McCourtney Institute for Demoracy Managing Director Chris Beem will present a lecture on honesty and democatic virtues as part of the Rock Ethics Institute's colloquium series:
Hannah Arendt said “truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other.” George Orwell said that political language “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.” We all know this. Depending on whether the question involves them or their opponents, politicians are shamelessly inconsistent. Politicians spin, they answer the questions they want to answer instead of the one asked, they beat talking points into the ground. And often…they lie.
Because the bar is so low, the prospects for an ethics of political honesty might appear to be a waste of time. But we can also set the bar even lower--in fact, too low. Orwell and Arendt were realists about politics, but they were also realists about the ways that authoritarians operate. They knew that lies are one of the most important tools of democracy’s enemies. And for Arendt especially, democracy presupposes some shared commitment to the truth. For citizens, partisans and politicians, telling the truth undermines the risk of tyranny. Therefore, every time someone makes the never easy and often fraught choice to tell the truth, they are playing a little part in sustaining democracy.