A (non-Orwellian) perspective on language and thought

From Adam Gopnik’s Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009):

‘The subject [of this book] is liberal civilization and its language – the way we live now and the way we talk at home and in public. These are essays without an agenda, but this book is not without a thesis. The thesis is that literary eloquence is essential to liberal civilization; our heroes should be men and women possessed by the urgency of utterance, obsessed by the need to see for themselves and to speak for us all. Authoritarian societies can rely on an educated elite; mere mass society, on shared dumb show. Liberal cities can’t. A commitment to persuasion is in itself a central liberal principle. New ways of thinking demand new kinds of eloquence. Our world rests on science and democracy, on seeing and saying; it rests on thinking new thoughts and getting them heard by a lot of people….

The point is not that writing well is a proof of thinking clearly. Orwell was wrong about that, sadly. The truth is that plenty of men who have written very well have thought horrible thoughts, and the thoughts have been made to seem less horrible by being well written. No, the point is that when we do come across those who write well and see clearly, we’re right to make them heroes.’

Mr. Gopnik may be onto something. So don’t forget to recognise the people who deserve it (and to ignore those who don’t, if you can’t actually shut them up).

One response to “A (non-Orwellian) perspective on language and thought”

  1. Tauriq Moosa

    That is beautiful. And it is an almost exact, though more eloquent – ironically – version of something I have written about before. Thanks.

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