The Mental Guillotine and Abortion
O.J. Brown, Ph.D.
themselves wise, they became fools. ~St. Paul
During the eighteenth
century, the Enlightenment prevailed in much of Europe. Gotthold Ephraism Lessing (1728-1781), a
librarian, poet, art critic, and editor, wrote On the Education of the Human
Race, proclaiming that man had come of age
and that henceforth reason, not revelation, would rule. Lessing was dead when
the French Revolution began. He
never saw what human reason left to itself could accomplish. The beautiful guarantees of the
Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) were soon submerged in
blood shed by the guillotine, an instrument intended to make capital punishment
more human, named after the physician who invented it. Quick and efficient, it served in the
Reign of Terror of the French Revolution to dispatch so many victims that the
streets of Paris — and not only Paris — ran with blood. It remained the normal means of
execution in France and elsewhere for two centuries.
The guillotine was absolutely effective against
critics and protesters of every kind, silencing them forever. Today the French, like most of the West,
have abandoned capital punishment.
Even the United States, where it is still employed, applies it so rarely
and with such long delays that it does not accomplish one of the chief effects
of the old guillotine, namely, reducing critics to silence. The modern world can achieve that far
less bloodily by the use of the technique that I call the Mental
We owe our concept of the mental guillotine to a
French mathematician, Arnauld-Aaron Upinsky, author of The Severed
Head. The Secret of
Power (La Tête Coupée. Le Secret du
In his closely written tome of over 500 pages,
Upinsky relies heavily on the history of France and of the French language to
make his case: For this reason,
much of his argument cannot easily be put into English. Nevertheless, his major point can be
made in a few sentences. For the
steel blade of the old guillotine, the powers that be have substituted the
verbal blade that he calls “strong language.” Mentally guillotined, we have ears but
cannot hear, and eyes but cannot see.
The old guillotine rendered men and women impotent, incapable of doing
good or opposing evil because they were quite thoroughly and permanently
dead. The bloodless mental
guillotine is almost equally effective in silencing critics. Although our arms and legs still
function, our eyes and ears do not.
We can identify neither evil nor good. Today, in the United States, and in
Europe, and even more dramatically in France herself, people are unable to see
where they are and what is coming, even what they are bringing on
themselves. They are mentally
guillotined. Unless and until we
learn to look as well as listen, we shall remain ineffectual observers instead
of effective actors in the world in which we find ourselves.
Upinsky looks primarily at France and the French
language, where he finds dozens of examples to prove his point. For Americans it makes more sense to
look at Rome, the city, state, and empire that shaped our past, whose
institutions inspired our republic.
We have consciously and deliberately imitated Rome, especially the
Republic. Our Congress sits on
Capitol Hill and the rostrum of the Speaker of the House is flanked by fasces,
the symbol of power in the Roman Republic. Like Rome after the dreadful days of the
successive Punic wars, we suddenly find ourselves a far-flung empire. We have not divinized our presidents as
Rome did her emperors, but we have built for some of them monuments that look
like temples. Let us not carry the
parallel too far, and like Rome cease to rule over barbarians and instead come
to be ruled by them.
Perhaps a close look at history will free our eyes
from the blindfolds imposed by the modern mental guillotine. During two centuries of decline and
erosion in the grand structure of their empire, the causes for the coming
collapse lay before their eyes. The
Romans could see, but evidently they did not understand. Looking back at Rome, we may ask in
amazement, Why not?
Consider our own modern (or as some would have it,
postmodern) age: are we better than they in seeing what is happening to us, what
we are doing to ourselves? Or has a
mental guillotine cut us off as effectively from our present realities and
perils as the old guillotine cut its victims off from life? The Romans could decapitate, and do more
hideous things as well, but they did not have the guillotine.
Our modern world has outgrown the old guillotine. Before we define its non-bloody
successor, let us look at the comparison between their empire and
A Comparison: Flawed or Merely Too Early?
In the year 1965, during the Vietnam War, the noted
preacher Dr. Harold John Ockenga delivered a series of sermons at Boston’s Park
Street Church entitled, “A Voice to the Nation.” His goal was to awaken our late American
republic to what might lay ahead, to warn us while we still had time to
repent. More than once, the
preacher compared the United States to the Roman Empire in its latter days. His words resounded in the historic
hall, but his hearers did not understand, did not draw the desired
conclusions. There were individual
conversions, but his preaching did little to awaken the city or the nation to
the dangers that he saw: imitating
Rome in discarding personal decadence, political decline would soon
Being involved in the study of Roman history at the
time, I found Dr. Ockenga’s comparison a bit overdrawn. But that was forty years ago. Things have changed. At the time his vision was premature.
The parallel had not yet been achieved.
American life had not yet descended to the level of Petronius’
Satyricon. Perhaps today it has. Today the similarities are
Rome fell. We all know it, whether we date the fall
at the storming of the City of Rome in A.D. 410 or with the abdication of the
last emperor in the West in 476.
Historians speculate about why.
Unlike the sudden disintegration of the Soviet Union, Rome had decades,
perhaps centuries, when it might have arrested its decline. What caused it? Was it population decline, barbarian
invasions, too much wealth, moral debasement, sexual licentiousness,
infanticide, the decline of industry or agriculture? No doubt each of these factors played a
role. They did not bring it down
all at once, but the longer they lasted, the more difficult they made
renewal. If we have eyes to see,
several similar trends are present in America today. Can we sustain them indefinitely?
That is a question for
today. The question that
preoccupied me then was not why the empire fell, but why its rulers and leading
men do not seem to have realized that it was happening. Why didn’t they take steps to reverse
the decline until it was far too late? In the fourth century, even early in the
fifth, Rome still had excellent military forces, fine roads, wealth, and
industries. Why did the empire go
down under the blows of Germanic barbarians it had successfully resisted for so
long? Why did the wise men of that
day not see it coming?
The city of Rome was over one
thousand years old. It was Roma aeterna, eternal Rome. The Empire
was wealthy. Its armies were large,
well-trained, and well equipped. It
had a highly developed system of government, remarkably efficient for the time,
with good lines of communication.
Unlike the greatest powers of the twentieth century, the United States
and the Soviet Union, which faced each other in a prolonged nuclear standoff,
Rome was not menaced by any equally strong rival nation. It seems that it was
hardly pushed. Yet it
A Sinister Change?
Was it the rise of the new religion, Christianity,
that weakened the Empire? Many of
Rome’s best pagans thought so. They
looked on its progress with the same distaste that sophisticated evolutionists
today look on the partisans of Intelligent Design. Some of the best emperors, such as
Marcus Aurelius (161-180), tried to suppress Christianity. The last great pagan emperor, Diocletian
(284-304), who restructured the Empire, vigorously persecuted the
The increasingly numerous Christians denied
this. Christianity, they said, will
not undermine the Empire. Rome fell
because it had abandoned its earlier pagan virtues, not because the church
undermined it. In fact, Christians
believed it their duty, as the Apostle Paul had urged, to “be in subjection to
the governing authorities, [f]or there is no authority except from God, and
those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1). Tertullian (c.165 - c. 225) protested
that hard-working, moral Christians were an asset to the state, “the soul of the
commonwealth.” Because they were
largely pacifistic, they did not provide the Empire with many soldiers, but as
there was no conscription, this reluctance led to problems only when men already
in the Roman army were converted. St. Sebastian, the converted soldier who was
executed for his faith, is a familiar subject of Christian art, but his example
was rarely imitated. Of course when
the emperors themselves were Christians after the conversion of Constantine,
Christians were increasingly willing to fight for the Empire.
The fall of the thousand-year-old city of Rome to
Alaric in 410 sent a shock through the whole Roman world. Pagans were quick to blame the
Christians, saying that the gods had abandoned Rome because the Christians had
rejected and dishonored them. In The City of God, St.
Augustine (365-430) charged that it was the abandonment of the old Roman virtues
and standards of conduct that had sapped the Empire’s strength. The mobs cried out for
circenses, bread and circuses, and
the emperors provided. If that was
the answer — and surely decadence played a part — it was a long time in coming,
because decadence was present for centuries as Rome continued to expand.
Moral degeneracy such as that condemned by Augustine
does not immediately sap a nation’s strength, especially when it is confined to
the upper classes and the intelligentsia.
Far more significantly, not only did the old Roman virtues fade, but the
old Romans themselves disappeared.
As time went on, the stock of the Romans and Italians who had prevailed
against Carthage and conquered much of the Mediterranean world had become
depleted and exhausted. The legions
were increasingly filled with provincials, for fewer and fewer Romans and
Italians were available. Many of
those that were there were decadent, jaded, and unwilling to serve. Ultimately, even the emperors were no
longer drawn from the heartland.
Population declined: there was vast slaughter of the
original population in the decades of civil war in the first century B.C. The luxury-loving, licentiously immoral
descendants of the conquerors did not fill the gap by reproduction. Eventually there were not even enough
good men from the provinces for the legions. Germanic peoples from the east were
pushing into the Empire, where they were increasingly recruited to defend it
against Germanic tribes outside.
As the Roman armies, including officers and generals, were drawn more and
more from outside, they became less effective as a means for assimilating the
barbarians in their ranks. None of
this would have happened had the population of Rome and Italy continued to grow
and renew itself, or even simply to remain stable.
The danger should have been evident, and occasionally
individuals saw it. Nevertheless,
as though they could not see what was happening around them, emperors had
visions of a still more glorious future.
Diocletian, mentioned above, restructured the Empire, creating the system
of dioceses later adopted by the church.
Constantine (306-337) turned the Greek city of Byzantium into a second
capital, renaming it Constantinople, and intended to create a third center at
Trier in what is now northwestern Germany.
Julian the Apostate (361-363), a lapsed Christian and the last pagan
emperor, felt strong enough to invade Parthia (Persia).
Half a century after this ambitious but
campaign, Rome itself fell to the barbarian Alaric. The subsequent, sudden fall of the Roman
Empire from grandeur and high ambition had a parallel in the abrupt
disintegration of the Soviet Union after 1989, as well as in the abandonment of
empire by Great Britain in the years following World War II. The U.S.S.R. fell after a failed war in
Afghanistan. Great Britain,
exhausted, gave up her empire after victory in the greatest war the world had
What Does This Mean for Us?
What can this comparison across centuries mean to us
in early twenty-first century America?
Many things have changed, but men are still finite and fallen.
Our armies are still advancing, albeit slowly, and
our industries are still producing, albeit less successfully than in better
days. Where are we on the clock of
history? Are we on a plateau, after
which we shall rise again, or have we reached the crest, about to decline? As the French proverb puts it, the more
things change, the more they are the same.
France went from divine right monarchy through revolution, terror,
Napoleon, restoration, and three more republics to reach the present. Our American republic has lasted longer
and with far less disruption, but even Roma aeterna did not last forever. Can we learn anything from the failure
of its monarchs, philosophers, entrepreneurs, and poets to see where they were
going while there was still time to change course? Can we see, as we look at Rome,
something that can help us avoid the mental guillotine?
That internal flaws and external dangers would
eventually led to collapse should have been no surprise and was foreseen by a
few. The first emperor, Augustus,
noticed the threatening population decline and took measures to counteract it,
penalizing celibacy and rewarding procreation. The widespread moral decline of the
first two centuries after Christ was pointed out and lamented by historians such
as Tacitus and by poets such as Juvenal and Martial. There were “good emperors,” Trajan, Hadrian,
Antinious Pius, and Marcus Aurelius, from A.D. 94 to 180. There were efficient ones, such as
Septimius Severus (196-217), Aurelian (270-275), and of course the last great
pagan emperor, Diocletian. His successor, Constantine, hoped that the church
would provide a stabilizing and uniting force in the Empire.
could have been stopped, perhaps even reversed, at many points before it became
irresistible. After 363, things began to go worse for the Empire, as
pressure from the Germanic peoples in the northeast intensified. Julian in
363 and the eastern Emperor Valens in 376 became the first emperors to die in
battle. Nevertheless, the eastern empire survived; the west, which
is what we think of when we say Rome, did not.
The vision of Empire continued, first as that of
Rome, then of Constantinople, Aachen, and Vienna. It was taken up with catastrophic
consequences by Adolf Hitler in his vision of a Third Reich (empire). It has been suggested by some, such as
Martin Marty and Emmanuel Todd, that today empire is America’s vision. If so, there is all the more reason for
us to look closely at Rome.
400, the Romans were still in Britain.
The sack of the city of Rome by Alaric and the Roman withdrawal from
Britain both happened in 410. The
Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Vandals swept into Italy, over Gaul and the Iberian
peninsula, and into North Africa, capturing Carthage in 439. Not one of the Germanic peoples had a
Hannibal, but Rome had no Scipio, no Caesar, no Marcus Antonius to stop
them. In 410 the shape was still
there, but the strength had gone.
On many occasions before 410 the empire could have been restored,
rejuvenated, and saved, but the men on the scene at the time do not seem to have
realized the seriousness of their situation. Time ran out.
Dr. Ockenga likened the United States of the 1960’s
to Rome in the days of her decline.
At the time, I thought that the comparison was wrong. But since those days, much has
happened. America lost a war,
Vietnam, her first if one does not count the stalemate in Korea a loss. Or, rather than clearly losing,
withdrew, leaving her enemy to consummate total victory over her abandoned
ally. She involved herself in local
conflicts, winning in Panama and Haiti, suffering in Sudan and Lebanon, twice
bombing Serbs into submission in the Balkans, ejecting Iraqi invaders from
Kuwait, then destroying the Iraqi government and seeking to create a democracy
where none had been before.
Misfortunes swarm about the embattled President Bush. Is our situation like that imagined by
Constantine for his reorganized empire, promising greater days to come? Or are we more like Rome in A.D. 400,
still sitting atop a large empire, with all the structures apparently still in
place and functional, but actually about to fall?
And Now, the Guillotine
is Truth? ~Pontius
The question that the Roman procurator put to Jesus
may have been simply an expression of the governor’s frustration at being
confronted with still another source of tumult by his unruly subjects, or it may
have reflected the much more fundamental question, Does truth exist? Perhaps the Roman official knew of the
radical denial of truth by the Stoics and Sophists. More probably, Pilate was trying to
rationalize his own crime in sentencing to death a man he knew to be
Today twenty-first century America, and indeed all of
the Western world, has a problem with truth. In La Tête Coupée, A.-A. Upinsky shows how across the centuries the
minds of Europeans — and now Americans — have been so blinded by what he calls
strong language that our minds
can no longer function, even though our heads are still on our bodies. We are, he tells us,
dupes de la
langue, dupes of
The theoretical analysis that he brings up reminds us
of issues that have been debated since the days of the great Greek
philosophers. In fact, we could go
before that to the question that the serpent put to Eve: “Yea, and hath God said...?”
questioning something it knew to be true.
Before entering the real inquiry, let me cite one case where language
dupes us: intolerance. If we can label an attitude intolerance, we
immediately remove all critical examination and refuse to tolerate it.
Upinsky speaks of an age-old clash of convictions,
which he calls the nominalist controversy.
For nominalists, language is only a tool. In the ideal case, this may be
innocuous. Perhaps in most cases
there is no significant difference between saying, “The sunset is beautiful,”
and “I really like this sunset.”
There are nevertheless things that may well be called beautiful, but
which one might not like at all, especially if too close to them. A tiger may be
beautiful, but it is also dangerous.
For an idealist in this sense, the universal concept is itself real:
beauty exists in itself, and a person or a thing that we call beautiful reflects
or embodies something real, namely beauty.
The saying, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,”
taken in its logical implications, really denies that such a thing as beauty
exists. All that exists is our
reaction, and that varies from person to person. The same thing is then said for
nominalist holds that universal
categories such as beauty and truth are only names that we use to categorize
persons, objects, and qualities.
People, objects, and ideas can be called beautiful when they possess a measure of that reality. When we call a statue or a concerto
beautiful, we are saying that it partakes of that essential quality, that universal, beauty. This ordinary use of language makes
sense, at least to most of us. If
we call a statue by Michaelangelo beautiful, we do not imagine that we cannot
say the same about a concerto by Vivaldi because it is heard and not seen like
the statue. The quality of beauty
is a universal that both share; the qualities of solidity and weight belong to
the statue alone.
For the nominalist, such ideas are just
nomina, names that we use to
indicate areas of resemblance between things perceived. Perhaps we call the statue, the
concerto, and the sunset all by the same word, beautiful, simply because they
all please and delight us, either the eye or the ear. There is no such thing as beauty itself;
it is only a convenient nomen to
describe our own reaction.
The problem becomes more acute when we are speaking
not only of tangible things such as statues and concertos, but of a less
visible, audible, tangible thing such as truth. Do we call a statement or proposition
true because it corresponds to an
objective reality and possesses something that we call truth? Or is truth nothing but a name that we habitually attach to
ideas, statements, propositions, or theories that please us?
No Diga Mentiras
No diga mentiras,
lies, was the beginning of a song in a set to teach the Ten Commandments to
children. As an admonition it is
good, but the rest of the verse was false: “Angels don’t lie; that’s why they
can fly.” With the best of
intentions, the image of flying angels was used to persuade — or shall we say,
manipulate — children to avoid lying.
This is an example of a relatively harmless use of a technique that is
also capable of being used to cause great evil: strong
language. The nominalist principle that names —
words — are only conventional expressions of what we think or want others to
think (as in the case of the false-hearted lover). Nominalist practice regularly employs
strong language in
contrast to true language. True language tells us something that is objectively
true; strong language
manipulates. If a lad tells a lass,
“I love you more than anything, more than life itself,” it may be true
language. It could be shown to be
true if the boy actually risked his life for the girl. But as we know all too well, such talk
may be flattery rather than truth, intended to manipulate the lass into doing
something that she would willingly do only if she really believed him to be
If our society were to begin to follow the command
no diga mentiras, it would
disrupt much more than the sweet speech of a lover. The corollary to no diga
mentiras is diga la
verdad, tell the truth. It is difficult to establish a pattern
of true political language in our nation because the very name of our nation
involves a deception, and we can hardly perceive it. Why do we say, “the United
States is?” The very way we use
name of our country is strong language.
It tells us to we forget our history and adapt ourselves to its ordered
How Many States?
are the United States? Are? Don’t we say
“is”? By converting the grammatical
plural into a singular, we effectively prejudice ourselves against thinking of
the individual states as being, having been, or even going to be in any sense
sovereign. Other languages, such as
French and German, respect the grammar of the phrase as plural, les Etats-Unis sont. Our present usage, “The United States
is,” reflects the reality that has been
growing ever since the War between the States and helps us to forget that the
nation was once a voluntary union of sovereign states. Prior to the “Civil War,” the United
States were. Now we say the United States
was. The theory of the victorious North was
that the United States was a union, and they waged America’s
costliest war to make the Union indissoluble. The “is” is reflected in what we call
the war, the Civil War. We hardly
realize that the term does not really fit.
In a civil war, the competing parties fight for control of the whole
state, but in the American war as it really was, the Southern side fought for
the independence of some individual states.
The Southern secession, the Rebellion, as the
victorious “Union” called it, was possible only because the seceding states were
sufficiently sovereign to have organized state militia, armies that they could
put into action to defend their frontiers.
Robert E. Lee was offered the command of the federal armies charged with
putting down the secession. He
refused it, saying that he could not take up arms against his Virginia. Today it is virtually impossible to
imagine a man willing to fight and if necessary to die for a state in opposition
to the central government. The
United States once were. Now the United States is.
A New Idol?
The now forgotten
linguistic coup of saying “Civil War”
instead of “War Between the States” assumed that no other arrangement is even
thinkable. We make a similar mental
leap when we exalt the idea of democracy. This is a powerful word, a bit of very
strong language, and it can be used to justify, even to sanctify, many
things. In 1776 the colonists
rebelled for freedom; the
democracies that we established in the new states were far less fully democratic
than the systems that we now believe it our duty to set up
President Woodrow Wilson announced the war aim, “To
make the world safe for democracy.” Did he think himself the rerum mundi
moderator, the director of all
things of the entire world? The
Allies would probably not have won the Great War without American intervention,
which we thought of as a crusade.
Thirty years later Dwight Eisenhower titled his story of World War II
America’s Second Crusade. Even
President George W. Bush let the word “crusade” slip when speaking of our war on
terror. Political correctness made
him abandon it quickly.
mid-point of the great staircase in Harvard’s Widener Library, dedicated to the
memory of young Harry Elkins Widener who lost his life in the sinking of the
Titanic, a great mural shows young American soldiers embarking for Europe.
The inscription reads, “They crossed the sea crusaders keen to help the nations
battling in a righteous cause.” Whether the cause was righteous or not, it
was victorious. This “righteous cause” brought the destruction of two
relatively stable, multicultural empires. What emerged from their ruin was
hardly a success for democracy. The unintended consequence of the breakup of
multilingual Austria-Hungary was the establishment of a number of less
multilingual small states, followed by ongoing conflict and war in the Balkans,
especially but not only in former Yugoslavia.
Once again the United States are (there’s that plural
again!) attempting to spread democracy abroad. And what is democracy? Are (is) the United States a
democracy? Upinsky tells us that
“the rule of the people!” means “the rule of one.”
The concept of the rule
of the people has two grammatical meanings: either the people rule, or the people
are ruled. Which do we have, or do
we have both? If we are even a bit
unclear, should we not hesitate before offering, or imposing, democracy on
Why should the people rule? Are we not presupposing our
conclusion? Do we make the
demos, the people, our god,
saying vox populi, vox Dei, the
voice of the people is the voice of God?
The voice of the people can say wrong things, can ordain horrible
crimes. Adolf Hitler was elected in
Germany, Mugabe was elected in what
was then Southern Rhodesia. “One
man, one vote” can turn out to be, as in the latter case, “One man, one vote,
once.” We seem to be making
democracy an idol to proclaim to the other nations of the world, even though it
is hard to assert that the current American government is democratic in anything
like the original sense of the word.
How much of what we actually are do we think that we
can create, or help the Iraqis create, in Iraq? Does not democracy require a common
sense, a common understanding, on the part of the people who are to rule? What
must we achieve in Iraq in order to recognize it as a democracy? It is not inconceivable, in fact it may
be probable, that a truly free and democratic election in Iraq could yield
It required hundreds of years of development for
Greek cities to develop democracy.
It took over six hundred years after the signing of the Magna
Carta for England to become a
parliamentary democracy. There were
English colonies in North America for a century and one half before the
colonists drafted our Declaration of Independence. Is it reasonable to think that the
United States, operating like a deus ex machina, can bring democracy to Iraq in a year, or a decade?
The word democracy means rule by the
demos, the people.
To achieve this is easier said than done. As opposed to the concept of a
republic (res publica), which merely means the
public thing, democracy is a procedure.
In reality, as it exists today, democracy as the way government decisions
are actually made is more illusion than reality. It is a very strong word, inclining
those who hear it to favor it.
Dictatorial regimes like to use it, as in German Democratic
Republic. The Communist nations of eastern Europe
called themselves people’s democracies, but in not one of them did the people
rule. Each had its little monarch,
or in some cases oligarchs.
When a government calls itself democratic, how often
and under what circumstances do the people actually get to decide issues, even
those of national survival? One
of the characteristics of an idol is that it represents something — a god or
other power — that is not real, that does not exist. We cannot say that democracy does not
exist, but if we look carefully at what is there rather than merely listen to
the words of praise, the rule of the people is very rare. In his Gettysburg
Address, Abraham Lincoln spoke of
“the rule of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Do we really have that in the United
States? Is it not more correct to
rephrase that “the rule of the people, by the powers, and for the special
interests”? This may be more
correct, but it is not a slogan that we think we could use in Iraq. If President Lincoln had begun by
calling for volunteers to “free the slaves,” would thousands have
responded? If after September 11,
2001, President Bush had asked Congress to declare a war to establish
democracies in the Middle East, would the members have
Democracy in anything like the original sense can
exist only in a very small community.
In Greece, where democracy began, it existed in a city, and even in the
city, only a minority of the people had the franchise. Real democracy exists today only in
small communities such as the canton of Appenzell in Switzerland. In the larger cantons, and in
Switzerland itself — which is still called a confederation rather than a union —
major policy decisions can be made by referendum, in which all of the citizens
are asked to participate. But in
general the country is ruled by the legislatures.
The referendum approach is seen from time to time in
the United States, but the “higher authorities” have ways to disregard it. In 2002, 65 percent of the people of
Mecklenburg County voted not to build a new basketball stadium. The new Bobcat Arena was inaugurated in
November 2005. Laws and even amendments to state constitutions voted in
California and Colorado have been disregarded or declared “unconstitutional” by
courts. It is sometimes said that
if the Congress and the states passed a constitutional amendment limiting the
power of the Supreme Court, the Court would declare the amendment
unconstitutional. It might well
In practice, the great advantage of a democracy such
as ours is that the people choose the ones who rule them, and we can if
necessary change them. Voting is
democratic, but what it produces is an oligarchy, the rule of a few. The only advantage, not an insignificant
one, of an elected oligarchy is that it can be voted out. At various times in U.S. history, it
would have been more correct to refer to the government as an elected monarchy,
or dictatorship. As Upinsky points
out, the strong language of government often means something quite
different. In three U.S. elections
prior to 2004, the president was elected by a plurality, not majority, of those
voting, and by only a small plurality of all those eligible to vote. In practice, in the United States
majority rule often means minority rule.
The reality of political life is that strong language
frequently defeats true language, often without even being suspected of anything
dishonest or wrong. This is
apparent from the comparisons in the following table, adapted from The
Reality: Strong Language Frequently Defeats True Language
the voice of the people
the voice of one, or of five of nine
war of aggression
freedom of choice
freedom to kill
right to die
duty to die
freedom of religion
freedom from religion
Adapted from The Severed Head
The Lie About Abortion
On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four large
airliners. Two crashed into New York’s World Trade CenterTowers, one smashed
into the Pentagon, and one, in which the passengers rebelled, crashed into a
field. About 3,000 people
perished. President Bush went on
television and proclaimed, “We are at war!” Those words certainly galvanized
America, and that is what they were intended to do. The United States could not simply stand
idle after such an atrocity, but was it war? Not in the traditional sense, of course,
for it was not a war between nation states.
Terror is not an entity that can be fought against
and defeated. It is a
procedure. We hear that our
adversaries “love terror.” They
“hate us because we are free.” Is
that not a dangerous oversimplification?
If we were merely free, but doing nothing to antagonize them, would they
hate us? They do not accuse us of
being free, but of being corrupt and decadent. Unfortunately there is more than
a little truth in that designation. Terror is not something that they love, but
simply the procedure that they find effective. We hesitate to say that the terrorists
are inspired by Islam. But is it
plausible that dozens, even hundreds would kill themselves in suicide bombings
if they had not been assured that by so doing they would enter
Designating our struggle as a war against terror is
an example of the mental guillotine at work. There is no doubt that the frenzy of the
Muslim radicals has created a multidimensional danger for us. One aspect of the danger is that it
makes us insensitive to other, perhaps even greater dangers. That same day, September 11, about 4000
unborn babies were aborted in the United States, 4000 the day after, and another
4000 more the day after that, so that about six million have been killed since
September 11, six million who would have been American-born American
What should that be called? Would it be correct to say
holocaust? The numbers aborted
since September 11, 2001, match those of the Nazi extermination camps. If we consider the total since January
22, 1973, it is approaching 50 million.
We have sent men, and women, to Afghanistan and Iraq in our War on
Terrorism, but our highest public officials, including the President and the
Secretary of Health and Human Services will not even discuss the war on the
unborn. By early December 2005 over
2100 servicemen and women had been killed in action in Iraq, many of them by
stealth, and many more have been wounded.
Nevertheless, not one of those politicians who so vigorously criticize
the loss of troops in Iraq mentions the daily “termination, safely and legally”
of so many more developing lives in America. Do they not know? Do they not care?
Daniel Goldhagen described the German people as a
whole as Hitler’s Willing Executioners.
Perhaps the Germans, like so many Americans with abortion today, really
did not know what Hitler’s henchmen were doing. Perhaps they too were innocent, their
heads cut off by a 1940’s variety of the mental guillotine that prevents us from
seeing that “right to choose” means right to kill.
Where abortion in America is involved, the mental
guillotine is hard at work. How can
the Justices not know? How can the
media, which largely support the present situation with respect to “terminating”
the unborn, fail to point out their apparent willful blindness? They refuse to
recognize the humanity of the tiny being in the womb, which normally would be,
to use Calvin’s words, “his most secure refuge.” In his decision in
Roe v. Wade, the late Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackman
wrote, “the Court cannot speculate” when human life begins. Can that be true? Or do we not hear the noise of the blade falling on
our ability to think?
Inasmuch as every student of biology knows that a new
life begins with the fertilization of an ovum by a spermatozoan, the question
was not actually when a new human life begins, but when it is recognized by the
Justices as having begun, and therefore as deserving of legal protection.
No diga mentiras, diga la
verdad. Don’t tell lies, tell the truth. If our
Justices, judges, and journalists would cease to tell and repeat lies, surely
the people of America would wake up to what we are doing to every new generation
— and in doing it to them, wounding ourselves. Or, if not, dreadful to
contemplate, are we the American counterpart to Goldman’s Germans, America’s
The Victory of Language
Early in the vehement
controversies that began after the Supreme Court handed down
Roe v. Wade in 1973, the anti-abortion party tried its hand at strong
language and chose the expression “pro-life” to designate its cause. They
did not like “anti-abortion” because of a widespread prejudice against the
concept of being anti-anything. Likewise, their opponents certainly did
not want to be “anti-life,” but also chose not to call themselves
“pro-abortion,” any more than euthanasia advocates like to speak of mercy
killing. In the 1940’s and 1950’s euthanasia was regularly defined as mercy
killing. Mercy may win friends, but killing is bad. The word offends
people, and we prefer not to mention it. The cause prospers since we began
to speak of “death with dignity” and “the right to die.”
The word abortion, not to mention “pro-death,” also
has an unpleasant ring. Needless to
say, the opposing side did not want to choose the logical opposite,
“pro-death.” Instead, after
Webster, a 1988 decision, the
abortion party renamed itself Pro Choice.
From that moment, making the case for limiting abortion became much
harder. The right to choose became
a fundamental freedom. But choose
is a verb. What follows
Here too, as in so many other things, the debate in
politics and the media suffers from an inability or unwillingness to use
logic. Abortion, the termination of
a developing life, is an act. As
the German Federal Constitutional Court
in 1975, “The usual language, termination of pregnancy, cannot conceal the fact
that abortion is a homicidal act.”
Choice is not an act. It is a function. To speak of the right to choose
immediately attracts support, because it suggests freedom. The right to vote is a democratic
freedom, but it means nothing if there is only one candidate. The right to choose with respect to
abortion is not a generalized right to freedom, which one could endorse, but the
specific right to kill. The right
to drive granted by a driver’s license is not the right to drive anything and
everything — not a tractor-trailer or a tank, for example. The right to choose may once have
included the right to choose to smoke cigarettes in a restaurant, but today it
no longer does. The strong
language, “choose,” actually means “choose to terminate” or “to kill.” If it always appeared in the media with
this extension, it would be true language.
As it is, it is very effective strong language. Would it not be correct to say that the
United States have (sic) declared war on the unborn? Strictly speaking, the war on terror,
not on the unborn, is war. What
prevents us from realizing that terrible though terror is, neither it nor the
war against it have taken more than a fraction of the lives that we ourselves
have “terminated, safely and legally,” in abortion.
The Rule by Words
According to Hannah Arendt
in Eichmann in Jerusalem, Nazi Germany
established “language rules” to keep the people ignorant of what Hitler was
actually planning to do to the Jews (and eventually, if unintentionally, to them
as well). The people were told that
Jews rounded up to be exterminated were going for “resettlement in the
East.” This did not convince the
victors that the German people as a whole were not Hitler’s Willing
Executioners, as Daniel Goldhagen argued
in his book with that name. In
Nineteen-Eighty-four, Minitrue, the Ministry of Truth,
daily rewrites the dictionary of Newspeak so that eventually such words as love
and freedom will no longer exist.
“Very evil” becomes “doubleplus ungood,” far less effective rhetorically
than real evil. Deprived of the
words, the people will be able to formulate and think only the thoughts that Big
Brother wants them to think.
Language rules and Newspeak exist not only in
Hitler’s Germany and Orwell’s Oceania.
After World War II, Eric Fromm warned in Escape from
Freedom that in the future, we would
be ruled by anonymous authorities.
If we look at what we somewhat naively call PC, “politically correct”
language, we see that Fromm’s prediction is not a joke. It is actually happening. Firemen and waitresses disappear, to be
replaced by firefighters and servers.
The generic he is being forced out.
The texts of poems, hymns, and even the Bible itself are being altered,
but seldom improved by any standard other than the anonymous power of Political
Correctness. Stephen Foster’s
songs, reminiscent of the days of slavery, disappeared some time ago. Carry
me back to old Virginny is no longer
the Virginia state song, even though it was written by a former slave, because
it remembers “working so hard for old Massa.” The effects would sometimes be ludicrous
if not so sad.
In G. K. Chesterton’s hymn, O God of Earth and
Altar, the challenging and sometimes
very appropriate lines,
From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongues and pen,
From all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
are “corrected” to read,
From all that terror teaches,
from lies of pen and voice,
From all the easy speeches
that cause us to rejoice.
In the world of PC religion, there is no place for
men, not even for cruel ones, an idea that might make sense to us in the age of
terrorism. The cruel men of whom Chesterton writes may have needed comfort,
because they had some awareness of doing wrong. Today easy speeches just cause
rejoicing, because we no longer have much of an idea of any evil that we
ourselves might be doing.
What are we to make of the revolutions, rebellions,
wars, and secessions of the past?
Chesterton’s verse quoted above continues, in his
From sale and profanation of
honor and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord.
Even as we seek to defeat the terrorists who threaten
to kill many of us, should we not open our eyes to the procedure, choice, which
permits us to kill so many more of every new generation? Do not let the mental guillotine cut off
your thinking head, so that you cannot see reality. Listen for true language, and do not
heed the strong words that manipulate.
See what is actually happening, not just what you are being told. Do not let the mental guillotine blind
you. Don’t just listen,
Preface by Marcel Jullian (s.l.:
Le Bec, 1991).
The dime, or ten-cent coin, used to bear the fasces, but that symbol was
abandoned after it was taken over by Benito Mussolini. It is still on the wall in the Capitol,
New American Standard
Is there a parallel today, as immigrant Muslims serve in the U.S. armed
forces against their co-religionists in Iraq?
Constantine assumed the title in 306 and became sole emperor in 324. The following year he convened the First
Ecumenical Council at Nicaea.
After the administrative division of the Empire into eastern and western
halves, the east centered at Constantinople proved far more resilient; in fact,
even though they spoke Greek, the easterners would continue calling themselves
Romans until the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. The concept of Roman Empire lasted even
longer, until Napoleon forced the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in
The Emperor Justinian I (525-565) recovered for a time much of the west
that had been conquered by the various
Germanic peoples, but it soon was lost again. The “second Rome” lasted until 1453,
when Constantinople fell to the Turks.
Even after almost six centuries of buffeting by the Muslims, the
“Romans,” as they still called themselves, remained formidable until they were
betrayed and briefly taken over by “crusaders” from the West in 1204. The great historian Stephen Runciman
calls this Fourth Crusade the greatest crime against humanity in history. The Greeks recaptured Constantinople and
reestablished their control there, but the empire was fatally weakened. Still, it did continue to survive for
almost two more centuries. This betrayal by fellow Christians of the Roman
allegiance continues to fester in the hearts of the Eastern Orthodox, despite
efforts by Pope John Paul II to have them forget it. It was recalled by many eastern
Christians in 1999, when American forces under the “western Christian” President
Bill Clinton devastated Yugoslavia and forced the traditionally Orthodox Serbs
to grant freedom to the Muslims of Kosovo.
The “Roman” Empire survived as a political reality until 1453. If we wish to consider the Holy Roman
Empire founded in 800 its legitimate successor, it survived until 1806, when
Napoleon I forced its abolition.
Thus the imperial vision has long had a powerful hold
over the world, or at least over the West.
If we look back to the founding of Rome in 762 B.C. (after all, the
empire existed under the Republic as well), the Roman vision has existed in one
form or another for two and one-half millennia. As we consider the efforts of the United
States to establish democracy around the world, perhaps we should reflect that
our own democratic tradition has existed only since 1776. Democracy is five
centuries older in Switzerland,
dating back to the founding of the Confederation in 792. The Swiss have never made the effort to
export their own vision of political freedom to other nations and
9 See Marty, Righetous Empire (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1931) and Todd, After the Empire (London:
Constable & Robinson Ltd, June 2004).
3:1, Authorized (King James) Version.
11 If there is
one thing that is intolerable, it is intolerance.
12 Because the
idealists believe that these abstract forms or ideas are real, not merely names,
they are also called realists.
relative success of the Hapsburgs in ruling a multilingual, multicultural empire
may be due to the fact that their territories were acquired largely though
marriage, rather than through conquest.
“Let others wage war, thou, happy Austria, marry.”
14 If there
had been a really free referendum in Germany on January 1, 1945, asking the
people whether they wanted the war to go on, what do we suppose they would have
said? If the American people had
been asked before D-Day 1944 whether they were willing to offer Germany peace
terms instead of Roosevelt’s unconditional surrender, would they have voted to
continue the war? Perhaps they
would have done so, because the combination of German crimes and Allied
propaganda may have made anything other than total destruction of Germany
inconceivable to Americans.
15 The concept of a right to die is strange. Why do we speak of a right to do
something that everyone is required to do by his