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News Link • Political Theory

Progressivism Is An Imposter

•, by Richard M. Ebeling

 A 1950s Florida prison warden (played by actor Strother Martin) says those words after an insolent remark by one of the prisoners (played by Paul Newman) results in the warden lashing that prisoner with a whip.

In the film, the message the warden is clearly trying to get other prisoners working on a chain gang to understand is that if you do not do as you are told or if you talk back to those with physical power over you, there will be consequences. Words, in other words, do matter, and you better make sure you understand what they are saying.

But being sure what meaning or message that words convey is not always unambiguous. This becomes a problem in any exchange of ideas when what you think the other person means by the words they are using is not what they have in mind. And sometimes the ambiguity surrounding the use of a word might even be intentional.

Imposter-Terms Like "Progressive" Confuse Our Understanding

The classical liberal author Albert Jay Nock (1870–1945) published an essay in the February 1936 issue of the Atlantic Monthly on what he called "Imposter-Terms," that is, words that are used in ways meant to confuse or misdirect understanding. He actually took the phrase from the famous utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), who coined the term in his Book of (Political) Fallacies (1824).