War on Christmas
Posted: 31 December 2017 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I was interested in seeing just how old the phrase is. Nothing specific in OED but Salon has a relevant article albeit on the concept rather than the exact phrase. It quotes from a 1959 pamphlet issued by the John Birch Society (there’s an icy blast from the past, you don’t hear much of them now, thank goodness) and speaks of ‘the assault on Christmas’. The villain, hilariously, is the UN which has hatched a nefarious plot to replace all the Christian iconography in homes and store windows, etc with UN symbols. (Really, you couldn’t make this stuff up.)

“The UN fanatics launched their assault on Christmas in 1958, but too late to get very far before the holy day was at hand,” the pamphlet explained. “They are already busy, however, at this very moment, on efforts to poison the 1959 Christmas season with their high-pressure propaganda. What they now want to put over on the American people is simply this: Department stores throughout the country are to utilize UN symbols and emblems as Christmas decorations.”

It can’t have been very long for the phrase ‘war on Christmas’ to become the standard. I’m trying to recall when I first heard it. Perhaps the Reagan/Thatcher years? That may well be a false memory though.

Neutral Christmas greetings are as old as the hills though, with the diplomatic compliments of the season having a cite of 1766 in OED.

1766 T. Wroughton in H. Ellis Orig. Lett. Eng. Hist. ii. IV. 507 24 Dec.  I heartily wish you the Compliments of the Season.

Happy New Year to all of you!

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Posted: 31 December 2017 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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aldiboronti - 31 December 2017 06:55 AM

It quotes from a 1959 pamphlet issued by the John Birch Society (there’s an icy blast from the past, you don’t hear much of them now, thank goodness) and speaks of ‘the assault on Christmas’. The villain, hilariously, is the UN which has hatched a nefarious plot to replace all the Christian iconography in homes and store windows, etc with UN symbols.

In the 1960s, the John Birch Society was a joke in Mad Magazine. But in the past couple of decades when people started arguing on the internet, I began hearing more and more conservative Americans saying ‘the US isn’t a democracy, it’s a republic’. I had never heard this growing up—this was an age when conservative Americans objected to a book that had a title along the lines of Problems with Democracy on the grounds that schoolchildren shouldn’t be told that there were any. So I did a bit of research, and discovered that the republic-not-democracy seemed to originate with the JBS. So perhaps in both instances the influence of this apparent fringe group was greater than it appeared at the time, on a deeper level.

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Posted: 01 January 2018 10:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The “republic, not a democracy” meme didn’t originate with the John Birch Society, although it was popularized by them. In 1961 the founder of the JBS, Robert Welch, published an essay titled “Republics and Democracies” in which he made this point. But he wasn’t the first:

“Decidedly Not Democratic.” The Washington Post, 30 Aug 1907, 6:

Our Constitution does “bridle popular impulse” in a manner altogether “incompatible with pure democracy.” And of all the good features of our fundamental law, that is the best. It has saved all the rest. It was a republic, not a democracy, that our fathers founded. It was representative government, but representative alike of the people and the States. One legislative body stands for the people, its members elected by direct vote of all who have the suffrage. The other body stands for the States, each State having an equal voice therein, its members being elected by the organ of the State, the legislature.

The quotes within the WP article are from a Philadelphia Bulletin piece (no cite) on a book written by a “scholarly professor,” so the idea isn’t original to this WP piece.

The idea, however, is trivial and mere sophistry based on a misunderstanding of how words are defined. Words can have multiple meanings. Democracy has (for our purposes here) two definitions. The OED definition of democracy sums it up nicely:

Government by the people; esp. a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity (or, esp. formerly, a subset of them meeting particular conditions) are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly; (more generally) a system of decision-making within an institution, organization, etc., in which all members have the right to take part or vote. In later use often more widely, with reference to the conditions characteristically obtaining under such a system: a form of society in which all citizens have equal rights, ignoring hereditary distinctions of class or rank, and the views of all are tolerated and respected; the principle of fair and equal treatment of everyone in a state, institution, organization, etc.

Technically. the US is not a democracy by the strict political science definition of the term, but it is a democracy in the sense of the word most commonly used. (And not just the US. I don’t think there are any true democracies in existence.)

And the JBS has had a profound influence on current American politics in general. “Reagan Republicanism” is a meliorated form of JBS ideas, and many of the alt-right ideas are straight out of the JBS playbook.

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