Among the Intellectualoids

Among the Intellectualoids

Semantic Infiltration

By From the July 2010 - August 2010 issue

Sen. Moynihan liked the term "semantic infiltration," which I introduced in an article in 1972. Semantic infiltration means one undermines one's own position in negotiations by adopting unknowingly the terms which the adversary "infiltrates."

Moynihan often used the term but he always gave me credit. A splendid gentleman he was. Moynihan was not only a superb senator and politician; he also was a great scholar -- a philosopher-king. In the year 2000 Sen. Byrd gave a valedictory speech for Moynihan, who had started his final year in the Senate. Byrd said, "Senator Moynihan is the kind of philosopher-politician who the Founding Fathers had fervently hoped would populate the Senate. Men, who, like Socrates' philosopher-kings described in Plato's Republic, are awake rather than dreaming." Not just the ancient Greeks, but also the Romans had a famous philosopher-king -- the emperor Marcus Aurelius.

A philosopher-king understands that infiltrating misleading words can gain an unwarranted political advantage.