[October 6, 2018] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote that anyone who uses violence as a method to suppress people must then “inexorably choose lying as his principle.” After many years in Soviet-communist labor camps and prisons, he knows of what he speaks. He would tell us that leaders lying to you is not okay.
The idea that lies from a leader is unacceptable – either philosophically or practically – is one that has been around since before recorded history. However, there are many who say that lying is acceptable under certain, less-well-defined circumstances. I’ll not get much into this idea, except to point out that as far back as Plato people could distinguish between lies that are always improper and lies against enemies.1
In today’s world o,ne would think that we actually accept lying unequivocally. A few years ago, I wrote a piece on this very issue and noted with sadness that lying is actually encouraged. However, the serious and harmful consequences still undermine our leaders, organizations, and the people who follow.2 Perhaps our society is destined to relearn lessons of the past the hard way.
In the U.S. military, where the majority of my life was spent, lying to your soldiers and leaders was simply not done. Lying to the enemy (as Plato wrote about it) was not lying but a form of propaganda and false intelligence. We distinguished, like he did, that there were times when lies were not to be tolerated and other times lies (not what we called it) was okay.
Solzhenitsyn wrote that the basis of communism is the big lie. His writings span several decades but my personal favorite is the three-volume set of The Gulag Archipelago. This year is the 50th anniversary of its publication and one of the first deep looks into the Soviet Union, Communism, and the bureaucratic-autocratic methods used to destroy people’s lives.
It’s not okay for your leaders to lie to you. The fact that it happens anyway and justifications are given seem to satisfy the morally weak mind, is no excuse. I have found that in our society that lying has been taken to new heights in incredulousness. Despite the efforts by many to stop this slippery slide, our political elite have done little to halt its onward advance.