Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Truth in Danger?

James Russell Ament links to an Utne Reader piece on "The Death of Telling the Truth". It seems to me that, on the contrary, the illness is not mortal but chronic.

Do politicians lie more? Maybe. If so, though, it probably because they have more parties to placate. In the days of monarchies the statesman had pretty small constituency to worry about. Yet courtiers were not always known for keeping their words, were they? Ralegh's disdainful "Epitaph on the Earl of Leicester" includes the line
Here lies the noble Courtier, who never kept his word;
Do the rest of us lie more? I'd say the evidence is not clear there. To go way back, Sir Henry Summer Maine write in Ancient Law that
No trustworthy primitive record can be read without perceiving that the habit of mind which induces us to make good a promise is as yet imperfectly developed, and that acts of flagrant perfidy are often mentioned without blame and sometimes described with approbation. In the Homeric literature, for instance, the deceitful cunning of Ulysses appears as a virtue of the same rank with the prudence of Nestor, the constancy of Hector, and the gallantry of Achilles.
More generally, it is probably unwise to expect strict adherence to the truth when the party is speaking is at a disadvantage as against the audience, and particularly when party speaking considers the audience's advantage to be unfairly gained. Trollope thought the Irish of his time there "but little bound by the love of truth"; one could multiply examples.


  1. Replies
    1. Bravo!

      I trust that when you were in town, the Park Service kept you and your hatchet away from the cherry trees down at the Tidal Basin.