I’ve been assaulted with this nonsense one too many times. It wasn’t the content of the article, World Leaders Launch Military Action in Libya , that bothered me so much as the title. This oft-repeated conflation of the words “leader” and “ruler” simply drives me to distraction; and it’s about time I said a few words about the connotation and denotation of these words.

The word leader once meant someone who guides or inspires. There is a purely voluntary association between leader and follower. Followers may choose to follow, or choose not to follow, without fear of retribution. This is the word’s denotation. It’s connotation has become blurred with another word, however—much to our disadvantage.

The word ruler does not embody the civility of the word ‘leader’. It denotes someone who has sovereignty over others—someone who commands and must be obeyed lest punishment be brought to bear. As such, it is wholly inappropriate to denote Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings, Sheiks, and other such statist tyrants with the title “World Leaders.” These people do not lead, do not guide or inspire others to voluntarily follow them. They use coercion—force and fraud—to achieve their goals. For instance, when someone joins the military because he is told by his “World Leader” that the endless War on Terror is needed to secure the peace, safety, and freedom of his family and homeland, that is fraud. When he is prevented from leaving the service and compelled to kill for the state and its corporate cronies, that is force. Thus, to be accurate and honest, the article mentioned above should have been entitled “World Rulers Launch Military Action in Libya.”

What is truly unnerving is the Orwellian double-speak being practiced and unthinkingly accepted. “Leader” has come to embody both meanings: it denotes “voluntary guide”, whilst simultaneously connoting “coercive master”. This common misuse of the term when referring to a government official white-washes the coercive nature of rulership. And it allows us to quiet the cognitive-dissonance caused by holding the absurdly false belief that our statist masters are also the defenders of our freedoms.

This bastardization of the word ‘leader’ works to the advantage of the rulers, and to the disadvantage of those who are ruled. If we cannot even admit to ourselves that we are ruled, if we persist in accepting the oxymoronic notion of a “chosen master”, how can we begin to fight against the aggressions of states and statists? We cannot, for we have intellectually disarmed ourselves before ever taking up physical arms against our oppressors. This was one of the lessons of George Orwell’s 1984. When language is so de-constructed as to leave us helpless to formulate the concepts necessary for resistence, or even acknowledge that such resistence is necessary, then we are doomed.

Language, thought, and action are inextricably linked. Words have meaning and power. Do not let that power be bent against you.