Roger Scruton, one of the leading Philosophers in the United Kingdom, spoke today to Giulio Meotti of Il Foglio, on of the leading Italian Dailys. What follows is an unofficial English translation of that article.
“They’re creating a whole new language, like the Communists did during the time of the Cold War. A wooden language.”
« George Orwell already spoke of this in his famous ‘two minutes of hatred’ in the novel, 1984, said Roger Scruton, the English Philosopher and Commentator, during his interview with Il Foglio. « The problem of homosexuality is a complicated and difficult one, but we cannot imprison thought itself with laws against the so-called “homophobia”, like that being contemplated by the Italian Parliament, which is nothing other than the criminalization of the right to free intellectual discourse on the question of “gay-marriage”. They are creating a new intellectual crime, a crime against their own ideology, like the Communists did during the Cold War.
The seventy-year old professor of Philosophy at St. Andrew’s University, Scotland, author of thirty books which have made him the most famous conservative English philosopher (or as the Sunday Times: put it: “the brightest intellect of our time”), Scruton was commenting on the proposed law before the Italian Parliament which would criminalize “homophobia”. Even Amnesty International is in favor of the law. « To me, this law on “homophobia” brings back memories of the farcical trials held at Moscow, or those of Maoist China, in which the victims were forced to confess with enthusiasm their own crimes, before being condemned. In all those show trials, the enthusiastic prosecutors accused the victims of “hatred” and “hate speech”, you see what the philosopher Michale Polanyi, in 1963, defined as a “moral inversion”: if you deplored the welfare system ,you were lacking in compassion; if you are opposed to the normalization of homosexuality, you are a “homophobe”; if you believe in western culture, you are an “elitist”. The accusation of “homophobia” means the end of your career, especially for those who work at a University.
Scruton sustains that the manipulation of truth is being conducted under the cover of the distortions of language, just like in Orwell’s novel, under the name of “the New Language”. « The New Language intervenes every time the principal proposition of a language, which is descriptive of reality, is replaced by the intended opposite: and this is nothing other than the raw affirmation of political power over language itself. Here, the fundamental linguistic act coincides only superficially with the assertive grammar. The phrases in the New Language sound like affirmations in which the only logic underlying them is that of a magic formula: they are designed to show the triumph of words over things, the futility of rational argumentation against the politically correct ideology and the danger of resisting the intended enchantment. As a consequence, the New Language has developed its own special syntax which, though strictly connect to that which is normally used in ordinary descriptions, evades it precisely so as to deflower reality or to oppose rational argumentation itself. This is what François Thom tried to illustrate in his essay, “La Langue de bois” (The wooden language). Some of the syntactical peculiarities were pointed out by Thom: the use of the noun in place of a transitive verb; the preference of passive forms and impersonal constructions; the use of comparatives in place of predicates, the omnipresence of the imperative mood ».
With the law on “homophobia”, says Scruton, “they are trying to instill in the mind of the public the same malign idea which is pervading all of Europe, taking up residence in the hearts and heads of the masses which are ignorant of their machinations, diverting, in this way, along the path of sin even the most innocent affairs of men. The New Language freezes and hardens the mind. Common parlance itself generates, with its own native resources, the concepts which the New Language prohibits: correct / incorrect; just / unjust; honest / dishonest; your / mine.
A Form of Re-education
Scruton says that the fear of heresy is a foot in the country of Europe. « A considerable system of semiofficial etiquette is emerging for the prohibition of free speech on points of reality which are seen as “dangerous”. The threats are spreading so rapidly in society that there is no way to avoid them in daily life. When words become crimes, and thoughts are judged as advocacy, a sort of malign prudence invades intellectual life. They are controlling language, sacrificing style for a more “inclusive” syntax, they avoid speaking of sex, race, and religion. Every phrase or idiom which contains a judgement on any category or class of persons can become, from one day to another, the object of reproach. This political correctness is a soft form of condemnation with the same violence of a Salem witch trial ». Like they did in Massachusetts in colonials times, as narrated in the Scarlet Letter. « Whoevery is worried about all of those and wants to make some protest, has to battle against powerful forms of censure. Whoever dissents from what is becoming the Neo-Orthodoxy of “gay-rights” is regularly accused of “homophobia”. In the United States of America there are political action committees which examine the candidacy of politicians to determined whether they are “homophobes”, so to liquidate their candidacies from the get go, by means of the mere accusation. Even in the selection of juries, one hears, “We will never accept the possibility that such a person can be part of the jury: she is a Christian and a homophobe!”
According to Scruton, all this is reminiscent of the ideological warfare which prevailed at the time of the Cold War: « In those years it was considered necessary by some to create definitions to stigmatize the opposition with a visceral hatred so as to justify his expulsion from society: there was “revisionist”, “deviazionist”, “teenage lefty”, “utopian socialist”, “social fascist”. The success of these labels to marginalize and condemn the opposition reinforced the error spread by the Communists that by means of language you could change reality: for example, you could invent the culture of a proletariat by using the word “prolekult”; you could unchain yourself from the failure of a free economy simply by shouting “the crisis of capitalism” every time the topic came up; you could combine the absolute power of the Communist Party with the free consent of the people by calling the Communist Government, a “centralized democracy”. How easy it became to murder millions of innocents, considering that nothing bad was resulting, no, it was only the “liquidation of prisoners”! How simple it was to shut people up for years in work camps until they got sick or died, when one only had to redefine them as “re-education camps”. Now, there is a new secular bigotry which wants to criminalize the liberty of expression when it regards the topic of “homosexuality”.
Finally, Scruton says, it’s a battle between the “pragmatist” and the “rationalist”. For the former, « there is no utility in the old ideologies of objectivity and universal truth, the only thing which matters is that “we” are in agreement. Who is this “we”? And upon what do we find ourselves in agreement? “We” are for feminism, “we” are liberals, supporters of the movement for the “liberation of gays” and for an “open curriculum”; “we” do not believe in God or in any handed-down religion, and the old ideas of authority, order and self-discipline are for “us” immaterial. “We” are the ones to decide the meaning of texts, by creating with our own words the consent which with they are weighed. “We” have no bonds, except for those of the community to which we have chosen to belong, and since there is no objective truth, but only a self-generated consent, “our “position is unattackable from any point of view outside of “our” own. The pragmatist can not only decide what to think, he can also protect against anyone thinking in a different way ».