The Noble Lie and International Politics

by Seth Weinberger

In the December 19th issue of the New Yorker, Orhan Pamuk (one of my favorite writers, the author of Snow and My Name is Red) has a fascinating piece about his impending trial in Turkey for insulting “Turkish identity” by discussing the Armenian genocide following World War I. Pamuk discusses his confusion at why a state like Turkey that is having so much trouble convincing the EU that it is sufficiently “Western” and “European” to merit membership would be pursuing such a troubling course of action. From an IR perspective, the answer is something along the lines of the limitations that law has to compel or induce states on issues of critical national importance. But, why would this issue, which is certainly not controversial to or disputed by most historians, constitute a sufficiently important issue that Turkey would be willing to jeopardize its EU accession talks? I’m reminded of the noble lie in Plato’s Republic, in which it is acknowledged that all states have their origins in brutality and blood, and therefore all states create national myths about their foundings that obscure those origins. These lies, while repugnant, may be necessary in the eyes of states for maintaining national identity and patriotism. So, international institutions may be limited in their ability to affect Turkish behavior on this issue. We can only hope, as does Pamuk, that the Turkish judge feels differently.

Comments are closed.