“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Once again we turn to George Orwell to understand the perverse need of some among us to reverse the meaning of words. As the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four knew, totalitarianism begins with the perversion of language.
Thus, it is not accidental that the rise of the new right began with demonization of perfectly sound words like liberal. Hence, Roget gives these synonyms for liberal: magnanimous; benevolent; open-minded; generous; and unselfish.
We describe our form of government as liberal democracy. It embodies principles of freedom, liberty, equality, and justice. Its princples were set forth by John Locke and embodied in our Bill of Rights. We engage in wars to bring this same government to others.
Most recently, a highly intelligent writer, Timothy Ferris, known primarily for his clear elucidation of science, has written a piece entitled: “Conservative is Not Opposite Liberal: That’s Totalitarianism.” To be illiberal, he writes, is not to be conservative; it is, as Orwell had it, to be totalitarian. Ferris correctly says: “Liberalism is an independent political philosophy, with no inherent connection to either the Left or the Right.”
It is understandable that the far right fulminators begin by perverting language. They are profoundly illiberal in every sense of the word. The values of magnanimity, benevolence, open-mindedness, generosity, and unselfishness are anathema to them. Nor is it coincidence that the age of anti-liberalism is one decidedly anti-scientific, whether having to do with our evolution, changing climate, or stem cell research. Totalitarianism has always wanted to control science for its own purposes.
If we restore the true meaning of important words like liberal, perhaps at least a few politicians will not be afraid to use them. As a free man, and a liberal man, I know I am not.