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The Transformation of Language: A New Age for America
To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things they misname Empire; and where they make a wilderness, they call it Peace. - Tacitus, Roman Historian
Now that the Obama Administration has taken power, it is critical for us to pay attention for how our language is being transformed before our eyes. The transformation of language is a common way for governments to take power without violence and with the appearance of legitimacy in a society that still holds its constitution, history and freedoms dear to it. In other words, it is a way for governments to implement change in a way that doesn't feel or look like much change at all. Change you can believe in, for sure.
Let us look at Rome and how the transformation of language was essential in the rise to power of Augustus. Now I am not equating Augustus with Obama. So you Obama fanboys can calm down and drink your milk and cookies. The Augustan period is a period not only of the transformation of a republic into an empire, but is also a fascinating study on the nature of propaganda and the state. Its lessons are not taught in our schools. That is most unfortunate, because the propaganda we experience on a daily basis is no less powerful and no less preposterous than it was at that time. People ought to be wary.
Also I'd like to put in an aside. The period of Augustus gave birth to some of the most magnificent pieces of art in both literature and architecture. I do not diminish this. But, all the same, Augustus was a brutal, uncompromising dictator, no different from any other. He was also able to, with ease, create a public image of himself as man of clemency, peace and beneficence. It is to this day difficult for historians to discover the man behind the myth. Even Tacitus, in his Annals, was unable to extract fact from rumor in his attempt to document the death of Augustus.
But the successes and reverses of the old Roman people have been recorded by famous historians; and fine intellects were not wanting to describe the times of Augustus, till growing sycophancy scared them away. The histories of Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, and Nero, while they were in power, were falsified through terror, and after their death were written under the irritation of a recent hatred...
... the infirmities of Augustus increased, and some suspected guilt on his wife's part. For a rumour had gone abroad that a few months before he had sailed to Planasia on a visit to Agrippa, with the knowledge of some chosen friends, and with one companion, Fabius Maximus; that many tears were shed on both sides, with expressions of affection, and that thus there was a hope of the young man being restored to the home of his grandfather. This, it was said, Maximus had divulged to his wife Marcia, she again to Livia. All was known to Caesar, and when Maximus soon afterwards died, by a death some thought to be self-inflicted, there were heard at his funeral wailings from Marcia, in which she reproached herself for having been the cause of her husband's destruction. Whatever the fact was, Tiberius as he was just entering Illyria was summoned home by an urgent letter from his mother, and it has not been thoroughly ascertained whether at the city of Nola he found Augustus still breathing or quite lifeless. For Livia had surrounded the house and its approaches with a strict watch, and favourable bulletins were published from time to time, till, provision having been made for the demands of the crisis, one and the same report told men that Augustus was dead and that Tiberius Nero was master of the State.
In order for Augustus to have seized power legitimately qua Emperor, he needed to shroud his language in way that was acceptable to the republican ears of old Rome. He called himself princeps which meant something like "primary citizen". He did not call himself dictator or rex, in order to conjure support from the Senate and the people who would have been threatened by any such title.
Now we all know now that the Augustan seizure of power marked the end of the old republican form of government, and the beginning of what would become the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, Augustus used the word "restoration" to describe what was essentially the destruction of an old republic that had become corrupt with civil war, greed and treason. Augustus, taking advantage of the weakness of the Senate and the moral fiber of the city, painted himself as the savior of that city, the man who would return it to its roots, both morally and religiously. He made ample use of the old republican gods by employing poets and artists to depict himself and his family as being the offspring of divinity. The Latin word domus, the household, once associated in the old republic with the sacred hearth and family, became associated with the divine household of Augustus. The domestic house became what was essentially the State itself, and it was a State that was, according to Augustan propaganda, sanctioned by the gods and the religion of the old republic.
Transformation Of Language