REVIEWED: The Death of Truth

The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani (Political/Cultural Essays, 2018).

The author, a well-known literary critic and astute cultural observer, here offers “Notes On Falsehood In The Age Of Trump” (to quote the 208-page book’s subtitle). The book is already a best-seller, and deservedly so. It’s a levelheaded look at how respect for the facts, upon which all truth rests, has been steadily eroded over recent decades.

While our current President is in many ways the poster child for a blatant disregard for provable reality, Kakutani doesn’t fall into the trap of claiming “The Donald” is solely to blame for the state of national discourse. Indeed, figures from all parts of the American political/social spectrum have paved the way for acceptance of a routine (even prideful) contempt for even the most basic facts.

The nine full chapters of the volume are sandwiched between an introduction (which relates how so-called “truth decay” was used by regimes such as the Nazis and Communists to undermine, confuse and control societies) and an epilogue (which takes matters into our current era of technological distractions, “alternative truths” and shameless attacks on the free press that is the very bulwark of any free society).

Chapters with such titles as “The Decline and Fall of Reason,” “The New Culture Wars” and “The Schadenfreude of the Trolls” focus in detail on various aspects of the rise of subjectivity over factuality, the conscious efforts to divide and move people away from common values and civility, and the big lies of propaganda.

Again, while Donald Trump (and his Administration) are the most unblushingly visible exponent of all this just now, he has his contemporaries, from the Left and Right, among social and political conservatives and liberals alike. Liars, manipulators and opportunists come in all political and social shades and must be opposed regardless of party.

This somewhat petite volume proves a stark and valuable reminder of why such cautionary tales (fictional and very much otherwise) as Orwell’s 1984, Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and more recently Neil Postman’s 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, remain relevant and indeed necessary reading. And it is no mere whim on Kakutani’s part the book is dedicated to all truth-seeking journalists.

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