Why Words Matter For Defending Freedom

Why Words Matter For Defending Freedom

We can’t talk to each other if the words we’re using mean different things. Corrupt language steals freedom, even just by the act of redefining it.
F.J. Rocca

In a free society, communication is a fundamental necessity if citizens are to guard against encroachments upon their freedom. But over the past hundred years, and especially in recent decades, political philosophers and their pragmatic goons, the politicians, have often deliberately if gradually subverted the meanings of certain key words in our language that are vital to discourse. They do this for the express purpose of changing the understanding of those concepts, and thus to fool people into believing what they want people to believe, not the truth, but a semblance of it, which is wholly or partially false.

The disintegration of language is sometimes treated as a curiosity or overlooked. But the danger of this corruption is serious, because language must be stable to ensure the exchange of comprehensible ideas.

Politicians gladly use corrupt language to confuse the truth, enabling them to promote ideas and ultimately to enact laws that would be otherwise unpalatable to voters if they were understood. Consequently, taxes become “contributions” and illegal aliens become “undocumented immigrants” or “new Americans.”

But power players must corrupt language gradually so alert citizens who enjoy truth more than anything do not notice too much. The more important the concept, the greater the subtlety of its corruption. Indeed, the corruption of the most vital concepts must be done with such sly stealth as to nearly unnoticed, thus sowing confusion into the debate and encouraging needless time-wasting arguing over fundamentals. In this way, actual changes to society can be made apace without objection because the changes will go almost unnoticed.

Corrupting the Meaning of Freedom

The most damaging of these conceptual changes is the corruption of the term “freedom.” Clearly and simply defined, freedom and liberty mean the lack of encumbrance. In a free society, the greatest encumbrance is the power to restrict freedom, which only government can do. Therefore, Americans often invoke the maxim created by American journalist and editor John Louis O’Sullivanthat a government is best which governs least. In other words, the government must not interfere in anyone’s life, except to act in defense

A ‘freedom’ that gives something to someone cannot exist.

The real meaning of freedom is the lack of restriction; therefore, a “freedom” that gives something to someone cannot exist. For example, there cannot be a “freedom from want” because guaranteeing goods or services to “free” someone from “want” does not mean freedom from restriction. If anything, want is the normal state of human beings and creates their greatest motivation, the urge to find legitimate ways to survive and better their lot.

Freedom from prejudice does not exist, either, because such “freedom” restricts the right of people to think or feel however they wish, regardless of others’ feelings. So long as no one acts on his or her prejudice by violating another person’s rights, there can be no violation of anyone’s freedom.

Roosevelt’s False Freedoms

Franklin Delano Roosevelt arrogantly proclaimed and presumed to guarantee to Americans what he called the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion and worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The first two were already and continue to be guaranteed, not by Roosevelt, but by our founding documents, The Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Together these constitute the irrevocable guarantee that our freedoms, as individuals, are unalienable, because they were not given to us by government but by the very act of our creation as human beings.

What Roosevelt falsely called freedom from want can only be achieved by seizing property from some and giving it to others the government chooses.

The second two, even by their grammar in the use of from, are illegitimate. No one can guarantee that fear will not encumber anyone’s thoughts. What Roosevelt falsely called freedom from want can only be achieved by seizing property from some and giving it to others the government chooses. Roosevelt, a committed left-of-center Democrat, had no problem with this concept. In fact, he violated rights freely; for example, when he had the CEO of Montgomery Ward removed by national guardsmen for opposing the New Deal.

Asserting these falsely defined “freedoms” in reality imposes restriction or encumbrance on some people in order to provide something for other people. So these definitions of freedom do not free anyone, but abrogate the freedom of those from whom they take. Nor are the recipients of what is taken free, either. Government does not produce wealth. It can only have wealth if it seizes wealth from someone. It is naïve to think that recipients of others’ wealth are free to do whatever they like, because their wealth is also to be taken for yet others who supposedly require some kind of “freedom.”

From We the People to We the Managed

Socialists have adopted and adapted these terms to say that society in general should be free from the needs, desires, wants, hopes, etc. of individuals because the needs, desires, wants, hopes, etc. of society at large should predominate. And, of course, government would be the arbiter in such cases, deciding who should get what and be treated in what way. This is the exact opposite of the purposes of freedom and a constitution that guarantees freedom in an authentically free society.

The power to make laws to protect us is also the power to make laws that subvert and erode our freedom.

In relation to all of this, politicians and pundits often skew the definition of government itself, to keep people from rebelling against it. The people are the government. In a free society, the people at large are supposed to be able to control government. We are often reminded that we have the vote, which is supposed to encapsulate the people’s power, enabling us to choose representatives who will make decisions about the scope and power of “our” government.

But it is foolish to believe that “we the people” in this system are governing ourselves directly. We are actually governed by those other people in whom we have invested the power to use government to control and govern us. Presumably, laws which are supposed to be derived from the founding documents protect us from the encroachments of government, i.e., from those other people who govern us. But the power to make laws to protect us is also the power to make laws that subvert and erode our freedom.

Those lawmakers rarely speak out in their own names, but invoke the term “government,” equating political power with an art. George Washington, arguably our first, most capable leader, said “government is not reason or eloquence. It is force, and, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a cruel master.” He was right. In a free society, the people need only as much or as little government as we can manage.

F.J. Rocca is an independent, conservative writer and blogger of fiction and nonfiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. His website is candiddiscourse.com.

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