Sunday, February 26, 2017

President Bannon's Politics and the English Language

George Orwell 

George Orwell (1903-1950) is best known for his brilliant political allegory Animal Farm [1] and his brilliant ironically titled novel Nineteen eighty-four..[2] But he also wrote a straight forward essay on political language which is even more important to read right now. In "Politics and the English Language" Orwell makes one of his most famous and insightful sayings: "Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." [3] As my grandmother woudl say "truer words were never spoke" when we consider the big Fascist Shindig (CPAC) at which so-called "President" Trump (~45) and President Bannon, working in tag team. were the hit of the party, we can see the truth of whatOrwell wrote. Everyone should read Orwell's essay if not his other other works, It;s a must read for the times. It's short.

An example is his code word economic nationalism: "If you look at the lines of work, I would break it up into three verticals or three buckets. The first is kind of national security and sovereignty. ... The second line of work is what I refer to as economic nationalism."[4] A Daniel Kreiss, a University of North Carolina, a professor who studies political language, decodes the phrase Economic nationalism to mean odtencibly about domestorc control of  the economiy butin actuality “less as a proscribed set of policies” than as a way to declare opposition to the long-held bipartisan consensus that favors trade and immigration."[5]

Another Example: Deconstruction of the Administrative State

The third, broadly, line of work is deconstruction of the administrative state. ... If you look at these cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason and that is the deconstruction. The way the progressive left runs, is if they can’t get it passed, they’re just going to put in some sort of regulation in an agency. That’s all going to be deconstructed and I think that that’s why this regulatory thing is so important.”[6]

In response Max Fisher says: "This is a core argument of populist leaders, who typically rise by promising to oppose institutions, which are blamed for society’s problems. But in practice, they often consolidate power away from those institutions for themselves."[7] He explaimns the n atureof Bannon's code: “'a very defined cultural and ideological movement' that has grown out of populist online communities like Breitbart." Really? /firm grsp of the obvious. "That vernacular, he said, is used to articulate a “very coherent story about what America is, and what it should be, that is not reducible to a set of policy positions” — but only if you know how to hear it."[8] I rest my case. So what we see here is that the critics have the disease they seek to cure. To understand what;s wrong let's turn to Orwell.

He diagnoses the linguistic problem of his day as a need to couch truth in euphemism because the truth was to harsh and blunt to face and usually at odds with the goals of whatever party was trying to critique it. His discussion of the issue reminds me a great deal of the current situation:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’[9]

Two characteristics of this kind of avoidance technique are sophistication and abstract words, both make the meaning less direct and thus less striking. That is certainly the case with the phrase "deconstruct the administrative state.: the Use deconstruction gives it a Derridian and post modern sound and administrative state could mean a lot of things, so he doesn't have to say we are going to put incompetent idiots in all the administrative positions so government will be broken and people will want o get rid of it. He Obviously gives this away when he speaks of the appointees. Orwell talks about the meaninglessness of abstract words

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself[10]

Consider the ambiguity of terms like white nationalism it's not fascism by name. It's intoned by the press as though separate and distinct from ordinary racism. In some ways they almost give it a sense of dignity as though it's safe. It's a dog while, the ambiguity works to make it acceptable to extremists without Trump openly having to embrace them. He can even repudiate them because they want to understand the phrases as secret approval. It works because the gave clear signals back in the beginning when he refuted to repudiate them and when claimed he never heard of David Duke.During the period between election and taking office Democratoic Representative Keith Ellison stated: “Mr. Bannon is adored by white supremacists, white nationalists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and the KKK. It’s not hard to see why.” He added that “if the President-elect is serious about rejecting bigotry, hatred, and violence from his supporters, he must rescind Stephen Bannon’s appointment. This man shouldn’t be allowed inside the White House—let alone run it.”[11]

When I speak bluntly to call "white nationalism" by it's proper name friends such as a certain philosophy prof I know act permissive as if to correct me and say:this isn't really fascism or racism it's nationalism,:" As though saying these aren't really Gorbonzo beans they are chic peas. They forget nationalism is the cousin of fascism. Fascism is noting more than particular extreme brand of nationalism. As Schweitzer once said "Nationalism is to real patriotism as idiocy is to passion."
Bottom line, he's embraced by the racists and the fascist as a hero and a leader, he;s giving dog whistles to keep it that way,and he's still in as Trump's tag team partner. Bannon believes in the genetic porosity of some people and that voting rights should be restricted to only property owners,[12] those views are shared by trump! This is not a meaningless comparison when I say he;s a fascist.I use that tern with precision.


  1. often capitalized :  a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition
  2. 2:  a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control fascism and brutality — J. W. Aldridge[13]
Not that using abstract language or speaking cryptically makes him a fascist, but it is indicative of the the same kind of malaise that either, led to fascist thinking, or that allowed it to flourish in the 20th century,It is indicative of a sickness that our own time has contracted,

all online sources visited 2/25/17

[1] George Orwell, Animal Farm, London, England: Secker and Warburg, 1945, no page indicated.

[2] ____________, Nineteen Eighty-four, London: Secker & Warburg, 1949.

[3] ____________. "Politics and The English Language," Horizon, volume 13, issue 76,(Dec. 1946), pages 252–265
Online version published by NPR ... uage-1.pdf

read it here now it;s short

[4] Max Fisher, "Steven K. Bannon's CPAC commemts Annotated and Explaimed, NewYork Times. (Feb 24, 2017) on line version:
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid

[9] Orwell, "...Language." Op cit
[10] Ibid

[11] Stav Ziv, "The People and Organizations Denouncing Steve Bannon," Newsweek, 11/15/16

[12] Scott Shane, "Combative Populist Steve Bannon found his Man in Donald trumpNYT (Nov 27, 2016)

[13] Websters on line


Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Really appreciate you citing sources, too many blogs do not.

Joe Hinman said...

thanks Mike