encroachment. That we will, like I initially did, not notice such infringement on our liberty like the, “free speech zones."
Have I finally taken that step and become a full-fledged libertarian? Or am I just paranoid?