The Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics (Richard Lectures)

By Martin Jay

When Michael Dukakis accused George H. W. Bush of being the "Joe Isuzu of yank Politics" in the course of the 1988 presidential crusade, he asserted in a very American tenor the near-ancient concept that mendacity and politics (and maybe advertisements, too) are inseparable, or a minimum of intertwined. Our reaction to this phenomenon, writes the well known highbrow historian Martin Jay, has a tendency to vacillate—often impotently—between ethical outrage and amoral realism. within the Virtues of lying, Jay resolves to prevent this traditional framing of the controversy over mendacity and politics via interpreting what has been acknowledged in help of, and competition to, political mendacity from Plato and St. Augustine to Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss. Jay proceeds to teach that every philosopher’s argument corresponds to a specific notion of the political realm, which decisively shapes his or her perspective towards political lying. He then applies this perception to various contexts and questions on mendacity and politics. unusually, he concludes via asking if mendacity in politics is basically all that undesirable. The political hypocrisy that american citizens specifically periodically decry can be, in Jay’s view, the easiest replacement to the violence justified through those that declare to understand the truth.

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The contrast among thought and practice, between its many different meanings, concerned a distinction among the common and the specific. As the classicist Andrea Wilson Nightingale has noted, theoria began as a journey away from home for the goal of observing a spectacle or discovering out whatever approximately the higher world, seeing for oneself really than simply acquiring rumour. whilst the theorist went to a spiritual festival, for example, he entered “a panhellenic ‘space’ which (at least in principle) transcended political differences and encouraged a sense of identity that was much broader and more universal than that defined by the individual polis…. The fourth-century philosophers took this model to its extreme: philosophic theoria operates in a sphere that thoroughly transcends social and political life. ”33 The space of the political life, unlike that of the vita contemplativa, was thus always circumscribed, partial, never extending to the totality of the human. ESSENCES: VARIETIES OF THE POLITICAL Let us look more carefully at each of these premises in turn to prepare our discussion of the more specific matter at hand, the role of lying in politics. First, if there is an ontological nature of “the political,” as opposed to its various ontic manifestations, can we identify its essence, the specific caliber or attribute that both can be transferred or that defines the constrained domain in which it operates? Is it to domestic affairs, as the Greeks thought, or to foreign ones, as the Romans believed, that we must go to find “the political” in its purest form? 34 Without pretending to be exhaustive, we can identify several salient candidates for “the political” that go beyond traditional regime categories (e. g. , monarchy, oligarchy, democracy). Each of these will have implications for the query of mendacity in politics that may well good differ, as I wish to illustrate in the ultimate part of this ebook. yet if we observe that there is an affinity between a significant number of versions of “the political,” on the one hand, and hypocrisy and mendacity, on the other, then it may possibly be attainable to finish that mendacity in politics is now not a degeneration or aberration, but is somehow inherent in that realm of human endeavor we have come to call politics. Before examining the range of candidates, one obvious question has to be addressed. All arguments for the essence of “the political” seek to provide a plausible common denominator for everything justifiably called politics, often banishing certain inferior versions by definition from their (sometimes crypto-) normative model. But in so doing, can they avoid the reproach of ethnocentrism or cultural myopia, privileging one tradition and assuming it reveals universal criteria? Can the Greek polis or the Roman Republic, for example, easily serve as a model for, say, political life in Africa or pre-Columbian America?

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