Fake News. Post-truth. Alternative Facts. Conspiracies. Bot-generated posts. Lies, lies, lies. When will it stop?! We are living in an exciting and disorienting time when truth, it seems, is up for grabs.
In Democracy and Truth: A Short History, Sophia Rosenfeld explains that a crisis of truth is not new and that democracy has always (at least in its modern forms) had to find a way to mediate expert knowledge (of the elites) with the wisdom of the crowds and common sense. How can we define the truth in a democracy, where everyone's opinion is supposed to matter? Is the current political climate truly different from earlier times, when people lied to gain advantages, politicians concealed things to protect themselves, their party, or the country, and people had a healthy distrust of educated, powerful elites?
I spoke with Sophia Rosenfeld, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Common Sense: A Political History, A Revolution in Language: Signs in Late 18th Century France, and Democracy and Truth: A Short History.