3 8 September 2016
M
y exasperation with the use of language in
current political commentary has culmi-
nated with a word that is now
much-favoured by the commentators,
namely, “populist. The Oxford English
Dictionary says that populist means: 1. “A member or
adherent of a political party seeking to rep-
resent the interests of ordinary
people. 2. A person who supports
or seeks to appeal to the inter-
ests of ordinary people.
Origin Latin populus
‘people’”.
Political commentary
(call it PC) always cou
-
ples populism with “far
right” as in “a populist
far-right party. “Right,
as we all know, means in
PC language wrong; “far-
right” very wrong; an
illegitimate intrusion into
the democratic process no
matter how many citizens it com-
prises. Clearly this view that
politics “representing the inter-
ests of ordinary people” is by
that very fact wrong is an elitist,
anti-democratic view But it does
raise the question: why is there
is no mention of a left or far-left
populism? Is it that simply there
is no such thing?
True, the Irish Labour Party
could not qualify. When Eamon
Gilmore, Ruairi Quinn and Pat
Rabbitte were ministers they pur-
sued in their respective spheres
neo-liberal policies calculated to
appeal to Dublin 4. But what of the water politics of
Paul Murphy and associated Independents which drew
many thousands of “ordinary people” onto the streets?
Whatever the explanation, the fact is that – outside per-
haps of Village Magazine - PC makes no mention of
left-wing populism.
I said at the start that my exasperation with PC has
culminated with its use of “populist. That means that
other things about it had been building up to that exas-
peration. Basically, why doesn’t current PC use ordinary
contemporary language, with its dictionary meanings,
to express what the writer believes about individual
politicians or groups or parties: words like ‘good’ or
‘bad’ with explanations of why good or bad,
rather than a jargon which does not
express in plain words what the
writer means to say?
Surely such hoary mem-
bers of the political cast as
“left, “right, “progres-
sive” and “conservative”
have more than had their
day? At least in the
French National Assem
-
bly of more than 200
years ago from which
“left” and “right” derive,
one knew that they referred
to the Assembly’s seating
arrangements and to those
who sat accordingly. But what
does “left” mean today now that
socialism is no longer on offer? As
for “right” the PC jargon equates
it with “authoritarian”; but what is
more authoritarian than Commu-
nist Russia which PC gave out to
be “left, or Communist China and
North Korea today similarly?
And take “progressive” mean-
ing “moving forward, but forward
towards what? Is a state moving
forward towards war “progres
-
sive” and if not why not? As for
“conservative”, that is, “preserv-
ing something existing, must
such preservation always be objectionable as current
PC implies?
In short, I look forward to the day when some politi-
cal commentator takes the present mess of the
profession in hand and writes about politics in
language that plainly and unmistakably means what
it says.
Good or bad
not right or left
What does “left” mean today now
that socialism is no longer on offer?
Desmond
Fennell
IDEOLOGY
DEBATE
I look forward to
the day when some
commentator writes
about politics in
language that means
what it says
OPINION
The division is
between good and
bad

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