Do electors want to be deceived?

British political scientist Glen Newey claims: lies are the price of a healthy democracy

If it were up to Glen Newey of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, there would be a parliamentary committee on the subject "Election fraud" as superfluous as a goiter. After all, the mouthy citizens do not expect their elected representatives to actually tell the truth before or after the ballot. After all, they secretly know that the high moral standards with which they have imposed on their politicians virtually force them to do so, "to deal with the truth economically".

Newey owes this baffling theory to intensive work with "key american political events", the Watergate affair, the Iran-Contra disaster and the turmoil surrounding the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. In all these cases, the desire for openness and the amption of political responsibility created an unhealthy climate of mistrust and limited the politicians’ room for maneuver to such an extent that they had practically no choice but to lie through their teeth to the public:

"When journalists or other politicians start to investigate things that the government would rather keep secret, they are forced to lie more and more."

In Newey’s world, voters understand this behavior because they know they are too removed from the political process to judge which decisions are in the best interest of the public good. Therefore, it may well happen that the swapped voters put their crosses in the same place at the next ballot, thus sanctioning the fraud afterwards. The swap was then somehow in the public interest after all.

But that does not mean that the much-maligned politicians can now drop into their cushioned seats with a smile on their faces. Newey calls for the democratic society of the future to adopt stricter guidelines as to when and to what extent lying to the public might be acceptable, pertinent, or perhaps a little punitive. In his view, we need a kind of culture of political barter:

"Dissatisfaction with democracy is the cause and consequence of political exchange. Lies discredit politicians because, in an effort to appease this discontent, they impose on themselves an unfulfillable obligation to be truthful. If we do not deal with this fact in a more honest way, we run the risk of doing serious damage to our democracy."

This proves once again that cause and effect are not fixed and that one is better off anyway if public life is viewed from an event perspective and the affirmative consequence is drawn from this. Thus Newey at the beginning of the year in the renowned London Review Of Books had already approached the role of the English monarchy:

"The only reason the Queen and her ilk can portray the role of national figurehead more convincingly than an elected or expelled president is that a clan torn by estrangement, multiple divorce, adultery, alcoholism, and sporadic psychosis corrupts the real family values."

The only consolation is that the political system is finally getting the political scientists it deserves …

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