Author: Robert D. King

Weaponizing Words: Language and Oppression

An article in Tablet magazine last month by Paul Berman, “Lynching and Liberalism,” paints the gloomy history of coercion from the Stalinist excesses of many radicals in the 1930s down to the blowback against the recent Harper’s “Letter on Justice and Open Debate.” In discussing the “New Left” and “post-New Left” movement that arose in the late 1960s and 1970s, most strongly among faculty in humanities departments of American universities, Berman calls our attention to their view of language as a force for coercion and oppression. He writes: They [the post-New Left] fell under the influence… of a series of avant-garde philosophical theories from France… marvelous theories, designed to sprinkle shimmery dust of the new on any topic that came to mind. In their American application, though, the marvelous theories were taken to be radical extensions of Marxism, capable of revealing the ultimate source of oppression. The ultimate source turned out to be the structures of language and word choice… And: Some people found in [these theories] a left-wing permission to escape from the rigidities …