Power, Bald-Faced Lies and Contempt for Truth

Revue Internationale de Philosophie 297 (3):11-26 (2021)
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Abstract

Bald-faced lies are on the uptick by political leaders in democracies worldwide. In the United States, for example, we are becoming numb not only to outrageous falsehoods, but to the bizarre self-assurance with which they are pronounced. We were told crowds were bigger than they were, that the sun shined when it didn’t, that Trump won in a landslide—and that was just in the first few days after his election. What has shocked so many is the fearlessness in the face of the facts, the willingness to simply deny reality outright, and the apparent toleration—even joy—with which Trump’s followers greet the practice. Bald-faced lying by political leaders is an important phenomenon, but it is easy to misunderstand in ways that undermine our ability to combat its strange effectiveness. In this paper, I aim to first analyze political bald-faced lies and then examine the threat they pose to the norms of democratic discourse. My goal is not to answer the empirical question of how frequently denials of obvious facts occur in politics; it is the normative question of understanding what harms they cause — particularly when they are made by those — in political power. Nonetheless, I think it is important to resist the temptation to think that what we are talking about here are a few isolated and extreme examples. As Hannah Arendt noted, there are times in political life when truth, “if it happens to oppose a given group’s profit or pleasure, is greeted with greater hostility.” Arguably we are living in one of those times.

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Michael Lynch
University of Connecticut

Citations of this work

Political Bald-Faced Lies are Performative Utterances.Susanna Melkonian-Altshuler - forthcoming - In Adam Podlaskowski & Drew Johnson (eds.), Truth 20/20. Synthese Library.

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