Michael Gerson, writing in The Washington Post, recalls that 30 years ago, the book by University of Chicago professor Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, begins with these words: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: Almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”

Truth is not relative. By its very nature, truth is absolute.

The ability to determine truth from falsehood, right from wrong, is essential to our personal well-being and to our country’s civic health.

Thomas Jefferson summarized our national belief that some truths are self-evident: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But in an age of tweets, fake news and digital subversion, truth is elusive.

Truth and Consequences

President Ronald Reagan always got an appreciative laugh from his audience when he described the best test to discover if a politician is lying: “See if his lips are moving.”

George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty-Four, in his horrific vision of a totalitarian society, describes the language of political demagogues who demand that every citizen accept that 2+2=5 and that “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”

Orwell rightfully observed: “Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Dictionary.com defines a lie as “a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.”

But how can we know the truth?

Psychology suggests that people perceive and interpret ambiguous or complex issues in the simplest form possible. We prefer things clear and ordered so that they seem safer and take less time to process intellectually.

The president of the United States often lies — either intentionally or perhaps pathologically. I don’t know about you, but it takes my breath away at times when I watch him on television saying things I know for a fact are untrue. Worse yet is that I know he also must know he is telling lies.

But he utters such statements with such ease and grace that the average American, who pays little attention to the details of his utterings, never knows that he is making them a willing participant in the rank deceptions of the president of the United States.

I wrote the above text on January 9, 2013, referring to President Barack Obama in an editorial entitled “Truth and Consequences.”

At Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, we were assigned the classic 1948 book The American Political Tradition by Richard Hofstadter. In that book he quotes a great American writer whom I had the honor to know, John Dos Passos: “In times of change and danger, when there is a quicksand of fear under men’s reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present.”

The noted author Jon Meacham said that Hofstadter encapsulated the center-right point about the country better than most, writing:

The sanctity of private property, the right of the individual to dispose of and invest it, the value of opportunity, and the natural evolution of self-interest and self-assertion, within broad legal limits, into a beneficent social order have been staple tenets of the central faith in American political ideologies; these conceptions have been shared in large part by men as diverse as Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Cleveland, Bryan, Wilson and Hoover.

Allan Bloom also warns us: “Sycophancy toward those who hold power is a fact in every regime, and especially in a democracy, where, unlike tyranny, there is an accepted principle of legitimacy that breaks the inner will to resist.”

In my view, to preserve our freedom, resistance to tyranny begins for each of us with our individual duty to seek and determine the truth — and to act on it.

There is a common saying among those who promote academic freedom and value learning. But it did not originate in academia. Jesus says it in John 8:32, speaking of a higher form of knowledge than is capable of being learned in a classroom.

He tells us: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Yours for liberty,

Bob Bauman, JD
Chairman, Freedom Alliance

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