Lost Language, Lost Liberalism

by on July 8, 2014 at 8:10 am in Education, History, Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

That is a new website from Daniel Klein and the Adam Smith Institute, “A review of the changes 1880-1940 to the central semantics of liberal civilization.”

1 ummm July 8, 2014 at 8:21 am

classical liberalism today would be considered neo conservatism or neo liberalism. Today’s welfare liberals are yesterday’s Maxists

2 affenkopf July 8, 2014 at 8:46 am

Welfare liberalism is older than a century. Neither yesterday’s or today’s welfare liberals are Marxists.

3 Wolf July 8, 2014 at 10:32 am

Neocons have no similarity with classical liberals.

4 Z July 8, 2014 at 11:10 am

Yeah, in the 1980’s the neo-cons were calling themselves liberals. The New Republic was their spawning ground. One of them least ways.

People don’t realize just how far left the nation has moved over the last fifty years.

5 Anne July 8, 2014 at 8:52 am

Thank you for posting. This subversion of language has been very destructive to political discourse. I would like to see more work like this. Unfortunately, most in academia are busy still subverting the language.

6 Nikki July 8, 2014 at 10:05 am

Don’t you think you are misplacing the blame? Academia handles the mechanics at most.

7 Hoover July 8, 2014 at 11:19 am

Does “handling the mechanics” mean academia is an impartial observer and describer?

If so, this is not in accord with my experience.

8 Nikki July 8, 2014 at 1:44 pm

All right, if not an impartial describer, then perhaps responding to an outside incentive? Why would academics bother to subvert the language? What’s in it for them?

9 JWatts July 8, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Power and prestige. “The pen is mightier than the sword”, etc.

10 lemmy Caution July 8, 2014 at 9:41 am

“A review of the changes 1940-1970 to the central semantics concerning cheerful individuals.”- Institute of Gay Americans

11 Nathanael July 8, 2014 at 7:05 pm

There are people who actually study this topic with a tad more rigor. For example, and apropos the usage of the word gay, “Understanding Semantic Change of Words Over Centuries” — http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2064475

The “lost-language” site is less a study and more a sad plea that “my definition is better than yours”. The yellowed parchment background should give away that its main argument is based on an appeal to tradition. Beyond this emotional appeal there doesn’t seem to be any logical content other than a juxtaposition of usages that agree/don’t agree with the author’s point of view.

12 Marie July 9, 2014 at 11:22 pm

Have you seen the old cartoon, when “gay” meant prostitute?


13 Chris Weber July 8, 2014 at 10:03 am

Dan, what you’ve done is tremendous. I’d just change one thing. In your Reflections, you have the following:

“In the early 1800s TMS fell into oblivion and it remained in oblivion until, say, about 35 years ago.”
I’d replace that 35 years ago with an actual year, since if someone sees this years from now, it may not be clear what period you mean.
Chris Weber

14 Wolf July 8, 2014 at 10:32 am

Neocons have no similarity with classical liberals.

15 ummm July 8, 2014 at 12:09 pm

none? how about support of free markets

16 mofo. July 8, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Neocons dont have any real commitment to free markets. The extent of their support for them is only so far as it is convenient towards their other goals.

17 prior_approval July 8, 2014 at 10:33 am

‘The substance of a cultural system lies in its semantics. The semantics reside in central words. When central words lose their meaning, the civilization loses its character. Their semantics lost, people find themselves lost.’

And here is the proof, since who would believe the following? – ‘The soul of a kingdom lies in its tenets. The tenets reside in central words. When central words lose their meaning, the kingdom loses its heart. Their tenets lost, people find themselves lost.’

So much for the feudal version. And yet, it seems just as understandable, not to mention silly, as the paragraph it adapts.

18 Nikki July 8, 2014 at 11:07 am

Unless you underestimate people’s tendency to run on narrative-driven autopilot, in which case it’s rather less silly.

19 prior_approval July 8, 2014 at 11:15 am

‘Unless you underestimate people’s tendency to run on narrative-driven autopilot….’

An interesting point – but when talking about linguistic changes spanning a couple of generations, one can be forgiven for thinking that the author just might be trying a bit too hard.

In other words, why was ‘under God’ added to the Pledge? And were the people who grew up reciting the Pledge without ‘under God’ less relgious than those who grew up reciting the 1954 Eisenhower approved version? Followed two years later by making ‘In God We Trust’ the official motto of the U.S.?

Or to put it a bit differently – is the U.S. more or less theocratic than it was in 1954 compared to today, which is exactly the same time interval as that between 1880 and 1840.

20 The Anti-Gnostic July 8, 2014 at 11:38 am

The US has never been “theocratic.” Americans do Protestantism (and Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.), not state churches.

There is really no comparison with places like pre-1960’s Quebec, Tsarist Russia, etc. I’m not sure what else we’d have to do to be more secular. I guess you could always just outlaw private religious practice.

21 prior_approval July 8, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Well. this man disagrees –

‘Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore spoke from the pulpit, and make no mistake, it was a sermon.

“Let’s get real,” he said. “Let’s learn our history. Let’s stop playing games.”

Moore spoke to the Pastors-for-Life in Mississippi in January, but video from that speech only began to make its way around the Internet in the last week. In it, Moore argues that “religion,” as defined in the First Amendment, applies only to God the Creator.

“Everybody, to include the United States Supreme Court, has been deceived as to one little word in the first amendment called ‘religion,'” he said. “They can’t define it.”

Moore insisted that freedom of religion applies only the God of the Bible, and therefore the protections of the establishment clause do not extend to other religions, such as Islam and Buddhism.

“They don’t want to do that, because that acknowledges the creator God,” he said. “Buddha didn’t create us. Muhammad didn’t create us. It’s the God of the Holy Scriptures.”

According to Moore, the government and the Supreme Court should define religion as James Madison and George Mason did – “The duties we owe to the Creator and the manner of discharging it.”‘ http://www.al.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/05/roy_moores_twisted_hisotry_isl.html

And who is Roy Moore? – ‘In the years preceding his first election to the state Supreme Court, Moore successfully resisted attempts to have a display of the Ten Commandments removed from the courtroom. The controversy around Moore generated national attention. Moore’s supporters regard his stand as a defense of “judicial rights” and the Constitution of Alabama. Moore contended that federal judges who ruled against his actions consider “obedience of a court order superior to all other concerns, even the suppression of belief in the sovereignty of God.”‘ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Moore

So, what reward did this theocrat receive? Why, re-election, to the office of Alabama Chief Justice.

And I am sure that those voters disagree with your assertion ‘I’m not sure what else we’d have to do to be more secular’ – after all, the man who is Alabama’s Chief Justice is fully capable of making sure that we not only trust in God, but we only trust in the God that he believes in.

22 The Anti-Gnostic July 8, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Muqtada al-Sadr is a theocrat. The Amish village elders are theocrats. Hirohito, descendant of the Shinto deities, was a theocrat.

Mr. prior_approval, I’ve known theocrats, and Justice Roy Moore is no theocrat.

23 Nikki July 8, 2014 at 1:46 pm

I don’t know anywhere near enough about the level of theocracy in the U.S. to have an opinion, as I’m not from there. From across the ocean, the endless religious altercations seem (a) childish in terms of argumentation and (b) more part of America’s overall culture of intrusiveness than a search for insight with regard to the existence and role of an intelligent designer, but things probably look different from San Antonio.

That said, when it comes to pledges and the like, invoking the divine is useful (wasn’t there something on the subject in Prof. Ariely’s research?), while atheism has been shown to provoke distrust even among other atheists. Of those whose anxiety is relieved on touching wood, how many actually believe in evil spirits residing in the furniture?

But I was not referring to religion: my point is framing. A lot hinges on it in any case, but for the planet’s many (do your own estimate) who prefer their thoughts cut and chewed for them, that’s pretty much all there is.

24 Marie July 9, 2014 at 11:38 pm

Personally, if I felt an evil spirit resided in a piece of furniture I wouldn’t go around knocking on it. In any case, you’re certainly not required to believe in that if you use the phrase.




25 Nathan W July 8, 2014 at 1:53 pm

I buy it. Too many uncontrollable variables, so failure to replicate isn’t a big deal.

But I would keep this line of reasoning on a firm leash.

The fact that a failure to replicate does not imply that the first study is outright wrong, does not imply licence for the research to say “whatever, replications problems are like so, in which case I will ignore many things and just focus on the conclusion I wanted to reach in the first place.”

As for the brain-degrading effects of weed.

I think 10,000 failures to replicate are a pretty strong counterargument against studies with inherently flawed methodology. If the most powerful nation on earth dedicated decades of nearly superhuman effort to replicate this result and failed, I think it is safe to say that anti-marijuana people will have to look to other lines of argumentation. In the meantime, if any bad ever happens to anyone who ever smoked the stuff (even if for legitimate medical uses), we can rest assured that the devil’s weed itself was the sole causal origin of the problem. Because we’re smrt. That’s how I know.

26 Evan Harper July 8, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Yeah, this is really fucking lame.

27 Ricardo July 9, 2014 at 9:17 am

Initially I was inclined to read Klein’s argument and consider it, but now that I’ve heard your thoughtful analysis, I won’t bother.

28 GiT July 9, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Worse than lame, it’s transparently pathetic. A weak ideologue trolling google n gram to confirm his biases and try to pawn it off as scholarship with enough vague, hand waving references to pop linguistics.

29 jon July 9, 2014 at 1:13 am

Word meanings change over time in the wake of changes in technology, social mores, political opinion, and so on. I’m not quite seeing what’s so pernicious about what’s being described- it’s not as though the definitions used during the ascendancy of classical liberalism among the intellectual elite are the “correct” ones in any sense.

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