Politics, charged with the ordering of human affairs, has always generated more than its share of half-truths and untruths. The Lie has ever been with us. But thanks to the contemporary explosion of sophisticated communication technology paired with the general shamelessness encouraged by moral relativism, the Lie has become a veritable institution, a pandemic of structurally embedded mendacity. Truth still exists but is routinely denounced, censored or misnamed. The phenomenon afflicts every democracy, Canada increasingly included, where the spirit of justice, of legislating on the basis of discoverable truth and acting in good faith, is fading into quaintness.
The world has dramatically changed. The integrity of the information we receive has been degraded almost beyond recognition, elbowed aside by fantasies and injustices. For the Lie has spread like a virus, becoming not merely the locus of struggle in the individual’s soul or an irregularly distributed condition but a systemic and indelible part of public and institutional life. An ecosystem of lies has been installed almost throughout the public, administrative, economic and cultural life of the nation. Moral pollution is now conventional and universally methodized, found everywhere and practised enthusiastically.
Political authority may be compromised in every sector of official rule, but it is the bread and butter of the political Left, for whom lying has become a matter of principle. A few examples: climate emergency is the biggest security threat facing the nation; white people are all supremacists; transgendered biological males are women and men can become pregnant; bees are fish; masks are protective devices; diversity is strength; one needs to be a biologist to know what a woman is; meritocracy is a Western plot to suppress minorities; objective mathematics is false and a form of white supremacy; inflation can be negated through increased government spending. When falsehood is the coinage of the elite and pervades nearly every institution, it inevitably seeps into and corrupts the interactions of everyday life. When the “best” reject truth, many of the rest will surely follow. Here, too, examples abound which the reader can likely contemplate from encounters in personal life.
We live in a time that some even believe heralds the “end of days,” that the calamitous prophecies in the Book of Revelation are about to be fulfilled, that humanity must prepare for unprecedented turmoil and upheavals, and that we are responsible through ignorance and depravity for our impending fate. The evidence seems all before us, including in phenomena like the global septicemia of the political Left which has infected virtually all the organs of government and its affiliates in the media, academy, federal agencies, well-funded pressure groups and the corporate realm. The question is why.
Religious communicants might feel that we have never come to terms with, let alone battled, the blight of original sin, and that retribution is imminent. As the theologians have told us, we are all corrupted by original sin, by the flight from divine truth and the profanation of natural justice, stemming from a primal act of disobedience. Original sin is, in idiomatic parlance, not a bug but a feature. We are all, apparently, liars from the egg, cheaters from the womb, apostates and idolaters.
The idea was initially developed by the Rabbinic sages over two millennia ago in the Talmudic tractate Ethics of the Fathers, and called in Hebrew the yetzer hara or “evil inclination,” which gestates in the womb but could be harnessed and overcome in the course of time by the yetzer hatov or “good inclination.” The Christian Church Fathers knew it in Latin as the peccatum originale, original sin, which could be vanquished only by the willing reception of Divine Grace.
The “evil inclination”: As understood by the Rabbinic elders and articulated in The Living Talmud, the Wisdom of the Fathers, human beings fell short of divine truth from the very beginning and were corrupted by disobedience, central to which became our tendency to lie.
Of course, the religiously more liberal or non-religious will see it as merely a theological way of noting that we are all born as little barbarians, some of whom are eventually socialized as law-abiding citizens. Others may regard the notion as a controlling metaphor signifying the moral, cultural and political disintegration we are witnessing in contemporary society, including for some the systematic degradation the Left has effectively formalized as both policy and conduct. Irrespective of how we may construe the idea, it is without doubt a powerful, explanatory theory or teaching.
The concept of original sin as an inherent disposition to lie and betray was influentially set down by Saint Augustine in The Confessions, written circa AD 400 when he was Bishop of Hippo; the first occurrence of the phrase is in Chapter 5. Augustine conflated original sin with the ulcer of moral corruption, expressed as the rebellious attitude of self-sufficiency that further loosens an iniquitous faculty for domesticating falsehood. Lying to oneself and to others was anathema. (The notion of original sin is elaborated in lavish detail in Per Franco Beatrice’s esoteric The Transmission of Sin: Augustine and the Pre-Augustinian Sources and more concisely in Henry Chadwick’s readily available Augustine of Hippo: A Life.)
Augustine grouped lies into eight categories, some of which “hurt nobody” and could also be beneficial, thus allowing for an escape clause, the pardonable lie. But such was the exception. The originary lie was essentially a moral infection, rooted deep in the human soul. Augustine thought it to be transmitted genetically across the generations, an article of faith grounded in Genesis (6:5) and Romans (5:12) and formalized as Catholic doctrine at the Council of Trent in the 16th Century.
The diverse ways of lying are discussed in David Shipler’s bestselling Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams and Mikael Klintman’s Knowledge Resistance, among them the Russian concept of vranyo, lying in such a way that everyone knows, including the liar, that everyone else knows a lie is being told and knows that the liar knows that they know. Klintman calls it “lousy lying” and observes that this form of lying may be construed as a power move, “of not having to submit to truth and facts like the rest of us” – one of the gambits in which the Left is adept.
While everyone accepts that politicians even in a well-functioning society will bend the truth or exaggerate – former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney was famous for his “blarney,” but was not really considered a liar – we have been inching ever-closer to vranyo as a “power move” in our own country. What else can one make of – to take just two examples – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s description of those who oppose vaccine mandates as “women-haters, racists and science deniers,” or of continuing federal vaccine and mask mandates for air travel as “following the science”?
However we may account for the common propensity to sell ourselves cheap, to bargain away integrity and decency, to exploit and deceive, to revel in egotism and ignorance, that is, in the widest possible sense, to lie, we can understand Augustine’s belief that we are bound in “the chain of original sin,” that we are all at least susceptible to trading virtue for profit, recognition or mere acquisitiveness, to fall short of moral and religious standards. This is our normal default position or, at best, a temptation to be fought.
One may wonder, too, if the concept of original sin can admit of scale and differentiation, of degrees of corruptibility on a continuum of levels. In his most celebrated poem The Second Coming, W.B. Yeats wrote that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity,” which is at least a distinction. Composed in 1919, the poem expressed Yeats’ sense of tribulation in a time of war, revolution and Spanish flu.
The world today is also a time of war, revolution and plague. It differs materially in the malign and widespread contagion of the information media – that paragon of censorship, defamation and false testimony – and the insidious spread of neo-Marxist ideology throughout the once democratic West, exacerbating the premonition of an apocalyptic change in human affairs.
Marxism is predicated on the lie that human nature can be drastically transformed rather than merely held in check, that an earthly utopia is possible – perhaps the greatest lie of all. In order to realize its agenda, it has valorized lying as a means justified by the end, denouncing individual merit and initiative as an unearned privilege and a social evil, and thus ensuring a reign of misery and suffering wherever it has triumphed.
When lying is elevated to something like constitutional status, clearly nothing good can come of it. “[A]s we’ve all learned over the past several decades,” writes Michael Walsh in a column for The Pipeline, “truth is irrelevant to the Leftist project, whose two-step program for fundamental transformation goes like this. First, posit a counter-factual. Second, act on it as if it were true while browbeating the bejesus out of your opponents.” The lie is not merely told, it must be accepted. All are forcibly ensnared in the Left’s world of lies, writes Walsh: “Not just content with your body, the spirit-sapping demons…hunger for your soul as well.”
From a modified Augustinian cum Yeatsian perspective, we might assume that in our time “the best” are fighting the stain of original sin while “the worst” are completely imbued by it. And “the worst” now appear to have acquired global ascendancy. They are the Left and its followers, enablers and fellow-travelling opportunists: progressivists, “social justice warriors,” the radical feminist sorority, gender reassignment advocates, Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, “Climate Change” propagandists, the tribe of globalist plutocrats, a significant portion of the appointed judiciary, Antisemites, much of the pharmaceutical industry, the majority of governing political parties, and the World Economic Forum purveyors of the so-called Great Reset (known collectively as Davos Man, devoted to the obliteration of the middle class and the re-medievalization of society).
They are all those who are willing to lie whenever it suits them, those of whom Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations (Chapter IV, Book III): “‘All for ourselves and nothing for other people’ seems in every age of the world to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” This is a gloss on Aristotle’s dictum in Politics (Book 5) that, “A tyrant has no regard to any public interest, except as conducive to his private ends.” A tyrant, we must note, need not be leader of an entire country; tyrants can be and increasingly are found in any organization or institution.
The result is always the same: the suffocating of personal enterprise and individual freedom, eventual economic stagnation and abject poverty for the many. The difference today is that the Lie has attained organizational stability. In our historical moment tyranny is not broken into a disparate and scattered series of political phases and regimes appearing among independent states and empires distributed around the globe, but is an overarching phenomenon shadowing the world like the wings of Gustave Doré’s Falling Angel.
It has often been pointed out that George Orwell’s sinister, historically revisionist and disinformationist “Ministry of Truth” is not simply an abstraction elaborated in the pages of 1984. It has become a universal guild of casuistry, equivocation and outright fraud. The yetzer hara, the peccatum originale, are everywhere and openly to be seen, especially among the political elect, the medical cabal and the Tech oligarchy that dominate our lives and strive to control us via fear and figment, that is, the anxiety caused by ginned-up narratives, and who comprise the vast class of professional liars who populate Orwell’s Ministry. Smith’s “masters of mankind” now resemble a largely unified and controlling organization intent on governing the planet.
“No one can really understand the political left,” says Thomas Sowell in an article for Forbes, “without understanding that they are about making themselves feel superior, however much they may talk piously about what they are going to do to help others.” Doing it for others – the children, the poor or the environment – is the grand deception (or for some, self-deception) by which leftists seek universal hegemony.
Psychologically speaking, one might say that these reprobates and miscreants – or “sinners” – are marked by what psychologists and sociologists have termed the “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits: narcissism (associated with cognitive disability), psychopathy (unearned self-enhancement), sadism (an intrinsic appetite for cruelty) and Machiavellianism (low conscientiousness). The Association of Psychological Science (APS) describes such people as “aspiring exterminators” possessing a muscular sense of entitlement.
These actors now constitute a mainstream phenomenon, allied chiefly with the reinvigorated collectivism of the Left. As Kevin Downey Jr. mockingly writes, “True or False: the Left Will Decide For you, Comrade.” And in the words of Victor Davis Hanson, “Without ruse, there can be no progressive project…In short, you gotta lie.” Of course, injustice has always been in the world. Goebbel’s Big Lie, for example, is merely the Nazi version of the ubiquitous Ministry of Truth. But today, with the global resurgence of the Gramscian Left, a suborned international media consortium, and the installation of tyrannical regimes wherever we may look around the world or within societies, the Lie has become a structural component of modern cultural and political life.
Dedicated, focused and mission-hungry, the Left has taken the predilection to lie to institutional levels, not as something to be resisted but to be established and rendered permanent. As for virtue – the effort to deal justly, to speak truth, however impaired by circumstance and difficult to achieve – this is beyond its pay grade. The Left will have no part with what the Talmudic Fathers called the yetzer hatov and the Fathers of the Church understood as Divine Grace – or what flawed but fundamentally decent people know as traditional morality, however honoured in the breach.
As the great satirist Jonathan Swift wrote in an Examiner essay, Political Lying (1710), “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect.” The Lie seems here to stay, at least, as Swift warns, in its effect. Its ramifications may never be undone as the world appears to many to be teetering toward a day of reckoning. Original sin is no longer a theological concept intended to explain peccant behavior. It has, so to speak, become policy.
In the words of Jonathan Swift (left), the great Anglo-Irish satirist, “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late.” Echoing The Screwtape Letters of C.S. Lewis (shown at right), contemporary Catholic psychologist Paul Lavin uses satire to reflect on the exceeding effectiveness of the originary lie in corrupting the modern world.
One need not be a believer to credit the wisdom of the Bible. The canonical language of the prophets and gospellers is as valid and pertinent today as it was when first given to the world. Particularly apt is Colossians (3:9) in which Saint Paul condemns the “old man,” that is, the soul tainted by original sin, by the inclination to bear false witness, who must be “put off,” as opposed to the “new man” who is “renewed in knowledge,” in other words, in truth.
But the “old man” has now been “put on” with a vengeance, reinstated in the full glory of power, the dark self who knows precisely what he is about. One recalls 1 John (2:21), who observes “I have not written you because ye knew not the truth, but because ye know it,” i.e., because he knows better but lies anyway. The “old man” is enthroned in the seat of global authority – as the Tempter’s apostle, the “father of lies,” of whom John warned (8:44). Original sin has been embraced as liturgy. It has become, so to speak, ecumenical.
In the orthodox interpretation of psychologist, Catholic convert and prolific author Paul Lavin, the lie in the Garden of Eden is the source and “foundation of original sin,” having infected the human soul shortly after its creation. Turning to the present, Lavin continues: “Truth has taken a severe beating over the past five years.” In our time, “the disingenuousness of our government officials and those in authority, nationally and globally…is accelerating at breakneck speed as lying begets more lying.” Quoting from 2 Timothy (4:4), he warns that we are consistently “being fed ‘fables’ as objective reality.” In Diabolical Satire, a contemporary reprise of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Lavin wryly expounds the Devil’s viewpoint on the sweeping effectiveness of the originary lie in the modern world. Lavin’s reflections on the moral decay that characterizes the present age bear considerable relevance on secular issues, particularly in the spheres of technology and politics.
It is no accident that in his notorious and widely read blueprint for political convulsion, Rules for Radicals, 60s-era American Leftist frondeur Saul Alinsky preached the uselessness of ethical practice in revolutionary tactics. In Alinsky’s grotesque formulation, “The most unethical of all means is the non-use of any means.” You not only can lie, you must lie. For Alinsky and his multitude of followers – among his acolytes was one Hillary Clinton, who wrote her Bachelor’s “thesis” on Alinsky – lying is a revolutionary function rather than a moral lapse. Alinsky acknowledged Lucifer as a socialist rebel, on the model of John Milton’s fallen archangel in Paradise Lost and Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s portrayal in A Defence of Poetry.
A proto-socialist and pseudo-anarchist, Shelley defended “Milton’s Devil as a moral being” whose “energy and magnificence” could not be exceeded and who “perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent.” Similarly, for Alinsky, the demonic archetype was the “first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom – Lucifer.” And what a kingdom it was! Milton’s description in Paradise Lost of Pandemonium, the new home of Lucifer and his minions, turns out to be premonitory, an allegory of the current state of world affairs as the Left asserts its transgressive magistracy.
This state of affairs is ruefully summed up in Jeffrey Tucker’s synoptic peroration to an important essay for the Brownstone Institute, surveying the debris of the Leftist project we observe all around us:
“What’s awesome and terrifying to contemplate is just how many things have gone wrong all at once. The quality of money has taken a huge hit…we also have a health crisis, a psychological decline, massive learning loss, dependency on government largess, a loss of work ethic, an ideological putsch against basic tenets of traditional liberalism, a revolt against religion, a denial of basic biology and science, a wholesale loss of trust in elites, the valorization of war, even as the administrative state alongside intellectual elites remain firmly in control of the apparatus of power at all levels…This is an extremely dangerous mix, so much so that it is hard to find historical examples.” (Emphasis added)
The dilemma is compounded, Tucker adds, by the fact that “many of our leaders have been co-opted into a machinery of corruption.”
The world has indeed changed. The Left has injected its serpentine toxin into the very entrails of the culture, traditions and politics of the West. The Rabbis would be horrified and the Bishops appalled. For there is a sense in which the Left has transformed original sin into something quite unoriginal.
David Solway’s most recent volume of poetry, The Herb Garden, appeared in 2018 with Guernica Editions. His manifesto, Reflections on Music, Poetry & Politics, was released by Shomron Press in 2016. He has produced two CDs of original songs: Blood Guitar and Other Tales (2014) and Partial to Cain (2019) on which he is accompanied by his pianist wife Janice Fiamengo. His latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture, Black House Publishing, 2019, London.