Tuesday, 30 August 2011

EU politics and the English language

Orwell buffs will recognise the reference in the title of this post to an essay by the great man. He was well aware of the importance of language, and a key element of the totalitarian dystopia he described in '1984' was the manipulation of language.

The case in point here is the word 'eurosceptic', which I believe needs to be retired. I have said this a number of times in the past, but it seems that others are coming to the same conclusion.

My dislike of it comes from the fact that it is a negative term, i.e. it is against something rather than in favour of something. Furthermore, it is vague and weak, for what does it convey? Scepticism and no more. A sceptic may go along with the thing he is sceptical of, there's no implied contrary action, only a lack of belief. The word thus seems to be chosen by its opponents, and hands an advantage to the opposing side, who can portray themselves as enthusiastic and positive.

Such inferences operate on a barely-conscious level, but nonetheless they do have importance, so what is needed is a new word, that indicates what those who have been calling themselves 'eurosceptic' actually want and /or believe in, something that captures our virtues. We are pro-independence, pro-sovereignty, in favour of democratic accountability, national self-determination, home rule...

I haven't got the snappy answer yet, i.e., the name everyone will wear as a badge of pride, but I'm working on it.

In the meantime, we should all make an effort to break out of the negative confines which our side has been positioned into. We have to make the pro-Brussels federasts the ones who are against, who are anti.


Anonymous said...

No to appeasement.

Trooper Thompson said...


that is a negative statement. What is required is positive statements, not what you're against, but what you're in favour of.

Hye said...

I'm happy enough with '-sceptic' anything. The EU, climate change, the sceptics will be proved right and it will end up meaning something positive anyway.

will said...

the old chestnut that whilst being 'against' a bad thing is itself, a good thing, one is still 'against' something which is perceived negative.

probably why some anarchists prefer 'voluntarist'. immediately sounds more positive and avoids the ignorant assumptions of chaos and destruction.
i stick with anarchist for the reasons roderick long cites - someone will realise the switch and then you appear duplicitous. plus 'anarchism' has its own allure.

on the eu issue perhaps go with the lefty hobby horse of localism. call yourselves 'local democrats' or something. avoid any hint of nationalism as the enemy have read orwell too and perverted that word already.

Trooper Thompson said...


fair enough.

I guess what I think is still important is having some answers about what we want, rather than just what we don't want.


old chestnut or not, I think it does have an effect. 'Local democrat' would open up a whole series of blind alleys, I reckon. Besides, I can never disassociate the word 'local' from The League of Gentlemen! (I presume you get that reference?)

will said...

I agree with you absolutely that language has a gigantic effect. By 'chestnut' I didnt intend any criticism of your point, rather I meant chestnut as in 'tricky old problem'. being seen as the bad guy because one opposes something. we had a similar discussion in the comments on your recent conspiracy theory post.

my lame suggestion of local democrat wasnt much of a serious effort. it would be hard to avoid comparisons with Tubbs and Edward as they protest against the 'new road'!

Trooper Thompson said...

Don't worry, Will, I'm not so touchy!

In terms of the original issue, i.e. the useability of 'eurosceptic', the truth is the term won't go away, and, like conspiracy theorist, I'd rather embrace it, as this draws much of the sting, rather than make excuses. What is certainly necessary is to have an answer to the stock questions about 'what do you want instead of the EU' and also to be clear and well-rehearsed when the usual parade of straw man arguments comes trundling along (e.g. 'we have X% of our trade with the EU' - the implication being that leaving the EU would mean we would no longer trade with the EU).

ReefKnot said...

The left discovered the power of language a long time ago. We should learn from this. Think of Islamophobia, Homophobia, Racist - all powerful words designed to stifle any dissenting views. What can we freedom-lovers come up with, either to describe ouselves positively or to label the opposition negatively ?

Trooper Thompson said...

"The socialists have engineered a semantic revolution in converting the meaning of terms into their opposite. In the vocabulary of their "Newspeak," as George Orwell called it, there is a term "the one-party principle." Now etymologically party is derived from the noun part. The brotherless part is no longer different from its antonym, the whole; it is identical with it. A brotherless party is not a party, and the one party principle is in fact a no-party principle. It is a suppression of any kind of opposition. Freedom implies the right to choose between assent and dissent. But in Newspeak it means the duty to assent unconditionally and strict interdiction of dissent. This reversal of the traditional connotation of all words of the political terminology is not merely a peculiarity of the language of the Russian Communists and their Fascist and Nazi disciples. The social order that in abolishing private property deprives the consumers of their autonomy and independence, and thereby subjects every man to the arbitrary discretion of the central planning board, could not win the support of the masses if they were not to camouflage its main character. The socialists would have never duped the voters if they had openly told them that their ultimate end is to cast them into bondage. For exoteric use they were forced to pay lip-service to the traditional appreciation of liberty.

It was different in the esoteric discussions among the inner circles of the great conspiracy. There the initiated did not dissemble their intentions concerning liberty. Liberty was, in their opinion, certainly a good feature in the past in the frame of bourgeois society because it provided them with the opportunity to embark on their schemes. But once socialism has triumphed, there is no longer any need for free thought and autonomous action on the part of individuals. Any further change can only be a deviation from the perfect state that mankind has attained in reaching the bliss of socialism. Under such conditions, it would be simply lunacy to tolerate dissent."

Ludwig von Mises, extract from a speech given to the Mont Pelerin Society, published under the title 'Liberty and Property'