Conservative Polyglots

Hello? Tap, tap, tap! [Peering through the screen] I’ve thought of something interesting to say. (Actually, I’ve thought of other things but haven’t got myself in order to post them before they became stale-dated.) But here I am now. Perhaps you’re still out there?

I was struck by an odd thing while listening to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg torture the Spanish language as he attempted to speak to his city’s citizens about the superstorm. Painful. Especially in contrast to the ease with which Obama spoke Spanish on the campaign trail.

And it occurred to me that there seems to be a greater fluency in languages among the politicians of the left than those of the right. Of course there are honourable exceptions on the right and execrable exceptions on the left; Abba Eban is one that springs to mind on the right. His native English was impeccable but so far as I can tell, so was his Hebrew. I started to wonder why this might be.

It occurred to me that this may relate to the psychology of how we relate to the other. For conservatives, the other is unconnected at best, a competitor who must be conquered or controlled at worst. This is a necessary consequence of the adherence to the capitalist viewpoint which regards weakness as something of which to take competitive advantage. Helping others is antithetical to one’s own interests; offering help is only catering to those who need to learn to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

On the other hand, for liberals, the other is socially connected and a joint participant in society, one who may need help or may be appealed to for help, depending on the inequality present (if any). This is a product of both economic and legal theories associated with the left.

In the result, there is no reward for communicating with the other in conservative theory and an absolute necessity for communicating with the other in liberal theory. I don’t think that either side’s politicians consciously subscribe to this viewpoint but I suspect that somewhere underneath the surface of their minds, these ideas either discourage or encourage them in their endeavours to master another language. What is the reward for the effort? How useful will it be? Subconsciously, the answers to those questions are very different in different parts of the political spectrum.

Yours for multilingualism,


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