The Father of Lies

[Published at The Orthosphere, 20/12/2010]

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.   John 8:44

On November 9th, Tucker Carlson offered the following prescription for curing the ills of the USA.

Let’s all stop lying. Lying about everything that matters, every day of our lives. That’s what we’re doing now. Have you noticed? How many times did you lie today because you had to? Let’s repeal our national dishonesty mandate (it’s a law never codified but still ruthlessly enforced) and tell the truth instead. That’s our only hope. Tell the truth about everything.

It is startlingly apt in this season of lies. But it is not a new formula. In a 2013 interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Natan Sharansky, a Soviet refusenik and now member of Israel’s Knesset, said

I was a loyal Soviet citizen until the age of 20. What it meant to be a loyal citizen was to say what you were supposed to say, to read what you were permitted to read, to vote the way you were told to vote and, at the same time, to know that it was all a lie.

Theodore Dalrymple had made similar comments in 2006.

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

In the final two decades of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites, the same notes were being sounded. In an essay called The Power of the Powerless,  Václav Havel in 1978 analysed the situation of those decaying regimes. In a famous passage, he dissected the state of mind and motivations of a greengrocer.

The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” …the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise head- quarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years… If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life.

Havel’s is a long essay. Four years earlier, Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote a brief farewell letter to his countrymen on the eve of his exile, that sums up all of this commentary. The name? Live Not By Lies.

For an idea of how bad the situation is, try the search phrase ‘tucker carlson “let’s all stop lying”’ in your favourite search engine. (I tried with DuckDuckGo.) His appeal attracted a barrage of ridicule from the gatekeepers of PC. I suspect that when Solzhenitsyn and Havel wrote, almost everyone in their homeland audience knew exactly what they meant. They wrote from within regimes even whose petty commissars had ceased to believe the ideology behind their own positions and powers.

We, on the other hand, are locked in an earlier phase of totalitarianism, somewhere between

The best lack all conviction, while the worst  
Are full of passionate intensity

and Solzhenitsyn. Certainly, the petty commissars of political correctness still express their invincible ignorance with passionate intensity. Such intensity is the modern hallmark of “truth,” and it serves the useful practical purpose of putting all reasoning interlocutors on the back foot. But in the best–the defenders of the best in Western culture and the best in the Faith that nourished that culture–bewilderment is being replaced by a smouldering anger, growing in intensity. That does not augur well for the keeping of the peace, but at least they are prepared to resist.

It was over 50 years from the revolution to Solzhenitsyn’s essay. It has been 70 years since Mao drove the Kuomintang out to Taiwan. Neither of these societies had previous experience of what we now reservedly call “democracy,” but it is nonetheless disturbing to see how long brutal totalitarianism can last. Yet, despite the open book of recent history, the Red Guards, the Green Guards and sundry blackguards are loose amongst us, with a longing for destruction.

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