Words generate concepts. If heard frequently from an early age, words predispose us to accept certain beliefs as assumptions. If we never examine these assumptions, then words can serve as window dressing, hiding from us ugliness of our choices.
From The Past
Consider this example, the word “fealty“.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “fealty” comes to us from about the year 1300. At about that time the French derived the word fealty (n.) from the word fidelity (n.). fidelity (n.) in its turn came from faith, and faith came from belief.
late 12c., bileave, replacing Old English geleafa “belief, faith,” from West Germanic *ga-laubon “to hold dear, esteem, trust” (cf. Old Saxon gilobo, Middle Dutch gelove, Old High German giloubo, German Glaube), from *galaub- “dear, esteemed,” from intensive prefix *ga- + *leubh- “to care, desire, like, love” (see love (v.)). The prefix was altered on analogy of the verb believe. The distinction of the final consonant from that of believe developed 15c.
“The be-, which is not a natural prefix of nouns, was prefixed on the analogy of the vb. (where it is naturally an intensive) …. [OED]
Belief used to mean “trust in God,” while faith meant “loyalty to a person based on promise or duty” (a sense preserved in keep one’s faith, in good (or bad) faith and in common usage of faithful, faithless, which contain no notion of divinity). But faith, as cognate of Latin fides, took on the religious sense beginning in 14c. translations, and belief had by 16c. become limited to “mental acceptance of something as true,” from the religious use in the sense of “things held to be true as a matter of religious doctrine” (a sense attested from early 13c.).
In medieval Europe, this took the form of an oath from a vassal, or subordinate, to the lord. It also referred to the duties incumbent upon a vassal that were owed to the lord, which consisted of service and aid. One part of the oath of fealty included swearing to always remain faithful to the lord. The oath of fealty usually took place after the act of homage, when, by the symbolic act of kneeling before the lord and placing the vassals hands between the hands of the lord, the vassal became the “man” of the lord. Usually, the lord also promised to provide for the vassal in some form, either through the granting of a fief or by some other manner of support. (from here)
Did an oath of fealty make a vassal the slave of his lord? No. Vassals carried arms. They were not slaves. Their oaths reflected their commitment to join together under their lord and make others their property. With oaths of fealty, a lord and his vassals made a show of lofty principles. With such window dressing they held serfs in bondage for hundreds of years.
From The Present
Did the practice of “fealty” die with the end of the Middle Ages? No. We always have a choice between serving God or idolizing someone or something else. Consider this editorial from The Washington Post.
THE YEAR 2014 is only 66 days old, yet already Virginia has forfeited $330 million in federal funds — funds already paid to Uncle Sam by taxpayers — as a result of its delay in expanding Medicaid to cover up to 400,000 lower-income and uninsured Virginians. With each passing day, the state leaves another $5 million in federal funds unclaimed. It has also passed up another $32 million so far this year in lost savings, as well as tax revenues that would be generated by the creation of some 20,000 health-care jobs. (continued here)
To what have the editors of The Washington Post sworn fealty? Is the money left upon the table all that matters to the editors of The Washington Post? Would the editors of The Washington Post have us believe they and the Democrats are just being pragmatic and the Republicans are being ideological? It would seem so. Consider how they brush aside any discussion of right and wrong.
The House Republican opposition to expansion is almost purely ideological; like most ideologies, it relies on faith more than facts. Since they have found it impossible to argue that the expansion is a bad deal for Virginia for now, GOP lawmakers insist that the feds, strapped by entitlement programs, will renege on their statutory commitment to cover 90 percent of the cost of expansion come 2021. That’s possible. But if Washington does renege, Virginia would have the option of dropping coverage and trimming its Medicaid rolls, as it has done in the past. (from here)
Once given, the editors of The Washington Post know the difficulty of taking away a benefit. Instead, with a word they consider derogatory, they sidestep the “ideological” issues, and they focus solely upon pragmatic matters of political strategy. Even then — when they discuss the politics of the matter — they misrepresent the facts.
Like the lords and the vassals of the Middle Ages, the editors of The Washington Post ignore what is wrong in what they promote. Call it purely ideological if you must, but what we believe and the principles we hold dear should affect our actions.
- Each of us has an obligation to work for the good of our country, not just our state’s or our own personal self-interest. When it is obvious our government is already spending too much money, it is unethical to expand Medicaid funding.
- Medicaid is unconstitutional. Our Constitution is a charter that authorizes the Federal Government with certain, specified powers. Nowhere in it does the Constitution authorize the creation of a welfare state.
- Our legislators swear to uphold the Constitution. Instead of an oath of fealty to some great lord, our leaders take an oath to support and defend the documents that protect everyone’s rights. Because the Constitution says nothing whatsoever about setting up a welfare state, our leaders know the Medicaid program is constitutionally unsound. Thus, when Virginia’s legislators accept any funds from the Federal Government for a program they know to be unconstitutional, they break their oaths.
When the editors of The Washington Post try to shame Republicans for standing upon principle, they shame themselves. Don’t we elect our leaders to stand for sacred principles? Don’t we elect men and women we hope will defend our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Or do we do elect men and women we hope will fritter away our rights and our wealth and then excuse their conduct as supremely pragmatic?
Contrary to what the editors of The Washington Post would have us believe, we should pray for leaders who concern themselves with matters of right and wrong, ideological matters. God knows there is already enough pragmatism in the hearts of men.
1796, “science of ideas,” originally “philosophy of the mind which derives knowledge from the senses” (as opposed to metaphysics), from French idéologie “study or science of ideas,” coined by French philosopher Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836) from idéo- “of ideas,” from Greek idea (see idea) + -logy. Later used in a sense “impractical theorizing” (1813). Meaning “systematic set of ideas, doctrines” first recorded 1909.
Ideology … is usually taken to mean, a prescriptive doctrine that is not supported by rational argument. [D.D. Raphael, “Problems of Political Philosophy,” 1970
In its article on Destutt de Tracy, Wikipedia notes two men in particular who turned the term ideology into an expression of abuse, Napoleon Bonaparte and Karl Marx. Wikitionary confirms (here) that Napoleon Bonaparte first used the term ideologue (n.) as a term of abuse. Here, from Concepts in Communication Study, is a bit more history.