Semantic Traps: Distorting Debates Through Definitions

Daniel Issing – blog author at studentsforliberty.org – reflects on the seminar ‘Semantic Traps: Politics with Loaded Terms’. It was held on June 9-11, 2016 in Vaduz (FL).

Every libertarian is well aware of the odd name defenders of individual freedom use to label their position nowadays. In fact, the word “libertarianism” is a fairly new creation, emerging in the second half of the last century. It was coined to distinguish this position from those who call themselves “liberal”, a word that once represented a commitment to laissez faire and free markets. Today, however, it means the very opposite and is more akin to the socialist position. The redefinition of terms for political purposes was a very successful marketing coup by social democrats, particularly in the United States.

Is it possible to win arguments in the political arena by simply using words that are either so vague that we cannot assign a precise meaning to them or are systematically misleading? To what extent can the parties to the debate gain an advantage by confusing their opponents through their use of words? Is the progressive corruption of our language a threat to civil liberties? These and other question formed the starting point of a seminar aptly named “Semantic Traps: Politics with Loaded Terms”, which was co-organized by ECAEF, PERC and LAF. Thanks to Kurt Leube – program’s Academic Director and a very eager and generous supporter of ESFL – I was invited to participate in what turned out to be an extremely insightful weekend. But let us start from the beginning …

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Semantic Traps