Semantic Traps: Politics with Loaded Terms

A Seminar for Scholars, Journalists and Entrepreneurs


«If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.» George Orwell

Date: June 15, 2017
Location: Unitelma Sapienza Campus, Rome, Italy
Admission: free
Language: simultaneous Italian/English translation, both ways
Literature/Documents: Relevant literature (reader, short essays, …) will be supplied ahead of seminar
Academic Directors:
Francesco Avallone, UTS (I) and Kurt R. Leube, LAF (USA/A)
Program Directors:
Piergiuseppe Morone, UTS (I) and Hans R. Maag, LAF (LI/CH)

An Academic Co-operation between Unitelma Sapienza (Rome, I) and Liechtenstein Academy Foundation – LAF (Vaduz, LI)


«When words lose their meaning, people will lose their liberty.» Confucius, 551-479 BC

The Social Sciences, more then other academic disciplines are regretfully exposed to the fades and superstitions of the fast moving popular Zeitgeist and are thus liable to the periodic introduction of appealing yet empty slogans that undermine well defined terms. As a result, many of them have assumed quite different meanings or, maybe deliberately, have even taken on undertones that suggest something detrimental to what we want to get across.
Have you ever wondered whether the pervasive catchword public interest indeed serves the public’s interest? Or why was global warming replaced with the vacuous phrase climate change that sadly shifted the debate away from scientific methodology where hypotheses can be refuted? Or did you realize that time and again the term justice is substituted with the phrase social justice that not only renders it utterly meaningless. This narcotic phrase also assumed a meaning close to revenge which gravely denigrates the ‘rule of law’. The frequent placing of the simple yet hollow word social in front of commonly used terms produces an almost endless list of corrupting phrases.

The persistent confusion of reality and fiction thus creates politically risky ‘semantic traps’ that not only seriously hamper any political discussion. It has grave implications for democracy, the proper role of government, or for the preservation of our civil rights and individual freedom. As George Orwell observed: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”.

The goal of this one-day conference is not only to explore a wide range of issues where semantics condition policy debates, to examine how terms evolve in ways that completely undermine, and at times even alter the very foundations of a free and democratic society, and to discuss how ‘Semantic Traps’ might be avoided. Put differently, we aim at a better understanding of hollow yet catchy words, trendy slogans and appealing phrases in public policy debates.

However, co-sponsored by Unitelma Sapienza (Rome, I) and the Liechtenstein Academy Foundation (Vaduz, LI) this endeavor serves also as the kick off for an academic partnership between these institutions to offer the innovative online MA course “Understanding How Society Works. An Introduction to the Austrian School of Economics”.

Seminar Program, Thursday, June 15, 2017

08:30 – 09:00  Registration at Unitelma Sapienza Campus, Rome
09:00 – 09:15  Welcome by Francesco Avallone, Rector, Unitelma Sapienza University of Rome, and Hans R. Maag, Director, Liechtenstein Academy
09:15 – 09:30  About the Idea and the Intent of this Conference.
Kurt R. Leube

Session I: On the ‘Public Interest’, the so-called ‘newspeak’ and the Meaning of ‘Green’ (9:30 -11:30)
Chair: Piergiuseppe Morone
09:30-10:00  «Is the ‘Public Interest’ really in the Public’s Interest?»
Carlos Gebauer
10:00-10:10  Discussion
10:10-10:40  «Values and Rights: The Semantic Traps in Worn-out European Newspeak»
Karl Peter Schwarz
10:40-10:50  Discussion
10:50-11:20  «What is the Meaning of Green? The new Standardization Trap in the Bioeconomy»
Knut Blinde
11:20-11:30  Discussion

11:30-11:40  Coffee Break

Session II: Immigration and Political Rhetoric (11:40-13:00)
Chair: Piergiuseppe Morone
11:40-12:10  «Immigration, Migration, Emigration, or Else?»
Maria Grazia Galantino
12:10-12:20  Discussion
12:20-12:50  «Making Populism Mainstream: Political Rhetoric During Campaigns»
Nicolò Conti
12:50-13:00  Discussion

13:00-14:00  Buffet Luncheon for all participants at seminar site

14:00-15:00  Panel (Blind, Conti, Galantino, Schwarz) – Discussion leader: Carlos Gebauer

Our Partners

Liechtenstein Academy | private, educational foundation (FL)
Altas Network | economic research foundation (USA)
Austrian Economics Center | Promoting a free, responsible and prosperous society (Austria)
Berlin Manhatten Institute | non-profit Think Tank (Germany) | Buecher fuer den Liberalismus (Germany)
Cato Institute | policy research foundation (USA)
Center for the New Europe | research foundation (Belgium)
Forum Ordnungspolitik
Friedrich Naumann Stiftung
George Mason University
Heartland Institute
Hayek Institut
Hoover Institution
Istituto Bruno Leoni
Institut Václava Klause
Instytut Misesa
IREF | Institute of Economical and Fiscal Research
Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise | an interdivisional Institute between the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and the Whiting School of Engineering
Liberales Institut
Liberty Fund
Ludwig von Mises Institute
New York University | Dept. of Economics (USA)
Stockholm Network
Students for Liberty
Swiss Mises Institute
Universidad Francisco Marroquin