Thinker's Corner

The Dictionary of Dangerous Words edited by Digby Anderson (The Social Affairs Unit, Suite 5/6, 1st Floor, Morley House, 314-322 Regent Street, London W1R 5AB, £5.95) compiles a list of words whose meanings have been hijacked by "progressive socialists". Anderson illustrates his argument with examples such as "alternative" and "affirm" which are now used to legitimise, not simply to describe. Where "alternative" once described bizarre or unusual behaviour, it now provides a positive label for it. "Affirm" is no longer to state or declare something strongly, but relates to our need to be affirmed and the inherent rights involved in this process. Another dangerously ambiguous word is "partner". "Partner", once a "business partner or a professional colleague" is today a "half-hearted, conditional emotional attachment". Anderson uses this compilation to highlight the ideological conflict between the cultures of right and left. He suggests that the liberals are winning the battle: not one word has changed its meaning to embody a conservative or reactionary ideal. And words, after all, are the building blocks for culture. Ultimately, he is pessimistic: if communicators do not share the ideology underpinning the words they use, how, he wonders, can they avoid endorsing it?

How Flexible Should Europe Be? by Ben Hall (The Centre for European Reform, 29 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QL, free) is the first attempt to enter the debate on EU flexibility since the landmark speech made by Joschka Fischer in Berlin in May. The author rejects the model for closer European co-operation debated at Amsterdam, and instead makes the case for co-operation across a range of policy areas (social, defence, immigration). Hall argues that this approach would encourage EU enlargement. However, his strategy does not allow for underlying conflicts between member states, nor does it address the possibility of a "two-speed" road to European integration.