Monkey shrieking sophistry

Any genuine discussion on political theory that is to be anything more than merely screaming our own preferences at each other dressed in incoherent statements must absolutely ensure that all participants have an understanding of the precise meaning of the language being used. Take the words capitalism, fascism, communism, Christianity, Islam, religion in general etc. all of these words possess differing meanings given different assumptions and background frameworks. Most, if not almost all political discussion revolves around throwing statements around without clarifying any of this, and then receiving a response which does the same, which results in mere shrill shouting across each other. Most of this is due to rank stupidity on the part of the participants, sometimes it is more cynical behavior on the part of more intelligent individuals with a mind to winning a rhetorical conflict, as opposed to pursuing any kind of truth. In antiquity these people were called sophists, and in modernity they are comparable to liberals. The constant delight of modern thinkers in looking into sophistry in antiquity and seeing themselves is a disgusting spectacle. That it arose in Ancient Greece in the context of a society on a divided power system is something worthy of research.

So, if we take a word like capitalism, we can either A) accept that it has various meanings dependent on the conceptual model (or tradition) of the person saying it and then endeavor to understand the difference and proceed from there or B) scream like chimps about capitalism as if both parties understood it as meaning X,Y or Z.

Capitalism is a superb example of this phenomena.

Ludwig von Mises described it as:

 “essentially a system of mass production for the satisfaction of the needs of the masses.”

While Friedrich Hayek called it

“the system of free markets and the private ownership of the means of production,” which is an “essential condition of the very survival of mankind.”

Wiki has the following:

Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.”

We could go on, but what is the point. It is just various people absolutely refusing to acknowledge that what they are describing is a concept built upon a foundation of prior assumptions (a tradition.) This gets even worse when you acknowledge that these words (as all words do) have plainly got a genealogy, and are therefore plainly rooted in a specific times, cultural/ societal position and historical position.

It is notable that a member of the modern liberal individualist tradition absolutely denies this context for their words and concepts and can therefore claim them as being concepts time immemorial. The battle then becomes one of who gets to claim the mantle of objective truth, so everyone claims their “true” capitalism, or true religion with their definitions saying more about them and their position in the world than about anything else.

If we are to pursue any genuine political theory, then it must begin by acknowledging that the very words we are ourselves using have serious problems, and contain seriously troublesome assumptions that need to be examined.

 

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