When the word loses its dignity

Among a handful of classic books I try to re-read ever few years is Josef Pieper’s Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power.

Today was my first re-reading post-Trump. It’s not a perfect fit because Donald Trump, whatever he is, is not a skilled sophist. He’s more a purveyor of word salads and transparent, self-contradictory lies.

But it’s still worth pondering a few nuggets from Pieper’s discussion.

  • All the evil deeds in this world since Adam and eve have been justified with good reasons. (Hegel)
  • Word and language form the medium that sustains the common existence of the human spirit as such.
  • Can a lie be taken as communication? I tend to deny it. A lie is the opposite of communication. It means specifically to withhold the other’s share and portion of reality, to prevent his participation in reality.
  • Because you are not interested in reality, you are unable to converse. You can give fine speeches, but you simply cannot join in a conversation; you are incapable of dialogue!
  • Mundus vult decipi.
  • The degradation of man through man, alarmingly evident in the acts of physical violence committed by all tyrannies (concentration camps, torture), has its beginning, certainly much less alarmingly, at that almost imperceptible moment when the word loses its dignity.

Abuse of language is a deathwork (“But, hey!: Gorsuch and Kavanaugh!”); Pieper’s unmasking of it a lifework.

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