Sunday, December 28, 2014

Speaking the truth, precisely

“Nella politica di massa dire la verità è una necessità politica, precisamente.” - Antonio Gramsci

That Gramsci quote has been the tagline to my personal email account for quite a while, now.  “In mass politics, speaking the truth is a political necessity, precisely.”  It is one of my all-time favorite quotes.  I think about it all the time.  What does it really mean?  Not so much to Gramsci, but to me.  It flies so much in the face of most “pragmatic” political thinking, which is all about how you present the facts, phrasing, paraphrasing, restructuring, eliding, evading, to “win hearts and minds”… guided by your polls and focus groups.   Political activists, even left ones, usually seem perfectly complacent with some version of Plato’s “noble lie”.  But not Gramsci.  “ speak the truth is a political necessity, precisely.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking the difference is one of goals.  If your goal is to win elections, even if your goal is to make people’s lives in some way materially better, then strategic lies and half-truths may be helpful.  If your goal is to emancipate people, then to speak the truth, as precisely and clearly as you can, becomes an urgent necessity.  You cannot free people with a lie.  The best a lie can do is to help them exchange one chain for another.

(I wrote about another take on this quote back in July of 2010.)

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