Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Semantics in International Relations

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Semantics in International Relations

Article excerpt

The tricks which politicians have played with language through the ages to lead and to mislead people is the subject of a large literature. Usually the discussion is confined to the past rather than the present for the simple reason that current circumlocutions must not be recognized as such if they are to be effective. He who prematurely turns the spotlight on contemporary verbal legerdemain is likely to be not only without applause in his own culture, but also to be regarded as an ignoble fellow casting aspersions on Sacred Things. No better illustration of the phenomenon could be found than in the language of contemporary international affairs.

I do not know, for example, who invented the "isolationist-internationalist" dichotomy, nor whether he was aware that the imposition of such a framework succeeded in obscuring the whole issue and in largely preventing any intelligent or relevant discussion. Once a frame of reference of this sort is accepted, it partakes of the framework of nature itself and discussion in any other terms seems unrealistic. Yet a little examination readily reveals the essential obfuscation of the issues by this categorization. By the use of a word like "isolationist," to designate the opponents of a particular international program that comes to the front in the late thirties, one party distracted attention from the details of their policy and imputed to their opponents an imaginary position.

The phrase "isolationism" implies a policy of nonintercourse of any kind with other countries, a situation which probably cannot exist under modern conditions and which, in any event, has not existed in the western world for centuries. A highly developed system of diplomatic, trade and other relations has, of course, existed ever since the appearance of national states. No one, perhaps, is opposed to such relations, although there may be questions about particular proposals. Very few people are opposed to more adequate world organization for the same reason that very few are opposed to good weather, health, peace, prosperity, or happiness. …

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