For centuries, French was the lingua franca of Europe—the common language, that is, spoken among people with different native languages. Until the mid-20th century, if you were a diplomat from just about anywhere, you spoke French. Today, thanks to the ubiquity of the American economy and culture, English is the world’s lingua franca.
Or, at least, it was.
In the United States, English is not, in fact, the official language. We have no official language, though some states recognize English as such. Nevertheless, English is America’s de facto common language. You come to America, you (generally) learn English. That’s just part of the deal. It has been from almost the very beginning.
Sharing a common language helps unite people—it’s part of the cultural assimilation that is so vital to participating fully in American life. (Multilingualism is a wonderful goal for individuals as it opens doors to opportunity and increases the mental powers of person. Americans’ poor showing in learning foreign language skills is yet another strike against our nation’s public education system, but that’s not the subject of discussion here.) So it should come as no surprise that English has been under attack as America’s common language for decades, as a multicultural ethos has replaced the old idea of the melting pot.
By weakening our common language, our elites effectively have undermined our first-line of defense: the ability to use common sense and reason to rule ourselves. If democracy dies in darkness, that darkness is brought about by obscuring our common language.
How has English been weakened in America? Through a ceaseless attack on objective truth, left-wing ideology has taken our lingua franca and made it a langue émasculée.
This is no exaggeration. In every way imaginable, objective truth—and the way that we convey those truths—has been under assault. We all remember Orwell’s classic work, 1984, in which the oppressive Big Brother regime uses excessive manipulation of language as a way of mind control. Just as the oppressed citizens in Orwell’s classic are programmed by the use or restriction of language—what Orwell dubbed “newspeak”—Westerners today are similarly programmed by political correctness (and their Leftist handmaidens in the political class). This new programming has weakened the West overall by removing our ability to reason and resist.
The Left relies on our emasculated language to stifle debate. Our language once conveyed a real sense of clarity and confidence. After all, our lingua franca was predicated on empiricism. The idea that knowledge was derived from our senses and experience was a fundamental concept of Western civilization—particularly in the American context until World War II. In other words, we believed that we could know and understand the world. Our language was not just a way to communicate our wants and desires to our fellow men, it was predicated upon a common understanding of the way the world does and should work. It was impossible to truly understand Americans without also understanding English.
As Michael Walsh documents in The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, the Left—in particular, the “Frankfurt School” of German emigré Marxist thinkers who brought their noxious theories to Columbia University in the 1940s and ’50s—eroded the American ethos of empiricism during the postwar era. After nearly 50 years of emasculating our language, the Left has had remarkable success in remaking the way that American “elites” behave and view the world., They do not like to face things any longer. They tend to engage in buck-passing and obfuscation. Knowing and understanding the world is no longer considered possible or, even, desirable. Confidence is replaced with limp uncertainty.
It’s a Western affliction, not just an American one. Since the 1980s, Europe’s left-leaning political elite have so effectively neutered the language surrounding immigration that few in Europe are willing to acknowledge something is wrong. Today, Europe is racked by the instability that decades of unfettered immigration from the Muslim world has caused.
In his recent book, The Strange Death of Europe,Douglas Murray analyzes how the European elite set about driving reasonable debate over immigration out of the mainstream. Murray asserts that “mainstream politicians and much of the media had [encouraged] a sense that the people in Europe [who were] shouting ‘fire’ were the actual arsonists.” The debasing of truthful language in favor of political correctness further complicated European politics by “tying the future of Europe’s security to a reform movement [in the Muslim community] that had failed throughout history and was at the very least likely to fail again.” European leaders could never have supposed the likely failure of the reform movement within Islam because the language they relied on obscured all truth.
Similarly, politically correct jargon has led the United States to sabotage its own economic and military prowess over the last 30 years, by engaging in mindless “free trade” with China and other developing nations. At one time, American leaders recognized Communist China as a clear-and-present danger to be isolated and resisted at every turn. That began to change when Richard Nixon opened China to the West. But, whereas Nixon and Henry Kissinger designed the Sino-American entente to be a temporary and limited anti-Soviet alliance during the Cold War, the economic prospects of opening up China’s vast, untapped markets became too much to resist for American businesses and politicians.
Over time, politicians, lobbyists, public relations men, and academics (not necessarily in that order) altered the language of trade to empower those business and political interests seeking closer engagement with China. We formed an entire theory which undergirded America’s trade and diplomatic policy with China, based on politically correct language (as opposed to realities within China). Our emasculated, politically correct language obscured the real political and economic dangers of an unthinking—and profoundly unfair—trade with a burgeoning economic power.
Much like the immigration debate in Europe, those few who dared to shout “fire” over the dangers of unfettered trade with China have been accused of being the arsonists. But, each day the fire that is China’s threat rises—and our elite keep pretending like everything will work out, just as their politically correct theories outline.
The late, great George Carlin masterfully disassembled the stilted language of political correctness. Carlin once opened his act by declaring his disgust with buzzwords and P.C. jargon, describing them as “words that take the life out of life.” Carlin was a liberal, but he knew better than most that political correctness was just another manifestation of the pinched and puritanical establishment attitude he spent most of his career lampooning. “Some of this language makes me want to vomit,” Carlin said. Then he waited a beat and added: “Well, maybe not vomit. It makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill.”
Language, if used properly, can put the life in our lives. The joyless language that has gradually corrupted our discourse undermines social cohesion, weakens political solidarity, and saps our economic vitality. Speak clearly and truly and say to hell with political correctness.
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