Let’s first talk about what etymology is in case some people don’t know. Most simply, etymology is the study of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history. How today the word “gay” means something entirely different than it did in the 1920’s.
That being understood one can see how the manipulation of history can lead to control and thus the domination of arguments and as a result philosophy. I find it apparent the ideological left is most guilty of manipulating words so they can be disassociated with the past, associate others with a false history, or even force people into argument that detracts from the subject matter. I’d like to look at some obvious cases of this now.
First, the most obvious case I think we’re all familiar with is the the term liberal, which for centuries was associated with what is now called “classical liberalism”, but is today associated closely and nearly inseparably with the ideological left. This happened as a result of a slow co-option by progressives in the FDR era. This is pretty commonly known so I’m not going to delve very deeply here, but this is when Mencken and Nock first began to call themselves libertarians.
Next most famously, and connected with the following example, is the term isolationism to refer to non-interventionism. This purposeful misuse began by neo-conservatives and most notably Bill Kristol. Seeking to associate the nation of North Korea with a more reserved foreign policy, Kristol intentionally misused and continues to mis-use the term “isolationist” to refer to non-interventionists much to the displeasure of a great many people, and to his advantage of pushing a failed Wilsonian foreign policy.
Now let’s take a quick look at “neoconservative.” The term has it’s roots in the ideological left with Irving Kristol, a trotskyist who seeking to capitalize and form a movement based around trotskyism, but who found resistance following the rise of the USSR. As you can tell with even cursory research the conservative movement was taken over by neoconservative thought not 20 years later that eventually lead to both Bush presidencies, where Kristol was awarded the medal of freedom by George W Bush. George W Bush , being completely antithetical to the ideas of what was widely considered conservatism at the time prior to the rise of Kristol. Most notably the ideas of gun control, expanding government education to the point of creating no child left behind, and the troubled asset relief program.
The people now called “paleoconservatives” should rightly be enraged by this. However, few “paleoconservatives” remain and that itself should serve as a clarion call to libertarians.
Fourth, let’s talk about the term “State Capitalism” to associate communist countries like the USSR and China with capitalism and the free market. This has been done as far back as the USSR. This phrase has been used by everyone from trotskyists and Maoists to Anarcho-communists. It’s use is mostly in deference to the argument “it’s not true communism”, as a defense of communist ideas, and as a false “cooperation” with capitalist ideals.
Ludwig Von Mises himself commented on this phenomena saying:
“The socialist movement takes great pains to circulate frequently new labels for its ideally constructed state. Each worn-out label is replaced by another which raises hopes of an ultimate solution of the insoluble basic problem of Socialism—until it becomes obvious that nothing has been changed but the name. The most recent slogan is “State Capitalism.”
The last and final example(though there are a great many more) is closer to home, “classical libertarian” is on the rise among communists on the internet to conflate libertarianism with the 19th century political movement started by the communist Joseph Dejacque. Dejacque himself appropriated this term from William Belsham, a left leaning determinist who labeled those who believed in free will as libertarians. Dejacque never used the term libertarian to describe a philosophy, yet still the ideological left seems hell bent on doing to libertarianism what they did to what is now “classical” liberalism and “paleo” conservatism. This is no doubt a method of co-opting the the ideas and discussions around libertarianism into a platform for the ideological left, not to mention a basic logical fallacy called the etymological fallacy.
This is somewhat related to what Orwell described as “double speak.” That term unfortunately, thanks to conspiracy theorists, is seen to have negative “tin foil hat” connotations and doesn’t relate to the intentional use of this language to further political agendas or co-opt ideas. Though the idea is frighteningly prescient.
I’d instead like to posit the phrase “Etymological terrorism.” While some may see this as a bit sensationalist, or even guilty of double speak itself, i think it’s important to fight fire with fire. I’m being careful to not choose a word that’s already in use to avoid doing the same thing here that I’m accusing others of doing, but in essence double speak used as a tool for political gain is Etymological terrorism.
Terrorism itself is defined as the use of violent acts to frighten the people as a way of trying to further a political agenda. While etymological terrorism is the intentional misuse or appropriation of term to confuse people as a way to further a political agenda.