Ever since the ancient Athenians, the debasement of language has been a sign of political corruption. Describing the horrors of civil war in Corcyra during the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides linked them to the corruption of language: “Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them.” Twenty-three hundred years later, George Orwell concurred: “Political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” It was Orwell who also saw this corruption as the tool of totalitarianism, one necessary to perfume the mountains of corpses left in communism’s wake. For the tyrannical, words are not communicators of meaning but goads of emotion that replace thought with incitement.
The progressives’ current hysterical hatred of Donald Trump has taken this corruption of words, long a feature of their whole political and social agenda, to new levels of “passionate intensity.” And no word is more meaningless and useful for stirring up partisan passions than “racism.”
Racism is a peculiarly modern idea. Its modern form developed from Darwinian evolution and its notion of “fitness,” traits and physical structures that contribute to survival. As with much of modernity, this idea is a category error: it applies to human beings the explanations for differences that are more suited to animals. It depends as well on gross simplifications of what people are––not unique minds, but similar bodies. Finally, it ignores culture, the true source of inequality and difference: customs, mores, social habits, political institutions, religion, history, geography, and traditions.