This article is taken from the May 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
Truth is the first casualty of war, no doubt, but so it is also of elections — or perhaps of political life tout court. During elections, though, lying changes from the chronic phase to the acute. Impossible things before breakfast are shamelessly promoted and emotive slogans intoned in the hope and expectation that they will be uncritically accepted.
Walking in Paris just before the French election, I was handed some leaflets and stickers by partisans of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the demagogic left-wing candidate. “The rich pollute,” said one of them, “the people pay.”
Am I one of the rich, I wonder? Or one of the people? What about the customers chatting over lunch in the nearby café? Are they rich or are they of the people? Mélanchon’s slogan is founded on the old lie, as Wilfred Owen calls Dulce et decorum, etc., that society is divided neatly into two distinct categories with interests diametrically opposed.
Like all the other candidates, he lies
No lie appeals more to the dissatisfied than this, offering as it does the illusory hope of a confiscatory solution to life’s little problems. The best that can be said of it is that it permits the dissatisfied an access of hatred and moral outrage, which is always enjoyable and gratifying to experience.
Another leaflet promised that Mélenchon would freeze the prices of “products of first necessity”, such as fuel, food and energy. At the same time, he would forbid the very practices which make cheap food possible, such as the use of fertilisers, pesticides and industrialised methods of rearing. The latter, of course, have their serious or cruel ill-effects: but in the world of elections, no difficult choices have to be made. Everything desirable must be both compatible and possible; likely consequences must be ignored.
Mélenchon would make the food in school and other public canteens not only organic, but free. The obvious fact that no tangible good is costless, that someone must pay for it, is here overlooked. The candidate knows this. Like all the other candidates, he lies.
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