Truth as a Common Good

A democratic society becomes very fragile
[Truth] the central common good is assailed…
directly and repeatedly”

~ Robert Reich

Robert ReichWhat are the most fundamental components of any democracy?  Robert Reich, speaking on the theme of his book The Common Good, suggests that “truth” (which he defines as a “common good”) represents one of the most significant foundations of any democratic endeavor. Regardless of sociopolitical persuasion, preservation of high standards for truth should be paramount in our thinking. Democratic governance depends on such a perspective. However, according to Mr. Reich and many others, the manner in which certain government officials portray the concept of truth represents a clear and present danger to the very foundations of democratic institutions.

In this 40 minute video, Mr. Reich presents his case around three general categories: (1) how did “this” happen (2) the central problem we face and (3) what are we going to do?

Truth possesses an inherent power.  Individuals with the ability to wield sociopolitical power can use truth as a tool to help strengthen and therein, solidify a society.  On the other hand, certain powerful individuals sometimes frame ideas (so-called “truth”) in such a way as to undermine the fundamental truth paradigm for the purpose of obfuscating their own statements and behavior relative to what actually might be true.  This latter dynamic, rather than promoting the health and stability of a society, creates competition between actual truth and the proposals of those who seek to circumvent it.  This competitive split creates confusion in the minds of the public. Without trust in a transcendent belief in the concept of truth, failing to understand what or who to believe, the general public begins to lose faith in practically everything—including institutions which rely on it. According to many if not most sources (even Fox News), the current presidential administration has adopted such an opposing relationship. Similar to the stance of Republican David Frum in his new book Trumpocracy, Mr. Reich proposes that this problem is not about a single person but about the paradigmatic effects of the use of power within U.S. governance in general and the office of the U.S. president in specific.

Despite the perils presented by such a careless treatment of truth, Mr. Reich sees a silver lining.  The general public, the media as well as many governing officials are becoming outraged by the absence of truth coming out of the White House.  As a result, not only are individuals beginning to speak out, more people than ever are beginning to mobilize, getting involved on a level and to an extent which has not occurred previously.  In the midst of such upheaval, we cannot know the long term significance of the course of current events.  Perhaps a revolution has already begun—one which will result not in oppression (as many have begun to fear), but ultimately which might just bring about a more actively, participatory populace which begins to do justice to the concept “We, the People”.