William Stoecker / February 15, 2016

What’s in a Name?

By deliberate design or by natural evolution the meaning of words can gradually (or not so gradually) change. And words and their meaning matter a great deal. George Orwell, in 1984 and Politics and the English Language, warned us that governments can deliberately distort language to deceive and confuse citizens. In 1984 the Ministry of Love tortured and murdered real or imagined dissidents, and the Ministry of Peace waged unending war — much like our situation today.

Consider the word “patriot.” During earlier colonial times in England’s North American colonies, a patriot was someone loyal to the King and the British government. George Washington, who fired the first shots of the Seven Years War (its North American portion is known as the French and Indian War, and the conflict actually lasted from 1754 to 1763), was then a loyal officer in Britain’s colonial militia. But, following the war, as the French menace faded and taxes were levied to pay for the war and for British troops remaining in North America, discontent grew, and the term “patriot” came to apply to colonists wanting to break from England and establish an independent republic. After this was achieved, a patriot was defined as someone loyal to the U.S. government. But in the last few decades that government has become steadily more tyrannical, more corrupt and more out of touch with the people, and many of us now define patriot as someone who opposes government power and wants to reestablish our former Constitutional Republic.

At one time a conservative was someone believing in the divine rights of kings; America’s Founding Fathers were classic liberals. Inspired by the likes of John Locke, they favored limited government and a free market economy. But lurking in the background was a very different political and economic philosophy that would come to be known as communism or socialism. The general idea is very old; some ancient Greek philosophers fantasized about a classless society, as did Thomas More and Jean Jacques Rousseau. The idea was actually tried by Spartacus and his fellow gladiators who rebelled against Rome, and by some Christian monastic orders. It was briefly tried at the Jamestown and Plymouth Rock colonies, and led to economic collapse and famine. In fact, it never worked, but various communes continued to be created by misguided idealists, especially in America. In 1848 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels established the modern form of communism with the publication of The Communist Manifesto. Most people were rightly alarmed by the communists, so in the late 1880s some wealthy Britons created the Fabian Society, which advocated “democratic socialism” and appeared fairly benign and won many converts. The Fabians established the London School of Economics, and, in 1900, founded England’s Labour Party. Anyone listening to the recording of Fabian Socialist George Bernard Shaw advocating the execution of citizens deemed non-productive by the government can see past the pretty surface of socialism to the ruthless cruelty at its heart — it is nothing more than incremental communism.

In order to escape the communist stigma, some of the socialists began calling themselves “progressives,” implying that they were the inevitable wave of the future (never mind the fact that their policies, if followed, will eventually lead us, not into a bright and shining future, but back into feudalism). This movement got its start in the First Reform Era before America’s Civil War, with the stated aims of abolishing slavery and helping the working class. They really got going during Reconstruction after 1865, and, late in the nineteenth century, added women’s rights, temperance, environmentalism and food and drug regulation to their platform. They were actually stronger in the Republican Party of the time rather than among Democrats; Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive. But as more people began to see them as repackaged socialists, they began calling themselves “liberals” despite being statists opposed to classical liberalism. As more people became disillusioned with this new “liberalism” they have reverted, in the last few decades, to calling themselves “progressives” again.

Throughout much of America’s history, the states had militias that were largely independent of the federal government. But in 1903 the Dick Act renamed the militias as the National Guard, implying that they were primarily a federal force, and subtly undermining state control. The National Defense Act of 1916 spelled it out even more clearly, and today the Guard can be nationalized by the president even without a formal declaration of war or a national emergency. All of this has undermined state sovereignty and increased Washington’s control, as well as supplying more troops for our endless foreign adventures.

And so we have reached the point where “liberals” are collectivists and statists and we conservative patriots are the true liberals. Progressives are people leading us back into the feudal, pagan past. But wait, there’s more. Ever since the radicals chose to sit on the left side of the room during meetings of the pre-revolutionary French Assembly, socialists of every variety are now called “leftists,” and we true liberals are “right wingers.” The word “sinister” comes from the Latin word for “left,” and mystics have always warned against the evil and destructive left hand path. But a good man is a righteous man, and the correct way is the right way, and a good deed is the right thing to do. Is someone trying to tell us something?

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