Hannah Arendt – Truth and Politics


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“No one has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other, and no one, as far as I. know, has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues.

Lies have always been regarded as necessary and justifiable tools not only of the politician’s or the demagogue’s but also of the statesman’s trade.

Why is that so? And what does it mean for the nature and the dignity of the political realm, on one side, and for the nature and the dignity of truth and truthfulness, on the other?”

From Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought

So says political philosopher Hannah Arendt, the subject of this lecture which is part of the IF Project’s lecture series, Thinking between the Lines: Truth, Lies and Fiction in an age of populism.

Dr Dan Taylor of Goldsmiths, University of London, takes the title Truth and Politics (the title of Arendt’s essay quoted above), to explore the testy and troublesome relationship between truth and politics.

Are all politicians just liars? asks Dr Taylor. No, but some lie a lot more than others. Why? he asks. Is there something about being powerful and wealthy that makes you lie to mystify the conditions of your own power to suggest that your position is well earned, natural?

And why do we place such a premium on the truth, anyway, when we are so cynical about it?

Dr Taylor uses Arendt’s work as a tool to consider Donald Trump’s ‘alternative facts’, Ivanka Trump, Extinction Rebellion and climate deniers, the Pentagon Papers, Rudy Giuliani (who said the truth is not the truth), and the ‘spin’ of Tony Blair.

Facts are just facts, says Dr Taylor, but lies create an alternative reality and undermine our faith in democracy. Totalitarianism relies on a network of lies, that reinforce each other and create an alternative reality.

Hannah Aarendt is perhaps best known for writing about “the banality of evil” in connection with the trial of Adolf Eichmann 1961-63.

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