Watergate and After: The Good, the Bad and the Good as Gold

  • Lee Horsley


Michael Polanyi’s argument is that an essential element in a free society is a belief in the reality of facts in public life, with the rivalry of opinions in an open society maintaining ‘a universe of true facts so long as people can mutually trust each other to observe a proper level of factuality in drawing their conclusions from contradictory arguments’.1 In his use of the expression ‘factuality’ he follows Hannah Arendt, who observes both the vulnerability of facts to organised lies and the debilitating effects of destroying people’s capacity for distinguishing between reality and fiction. Even if it is part myth as well as part reality, the possibility of rational, fact-based political and judicial action is unquestionably important to the stability of a democratic system, confirming a belief in public access to and influence on the exercise of power.2 Much of what Hannah Arendt wrote was, of course, directed against the methods used by a revolutionary elite in breaking down this sort of confidence — for example, by dissolving all statements of fact into declarations of purpose. In American politics during the 1970s (and obviously also during the 1980s), what destroyed the ‘network of mutual trust’ was not, however, the organised lying and sophisticated relativistic arguments of skilled propagandists.


Political World Contemporary History Willed Ignorance Historical Imagination Political Understanding 
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© Lee Horsley 1990

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  • Lee Horsley

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