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The Relationship Between Political Language and Political Reality

  • Jean Bethke Elshtain (a1)


Albert Camus' ironic judge-penitent, Jean-Baptiste Clemence, remarks to his compatriot in the seedy bar, Mexico City, in a shadowy district of Amsterdam, the mist rising off the canals, the fog rolling in, cheap gin the only source of warmth, “Somebody has to have the last word. Otherwise, every reason can be answered with another one and there would never be an end to it. Power, on the other hand, settles everything. It took time, but we finally realized that. For instance, you must have noticed that our old Europe at last philosophizes in the right way. We no longer say as in simple times: ‘This is the way I think. What are your objections?’ We have become lucid. For the dialogue we have substituted the communique: ‘This is the truth,’ we say. You can discuss it as much as you want; we aren't interested. But in a few years there'll be the police who will show you we are right.”

Now this is still an imperfect method of control—the enforcers are clearly identified and the coercion is too obvious. Not so in Orwell's 1984. As Syme, the chilling destroyer of language proclaims: “It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.” Speaking to Orwell's protagonist Winston Smith, Syme continues: “Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought. In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten…. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there's no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It's merely a question of self-discipline, reality control. But in the end there won't be any need even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.”


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PS: Political Science & Politics
  • ISSN: 1049-0965
  • EISSN: 1537-5935
  • URL: /core/journals/ps-political-science-and-politics
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