The Virtues of Mendacity
When Michael Dukakis accused George H. W. Bush of being the "Joe Isuzu of
American Politics" during the 1988 presidential campaign, he asserted in a particularly
American tenor the near-ancient idea that lying and politics (and perhaps advertising, too) are
inseparable, or at least intertwined. Our response to this phenomenon, writes the renowned
intellectual historian Martin Jay, tends to vacillate--often impotently--between moral
outrage and amoral realism. In The Virtues of Mendacity, Jay resolves to avoid this conventional
framing of the debate over lying and politics by examining what has been said in support of, and
opposition to, political lying from Plato and St. Augustine to Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss. Jay
proceeds to show that each philosopher's argument corresponds to a particular conception of
the political realm, which decisively shapes his or her attitude toward political mendacity. He then
applies this insight to a variety of contexts and questions about lying and politics. Surprisingly,
he concludes by asking if lying in politics is really all that bad. The political hypocrisy that
Americans in particular periodically decry may be, in Jay's view, the best alternative to the
violence justified by those who claim to know the truth.
- 2010 University Of Virginia Press
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