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Saturday, February 6, 2021

No, We Don’t Need a ‘Reality-Czar’: Let Truth and Falsehood Grapple

It is hard to see how Americans’ well-being would be advanced by a 'reality czar."

Image Credit: Pixabay

New York Times writer Kevin Roose recently surveyed “our truth-challenged information ecosystem” and found a proliferation of “hoaxes, lies and collective delusions.” As he put it, that limits the Biden administration’s ability to “unite a country,” because “millions of people have chosen to create their own version of reality.” In response, he called for the creation of a “reality czar”-led government task force to root out disinformation.

Roose admits such a call for a “truth commission” sounds “dystopian,” before proceeding to ignore many ways it would be exactly that. For instance, the Times, the Biden campaign, the Democrat leadership, and others on board with the idea have come nowhere close to pursuing “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Yet despite a history of disseminating misinformation, clear biases, and suppression of those with different views, they would select the arbiters of Orwellian truth.

So who could be trusted as the reality czar? No one.

Just ask Democrats why they never suggested having one when Trump was in office. In politics, truth is subservient to power. But since any attempt to provably establish the truth would be littered with obstacles and controversies, and often beyond possibility, while creating a substantial threat to Americans’ freedoms, only someone who was indisputably committed to both truth and freedom could possibly be trusted to lead such an enterprise. And there are precious few who would qualify. If he wasn’t long dead, I would nominate John Milton.

Why Milton?

Before America’s founding, he argued for freedoms of speech and the press, and against censorship, in England. His defense of freedom of conscience later powerfully resonated with America’s founders, reflected in our First Amendment. So it is worth considering the principles he would follow to establish truth and preserve freedom, in his own words.

  1. If it come to prohibiting, there is aught more likely to be prohibited than truth itself.
  2. Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopolized.
  3. When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered, and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty obtained that wise men look for.
  4. Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.
  5. Truth…Let her and falsehood grapple.
  6. Who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?
  7. Truth…needs no policies or stratagems…to make her victorious. These are the shifts and the defenses that error uses against her power.
  8. There is no learned man but will confess be hath much profited by reading controversies–his senses awakened, his judgment sharpened, and the truth which he holds firmly established…should it not at least be tolerable and free for his adversary to write…it follows then, that all controversy being permitted, falsehood will appear more false, and truth the more true; which must needs conduce much to the general confirmation of an implicit truth.
  9. Discern…in what things persuasion only is to work.
  10. No institution which does not continually test its ideals, techniques and measure of accomplishment can claim real vitality.
  11. Liberty hath a sharp and double edge, fit only to be handled by just and virtuous men; to bad and dissolute, it becomes a mischief unwieldy in their own hands: neither is it completely given, but by them who have the happy skill to know what is grievance and unjust to a people, and how to remove it wisely; what good laws are wanting, and how to frame them substantially, that good men may enjoy the freedom which they merit, and the bad the curb which they need.
  12. None can love freedom but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license, which never hath more scope than under tyrants.
  13. How oft [have] nations gone corrupt…by their own devices brought down to servitude.
  14. What do terms…which are at once corrupt and misapplied, denote but a people…ripe for servitude?
  15. Is it just or reasonable, that…voices against the main end of government should enslave [those] that would be free?
  16. They who seek nothing but their own just liberty, have always right to win it and to keep it…be the voices ever so numerous that oppose it.

In addition, Milton would have some other important qualifications in evaluating reality. He would not be misled by government promises that threaten the rights that comprise our liberty, just because the government doesn’t mention that fact.

Similarly, when benefit promises far out-weigh promised exactions from citizens, he would recognize that they are omitting some of the truth. As one of history’s most important poets, he would have expertise in what should be considered poetic license. As the second most important author in the English language, after Shakespeare, he would certainly also be alert to the abuse of language not in pursuit of truth, but of power over others. Just some of the words that have had their meanings warped are unity, we, rights, freedom, fair, justice, social, capitalism, need, and greed. And there has been plenty of added word twisting recently, with insurrection being near the top of the list.

It is obvious that discussing John Milton as a reality or truth czar is not a serious proposal. But that discussion reveals the position’s necessary requirements of the love of truth and the love of freedom our country was founded on.

Further, it shows that anyone fully meeting those requirements, if given the task, would find a great deal about the positions, promises and policies of those who appointed them both untrue and unworthy of freedom.

Consequently, no such czar would ever be appointed. And it is hard to see how Americans’ well-being would be advanced by anyone less trustworthy for the job.

  • Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network.

    In addition to his new book, Pathways to Policy Failures (2020), his books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014), and Apostle of Peace (2013).