Miscellaneous (한 + EN)

Truth and politics

2020-03-09 18:50
For, seen from the viewpoint of the truthteller, the tendency to transform fact into opinion, to blur the dividing line between them, is no less perplexing than the truthteller's older predicament, so vividly expressed in the cave allegory, in which the philosopher, upon his return from his solitary journey to the sky of everlasting ideas, tries to communicate his truth to the multitude, with the result that it disappears in the diversity of views, which to him are illusions, and is brought down to the uncertain level of opinion, so that now, back in the cave, truth itself appears in the guise of the dokei moi ("it seems to me")—the very doxai he had hoped to leave behind once and for all. ... he cannot console himself with the thought that he has become a stranger in this world.

Philosophical truth, when it enters the marketplace, changes its nature and becomes opinion, because ... a shifting not merely from one kind of reasoning to another but from one way of human existence to another has taken place. Factual truth, on the contrary, is always related to other people: ... it is established by witnesses and depends upon testimony; it exists only to the extent that it is spoken about, even if it occurs in the domain of privacy. It is political by nature. ... Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute. In other words, factual truth informs political thought just as rational truth informs philosophical speculation.


Seen from the viewpoint of politics, truth has a despotic character. It is therefor hated by tyrants, who rightly fear the competition of a coercive force they cannot monopolize, and it enjoys a rather precarious status in the eyes of governments that rest on consent and abhor coercion. Facts are beyond agreement and consent, and all talk about them will contribute nothing to their establishment. Unwelcome opinion can be argued with, rejected, or compromised upon, but unwelcome facts possess an infuriating stubbornness that nothing can move except plain lies. ... The modes of thought and communication that deal with truth, ... are necessarily domineering; they don't take into account other people's opinions ...

The more people's standpoints I have present in my mind while I am pondering a given issue, and the better I can imagine how I would feel and think if I were in their place, the stronger will be my capacity for representative thinking and the more valid my final conclusions, my opinion. (It is this capacity for an "enlarged mentality" that enables men to judge ... ) The very process of opinion formation is determined by those in whose places somebody thinks and uses his own mind, and the only condition for this exertion of the imagination is disinterestedness, the liberation from one's own private interests. ... nothing, indeed, is more common, even among highly sophisticated people, than the blind obstinacy that becomes manifest in lack of imagination and failure to judge. But the very quality of an opinion, as of a judgement, depends upon the degree of its impartiality.

... Since philosophical truth concerns man in his singularity, it is unpolitical by nature. ... In the slightly less unlikely event that his truth should prevail without the help of violence, simply because men happen to concur in it, he would have won a Phrrhic victory. For truth would then owe its prevalence not to its own compelling quality but to the agreement of the many ...

... the statement "All men are created equal" [in the Declaration of Independence] is not self-evident but stands in need of agreement and consent---that equality, if it is to be politically relevant, is a matter of opinion, and not of "the truth." There exists, on the other hand, philosophical or religious statements that correspond to this opinion---such as that all men are equal before God, or before death...---but none of them was ever of any political or practical consequence, because the equalizer, whether God, or death, or nature, transcended and remained outside of the realm in which human intercourse takes place. ... matters of opinion and not of truth ... Their validity depends upon free agreement and consent, they are arrived at by discursive, representative thinking, and they are communicated by means of persuasion and dissuasion.

— Arendt, H. (Feb 25, 1967). Truth and politics. The New Yorker.