Not-so-self-evident truths

In her new book, Sophia Rosenfeld digs up the roots of the relationship between democracy and truth.

Sophia Rosenfeld
Sophia Rosenfeld, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History

Spurred by Brexit and a sensational U.S. presidential race that dominated the international news cycle, Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as its Word of the Year for 2016. The organization defines the term as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

This selection intrigued Sophia Rosenfeld, the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History, who had already noted a “sudden explosion” in discussions about the role of truth in politics. The intellectual and cultural historian had been examining connections between the two for years but had focused more on the past than on the present.

“With Donald Trump, we have a president who lies constantly, who routinely conveys inaccurate or unverified information, who deliberately muddies the waters to make it unclear what he’s talking about,” Rosenfeld says. “And while many Americans are shrugging it off, others are panicking about a crisis—a distinct and ominous turn in the history of democracy.”

Wondering if the panic is warranted, Rosenfeld decided to take what she had studied for decades and evaluate its bearing on modern-day politics. The effort resulted in “Democracy and Truth: A Short History,” a new book in which she unravels not just whether the nation is experiencing a unique post-truth moment, but also how that moment came to be.

Join Rosenfeld at the Parkway Central Library on Wednesday, March 20, for a lecture called “Democracy and Truth: A Short Philadelphia History.” The event is free, and RSVP is suggested.

Read more at Omnia magazine.