What counts as true within the field of politics is influenced by many factors. The presence of a multitude of people, the power that individuals and groups can wield, the authority given to experts and commentators to determine the premises discussions begin from, and the flow of information through society all affect the constitution of truth in the political realm.
The question of political truth has been on the minds of many over the past year, with the Republican presidential candidate making claims that by all empirical measures are false. Most recently is his claim that Barack Obama is the “founder of ISIS” and Hillary Clinton is its “co-founder.” When given the chance to walk back these claims (e.g. explain how they are metaphors for how Obama’s and Clinton’s policies helped create ISIS) by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump said “No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS.”
While it would be false to equate Clinton’s rhetoric with Trump’s (Politifact gives Clinton a much higher truth rating than Trump), there are exaggerations her campaign has been making too. One recent example is the implication that the Russian government hacked the DNC’s email server to aid Trump. As of this writing, there is good evidence that the hack originated from a Russian intelligence service, but little evidence that it was done to serve Trump’s campaign.
In order to better understand how ‘truths’ arise, are perpetuated, and ultimately accepted or rejected, in the public sphere, I searched for articles describing the various factors that create a political truth. Here are some of the factors that produce political truths, and articles that discuss them:
- Power: Darko Suvin, “Terms of power, today: an essay in political epistemology,” Critical Quarterly, October 2006.
- Scientific practices: David Pedersen, “The Political Epistemology of Science-Based Policy-Making,” Society, October 2014.
- Social and Historical Epoches: Rocco Gangle and Jason Smick, “Political Phenomenology: Radical Democracy and Truth,” Political Theology, April 2009.
- Pragmatism: Guy Oakes, “The politics of truth reconsidered: C. Wright Mills as radical social theorist,” Journal of Classical Sociology, August 2014.
- The Presence of Multitudes: Corinne Enaudeau and Dorothée Bonnigal-Katz, “Hannah Arendt: Politics, Opinion, Truth,” Social Research, Winter 2007.
What are you reading?