What does “Bloviations” mean? Asked a reader to William F. Buckley, Jr. The reader had looked everywhere for a definition and couldn’t find it:
“I believe you made the word up and it is nothing more than a lot of blatant blather.
Buckley’s response was1:
“Yes, we did make it up—and don’t think it was easy!”
The word “conservative” no longer means what it once did. And, like bloviation, it sounds equally made-up when applied to men like Trump or Sean Hannity, or women like Ann Coulter.
I’m a traditionalist when it comes to political terms. I want a “liberal” to care about liberty, a “progressive” to be a promoter of progress by government means, and a “conservative” to be ,well, conservative! Only one of these words still means what it should.
How did liberal come to be code for progressive, or a stand-in for postmodern third-wave feminism, or “secret” commie? Libertarians had to invent a new word because the old one is truly dead.
Buckley once quoted a lecture by the great novelist Anthony Burgess in which the writer told his students, “And for God’s sake stop talking about relevance, all we have is the past.” Which is to say, how can we move forward without understanding the lessons of the past? THAT is a conservative utterance.
A conservative should be restrained, skeptical, worried about the worst case scenario, inclined towards the conservation of the best of our values and heritage. How did conservative come to mean loudmouthed, nationalistic, evangelical, or even “secret” racist?
I consider myself, by my definitions, to be a proud liberal with a conservative soul. But I can’t call myself this without acknowledging that I’m using these terms in a way that is out of phase with my contemporaries.
The rise of Trump is perhaps, in part, a consequence of the distortion of these words — not just in meaning, but in value. The word conservative should carry with it a sense of caution, careful consideration, dispassionate analysis, and deliberation. Does any of this sound like modern (pseudo) conservatives, to you?
The conservative movement began to lose its soul the day it started misusing the word; the day it no longer applied to careful, thoughtful, intellectuals like William F. Buckley, but to a crushing mass of bloviating blowhards.
Now go lift something heavy,
- It’s worth noting that the word “bloviation” has a more interesting history than that. Buckley tells that Warren Harding used it to describe his own politic ability to speak at length without saying anything. ↩