Thoughtful observers of life often comment on the richness of the English language, its huge polyglot vocabulary, its precision, it sinewy expressiveness. It is doubtless politically incorrect to say so, but English has also shown itself to be a conspicuous ally of political liberty. I have commented on this in the past, noting that ‘there seems to be some deep connection between the English language and that most uncommon virtue, common sense’. Speakers of English can be plenty extravagant, it may go without saying, but there is something about English — exactly why, I do not know — that acts to tether thought to the empirical world.
This is something that Bishop Thomas Sprat dilated on in his 1667 History of the Royal Society: ‘The general constitution of the minds of the English,’ he wrote, embraces frankness and simplicity of diction, ‘the middle qualities, between the reserv’d subtle southern, and the rough unhewn Northern people.’ English, Bishop Sprat thought, is the friend of empirical truth in a way many other languages are not. It is also conspicuously the friend of liberty.
The historian Andrew Roberts, reflecting on the pedigree of certain ideas in the lexicon of freedom, notes that such key phrases as ‘liberty of conscience’ (1580), ‘civil liberty’ (1644, a Miltonic coinage), and ‘liberty of the press’ (1769) were first expressed in English. Why is it that English-speaking countries produced Adam Smith and John Locke, David Hume and James Madison, but not Hegel or Marx, Derrida or Foucault? ‘The tongue and the philosophy are not unrelated,’ the philologist Robert Claiborne writes in The Life and Times of the English Language. ‘Both reflect the ingrained Anglo-American distrust of unlimited authority, whether in language or in life.’
There is a lot more to say about all that, but for now I want simply to note the vast number of ways that English is able to express via periphrasis that short Anglo-Saxon imperative whose first word begins with the letter ‘f’ and whose second word is ‘you’. It’s quite extraordinary how many commonplace observations, when properly understood, actually translate to that disobliging declaration.
Consider, to take a very recent example, the exchange between the United States secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and the Chinese director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi, known to admirers and lackeys as ‘Tiger Yang’. The venue was Anchorage, Alaska, where Messrs. Blinken and Yang, along with assorted colleagues and retainers, met for a free and frank exchange of views. On the run up to the meeting, Blinken talked tough. ‘This is an important opportunity for us to lay out in very frank terms,’ he said, ‘the many concerns we have with Beijing’s actions and behavior that are challenging the security, prosperity and values of the US and our allies.’ Very frank. It was the first high-level meeting between members of the Biden administration and their Chinese counterparts. To say that it was a public relations disaster for the US is to understate the case.
Blinken and his sidekick, Jake Sullivan, a Hillary Clinton factotum who is now national security adviser, sat down to read China the riot act. It was not a success. Blinken emitted carefully polished clichés about our ‘deep concern’ over Chinas actions with regard to Hong Kong, Taiwan and other hot spots, its bullying of various European countries, and its campaign of cyber attacks against the US. This behavior, said Blinken, consulting that great compendium of diplomatic nostrums he learned in school, threatens ‘the rules-based order that maintains global stability’. I am not sure whether air-sickness bags were deployed. It was Alaska, after all, so maybe they just opened the window.
Yang, speaking through a translator, shot back: ‘You can’t blame this problem on somebody else.’ Blinken went on to say that now, under Joe Biden, the United States was ‘back’ (where did it go, Tony?) and was ‘reengaging’ with its allies on the world stage. Here’s where that short imperative I mentioned came in. The United States, said Yang, in one of the most dismissive diplomatic rejoinders I have ever heard, does not have the ‘qualifications’ to address China ‘from a position of strength’. F, my dear Blinken, you.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan opened their meeting with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi in Anchorage, Alaska, sparring in a highly unusual back-and-forth in front of cameras https://t.co/cl3SoVXQmE pic.twitter.com/pLcC69Omf6
— Reuters (@Reuters) March 19, 2021
The whole performance was positively shaming. Both sides had agreed on opening statement of two minutes. Blinken and Sullivan followed the rules. Yang went on for nearly 20 minutes, explaining how the US, with capitulation to Black Lives Matter, antifa and other radicals, was in no position to lecture China. He has a point. A canny friend of mine says that he would rather be governed by the Chinese than the Yale faculty. I am not ready to go that far, but I see his point.
The Anchorage outrage was not an isolated incident. On the contrary, though it is early days yet in the Biden-Harris (or Harris-Biden) administration, a pattern of contempt for America and its leaders seems to be taking hold. In the course of a ‘what-flavor-is-your-milkshake’ valen- er, interview with George ‘I <3 Hillary’ Stephanopoulos, Biden was asked if he thought Russian president Vladimir Putin was a ‘killer’. He answered yes, in response to which Putin said he wished Biden the best of health and suggested they livestream a debate. Can you imagine what that would be like?
Joe Biden can barely make it up the stairs to Air Force One without tripping (not once but thrice). It was ‘the wind’ said a White House spox. Remember when President Trump reached for the handrail after speaking at West Point? You would have thought he was about to expire from the hysterical media coverage.
The Swamp has continued its bizarre deflection of the greatest threat to the United States — an increasingly bellicose China — in order to cultivate their favorite meme: the dastardliness of Putin’s Russia. Really, you cannot encounter a news story from the Fake News Conglomerate without the canned strains of ‘Russian interference in the election’. And now HuffPo and kindred outlets are excitedly peddling the non-news that Russia was somehow behind the Hunter Biden laptop story. Sure, they circulated the story, which as far as I know was broken by the New York Post, but the entity behind the story, the person at the origin, was Hunter ‘Ole Cokehead’ Biden himself.
Joe Biden has been in office for just two months. Has any US president had such a disastrous opening chapter on the world stage? None that I can recall.