E-Pluribus | September 28, 2021

With no common definition of "public good," it's a lousy goal of government; losing the meaning of "evil"; and the ongoing corruption of language for political ends.

A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:

Robert Tracinski: Seeking the ‘Public Good’ Will Lead Only To More Division

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the road to more political division in Robert Tracinski’s telling is the alleged “public good” that politicians profess to pursue. With no agreement on what constitutes the public good, making that the goal simply has the two sides working at cross purposes.

On the main substance of what our government does, though, a strong and seemingly durable consensus is reflected in our actual policy decisions. A liberal, free-market welfare state is the system we actually have, and have had for a long time. But if that’s the case, one would think that within this general consensus, disagreements about implementation could be viewed as mere pragmatic differences to be settled by reasoned debate, or at least as issues on which we can make temporary compromises to be revisited later, given that everyone is on the same page.

So why aren’t we living in a new Era of Good Feelings? Why do we fight so bitterly and constantly about politics? Why is there trouble in paradise?

[…]

What looks at first like a stable political consensus that can be preserved with mere admonitions to be more reasonable is really an unstable stalemate in a raging conflict. That conflict won’t end until we reestablish the precedence of individual rights over these clashing visions of how government is going to impose one side’s narrow vision of the public good. The current “liberal” consensus descends into conflict precisely because it doesn’t put liberalism first. Instead, it accepts that premise about the public good and gives us the impossible task of coming up with a unified vision about who the public is and how exactly everyone else’s freedom is to be sacrificed for their supposed good.

Perhaps we should be grateful for all the bitter fighting because it keeps the two main factions from uniting around a single illiberal agenda. But this means that our hopes for a liberal system, or at least for the preservation of the status quo consensus, is dependent on constant conflict among people who wish the whole system ill.

Read it all.

Lance Morrow: Not That Long Ago, ‘Evil’ Really Meant Something

The corruption of language is a theme here at Pluribus, and in the Wall Street Journal, Lance Morrow shines a spotlight on “evil.” While hyperbole may be entertaining and surely has a legitimate place as a rhetorical tool, overuse numbs listeners to the literal meaning and real evil is seen with less clarity.

Recently I revived my question [whether they had ever known someone whom they considered to be evil]. I started by asking progressives whether they ever knew someone who was evil. Their number one answer—surprise—was Donald Trump. Do they really mean it? Are they being metaphorical? Hyperbolical? (If Mr. Trump is evil, what would be the word for Pol Pot ?) When they are through with Mr. Trump, progressives mention such lesser devils as Derek Chauvin and Dylann Roof. Then their eyes dart back and forth and less likely names fetch up, people they know from the screens: Josh Hawley, Tucker Carlson. In the end, there is no distinction in their minds between the mass murderer in the church in Charleston and someone with whose opinions they disagree.

Mr. Trump himself tosses around the word evil in a mindless way. He uses it almost as often as he does the word “incredible.” It is one of his six adjectives. Progressives and Trumpists accuse one another, batting the word “evil” back and forth like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck disputing whether it is “duck season” or “wabbit season.”

The other day, Tony Norman, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist, got warmed up by referring to Mr. Trump as “the twice-impeached abomination of desolation.” In his next reference, the former U.S. president was “Satan” (a bit of a letdown) and, after that, “the Antichrist.” He left out “Prince of Darkness.” Gasping down the home stretch, he described Mr. Trump’s base as a “death cult,” subscribers to his “End Times fever dream.”

Read it all here.

Tim Rice: The Linguistic Equivalent of War

While Lance Morrow took on “evil,” over at City Journal Tim Rice looks at “war.” Rice contends that progressive political ideas are particularly susceptible to manipulation of language, and that blurring the language tends to blur other important distinctions as well.

George Orwell warned of the dangers of imprecise political speech in his seminal essay “Politics and the English Language.” The problem, in Orwell’s telling, is that “political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.” Political speakers reach for muddled, vague language to sell the public on their indefensible policies. This is bad enough, but it presents a broader issue because “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

Orwell’s diagnosis is as true in America today as it was when he wrote those words 75 years ago. And while both political parties are guilty of indulging in bad rhetoric that corrupts policy, Democrats are the more frequent and more serious offenders, largely because linguistic manipulation is central to so many progressive political ideas.

[…]

Democrats today don’t speak in such martial terms as their mid-century predecessors, but the broadness of their vision and goals—and the language they use to describe them—is a contributing factor in spreading already-ineffective federal agencies even thinner. In addition to a resurgent Taliban and the global challenge presented by an increasingly aggressive China, the Department of Defense must tackle climate change. With inflation rising, members of the congressional Squad want the Chairman of the Federal Reserve to focus “on eliminating climate risk and advancing racial and economic justice.” And the Centers for Disease Control, whose botched coronavirus response shows that it can barely handle its core mandate, was temporarily given power over rent and evictions nationwide.

Read the whole thing.

Around Twitter

The ACLU (or at least Anthony Romero) has regrets about, uh, updating that Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote, but not enough to delete it:

Speaking of the ACLU… Although Justice Sotomayor later said of her “wise Latina” comment that “[the] words I chose, taking the rhetorical flourish, it was a bad idea,” the ACLU chose that quote to mark “#LatinxHeritageMonth.”

Via Jonathan Kay, another pronoun controversy:

And finally, apparently everyone has their limits: