The language of liberty — the language of a free, and self-governing people – is being lost. And it is through our language that we think about ourselves, our relationships to others, and the general social order that we share.
Victor Klemperer, a German Jew, who survived life in Nazi Germany, wrote a book after the war called The Language of the Third Reich. He argued that virtually everyone in Nazi Germany was a Nazi – whether or not they considered themselves to be National Socialists, including many of the victims of the regime (including German Jews).
Why? Because they had been captured by and had adapted in their thoughts and beliefs the ideas and ideology of their Nazi masters. They found it difficult to think about life and morality in any other way; that is, to reason in a way independent of the language of words and political phrases reflecting the Nazi conceptions of man, “race” and society. In their minds, Klemperer was suggesting, they were no longer self-governing human beings, but slaves of the regime since they thought and acted in terms of the lexicon and logic of Hitler’s National Socialism.
Whether we succumb to collectivist paternalism or preserve the language and ideas of freedom will determine whether or not the great American experiment in self-governance, which so impressed Alexis de Tocqueville when he travelled in America in the 1830s, will endure.
Vincent Ostrom’s writings not only explain the nature and logic and premises of American self-governance. They also direct us to appreciate the uniqueness in human history of this great American experiment of liberty through divided and decentralized political power; and what a tragic loss it will be if American’s give it up.
He leaves a profound legacy of writings devoted to the philosophy of freedom, with his brilliant analysis of the political institutions and socially shared ideas without which liberty cannot endure.
See also here.