Today's Politicos vs The Words and Deeds of The Founders
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Words and Deeds 

The summer 2014 issue of the Claremont Review of Books contains a book review by Ralph C. Hancock which inspired this post.  The book is Metamorphoses of The City: On the Western Dynamic, by Pierre Manent.  Like most people, I’ll probably never spend the time required to read this book. While reading a review is not the same as reading the book about which it was written, reviewers like those in the CRB manage not merely to give an overview, but also to contribute to the conversation through their critical analysis and introduction of things outside the book being reviewed.  One of the things discussed in Hancock’s review, is the necessary linkage between words and actions.

One feature of modernity is the disconnection of these two things.  The Modern claims to have successfully reconnected them, but it is a sham.  Instead, the gulf between words and actions has grown even wider.

… the pretended exemption of the modern state from the vagaries of speech and opinion, a superiority first asserted in the Reformation form of state religion, but now asserted in the neutral, agnostic, and secular form of political correctness, according to which unpleasant speech “is willingly considered … as the equivalent of the worst action imaginable,” precisely because “[o]ne no longer expects that speech will be linked to a possible action.”

We pretend that words have meanings, but have distorted their actual meanings and cheapened them so as to make them nearly meaningless.  Since we cannot admit this, we insist all the more strongly that they do have meaning.  But in reality, the emperor has no clothes.

By way of concrete example, the unification of Europe continues without any real arguments or explanations.  Conversely, a popular referendum opposing it makes no difference whatsoever.  How much more solemn of a formulation of words can people make?

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

We can look at other examples as well.  For instance Robert P. George asks in the introduction to Conscience and Its Enemies:

Should we preserve in our law and public policy the historic understanding of marriage as a conjugal union — the partnership of husband and wife in a bond that is ordered to procreation and, where the union is blessed by children, naturally fulfilled by their having and rearing offspring together?  Or should we abandon the conjugal understanding of marriage in favor of some form of legally recognized sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership between two (or more) persons, irrespective of gender, to which the label marriage is then reassigned?

At first glance the marriage example might seem to be nothing more than a perversion of language at worst, or an evolution of understanding at best.  But upon closer inspection one can see that it is another example of separating words and concepts from desired results.   Traditional marriage was once understood as the building block for rearing children in the context of a family.  Now it is simply about gratification.  It is no longer the basic social unit for producing moral and virtuous citizens.  After all, we learn by example.  Wedding vows are a spoken commitment — words that only have meaning when acted upon.

Tocqueville warned of the consequences of destroying “the laws of moral analogy.”

I cannot recall to my mind a passage in history more worthy of sorrow and of pity than the scenes which are happening under our eyes; it is as if the natural bond which unites the opinions of man to his tastes and his actions to his principles was now broken; the sympathy which has always been acknowledged between the feelings and the ideas of mankind appears to be dissolved, and all the laws of moral analogy to be dissolved, and all the laws of moral analogy to be abolished.

Hancock elaborates:

In such a condition, opinions fall out of sync with concrete ends, producing a world where “nothing is linked,“ and human beings lose their hold, not only on a common morality but on the very distinction between true and false.

The apostle Paul puts it another way:

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not proper;

Modern man’s lack of ability to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad, true and false should be obvious, but that itself requires discernment. The poet and novelist Marion Montgomery,* wrote: “The truth of things, which must be our concern always, is revealed through words rightly used and rightly taken.”  By destroying the linkage between words and deeds, and supplanting it with political correctness, we are losing this ability.  

*Cited by Michael M. Jordan, “Great Books, Higher Education and the Logos,” in Modern Age, Winter/Spring 2011


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