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Manipulation by Language

"Before tyranny becomes visible for everyone, it begins when the word loses its dignity..Rulers never manage without manipulation and propaganda..In neuro-linguistic programming, language has the task of diverting people..This recalls the ancient sophists."

By Judith Barben

[This article published in: Zeit-Fragen Nr.26, 6/27/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.zeit-fragen.ch/. Dr. Judith Barben is a Swiss psychologist and psychotherapist.]

The Swiss Bundesrat is trained by its spin-doctors to always give their statements the right "spin."3 The Bundesrat delegate knows what is central: Don't enter into the substance of any question, always repeat the same assertions and constantly garnish these assertions with the meaningless word "credible."

At a media conference, Bundesrat delegate Samuel Schmid said: "The notion that we want to be in Nato cannot be surpassed in pure fantasy and unimaginativeness... A lie remains a lie even if one repeats it a hundred times."4 He insisted neutrality and the constitution mandate would be safeguarded and the militia principle strengthened.

Today it is increasingly obvious how impudently the Bundesrat pulled the wool over our eyes. The constitutional mandate, national defense and the militia principle were not safeguarded. A combination of the German army and Nato in the areas of training and armament was planned. At that time the Bundesrat slandered anyone who revealed these connections as a liar,

Is this an example of linguistic manipulation? How is this different from a lie? In his remarkable 1964 lecture "The Corruption of the Word and Power"5, the philosopher Josef Pieper pointed to the indivisible connection between language and truth. Truth is nothing but reference to reality, Pieper said. When language is not concerned about truth, it becomes a dangerous instrument of power.

Pieper presented his ideas with the help of Socrates' and Plato's conflict with the sophists. The sophists in ancient Greece developed the technique of political rhetoric into the highest refinement but were not worried about the truth content of what they said. With their rhetoric, they could find good reasons for the worst things. Socrates and Plato criticized the sophists as dangerous word distorters. For Pieper, the worst feature of sophistry is that it corrupts the dignity of the word.

What is the dignity of the word? According to Pieper, language is the medium of our common intellectual existence. Human existence is expressed in the word. The achievement and dignity of the human word lie in the relation of language to reality and to fellow-persons. One speaks to make something real known to another. Something real should be communicated to another. These two aspects of language can be distinguished but not separated from each other.

What happens when a person lies? Pieper shows that both aspects of language, its reality-reference and its communication character, are destroyed by lies. Strictly speaking, a lie is not a communication. Why? When human speech is no longer directed to the cause, when the relation of the word to reality is dissolved, the communication character of language is also destroyed because the other is no longer recognized as an equal partner. He becomes an object guided by language in a certain direction or encouraged to a certain action. A speaking without a partner occurs. The word becomes a means to manipulate others. Its dignity is violated. The word should be used like a functional instrument. With the lie, the equal relation to another is lacking. Therefore a lie is not a communication in the true sense.

Thus a twofold "corruption of the word" occurs: "corruption of the reality reference" and "corruption of the communication character."


We are also faced with sophists today. Today's sophists are spin-doctors who sit in propaganda divisions of the government and in the offices of the economically powerful. They are called communication specialists and are highly trained in the social sciences and communication theory. Their business is "political communication." The government alone employs 432 "communication experts" for 80 million francs a year. 220 of them are occupied exclusively with so-called "public relations."6 In their offices, word usage is not focused on truth but on polishing language to reach systematically concealed political goals. This misuse according to Pieper is not only false but "miserable, injurious, sinister and essentially bad"!7

A lie is especially malicious when it is not only practiced but imputed to the other. The same conduct was recently observed with representatives of high finance. Economic leaders spread the absurd claim that a Swiss agreement with the EU (European Union) would increase security and create jobs. All opposing statements were "false information" and "untruths", they said. "We cannot leave lies unanswered."8 Economiesuisse was the front organization of high finance and operated with a budget of several million francs for the Swiss agreement campaign.

For Pieper, Plato's and Socrates' conflict with the sophists is a model case. Plato and Socrates saw a danger in sophistry and identified by name what threatens the life of the spirit and society in all times, what resistance has been necessary since time immemorial and will also be necessary in the future.

If language is neutralized against the norm of truth, it is an instrument that a ruler can take in hand and use as propaganda for any violence goals. Pieper sees here the great danger of the sophist corruption of language. "The element of threat with all its forms and degrees of slander and public condescension" is always characteristic of propaganda. Mastery, Pieper says, consists in veiling threat and not letting threat appear naked. Making the threatened believe is easy since he can be intimidated and do what he would do himself, the rational and correct.

Doesn't this occur very often? Bundesrat delegate Deiss shouted threateningly to the hall: "Away with the protectionists and barricadists! I want a Bundesrat that supports me."9 With such threats, the voting citizen should be intimidated so he agrees to agreements that damage citizens while creating more profits for high finance.

With manipulated arguments, all the dams against globalization should be torn down. In an interview, Bundesrat delegate Calmy-Rey argued that new negotiations with the EU must be carried out under difficult conditions in case of a No of voting citizens to the Swiss agreement and personal freedom of movement expanded.10 Professor Walder unmasked this threat as a propaganda lie by asking Ms. Calmy-Rey in writing whether corresponding threats could be presented by the EU. He only received an evasive answer.

Pieper sees a hidden preparation of tyranny in the misuse of language for lies. He offered the thesis that one could read the "latent virulence of the totalitarian poison in the sophist manipulation of language, Before tyranny becomes visible for everyone, it begins in a much less alarming way in that hardly perceptible moment when the word loses its dignity. With this basic idea, the philosopher shows us how language, truth and the political climate are closely connected. Rulers never manage without manipulation and propaganda. They also instrumentalize the media to that end.

Therefore it is very important to have one's own independent newspapers and publications. For that reason, the Swiss people's initiative "Popular Sovereignty instead of Official Propaganda" is urgent and indispensable. This initiative covers a very important part of the problem, official propaganda. The propaganda by the media and high finance is not discussed. However the official propaganda is especially insidious and unconstitutional because the taxes of all citizens are misused for one-sided propaganda and many people still trust the authorities and - justly - expect them to act in the public interest.

The social sciences are counted in the arsenal of the spin-doctors. Psychology, a valuable means of assistance, is misused by spin-doctors as an instrument of manipulation. One psycho-technique, "neuro-linguistic programming"11 coming from America is very widespread. Its advocates describe this technique as a collection of very effective techniques of communication and change."12 with which they can actually change personality on desire up to the core of identity.13


Neuro-linguistic programming was developed from hypnosis and aims at starting unconscious human reactions and processes by means of "hypnotic empty clichés." The name neuro-linguistic programming is composed of the elements "neuro," "linguistic" and "programming." "Neuro" means perception, "linguistic" language and "programming" the re-programming of unconscious behavior patterns. Neuro-linguistic programming works with these elements. People can be influenced on different levels of perception, above all by lingual messages, and reprogrammed on unconscious planes.

Two important basic assumptions of neuro-linguistic programming are firstly: reality is not important since every person has his or her own reality and secondly language is used as a means of influencing, not as a means of understanding.

One frequently applied technique of neuro-linguistic programming is "reframing."15 Reframing means "setting something in a new framework." With this technique, terms that originally had a positive meaning and a positive emotional tone are underlain with a completely different meaning. The positive emotional tone of the original meaning is automatically transferred to the new context.

This technique was applied when Bundesrat delegate Deiss proclaimed in public: "More growth (for the Swiss economy) is the most pressing goal of Swiss domestic policy." "Seize the change!"16 Guided by his spin-doctors, Deiss used here the terms "growth" and "chance" as hypnotic meaningless words to couple the expansion of personal freedom of movement with a positive and agreeable emotional tone.

In the meantime we know about Bundesrat promises before votes. In 2000 Bundesrat Leuenberger promised that the heavy traffic would be cut in half by 2009 owing to the bilateral agreements. In reality, the heavy traffic since then has increased from under a million trucks at that time to 1.3 million today thundering through our country every year.

With regard to the approaching Swiss plebiscite of September 25, 2005 on the expansion of personal freedom of movement, empty clichés like "upswing for jobs" and "new export markets in the new EU countries" were fluttered about as rosy future prospects.17 Obviously the advocates knew all this was not true. They also knew that the new EU countries have gigantic unemployment rates and that expanded personal freedom of movement would lead to increased unemployment in Switzerland and massive wage dumping. With linguistic manipulation, they try to mislead us about these realities since they pursue other goals. Removing all market barriers for globally operating capital is central to them to the harm of us citizens.

However "you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all the time,"18 to speak with Abraham Lincoln.

11 Neuro-Linguistic Programming, in short NLP, was developed by the Americans Richard Bandler and John Grinder. Cf. Judith Barben, The Psychologizing Trap - a "dirty trick" of the "spin doctors," Zeit-Fragen, 2/12/2001; "From Machiavelli to Neuro-Linguistic Programming", Zeit-Fragen, 1/28/2002; "Neuro-Linguistic Programming instead of Science. Bergie report reveals handwriting of Spin-Doctors, Parts I and II, Zeit-Fragen, 6/24/2002 and 7/1/2002.

homepage: homepage: http://www.mbtranslations.com
address: address: http://www.commondreams.org

neocons & "the straussian text" 13.Jul.2005 07:19

U. Sam

Leo Strauss

A fundamental concept in Strauss' approach to philosophical texts was the so-called 'esoteric' and 'exoteric' readings. Strauss maintained that philosophers very often concealed their true thoughts beneath a surface or exoteric teaching. Careful study would reveal the true or esoteric teaching. Primarily, philosophers did this to protect their own lives, and to guard against the detrimental effects of philosophy to people who cannot understand it fully. The example of Socrates' execution at the hands of the many was not taken lightly.

Stemming from his study of Plato and particularly the discussion of writing in the Phaedrus, Strauss thought that an esoteric text was the proper type for philosophic learning. Rather than simply outline the philosophers thoughts, the esoteric text forces the reader to do their own thinking and learning. This, perhaps, accounts for the complexity and strangeness of some of Strauss' books.

There exists a controversy surrounding Strauss's interpretation of the existing philosophical canon. Strauss believed that the writings of many philosophers contained both an exoteric (public) and esoteric (private or hidden) teaching. For instance, in "Natural Right and History" he contrasts the views of Locke both from a traditional perspective wherein the idea of Natural Law within a Christian theological ground is presumed, and another more radical view contrary to this usual interpretation.

Strauss had similar views on the writings of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides (Moses son of Maimon). Maimonides stated that he had controversial esoteric views which were hidden from the masses.


Irving Kristol

Irving Kristol (1920-) is considered the founding godfather of American neoconservatism, and is the father of William Kristol. He describes himself as a "liberal mugged by reality."

Irving Kristol was born into a Jewish family in New York City, earned his B.A. in History from the City College of New York in 1940, where he was an active Trotskyist. He wrote in 1983 that he was ?proud? to have been a member of the Fourth International in 1940. [1] From 1941-1944, he served as staff sergeant in the armored infantry in Europe in World War II.

"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work." -Irving Kristol


Neoconservatism as an "ex-leftist" movement

Michael Lind, a self-described former neoconservative, wrote in 2004, "It is true, and unfortunate, that some journalists tend to use 'neoconservative' to refer only to Jewish neoconservatives, a practice that forces them to invent categories like 'nationalist conservative' or 'Western conservative' for Rumsfeld and Cheney. But neoconservatism is an ideology, like paleoconservatism and libertarianism, and Rumsfeld and Dick and Lynne Cheney are full-fledged neocons, as distinct from paleocons or libertarians, even though they are not Jewish and were never liberals or leftists." [4]

Lind argues that, while "there were, and are, very few Northeastern WASP mandarins in the neoconservative movement", its origins are not specifically Jewish. "...[N]eoconservatism recruited from diverse 'farm teams,' including liberal Catholics (William Bennett and Michael Novak..) and populists, socialists and New Deal liberals in the South and Southwest (the pool from which Jeane Kirkpatrick, James Woolsey and I [that is, Lind himself] were drawn)." [5]

Lind further writes that neoconservatism "originated in the 1970s as a movement of anti-Soviet liberals and social democrats in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey and Henry ("Scoop") Jackson, many of whom preferred to call themselves 'paleoliberals.'" When the Cold War ended, "many 'paleoliberals' drifted back to the Democratic center... Today's neocons are a shrunken remnant of the original broad neocon coalition. Nevertheless, the origins of their ideology on the left are still apparent. The fact that most of the younger neocons were never on the left is irrelevant; they are the intellectual (and, in the case of William Kristol and John Podhoretz, the literal) heirs of older ex-leftists." [6]

In particular, Lind argues that the neoconservatives are influenced by the thought of Trotskyists such as James Burnham and Max Shachtman, who argued that "the United States and similar societies are dominated by a decadent, postbourgeois 'new class'". He sees the neoconservative concept of "global democratic revolution" as deriving from the Trotskyist Fourth International's "vision of permanent revolution". He also points to what he sees as the Marxist origin of "the economic determinist idea that liberal democracy is an epiphenomenon of capitalism", which he describes as "Marxism with entrepreneurs substituted for proletarians as the heroic subjects of history." [7]

Lind further argues that "The organization as well as the ideology of the neoconservative movement has left-liberal origins". He draws a line from the center-left anti-Communist Congress for Cultural Freedom to the Committee on the Present Danger to the Project for the New American Century and adds that "European social democratic models inspired the quintessential neocon institution, the National Endowment for Democracy."


Word. 13.Jul.2005 09:42


I like the article; she has far better analysis than just quoting Goebbels on the "big lie," like so many activists do, and which actually doesn't describe most propaganda.

And while wikipedia might not be the ideal research site, the above info on Strauss and the Neocons is right on too.

a lie 13.Jul.2005 09:55

is a lie

A lie is a lie. Too much time has been wasted examining the semantics of the misuse of language. When a statement is designed to deceive, it is a lie.

It is the absence of critical thought leads us to expend effort deconstructing language devices that are clearly meant to mislead. It is the responsibility of
the individual, through the application of critical thought, to differentiate between truth and falsehood. Free and open discourse between individuals is
essential in this process.

There is nothing clever or worth examination about someone like Scott Mclellan attempts to "reframe" questions, he may have thousands of highly trained
linguistic specialists at his disposal, but this will NEVER stand up to an alert critical mind. The study of how language is manipulated to deceive is an exercise
in futility, the overly ambitious have always, and will continue to lie as a means to an end.

Maybe a more legitimate area of study would be the history of graft, usury, finance, banking, and political ambition.
Behaviors such as these are bound by a common thread, dishonesty. No matter how you dress it up, a lie remains a lie.

Still 14.Jul.2005 01:32


If you don't know what the various kinds of lies look like, you will rarely recognize dishonesty.

Folks who want to prevent us from recognizing lies probably work for the other side.