Proper Nouns, RIP
The edits to my TNI piece are yet more evidence of the slow death of the proper noun.
“Cold War” became “cold war,” “Neoconservatives” became “neoconservatives,” and “Realists” became “realists” in deference to House style. Twenty years ago, all of those terms would have been understood to name particular things and thus require capitalization; nowadays, not so much. We still capitalize names of persons, cities, and the like. But anything that also has an adjective form is now increasingly written in lower case even in noun form. (Don’t get me started on the demise of the proper adjective.)
“The Cold War” is a particular conflict every much as is the American Civil War, the Vietnam War, or World War II. But it’s increasingly written as if it’s merely a description of an attitude. Then again, while not nearly as common, I’m starting to see “Vietnam War” and “American civil war.” Thus far, the World Wars seem to be maintaining their grasp on capitalization.
Similarly, “Realist” and “Neoconservative” refer to schools of thought. Unless they’re derived from a proper name (i.e., Marxism) the practice now seems to be to represent them in lower case. I prefer to capitalize Left and Right, when referring to political movements, to distinguish them from the relative directions; I’m in the minority in current usage.
Presumably, this is all part of the movement to make language less formal. Not long after I learned the rules of capitalization in grade school, we began to stop using the upper case for such things as military ranks, government titles, and school subjects. And, certainly, we had already evolved a long way from the days of the Founders, as one look at the Declaration of Independence will confirm.
My guess is that this will continue. The widespread use of text messaging, Twitter, and the like may one day do away with punctuation and capitalization altogether.