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The road to authoritarianism is paved with lies

His flexible relationship with truth has not been a hindrance to his career: the likely new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is widely regarded as a notorious liar and swindler. The examples are numerous. He deliberately misled the public with false claims before the 2016 Brexit vote. Johnson claimed at the time, for example, that the UK would have to pay 350 million pounds a week to the EU. That money should be better invested in the NHS, Johnson said. The head of the UK Public Statistics Authority felt compelled to clarify the matter: these were gross amounts and the UK was getting a significant part of the sum back. “This is a clear misuse of public statistics,” the agency told Johnson in writing. However, a private individual’s claim against Johnson for misleading the public was dismissed.

The imaginative journalist Johnson

Johnson also worked as a journalist, and even in this profession he did not deal with the facts. He was once fired by the Times for falsifying quotes, but then reported for the Daily Telegraph from Brussels. His articles were colorful, according to the New York Times, but they had little to do with reality. But the bosses of the other newspapers liked Johnson’s articles so much that they formally urged their correspondents to write similarly “imaginative reports.” As a Brussels correspondent, he made fun of the EU bureaucracy in the first place, “made stories to the point of being unrecognizable, and did his part to turn the British people into EU sceptics.”

The Great Media Manipulator

Irish journalist Derek Scally told Deutschlandfunk Kultur that During his time as a correspondent for the Daily Telegraph in Brussels, Johnson had shown “how many lies can be spread without harming one’s reputation.” The Media Week, on the other hand, calls Johnson a “master of media manipulation”: “If the new British prime minister were to be called Boris Johnson soon, it is also because the former journalist knows how to understand the public’s perception in the best possible way. to steer. His membership in Britain’s academic elite gives him access to media and power.”

Lie only works thanks to truth-basic consensus

That lies, intrigue, deceit, deception, dizziness and trickery are part of the condition humaine is a truism; Politics, history and literature are full of them. The literary scholar Peter von Matt wrote a wonderful book on this subject in 2008. But the lie only works – paradoxically – if there is a basic consensus that there is a difference between facts and lies, between facts and fiction. Implicitly, even a liar accepts this difference. After all, he or she wants a certain false claim to be perceived as correct, in accordance with the facts.

The Axe at the Roots of Democracy

But “what is happening worldwide in terms of truth and with it or even more against it threatens the foundations of our coexistence. Fake news, deliberate misrepresentations or their thoughtless dissemination are not simply blasphemous (emergency and everyday) lies. (…) It lays the axe to the roots of society and democracy.” This is what Rainer Erlinger, a physician, lawyer and ethicist, writes in his book Why Tell the Truth?. The author deals with the distinction between “true” and “not true” as the basis of all communication in science, the legal system and democracy.

Lies as Trump’s “second nature”

It is therefore of considerable significance for politicians such as Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, as the likely British prime minister, to make the notorious lie of the general public. business principle. For Trump, the extent is unprecedented. The Washington Post’s fact-checkers keep a close record. For example, in June and July 2018, the average of false or misleading claims was 16 per day. Before the congressional and Senate elections in the middle of the president’s term in November 2018, the average increased to 30 per day.

For Trump, lying is “a second nature,” says Tony Schwartz. He needs to know, because he’s the ghostwriter of Donald Trump’s bestselling book, “The Art of the Deal,” the 1987 book that Trump used to establish his myth of the dealmaker. Trump is lying strategically and has no bad conscience: “More than anyone I’ve ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he says at some point is true, or some kind of true or at least true. Schwartz later distanced himself from Trump, calling his personality problematic and unsuitable for the office of US president.

More than a liar

Rainer Erlinger concludes that Trump is fundamentally missing an important criterion that characterizes the lie and thus the liar: the intention to say “something wrong, the untrue fact with which he wants to deceive the other person. He says something without knowing whether it is true or not. The only criterion by which he chooses what he says is, to put it bluntly, whether it suits him right in the stuff.” So, for Trump, the lines between true and false have largely disappeared. That’s why Erlinger calls Trump a. He draws on the American philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt and his 2005 book On. Bullshit is when someone claims something that he or she doesn’t know is true or not, and he or she doesn’t care. That’s exactly what sets the bullshitter apart from both the liar and the honest man. As Frankfurt puts it: “It is precisely in this lack of connection to the truth – in this indifference to the question of how things really are.”

Civilisational progress at risk

The consequences are dramatic. For the liars and bullshitters of the format of a Trump or a Johnson do not primarily destroy trust in themselves, but undermine confidence in what is spoken, in predictable communication par excellence. Whoever puts the facts to the table, who takes out the right to “alternative facts”, who corrects a reality that suits the needs of their audience, regardless of the facts, and is nevertheless not held accountable, destroys a decisive civilisational progress: the primacy of truth and the search for truth over power.

The development of the legal system and the rule of law is exemplary. Archaic rulers and legal systems did not need factual evidence to convict anyone. The introduction of verifiable and demonstrable truth as a central criterion is the gold standard in the judiciary – and also in democracy. “This is precisely where the great civilisational gain of the truth investigation lies with facts: it prevents the law of the strongest from prevailing and deciding,” Erlinger writes. But, too, Western-style democracies are in the cancer on this point. One only has to remember debates in US presidential campaigns: facts no longer matter, it is only a matter of pro-independence demonstrations of power.

Abandoning the ritual of apology

Guido Kalberer put the situation in a speech in the Bund on the occasion of the 90th birthday of the philosopher Jürgen Habermas in June 2019. One misses Habermas’ voice, which rarely speaks out in public, “in our days, when many leading politicians use the lie outrageously. While they apologized a few years ago, today they themselves refrain from this ritual. This current cynicism is now being accepted, even encouraged, by sections of the public: some politicians who are committed to fake news will be re-elected at the next best opportunity.”

The erosion of democracy

This path, which is also deliberately chosen by large sections of the electorate, leads to the erosion of democracy and towards authoritarianism. For if the increasingly difficult unravellable scrub of lies, half-truths and total fictions becomes more and more dense, then this leads to the fact that “the human sense of orientation in the real, which without the distinction of truth and untruth cannot be can function, is destroyed,” as the philosopher Hannah Arendt once noted.

In her epochal work Elements and Origins of Total Domination of 1955, Hannah Arendt writes, among other things:

The ideal subject to totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for which the difference between facts and fiction and the difference between true and false no longer exist.

Before the mass leaders get their hands on the power to align reality with their lies, their propaganda is characterized by remarkable contempt for facts in general. This contempt already expresses the conviction that facts depend only on the one who had the power to establish them.

Hannah Arendt primarily examines the mechanisms of National Socialism and Stalinism in her work. That is precisely why it is so frightening how current these passages are working again today.