Uday Mehta: Gandhi and Political Truthfulness07-31-2011
"No one," Hannah Arendt wrote, "has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other, and no one, as far as I know, has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues." That politics does and also needs deception is an ancient insight. Lies have long been regarded as necessary tools of the politician.
At the same time, Arendt insists that politics also demands truth. Without some common truth that a people can agree upon, the political community will cease to exist. When political communities lose the ability to speak of common truths--when the lose the ability to "say what is" as a matter of common sense truths, that political community faces an existential question.
In March of this year, The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities at Bard College, in collaboration with the New School for Social Research, hosted Lying and Politics, A two-day conference asking:
What is the fate of politics in an age of Lying, Advertising, and Mass-Market Deception?
Speakers at the conference included:
•George Kateb,William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics, Emeritus, at Princeton University
•Andreas Kalyvas, Associate Professor of Political Science, The New School
•Kirstie McClure, Associate Professor of Political Science, UCLA
•Uday Mehta, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, CUNY
•Roger Hodge, Former editor of Harpers Magazine.
Uday Mehta began his talk by questioning Arendt's acceptance of the proposition that Lying, when it is politically warranted, is justified. Mehta's talk asks two questions:
"What is it about political ends that allows it to justiably overwhelm the expectations of truthfulness?"
"What would politics have to be if it were the sort of activity that was constrained by the truth?"
Working through the thought of Gandhi, Mehta explore what it would mean to develop a politics based on a fundamental imperative to act truthfully.
You can watch Uday Mehta's exceptional talk here.