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The Way to Authoritarianism is Paved with Lies

Lying is part of the human condition. But democracy is in peril when politicians make lying into a "business principle." Lying is a second nature for Trump. Trump lies strategically and doesn't have a bad conscience. For Trump, the borders between true and false have largely disappeared. Liars and bullshitters undermine trust inlanguage and calculable communication. The feeling of losing c ontrol is the motivational driver for accepting right-wing offers and not the alternatives.

Lying is part of the human condition. But democracy is in peril when politicians make lying into a "business principle"

By Jurg Muller-Muralt

This article published on July 20, 2019 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet, www.infosperber.ch.]

In the past, Boris Johnson's flexible relation to truth was not a hindrance for his career. The new British prime minister is generally regarded as a notorious liar and swindler. The examples are legion.

The Great Media Manipulator

Lies Only Function Thanks to a Basic Consensus on Truth

That lies, intrigues, deceit, swindle and tricks belong to the human condition is a truism. Politics, history and literature are full of them. But lies - paradoxically - only function when a basic consensus exists that facts and lies, facts and fiction are different. Even a liar implicitly accepts this distinction. He or she wants a certain false statement to be believed as true or as agreeing with the facts.

The Axe at the Roots of Democracy

What happens worldwide in relation to truth endangers the foundations of ou9r life together. Are we with truth or against truth?

Fake News, deliberately false statements or their thoughtless dissemination are not simply venial/ pardonable (necessary- and everyday) lies. [... ] The axe is at the roots of society and democracy." Rainer Erlinger, medical student, lawyer and ethicist wrote this in his book "Why Say the Truth?" The author emphasized the distinction of "true" and "not true" as a basis of all communication in academia, democracy and the legal system.

Lying as Trump's "Second Nature"

Politicians like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, two of the most important representatives of western democracies, raise notorious lying to a general business principle. Trump's lying is unparalleled. In the months of June and July 2018, he averaged 16 false or misleading statements per day. The average rose to 30 per day before the Congressional- and Senate elections in the middle of the president's term in office in November 2018.

Lying is "a second nature" for Trump, says Tony Schwartz. He must know since he was the ghostwriter for Donald Trump's bestseller "The Art of the Deal," the 1987 book where Trump explained his myth of the dealmaker. Trump lies strategically and doesn't have a bad conscience. "More than any other person I ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he says is true." Schwartz later distanced himself from Trump and described his personality as problematic and unsuited for the office of US president.

More Than a Liar - a Bullshitter

Rainer Erlinger concludes that Trump lacks an important characteristic that marks a liar: the intention of saying something false, the untrue fact with which he seeks to deceive his counterpart. He says something without knowing whether it is true or not. The only criterion for him is whether it increases his popularity. For Trump, the borders between true and false have largely disappeared. Therefore, Erlinger describes Trump as a "bullshitter." He refers to the US philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt and his 2005 book "On Bullshit." Bullshit happens when someone claims something is true that he or she doesn't know whether it is true or not and that makes no difference at all. This distinguishes the bullshitter from the liar and from the honest person. As Frankfurt explains, "the nature of bullshit lies in this missing connection to truth - in this indifference to the question how things really are."

Civilization Progress in Danger

The consequences are dramatic. Liars and bullshitters on the scale of Trump or Johnson undermine trust in language and calculable communication and do not primarily destroy trust in themselves. Whoever rearranges reality without regard to facts and refuses being called to account destroys a crucial achievement of civilization: the precedence of truth and the search for truth over power.

The development of legal systems and the constitutional state are examples. Archaic rulers and legal systems did not need any factual evidence to condemn anyone. Verifiable truth as a central criterion is the gold standard in the judicial system and in democracy. "Identifying truth through facts is a great civilization accomplishment. It prevents the right of the stronger from prevailing and deciding," Erlinger writes. However, western democracies are in retrogression here. The debates in the US presidential campaigns show this retrogression. Facts play practically no role anymore; ostentatious power demonstrations carry the day.

Abandoning the Ritual of Apology

The great German philosopher Jurgen Habermas recently celebrated his 90th birthday. Though seldom heard in public, his voice is painful in our days when many leading politicians impudently use lies. While they would have apologized a few years ago, they abandon this (ultimately also hypocritical) ritual today. This cynicism is accepted and even promoted by parts of the general public. Some politicians devoted to Fake News are reelected.

Undermining Democracy

This way consciously chosen by large parts of the electorate leads to authoritarianism and undermines democracy. Human orientation that cannot function without the distinction of truth and untruth is destroyed when the maze of lies, half-truths and total fictions that are ever-harder to disentangle becomes tightly packed, as the philosopher Hannah Arendt once warned.

In her epochal 1955 work "Elements and origins of Total Rule," Hannah Arendt wrote:

"The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is the person for whom the distinction between facts and fiction and the distinction between true and false do not exist any more, not the convinced Nazi or the ardent communist."

"Before the mass leaders seized power to adjust reality to their lies, their propaganda was marked by a remarkable contempt for facts. The conviction that facts depend only on those with power establishing facts is implied in this contempt."

In her work, Hannah Arendt analyzed mostly the mechanisms of National Socialism and Stalinism. Alarmingly, these passages are burning and actual again today.

Rainer Erlinger: "Why Say the Truth?" (Warum die Wahrheit sagen?), Berlin 2019-09-19

Lies are dangerous and undermine the constitutional state. The powerful often justify wars with lies, even with false flag operations. In 1964, the Tonkin incident was staged by the US to have a reason to bomb North Vietnam. The 1990 incubator lie in Kuwait devised by a US PR-agency was the way to get broad support for the war against Iraq. In 2003, Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction served as a justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad.

Heinrich Frei, July 20, 2019-09-19

The lie is part of truth in the capitalist profit-system with its inconsistent contradictions. The ancient Greeks understood this when they described their slave-holding society as a democracy ("popular government," "Volks"herrschaft).

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