How To Do Things With Words

I propose some new terminology: left-conflationism and right-conflationism.

Left-conflationism is the error of treating the evils of existing corporatist capitalism as though they constituted an objection to a freed market. Right-conflationism is the error of treating the virtues of a freed market as though they constituted a justification of the evils of existing corporatist capitalism.

Bosses of the Senate

Yes, these are basically just Kevin’s “vulgar liberalism” and “vulgar libertarianism” in new garb. And yes, the new terms sound more awkward and jargony than their predecessors.

But the advantage I claim for them is that they also sound less insulting than their predecessors. Of course neither set of terms entails anything about the etiology of the views it names. Nevertheless, left-conflationism and right-conflationism sound like intellectual mistakes, ones that well-meaning people might fall into; by contrast, vulgar liberalism and vulgar libertarianism sound like character flaws – the outlooks of, well, vulgar people. And to be sure, in many cases they may be. But not all; and we only make it harder for ourselves when our terminology alienates the very people we’re trying to persuade.

I’m not suggesting that we should simply junk the terms “vulgar liberalism” and “vulgar libertarianism.” There’s a time for polemics, and when we want polemical terms it’s handy to have them. But when we’re not engaged in polemics, it’s also handy to have a term for our interlocutors’ position that isn’t a conversation-stopper.

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