The Politics of Lying: Implications for Democracy

By Lionel Cliffe; Maureen Ramsay et al. | Go to book overview

Preface and an Introduction

This book had its genesis in a course with a similar title taught by Lionel Cliffe at the Department of Politics, University of Leeds. Its original aim was to follow a workshop approach which would encourage students to do their own investigations into a few of the more notorious cases of government dissembling or deception in recent years. But its popularity forced a widening of the net to excavate more cases for students to work on. That exploration in turn gave rise to a research project which involved a deepening as well as a widening of the investigations, as a whole hidden side of political life in English-speaking countries was increasingly laid bare. Growing awareness of the submarine parts of this iceberg prompted analytical questions of how such incidents were to be explained. Much of this volume is given over to an analysis of some of these notorious cases on both sides of the Atlantic. Each case-study covers familiar ground in the course of attempting to 'nail' the lie by comparing initial official announcements with what is later revealed. But the significance of each case for our understanding of politics and the kinds of calculations that are made by governmental actors that might 'explain' the deception are also probed.

The more cases that are brought out, the more one realises that what also has to be explained is the seeming pervasiveness of the phenomena. If they were merely occasional if spectacular exceptions to normal democratic and open practices, then the 'exceptional' circumstances surrounding a particular case would be central to any explanation — although, even in that light, comparative analysis might allow isolation of the types of circumstances which are likely to give rise to government lying. However, as more cases come to light, the possibility that they are the common stuff of 'democratic' politics, at least in some countries, in turn poses the need for a different level of explanation. Are such practices of deception systemic? And to the extent they are, is that to be understood in terms of the character of certain political leaders that give a regime its character or of politicians and powerholders generally, or of more structural characteristics or contexts of particular political systems? Or is the phenomenon to be explained as a more fundamental element in the conduct of politics in contemporary democratic polities?

-ix-

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