The Culture of Dishonesty: Abortion, Divorce, and Obamacare


Over at Public Discourse I have an essay looking into the public’s rather disturbing (to me, anyway) lack of anger about the president’s dishonesty in selling the health care law (if you like your health care, you can keep your health care).

Over the decades, there seems to have been a decline in seriousness about the need for politicians to tell the truth.  Nixon was in real danger of being impeached for, among other things, lying to the public.  In fact, his impeachment and removal was a certainty, which he avoided only by resigning.  A generation later, Clinton was impeached but not removed (only reprimanded) for, among other things, lying to the public.  Today anybody can tell that president Obama misled the public about the real consequences of the Affordable Care Act, but there has been no serious repercussions for him such as Nixon and Clinton faced–just complaining.


I argue that our culture may have become habituated to dishonesty by the prevalence of abortion and divorce.

On abortion:

An alternative argument has it that a fetus is a human being but is not a human person. In this view it is said that abortion is morally unproblematic because moral respect attaches to personhood and not mere humanity. Since a fetus, though a human being, cannot have self-consciousness or concern for the future, it is not due the protections that we naturally accord a fully mature human person. Once again, the problem with this argument is that almost nobody really believes it, so that its constant reiteration as a defense for abortion necessarily has a corrosive effect on our respect for the truth.

If the personhood argument were correct, then it would be just as moral to practice infanticide as it is to procure an abortion, since newborn children have no more sense of self-consciousness or concern for the future than do late-term fetuses. But, aside from a few theorists in the academy, virtually everybody agrees not only that infanticide is wrong but that it is murder. The personhood argument, then, is merely an expedient to justify abortion. In other words, it is a dishonest argument, and its dishonesty is sufficiently evident that its popularity must undermine our society’s commitment to truth.

On divorce:

Our culture of divorce, however, is also a culture of deception. The traditional marriage vows—by which a married couple proclaim that they will remain married until they are parted by death—are still commonly used. And yet they are used in a context in which everybody knows that divorce is accessible, and that many might decide to resort to it. The conclusion seems unavoidable that many Americans get married, using the traditional formulations, knowing all along that they might go back on their word and seek a divorce later if they think it necessary. That is to say, they make a promise to each other in the most solemn way possible—in traditional prescribed language, in front of their families and friends, and often in a house of worship—believing as they do so that the promises made are not really binding. Leaving aside the question of the morality of divorce itself, we can certainly say that people who behave in this way are enacting a farce that cannot help but undermine their respect for truth telling.

You can read the whole thing here.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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