How to Deal with Awkward Facts, A Masterclass by Richard Perle

In a debate with Noam Chomsky at Ohio State in 1988 Richard Perle ends his opening remarks with a stirring call for his audience to set its face against discussion of the documentary record:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we continue the evening, ask yourself whether the adumbration of documents that you haven’t seen and I haven’t seen, and the weight and the consequences of which it is impossible to estimate, bears up against your impression of where the United States has been in the post-war period and your sense of what the United States represents both at home and around the world.

Thank you.

(the relevant section comes at about 4.22 on the clip)

Chomsky has offered evidence to support his claims, Perle prefers that we concentrate on our ‘impression of where the United States has been in the post-war period’ and our ‘sense of what the United States represents both at home and around the world’. The appeal to pre-existing sentiment, and the dismissive attitude to information that might weaken the hold of that sentiment, are characteristic of hostility to Enlightenment. The defenders of the established order are often successful, since they have a shrewd appreciation of the way that ‘sense’ and ‘impression’ inform our selection and rejection of information when we are piecing together a political world-view. Few of us can give up a pleasing ‘impression’ or a reassuring ‘sense’ for the discomfort afforded by mere facts.

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