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Monday, October 11, 2004

The language of politics

I have discussed previously the use of language as part of political discourse and have gone on at length about keeping things in context so as to avoid devaluing certain concepts. It is with regret therefore that I have come across another example, courtesy of the Welsh Assembly blog, of such abuse, and by somebody who, in my opinion, should know better.

The decision last July to finally ignite the bonfire of the Quangos has brought about intensive lobbying and jockeying for position by a number of such bodies. One such is the National Library for Wales, who are anxious to retain their independence. Library chiefs have warned Culture Minister Alun Pugh that any attempts to bring it under governmental control would threaten its effectiveness. They have also warned that the library's charitable status could be eroded or destroyed by any change.

Jumping in to the fray in their defence is the chair of the Welsh Academy, author Harri Pritchard Jones. He is forthright in his views stating that "The Assembly does not have a track record. But more importantly, I am against totalitarianism where the government takes care of things they know nothing about."

Now, I do not know about others but when I did my history degree I tended to work with a completely different definition of totalitarianism. I would have found it hard to include in that definition the act of a democratically elected institution subsuming an unelected body. Generally, I tend to define a government taking care of things they know nothing about as ignorance, meddling or unwelcome interference. To class it as totalitarianism is not just out of context but it leaves us without an adequate description for such unacceptable regimes as that of Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Stalin and many others. How can we learn from the mistakes of the past if we fail to find the language to define them?

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