Western society is beset with slogans of one kind or another. There can be few societies which have had to face so many. Not that previous generations have not had to respond to them. Virgil spoke to the ancient world of ‘Eternal Rome’, and people were meant to be grateful that the Roman Empire would go on forever. Thankfully it did not. It is probably fair to say that it was the French Revolution that ushered in the modern age of slogans. The slogan for the Revolution, of course, was a most appealing one: ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’. Thomas Paine proclaimed ‘The Rights of Man’, and denounced despots. Even as the guillotine was working overtime, people were still beguiled into thinking that the shedding of so much blood would somehow ring in utopia. Indeed, it was the Committee of Public Safety which praised civic virtues while waging war in a paranoid way on the Third Estate, as well as the First and Second Estates. Napoleon did not betray the Revolution; he fulfilled it.
Stalin did the same in revolutionary Russia after 1917. The Bolshevik Revolution was supposed to ensure the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It in fact achieved a brutal dictatorship over the proletariat, and everybody else. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had declared that ‘The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.’ Whatever chains which bound them in Tsarist days were exchanged for the death camps of the Gulag, and somehow they failed to win the world. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich portrayed an inmate who was just happy to be able to survive till the next day.
In Germany the Thousand Year Reich crumbled after twelve long years. The ‘Strength Through Joy’ leisure programme ended out promoting the death camps, while the Charitable Transport Company gathered disabled children and invalids for the gas chambers of the Nazi euthanasia programme. But we are all past that, aren’t we? Well, no, we still seem prone to fall for one utopian lunacy after another.
The Woodstock generation told us to ‘Make Love, Not War’, and portrayed themselves as ‘gentle people with flowers in their hair’. Too often it all descended into drugs and promiscuity, accompanied by anger and even violence. Since then, the slogans have continued, without any sign of abating. We have Harmony Day to promote an artificial harmony, and all our schools are ‘centres of excellence’, although standards are falling. The modern classic is surely the demand for ‘Marriage Equality’. ‘Marriage’ sounds a good thing, as does ‘Equality’, so ‘Marriage Equality’ must be doubly good.
Add this to the soothing rhetoric of Barak Obama after the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision of 26 June 2015 to allow same-sex marriages throughout the United States. Obama waxed lyrical: ‘This ruling will strengthen all of our communities by offering to all loving same-sex couples the dignity of marriage across this great land … And this ruling is a victory for America … When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.’ Sentimentality seems to have replaced any capacity for thought in the modern media world. ‘Equality’ does not mean ‘Sameness’; marriage is a celebration of differences. It is the complementary nature of the two sexes that is crucial to any marriage. Surely too Mr Obama must know something about Christian bakers, florists, and wedding workers who are being sued for not pandering to the same-sex lobby.
Mark Twain once quipped that ‘Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.’ The reverse can be said of slogans: the reality is invariably far worse than the rhetoric. The problem lies not only with the corrupt and dishonest manipulation of words, but also with a kind of zealous sincerity. Distinguishing between the two groups is not always easy. In any case, the result is yet another illustration of the words of Isaiah: ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!’ (Isa.5:20)