Half-Truths and Beauty Contests
The many obvious ways in which governments lie to their citizens to avoid democratic accountability wrongly suggests that truths do not lend themselves so easily to political manipulation, a conjecture refuted by the various uses to which the revelations of “truth heroes” such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have been put. The current American administration’s instrumentalization of half-truths (such as the dark history of “the deep state”) for nefarious purposes is an even more telling reminder that truth-telling is not always a signal of moral decency and integrity. Similarly, the U.S. president’s sordid history as an organizer of beauty contests, where pre-packaged ideals of female attractiveness are always tinged with cruelty to those who do not measure up, takes on a pungently political significance in light of the role of eye-deceiving glitz in the man’s rise to public renown and victory over a no-longer-young woman in the ultimate “beauty contest” of the presidential election.
Stephen Holmes is Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law at the NYU School of Law. He previously taught at Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Chicago. His fields of specialization include the history of liberalism, the disappointments of democratization after communism, and the difficulty of combating terrorism within the limits of liberal constitutionalism. He is the author of Benjamin Constant and the Making of Modern Liberalism (1984); The Anatomy of Antiliberalism (1993); Passions and Constraint: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy (1995) and The Matador’s Cape: America’s Reckless Response to Terror (2007). He is co-author (with Cass Sunstein) of The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes (1999) and (with Moshe Halbertal) of The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel (2017).