The New Caesars

October 3, 2019 at 8:26 am (By Amba) (, )

Historian Claire Berlinski jokes that she’s “the Dear Abby of liberal democracy,” but she’s more like the Joan of Arc of liberal democracy, beating the bushes to raise an army. (Of course “liberal” has become a dirty word on both right and left, but it used to stand for an ideal claimed by both, the optimistic faith that freedom of thought and enterprise would bring out the best in people—with some healthy arguing over the details.) In Berlinski’s view, it’s giving way to “illiberal democracy” —”democracy without freedom.” She writes about the wave of “authoritarian populism” sweeping the world and of the “New Caesars” who (shades of the Roach Motel), once voted in, may make it impossible to vote them out.
This is worth reading. You can skip the hissy fit for unsubscribers at the beginning, and start with “The Dear Abby of Liberal Democracy,” and further down, “Newspeak: How Did We Get Here?” A couple of appetizers:
[to a reader in the Czech Republic] The first task: No despair. You may feel utterly overwhelmed by the weight of the illiberal forces lined up against you. … You will not be alone in feeling this way. But don’t succumb to this sentiment. This is a path to ruin. None of us can retreat, in the coming years—as we will surely be tempted—to the politics of internal exile. … We must learn from each others’ experiences … It’s especially important for ordinary American citizens to be in personal contact with citizens of what I call the laboratory countries, countries like yours—the countries where the New Caesars are experimenting with and perfecting their techniques.
* * *

[After quoting Orwell on “Newspeak”] The shrinking of our vocabularies … has not been imposed upon us. We’ve freely and willingly contracted our own verbal skills, our own reading skills, our own sense of nuance in our language … People who care about speaking and writing precisely—people who use the full range of the English language’s rich vocabulary, people who understand language as a subtle and nuanced tool—have become despised by both the right and the left as elitists.

This is perhaps an outgrowth of our commitment to egalitarianism, in that we are hostile to aristocracy in any form. Our educated elites were once a form of aristocracy. Perhaps they suffered so intensely from the shame of being aristocrats in an egalitarian country that they adopted not only the concerns of the popular classes, but their manner of speech. …

Whatever the causes of the diminution of the American vocabulary, it has had political effects. The effects are those Newspeak was designed to have. We lack the words we need to speak precisely and accurately about our own system of governance.
For more of this historically literate point of view, which may help to clarify your view of what’s going on in front of your eyes:
The New Caesarism: A Lexicon
The New Caesarism: A Lexicon, Part II

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