Bryan Caplan  

The Big Lie

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I'm a trusting person by nature, so it's useful for me to reflect on how deceptive people can be. The following excerpt really helped focus my attention. It's from a speech given to the Associated Press in 1933 by Adolf Hitler.

Speaking deliberately as a German National Socialist, I desire to declare in the name of the National Government, and of the whole movement of national regeneration, that we in this new Germany are filled with deep understanding for the same feelings and opinions and for the rightful claims to life of the other nations. The present generation of this new Germany which so far has only experienced the poverty, misery, and distress of its own people, has suffered too deeply from the madness of our time to be able to contemplate treating others in the same way. Our boundless love for and loyalty to our own national traditions makes us respect the national claims of others and makes us desire from the bottom of our hearts to live with them in peace and friendship.
(from Noakes and Pridham, Nazism, 1919-1945, vol.3)

Six years later, of course, Hitler notoriously told his military commanders:

I shall give a propagandist reason for starting the war, no matter whether it is plausible or not. The victor will not be asked afterwards whether he told the truth or not. When starting and waging war it is not right that matters, but victory.

Close your hearts to pity. Act brutally. Eighty million people must obtain what is their right. Their existence must be made secure. The stronger man is right. The greatest harshness.

The standard litigator's trick is to ask "Were you lying then or are you lying now?" Here's one case where we know the answer.


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COMMENTS (7 to date)
Paul N writes:

I would suggest that the moral of the story is that anyone who expresses "boundless love for and loyalty to ... national traditions" should be treated with extreme suspicion.

People lie, but sometimes you can read between the lines.

Tom West writes:

(3) If so, is it also lying for a materialist, whose ontology apparently acknowledges the existence only of particles, energies and forces, to speak of "moral" principles at all, or to call behaviors "right" and "wrong?"

No. He is lying only if he claims that there is a "universal" right and wrong or moral principle or that these are anything more than artifacts of our sentience. Humanity has proven that there are an almost infinite number of beliefs in what is "right" and "wrong". A meterialist understands this, and works to promote what he believes to be the optimal versions of moral prinicples, namely his own.

James writes:

Tom,

There may be a diversity of belief regarding what fits into the categories of right and wrong, but most people believe that whatever is in those categories is there in some way independent of the presence of human minds. It seems that your materialist is being rather dishonest, given that most people take "right" and "wrong" to mean more than just rulesets optimized to conform to personal preferences. It's as though I told my loan officer I keep a pile of gold bars in my safe and insist that I'm not being dishonest because when I use the term "gold bars," I mean 1st Lieutenant rank insignia. My usage may be honest in terms of the meanings I assign to the words, but using words in conversation with others according to my own nonstandard definitions is predictably misleading. Deliberately engaging in misleading behavior seems like lying to me. Since I mean something other than the element Au, I should use a different word, right? Well, so should your materialist.

Aidan Maconachy writes:

"I shall give a propagandist reason for starting the war, no matter whether it is plausible or not. The victor will not be asked afterwards whether he told the truth or not. When starting and waging war it is no"t right that matters, but victory."

If there is some effort on the part of the poster to conflate Adolf Hitler's triumphalist posturing with Bush's Iraq justifications - please!! Adolf didn't have umpteen U.N. resolutions on his side and a majority of allied nations in full agreement that the object of the campaign was in fact in serious breach of international standards.

If in fact there is some hackneyed effort at a comparison here, somebody needs to take a pill.

daveg writes:

Adolf didn't have umpteen U.N. resolutions on his side and a majority of allied nations in full agreement that the object of the campaign was in fact in serious breach of international standards

I know you are not talking about this war in Iraq. So, what war are you talking about?

daveg writes:

BTW, I think it is great that you can write for The Weekly Standard and then, seemingly, bash Bush and the Iraq war.

It is not too much of a strech to call the Iraq war the The Weekly Standard war. Really.

Ann writes:

That first quote sounds exactly like the Chinese Communist Party line on why China would never, ever harm another country.

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