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Democratic Methods Ethics Oslo/Peace Process

Semantic Subversion: Behind the Rise of Barack Obama

When opinion rules, as it does in democracies, it is only necessary to examine, not its truth, but the number of those who express this opinion. It is not even necessary to examine whether any individual who expresses this opinion is serious or frivolous, whether his opinion is the result of reflection or of impulse, whether it is an abiding conviction or a passing fancy. Consequently, wherever opinions rule, people are less apt to take opinions seriously. Hence they will be less likely to develop the habit of critical thinking or of making logical and moral distinctions. Feelings or the emotions will thus tend to supplant logic. People will then become more susceptible to propaganda, whose target is the emotions.

It is in this light that we are to understand Senator Barack Obama’s use of such slogans as “Change!” and “Yes, we can.”

Since democracies, more than other regimes, are ruled by opinion, and since politicians modulate opinions with emotion, democracies are inherently prone to semantic subversion.. The adepts of semantic subversion use the media of democracy to concentrate public attention on emotionally appealing and simplistic solutions to complex problems. For example, the Arab-Israel conflict is commonly viewed as a territorial one. This is precisely how Senator Obama referred to the conflict when he visited Israel. Lacking a background of serious knowledge, he readily succumbs to the formula “territory for peace” as if it were the key to solving what in essence is a a religious conflict, or what Samuel Huntington calls a “clash of civilizations.”

In this clash between Jews and Moslems, a psychical reality, “peace,” is made equivalent to a material reality, “territory.” By making peace and territory interchangeable, the language of “peace” can be used as an instrument of war, for territory, its semantic equivalent, is precisely such an instrument. Moreover, by intoning the word “peace,” Arab autocrats stimulate the emotions or wishful thinking of democrats. Obscured in the process are the profound ideological differences between liberal democracies and Islamic autocracies.

Alas, the same sort of semantic manipulation is practiced by many Israeli politicians. Although they desire peace, they also desire power and prestige. Indeed, the “politics of peace” has become the operational principle of rhetoric in this country. Its practitioners use the lure and language of peace to discredit their opponents, whom they typically disparage as “hawks” or “hard-liners,” people who may have reason to distrust the peace offerings of despots and despotic regimes. Is it any wonder that neither Senator John McCain nor Governor Sarah Palin—who surely know better—dare not speak candidly about the Islamic threat confronting both Israel and the United States? They would be demonized as “racists” and of course as “war mongers.”

Unfortunately, many democrats believe that right cannot remain right when invested with force, that the use of force on behalf of justice makes one morally suspect. People of this persuasion usually identify justice with benevolence. Democracies, they believe, should display good will to all nations regardless of their political or ideological character. This attitude prompts democratic leaders to hobnob with dictatorships. Senator Obama has emphasized that he would sit down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad despite the latter’s vow to wipe Israel off the map. Obama would thereby dignify a despot and an unjust regime. This moral obscurantism facilitates semantic subversion.

And yet, contrary to this leveling tendency, the ordinary citizen of a democracy does not usually identify justice with benevolence. Nor does he deplore the application of might in defense of right. He distrusts “foreigners” and has no use for dictatorships. Lacking a university education, he disdains the cosmopolitanism of multiculturalists or postmodernists. Who, then, is more susceptible to semantic subversion, the more educated or the less educated?

Consider George Orwell’s insights into the attitude of England’s left-wing intelligentsia. Writing during the Battle of Britain, Orwell saw that these intellectuals tended to be “pacifists” and “defeatists” in “marked contrast to the common people, who either had not woken up to the fact that England was in danger, or were determined to resist to the last ditch. England, he said, is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.” This describes almost perfectly Israel’s as well as America’s leftwing academics.

Steeped in multiculturalism, these academics make no distinction between good and bad regimes. The consequence of this moral equivalence is to facilitate semantic subversion to which the literati succumb more readily than those they term “philistines.”

That Barack Obama is anxious to negotiate with Ahmadinejad, a despot that calls for “death to America,” reveals that he not only lacks national pride or honor, but that he is also is a purveyor of moral equivalence on the one hand, and of semantic subversion of the other. Unfortunately, he has rallied the support of millions of Americans who have been corrupted by this pathological tendency of contemporary democracy.

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