Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord? Hamlet: Words, words, words. Lord Polonius: What is the matter, my lord? Hamlet: Between who? Lord Polonius: I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.
— Hamlet, II, ii, 191—195
Perhaps the greatest crime against Americans has been the debasement of our currency — though I am not talking about fiat money. What I am talking about is the debasement of our words and ideas.
There is something about words. Essentially they are the vessels of our ideas. It was Cicero who observed that only two things separate man from the beast, ratio et oratio — reason and the ability to speak. If we are robbed of our ideas or the means to pass our ideas along to others, our intellectual economy is destroyed and with it the underpinnings of society itself.
There is something sacred about words. Christ Himself is worshipped as the logos — a Greek word infinitely richer than our word for "word." Is there any greater joy than that of a parent watching their infant progress in the development of the ability to recognize, react and speak? Is their any greater sadness than a child watching a parent descend into the foggy mists of dementia, the second childhood?
But awe-inspiring as meaningful words are, words without meaning are vampiric monsters of the mind. Nature abhors a vacuum, and these empty words tend to suck the life out of all that they encounter. The wastelands which such words naturally inhabit are the wilds of political speech. The words of politicos are crafted to be empty, like an intellectual dribble cup. They are designed to fill the belly and pacify, if not stultify, the listener. Meanwhile, the political ideas of our leaders remain shrouded behind the shield of blather.
While politicians have most certainly always been men whose stock and trade was the empty phrase, a critical eye turned to today’s political establishment shows that we have done history a turn worse. Our politicians have ceased to believe in ideas themselves, as noted by the White House aide who presciently remarked that, as the vanguard of the American Empire, the neo-cons are free to "create our own reality."
Notable intellectuals have commented on such folly. Richard Weaver charged us to remember that ideas have consequences. Fyodor Dostoevsky, in his Brothers Karamazov, explored the theme that if God does not exist, everything is permissible.
Without descending too deeply into the world of metaphysics (and vastly simplifying it as well), Thomas held the moderate realist position, that the idea, or form, of something is really found in the things themselves (hence the term metaphysical "realist"). William’s position was that we just give things names for the sake of convenience. William, therefore, was a nominalist.
Thomas would say that there is a quality of "treeness" found in certain objects in the world and so we call them trees. William counters that every tree is different from every other tree and so we just label them as "trees" to make things easier. Botany aside, this is not the silly little argument it may seem.
Instead of trees, let’s use the word "freedom." The followers of Thomas would look at human interactions and relationships and see if there was any common "freedomness" that could be detected, i.e. individuals being allowed control over their own minds, bodies, associations, and speech. Meanwhile, Ockhamites would say that "freedom," like every other word, is a mere linguistic convenience. If our Ockhamite was also a "patriotic" American, he might say that since America is a "free" country, "freedom" is shorthand for whatever it is that Americans do. And since it is too difficult to say what every American does, it’s even a better, more efficient shorthand to link freedom to what the American government does.
How many times have you heard the argument that Americans are free because we have elected leaders or because of "checks and balances" or because we have a Constitution? Do you ever hear that Americans are free because they may have liberty to do as they please, keep all the property that they have acquired by their own labor, and speak boldly and candidly their thoughts? The reason you never hear the second descriptors used to describe American freedom is the result of nominalists (most of our current political, intellectual, media and judicial elites) reading documents written ostensibly by realists (the Founders) — they just don’t get it.
In the current race for president, Ron Paul is the only man who speaks like a metaphysical realist. His unassuming personality takes a backseat to what he calls the "message of freedom." In his speeches he addresses those particularities of "freedomness" that are the essential elements of real freedom. What is most striking about Dr. Paul, and what makes him most dangerous to the establishment, is that he actually believes that freedom is real and that people can obtain it.
By contrast, the dominant nominalist metaphysics of the other candidates, Democrat or Republican, is apparent in their words. They talk as if reality is optional, as if it were a cake which they can prepare in their own signature style. They promise a reality where there is complete "security," a reality where property is "reallocated" from rich to poor, a reality where "money" is printed at will to "keep the economy strong." These alternative realities (impossible to really create) may sound attractive to some people but one thing is for sure — none of them bear the indicia of "freedomness." These political visions also make it clear that none of the "mainstream" candidates seem to have ever considered that freedom is anything more than an empty word — a paltry slogan.
Regardless of whether Ron Paul is successful in his bid for the White House, he has shown that most Americans are instinctually Thomistic in their belief that freedom is a real thing. He has also shown that our would-be emperors not only have no clothes, but have no idea what freedom even is.
C.T. Rossi [send him mail] is an attorney who lives in Mobile, Ala.