Remnants

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While researching my post on Dr. Jane Orient's theory that Barack Obama is using NLP hypnosis, I listened to Dr. Ron Paul's speech to the 62nd annual convention of the AAPS.  Dr. Orient's explanation of the techniques of trance induction ("… rhythm, tonalities, vagueness, visual imagery, metaphor, and raising of emotion") prepared me well for this experience, and I was especially taken by one particular metaphor that Ron Paul repeated three times, and reinforced in other ways:  true believers as a scriptural remnant.

The freedom of choice is something they- they don't understand, I uh
am saddened at times uh about physicians in Congress –
you know we have more now than ever,
uh but if you look carefully they're not exactly the greatest champion
uh of free market medicine and tend to
capitulate and go along and
go along with the AMA and think that the only thing that we can do
now is it ((th- in place)) of why- what don't- why don't we just work hard and make sure you
the physicians get a higher fee.
Well uh if- if that's our solution uh to our problems today you can expect that uh free market medicine is not going to be revived.
In a way, the remnant of the physicians in this country really
uh are in this organization
and uh
the- the remnant is pretty important, those remaining believers have to set the examples
and that's what uh so many of you do uh
not only in spirit but as well as in uh practicality by not
uh by not participating.
it- I was uh amazed in the sov- uh how it worked in the Soviet Union, and Solzhenitsyn talked about this
that there was still free market care in the Soviet system,
and uh and that was for the politicians
instead of the politicians getting pushed to the bottom of the ladder
and making accept government medicine they always provided that one doctor, protected this doctor here or there,
so the politician that could walk in
and have uh more personalized uh uh private care.
but uh even in a system as wicked as the soviet system
there- there was a- a great remnant uh and uh
I was- I'm always amazed that you meet people coming out of Russia
and- and the soviet system after the collapse –
well educated, knew the English language,
uh knew the classics and uh you know sometimes the underground education system in the soviet
union was even uh a bit superior to the some of the public education in this country
So uh th- this is why uh our efforts
uh in AAPS is so crucial.

The reference here is not to the odd-sized pieces of cloth and carpet that some of us used to buy to save money, but to the biblical concept of remnant, defined by the OED as

A small remaining number of persons. Also spec., in allusion to Isa. x. 22, a small number of Jews that survives persecution, in whom future hope is vested.

1630 PRYNNE Anti-Armin. 128 They are but a Remnant, a seede, a little flocke.

The context in Isaiah X:

16: Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.
17: And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day;
18: And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body: and they shall be as when a standardbearer fainteth.
19: And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.
20: And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.
21: The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God.
22: For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.
23: For the Lord GOD of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land.

Or for a grimmer translation of verse 22, in the New International Reader's Version:

Israel, your people might be as many as the grains of sand by the sea.
But only a few of them will return.
The Lord has handed down a death sentence.
He will destroy his people.
What he does is right.

After I awoke from my trance, I realized that this is a really striking metaphor: physicians who refuse to accept Medicare are like the few Israelites who remained after the Assyrian conquests and massacres. Even more surprisingly, so were the doctors who treated corrupt Russian communist leaders as private patients in soviet times.

There are some other implications of this metaphor that I'd love to discuss with Dr. Paul some day: for example, in what sense does he feel that the "consumption decreed" on free-market medicine "shall overflow with righteousness"?

In any case, Dr. Paul is already well positioned to qualify as a small seed of future hope for the causes that he champions: in the same speech, he explains proudly that

somebody did a study not too long ago
and he did this as a research study and he looked at all the votes between uh
year two thousand and two thousand four
and uh found out that uh
uh there were a hundred and twenty six times that I voted all by myself!

And he quotes Samuel Adams, as libertarian conservatives are fond of doing these days:

and uh Samuel Adams said it- it does not uh take a majority to prevail
but rather an irate, tireless minority
keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men,
and uh that is the key to it.

(Can anyone tell me what the source of this quote actually is? All the citations that I can find in a quick search online are to people who attribute it to Adams, but without any details.)

Some day we should take up the topic of "remnant syndrome" among intellectuals. It's noble to be one of the beleaguered few who see the truth — and the larger the group who agree with you, the nobler your isolation. Or something like that. Linguists, who are genuinely a beleaguered few these days, are by no means immune to such motivations, which of course often operate recursively within successively smaller social circles, whether religious, political, or philosophical.

Anyhow, if the current polls are anything like accurate, Nov. 5 will see some main-stream Republicans feeling that "They are but a Remnant, a seede, a little flocke", and (I suspect) not feeling nearly as comfortable in that role as Dr. Paul is.

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7 Comments »

  1. Nat said,

    October 31, 2008 @ 3:22 pm

    Two questions: one, are you sure he was specifically making a Biblical allusion (I wouldn't be hugely surprised if he were, but it's probably a fair question); and two, is the definition he's using really so uncommon as you make it seem? I've only ever heard "remnant" in the context of "a small remaining quantity of something" or "a surviving trace"—I had to look up what you meant when you referred to carpets and such. I guess my age shows.

  2. Mark Liberman said,

    October 31, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

    Nat: are you sure he was specifically making a Biblical allusion?

    Check out:

    Albert Jay Nock, "Isaiah's Job", The Atlantic, 1936:

    … this story is much worth recalling just now when so many wise men and soothsayers appear to be burdened with a message to the masses [...] the story of Isaiah might have something in it to steady and compose the human spirit until this tyranny of windiness is overpast. [...]

    In the year of Uzziah's death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. [...] "I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you," He added, "that it won't do any good. [...] They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life."

    Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job – in fact, he had asked for it – but the prospect[...] raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so – if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start – was there any sense in starting it? "Ah," the Lord said, "you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it."

    And Butler Shaffer, "Whither the Remnant?":

    One who has recently gained attention for his efforts on behalf of the Remnant is Republican Congressman Ron Paul.

    Both of the pages from which I took these quotes — and many more with references to the Remnant — are hosted on the web site of Lew Rockwell, who was Ron Paul's chief of staff from 1971 to 1982, and has played many other roles in his political career.

  3. dr pepper said,

    October 31, 2008 @ 8:25 pm

    The new testament says that "the gates of hell shall not prevail" against "the church". Many millenial groups merge this with the ot remnant concept. Thus "the church" isn't christianity in general, it's one small group that has remained faithful and, however small, will not be extinguished because is is the unprevailable remnant that will triumph in the end.

  4. Brandon said,

    October 31, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

    I didn't even know using remnant in this way had biblical connotations, I always just use and have heard it used as a particularly melodramatic way of describing the last of a dwindling group, or what they leave behind. Anything that remains behind after the rest of it's kind has moved on. For example, I'd call some ruins in the middle of a jungle a remnant of a civilization, at least, if I was trying to be dramatic.

  5. Mark Liberman said,

    October 31, 2008 @ 10:09 pm

    Brandon: I didn't even know using remnant in this way had biblical connotations, I always just use and have heard it used as a particularly melodramatic way of describing the last of a dwindling group…

    Fair enough. But I think we can be confident that for Ron Paul, it's a reference to Isaiah, or perhaps to Albert Jay Nock's reference to Isaiah.

  6. Joe said,

    October 31, 2008 @ 10:56 pm

    Somehow, this made a snowclone jump into my mind: "The few, the proud, the crazy."

    (My sincere apologies to the Marines.)

  7. Chris said,

    November 3, 2008 @ 11:08 am

    Some day we should take up the topic of "remnant syndrome" among intellectuals. It's noble to be one of the beleaguered few who see the truth — and the larger the group who agree with you, the nobler your isolation. Or something like that.
    I take it you mean the smaller the group… In any case, hasn't this already been done in Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style? Although that was politically oriented, not academically.

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