L. Neil Smith's
To Tell The Truth
by David M Brown
Special to TLE
It's about truth and respect for truth.
An advocate's passion may spring from a sincere belief in the truthfulness of his views. He believes in what is true, and truth is what he wants to promulgate.
Why then should he lie?
Some philosophies treat human well-being as dispensable. For example, political creeds that say it's okay to bust the caps of millions for the sake of promoting an allegedly ideal society. Or religious creeds that say it's okay to forfeit earthly prospects for happiness in hopes of gaining entry to some mythical never-never land after death. If life is expendable, surely truth is expendable; it even makes sense, then, to lie. Destructive notions can't gain social traction unless people are conned into believing that, in effect, the key to happiness is misery. They can't be told that pursuing misery results in misery.
Paul Johnson's Intellectuals reports on the eagerness of various crummy intellectuals to coercively refashion society. These intellectuals are often nasty, and are often liars -- chronic, large- scale liars. Rousseau, an "interesting madman," used self-deprecating candor to lie. Marx, an "eschatological writer from start to finish," spent his time cobbling "facts" that were merely "ancillary, buttressing conclusions already reached independently of them." Hemingway? "Despite the central importance of truth in his fictional ethic he had the characteristic intellectual's belief that, in his own case, truth must be the willing servant of his ego." Lillian Hellman lied about everything, including "and" and "the."
Some intellectuals have more reason than the typical statist power- monger to regard their views as related to reality. These persons presumably consider truth to be an ally. Yet they, too, sometimes lie in the pursuit of an agenda.
In a previous column at the Laissez Faire Books web site (see www.laissezfairebooks.com/index.cfm?eid=444&aid=10384), I mentioned Burton Blumert's claim that Bill Bennett's new organization, Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT), "seeks to stamp out libertarian dissent on war, militarism, Pentagon budgets, and free speech."
The evidence? Apparently, Blumert is relying exclusively on a press conference at which Bennett announced the formation of his new organization.
"AVOT wants all power to the Pentagon junta, perpetual war for global empire, no civil liberties for dissenters, and more taxes for bombs, spies, and foreign aid. And they see us [LewRockwell.com] as their main obstacle," blares Blumert. "I saw AVOT's infamous press conference on C-Span. When the creepy Bennett denounced Lew by name, and said his ideas must be kept from 'spreading into the mainstream,' I thought: we're doing something right!"
I can't find a transcript of this press conference. But at least one news report quotes Bennett stipulating that critics of the war "are exercising a Constitutional right and that is fine." AVOT's own web site (http://www.empower.org/) states that the goal of the organization is "to sustain and strengthen American public opinion as the war on terrorism moves forward. AVOT will promote the democratic ideals of freedom, liberty, equality, and human rights--the very virtues terrorist groups and terrorist states wish to eradicate--and answer those who seek to erode our nation's resolve and commitment to fight and defeat the evil of terrorism." In service of its agenda, the AVOT site links to various articles all of which ostensibly grapple with the causes and cures of the terrorist threat.
It's an odd kind of cover-up of an organization's goals, to completely alter those goals in service of the cover-up.
If Blumert is suggesting that slamming the ideological opposition is exactly the same exact thing as "stamping out dissent," then all debate as such is equivalent to the jackboot. After all, what else have libertarian polemicists been doing all these years? Blumert's LewRockwell.com and other libertarian publications hardly refrain from full-throttle polemical assault on the likes of Bill Clinton, Janet Reno, George Bush Sr., George Bush Jr., John Ashcroft, etc. The goal of these assaults is certainly to expel bad ideas from the mainstream. Not by physical force, but by logical force.
Is Blumert's characterization of AVOT a lie? Or just understandable carelessness in the heat of the polemical/fundraising moment? But this is not an isolated incident for LewRockwell.com. And whatever it is, habitual reckless disregard for the truth when it comes to one's ideological adversaries is neither laudable nor credibility-inspiring.
Does ideology per se cause the problem? When ideology is defended at all costs, truth can be a casualty. But surely, advocacy of ideas that one believes to be true can be accompanied by a consistent respect for truth.
At least, if truth is truly on your side.
David M. Brown is a columnist for Laissez Faire Books, where his column appears each Friday. Past columns are archived at www.laissezfairebooks.com/index.cfm?cid=36&aid=10384.
Paul Johnson's book Intellectuals is available at www.laissezfairebooks.com/product.cfm?op=view&pid=HS6937&aid=10384
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Some say the U.S. is already a police state. Others watch the news for signs that their country is about to cross an indefinable line. Since September 11, 2001, the question has become more urgent. When do roving wiretaps, random checkpoints, mysterious "detentions," and military tribunals cross over from being emergency measures to being the tools of a government permanently and irrevocably out of control?
The State vs. the People examines these crucial issues. But first, it answers this fundamental question: "What is a police state?"
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