Monday, November 27, 2006

Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power by Josef Pieper

This is an interesting and hard-hitting little book (about 50 pages long) about the significance and dangers of the manipulation of language. It is deeply rooted in Plato's thoughts on rhetoric and the true purpose of communication. Written in German in 1974, the English translation was published by Ignatius Press in 1992. Here are a few interesting quotes:

So writes John Wild, the American scholar and expert on Plato: "The Sophist appears as a true philosopher, more so than the philosopher himself." (pg. 29)

"Is it not obvious", he wonders in his dialogue Phaedrus, "that even those who have a genuine message of truth and reality must first court the favor of the people so they will listen at all? Is there not such a thing as seduction to the truth?"

Be this as it may - this much remains true: wherever the main purpose of speech is flattery, there the word becomes corrupted and necessarily so. And instead of genuine communication, there will exist something for which domination is too benign a term; more appropriately we should speak of tyranny, of despotism.

Public discourse, the moment it becomes basically neutralized with regard to a strict standard of truth, stands by its nature ready to serve as an instrument in the hands of any ruler to pursue all kinds of power schemes. Public discourse itself, separated from the standard of truth, creates on its part, the more it prevails, an atmosphere of epidemic proneness and vulnerability to the reign of the tyrant.

The abuse of political power is fundamentally connected with the sophistic abuse of the word.

Consequently, one may be entirely knowledgeable about a thousand details and nevertheless, because of ignorance regarding the core of the matter, remain without basic insight. This is a phenomenon in itself already quite astonishing and disturbing. Arnold Gehlen labeled it "a fundamental ignorance, created by technology and nourished by information."

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