"What a risky business to tell the truth on a factual level without theoretical and scholarly embroidery."
--Hannah Arendt to Mary McCarthy, sept. 16, 1963.
The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.
--Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism
Writing in the New York Review of Books 40 years ago, Hannah Arendt noticed that unwelcome facts are tolerated only to the extent that they are consciously or unconsciously transformed into opinions. This tendency to transform fact into opinion, to blur the dividing line between them, has led to the now widely observed de-factualization of our world. In her essay “Truth and Politics,” she suggests that our de-factualized politics demands a pre-political discourse of truth-telling.
Without a shared factual world, we cannot talk, argue, or disagree with others; we are left with nothing to do but talk to those with whom we already agree. In a world without facts, we risk undermining the venture of politics as Arendt understood it: to create together a common world, one as unruly, disorderly, and argumentative as such togetherness demands.
Against the danger of de-factualization stands the truth-teller. The truth-teller, Arendt writes, takes her stand outside the realm of politics. The artist, the scholar, the scientist, the fool: the truth-teller shares their allergy to all political causes. What politics needs, in Arendtian terms, are institutions and persons dedicated to truth outside the scramble for power. In a time when everything is political, the demand for truth only grows more urgent.
To the end of facing the loss of basic facts about right and wrong in our world, and in the interest of figuring a way to move forward, together, The Hannah Arendt Center will host, on October 28-29, 2011, "Truth-telling: Democracy in an Age Without Facts," the 4th of The Arendt Center's international conferences devoted to the issues that matter most to the age. Specifically, the conference aims to honestly address the predicaments of truth in our age and to think creatively and deeply about what place, if any, the role of common truths must have in our future.
You can view a video following some seriously impressive high school students discussing last year's conference, Human Being in an Inhuman Age.
Win a chance to participate on a Panel at the Arendt Center Conference