• Reading Level 3

Expert casts doubt on ‘post-truth’ claims

Does democracy REALLY depend on truth? Many people claim democratic systems only work when everyone agrees on basic truths – but others think this is a recipe for dictatorship. The last ten years have been tumultuous. The EU’s expansion came to an end. Right-wing demagogues came to power. Politics in the west were stable. Moderate, internationalist parties won elections. Often there was a small ideological gap between the right and left. What changed? An explanation is that something has gone wrong with democracy. Democracy cannot function when people do not agree on truths. It has become harder for many to distinguish fact from fiction thanks to partisan media outlets and fake news. If people disagree on the question of what is true and not – they cannot have a rational discussion. Some refer to this as “post-truth” politics. It argues that once a society has lost its grasp on truth, it is vulnerable to conspiracy theories and extremism. People will be unable to change each other’s mind. They might see elections as illegitimate. In a healthy democracy people have faith in institutions, and we all decide what is true and not. If democracy is dependent on truth, that means someone has to decide what is true before democratic debate takes place. In this case, real power does not lie with the people, but with whoever decides what the truth is. Does democracy REALLY depend on truth? Truth or dare Yes. Debate is impossible if people do not agree on truths. We have to establish this truth before we can have a debate. If we attempt discussion with conspiracy theorists, we risk spreading their poison. When conspiracy theories spread, democratic debate becomes impossible. Not at all. Insisting on a single truth is a threat to democracy. If we are only allowed to participate in a democratic debate once we have accepted “truths”, then those who define those “truths” have the power to silence us. Democracy does not depend on truth; democracy must produce truths.   KeywordsDemagogues - A leader who takes power by whipping up the people against the elites, usually in a cynical and self-serving way.

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