MALTE WOYDT

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Facts

“No one has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other. … Throughout history, the truth-seekers and truthtellers have been aware of the risks of their business; as long as they did not interfere with the course of the world, they were covered with ridicule, but he who forced his fellow-citizens to take him seriously by trying to set them free from falsehood and illusion was in danger of his life. …

The opposite of a rationally made statement is either error and ignorance, as in the sciences, or illusion and opinion, as in philosophy. Deliberate falsehood, the plain lie; plays its role only in the domain of factual statements, and it seems significant, and rather odd, that in the long debate about this antagonism of truth and politics, from Plato to Hobbes, no one apparently, ever believed that organized lying, as we know it today, could be an adequate weapon against truth. …

The facts I have in mind are publicly known, and yet the same public that knows them can successfully, and often spontaneously, taboo their public discussion and treat them as though they were what they are not – namely, secrets. …

… we find it in … countries that are ruled tyrannically by an ideological government … What seems even more disturbing is that to the extent to which unwelcome factual truths are tolerated in free countries they are often, conciously or unconciously, transformed into opinions – as though the fact of Germany’s support of Hitler or of France’s collapse before the German armies in 1940 or of the Vatican policies during the Second World War were not a matter of historical record but a matter of opinion. …

Seen from the viewpoint of the truthteller, the tendency to transform fact into opinion, to blur the dividing line between them, is … perplexing. …

Facts inform opinions, and opinions, inspired by different interests and passions, can differ widely and still be legitimate as long as they respect factual truth. Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute. …

During the twenties, so a story goes, Clemenceau, shortly before his death, found himself engaged in a friendly talk with a representative of the Weimar Republic, on the question of guilt for the outbreak of the fIrst World War. ‘What, in your opinion,’ Clemenceau was asked, ‘will future historians think of this troublesome and controversial issue?’ He replied, ‘This I don’t know. But I know for certain that they will not say Belgium invaded Germany.’ …

It is true … to eleminate from the record te fact that on the night of August 4, 1914, German troops crossed the frontier of Belgium; it would require no less than a power monopoly over the entire civilized world. But such a power monopoly is far from being inconceivable, and it is not difficult to imagine what the fate of factual truth would be if power interests, national or social, had the last say in these matters. … Why a commitment even to factual truth is felt to be an anti-political attitude [?] …

What Mercier de la Rivière once remarked about mathematical truth applies to all kinds of truth: ‘Euclide est un véritable despote; et les vérités géométriques qu’il nous a transmises, sont des lois véritablement déspotiques.’ … Seen from the viewpoint of politics, truth has a despotic character. It is therefore hated by tyrans, who rightly fear the competition of a coercive force they cannot monopolize, and it enjoys it rather precarious status in the eyes of government that rest on consent and abhor coercion. Facts are beyond agreement and consent … 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 trouble is that factual truth, like all other truth, peremtorily claims to be acknowledged and precludes debate, and debate constitutes the very essence of political life. …

… because of the haphazardness of facts … factual truth is no more self-evident than opinion, and this may be among the reasons that opinion-holders find it relatively easy to discredit factual truth as just another opinion. Factual evidence, moreover, is established through testimony by eyewitnesses – notoriously unreliable – and by records, documents, and monuments, all of which can be suspected as forgeries. In the event of a dispute, only other witnesses but no third and higher instance can be invoked. …

… when the liar, lacking the power to make his falsehood stick, does not insist on the gospel truth of his statement but pretends that this is his ‘opinion,’ to which he claims his constitutional right. This is frequently done by subversive groups, and in a politically immature public the resulting confusion can be considerable. The blurring of the dividing line between factual truth and opinion belongs among the many forms that lying can assume …

Truthfullness has never been counted among the political virtues, because it has little indeed to contribute to that change of the world and of circumstances which is among the most legitimate political activities. Only where a community has embarked upon organized lying on principle … can truthfullness as such … become a political factor of the first order. …

The modern political lies deal efficiently with things that are not secrets at all but are known to practically everybody. This is obvious in the case of rewriting contemporary history under the eyes of those who witnessed it, but is equally true in image-making of all sorts, in which, again, every known and established fact can be denied or neglected … We are finally confronted with highly respected statesmen who, like de Gaulle and Adenauer, have been able to build their basic policies on such evident non-facts as that France belongs among the victors of the last war …

If the past and present are treated as parts of the future – that is changed back into their former state of potentiality – the political realm is deprived not only of its main stabilizing force but of the starting point from which to change, to begin something new. … Conceptionally, we may call truth what we cannot change; metaphysically, it is the ground on which we stand and the sky that stretches above us.”

aus: Hannah Arendt: Truth and Politics. (ursprünglich in The New Yorker 25.02.1967) In: Dies.: Between past and future. Harmondsworth/New York u.a.: Penguin 1977, S.227-264.

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11/12/2014 (17:48) Schlagworte: EN,Lesebuch ::

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