George Orwell once wrote that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”.i Sixty years later, political prose is as insidious as ever, with 80% of Americans kept politically illiterate mostly due to the propaganda of Fox News and the disinterest stemming from our thoroughly inept leaders . For a civil society to prosper, its citizenry must master political language in order to have meaningful debate with clearly understood words. Instead, the trend of our century has been the devolution of the English language. With this comes an inability to properly understand the world around us. As Kong-zi (Confucius) once said, “If names are not correct and do not match realities, language has no object. If language has no object, action becomes impossible — and therefore all human affairs disintegrate” .
Instead of continuing this meandering tirade, it is best to point out a few minor instances of inaccuracies in political language. The first is the lack of distinction between a government and its people. In the years following the US invasion of Iraq, anti-American sentiment rose to new heights, with its descent occurring only recently. Surprisingly, Europeans hold the same misunderstanding of Americans, as Americans have about foreigners. Chiefly, Europeans make the simple mistake of assuming the policies of a democratic government is aligned with the general opinion of its people(!) However similar to American views, Americans take it a step further into absurdity by assuming the same of countries ruled by authoritarian regime. Last year, after months of Republican demonization of Iran, they were blind-sided by the pro-democracy, modern, progressive, college student uprising following the discontent over their elections. What’s this? The Iranian people (Gasp!) are not as anti-American as their elected leader. Why was this so difficult to accept, even though Americans had no issue with distancing themselves from former President G. W. Bush?
Another area of inaccuracy in political language is the lack of distinction between country and state. Aside from the egregious practice of personifying countries as Sarah Palin is so fond of doing, it is unsettling when countries and states are used interchangeably. “America” is the name of a country, and ” the United States of America” is the name of a state. A country is a geographical expression, whereas a state is the sovereign governance within a definite boundary.
Iran is another example. The name of the country is “Iran.” The name of the state is the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” The people of Iran are known as “Persian.” They are known as “Iranian” if specifically being referred to as citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
What is the difference between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC)? The PRC was established in 1949, currently has control over mainland China, and is commonly and clumsily referred to as “China.” The ROC is older; it was established in 1911, lost control of the mainland in 1949, and is now commonly referred to as “Taiwan.” Both claim to be the legitimate governments of mainland China.
As philosopher Sir Francis Bacon once noted, “words are the footsteps of reason.” The use of accurate words provide much needed clarity in political discourse and will allow people to have meaningful discussions and perhaps meaningful action.
i. As Gaetano Mosca, a 20th century Sicilian political scientist, wrote in Elementi di scienza politica (The Ruling Class), all civil societies, including those in democratic countries, are dominated by a political class. Especially in democratic countries, the political class is composed of individuals who are well educated and understand the political system. The 20-80 rule is commonly observed in politics and sociology. In this case, 20% of the population is politically active.
Duemer, Joseph. A Few Thoughts on Political Language. Sharp Sand. 19 Jan. 2009.
Falcoff, Mark. The Perversion of Language; or, Orwell Revisited. National Review Online. 04 Dec. 2009.
Gladstein, Jed. The Point of the Dagger. American Thinker. 05 Sept. 2009
 Kong-zi (Confucius). The Analects (translated by James Legge).
  Orwell, George. Politics and the English Language. Horizon. April 1946.
Solanki, Shane. Political Language. Last Mango In Paris. 23 Aug. 2007.
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