The Outstater

July 2, 2019

“We should call out hypocrisy when we see it. For a party that associates itself with Christianity to say that it is OK to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.” — Peter Buttigieg, the Washington Times, June 28, 2019

by Craig Ladwig

“Hypocrisy” — it’s been a good word, a handy word, but the steam has gone from it.

Simon Winchester’s history of the Oxford English Dictionary tells us that any word, no matter how revered, must have a distinct meaning to be retained as a valid entry. It cannot continue as a superfluous collection of vowels and consonants.

“Hypocrisy” fails to meet that standard. It no longer discriminates (if you will excuse the term) one political stance from another. It can be retired as archaic. The more firmly established, “liar,” will have to do its work.

Don’t blame the word itself. Again, it was a perfectly OK word, derived, my desktop dictionary tells me, from the Middle English. It has merely been overcome by the speed of modern life.

There was a time, please know, when it took decades to sort out the political hypocrisies of one’s era. Such was William Allen White’s task in “Masks in a Pageant,” which the playwright David Mamet calls the best political study ever written. Yet, White was able to identify only a dozen or so genuine hypocrites in 600 pages.

Now, thanks to the Internet, thousands of hypocrisies are spotted every second, practically instantaneously. Here are some plucked just now from no less an authority than Facebook:

To pin the label on anyone seems a waste of time. It is particularly disturbing as a tactical matter that our conservative media, outgunned as it is, wastes so much energy on it (that and lecturing those who obviously have rejected the U.S. Constitution that they should respect it).

For it is evident the typical campaigner has grown immune to the word’s sting, or, for that matter, to any of dozens of other denigrations in the political lexicon, i.e., “dissimulator,” “posturer,” “affected,” “specious,” “empty,” “insincere,” “deceitful,” “dishonest,” “mendacious,” “duplicitous,” “sanctimonious” and the once useful “phony.”

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.


Leave a Reply