Virtues of Mendacity
When Michael Dukakis accused George H. W. Bush of being the ",Joe Isuzu ofAmerican Politics", during the 1988 presidential campaign, he asserted in a particularlyAmerican tenor the near-ancient idea that lying and politics (and perhaps advertising, too) areinseparable, or at least intertwined. Our response to this phenomenon, writes the renownedintellectual historian Martin Jay, tends to vacillate-often impotently-between moraloutrage and amoral realism. In The Virtues of Mendacity, Jay resolves to avoid this conventionalframing of the debate over lying and politics by examining what has been said in support of, andopposition to, political lying from Plato and St. Augustine to Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss. Jayproceeds to show that each philosopher's argument corresponds to a particular conception ofthe political realm, which decisively shapes his or her attitude toward political mendacity. He thenapplies this insight to a variety of contexts and questions about lying and politics. Surprisingly,he concludes by asking if lying in politics is really all that bad. The political hypocrisy thatAmericans in particular periodically decry may be, in Jay's view, the best alternative to theviolence justified by those who claim to know the truth.
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