The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth

The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth

by Jonathan Rauch


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Arming Americans to defend the truth from today’s war on facts

“In what could be the timeliest book of the year, Rauch aims to arm his readers to engage with reason in an age of illiberalism.”

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

Disinformation. Trolling. Conspiracies. Social media pile-ons. Campus intolerance. On the surface, these recent additions to our daily vocabulary appear to have little in common. But together, they are driving an epistemic crisis: a multi-front challenge to America’s ability to distinguish fact from fiction and elevate truth above falsehood.

In 2016 Russian trolls and bots nearly drowned the truth in a flood of fake news and conspiracy theories, and Donald Trump and his troll armies continued to do the same. Social media companies struggled to keep up with a flood of falsehoods, and too often didn’t even seem to try. Experts and some public officials began wondering if society was losing its grip on truth itself. Meanwhile, another new phenomenon appeared: “cancel culture.” At the push of a button, those armed with a cellphone could gang up by the thousands on anyone who ran afoul of their sanctimony.

In this pathbreaking book, Jonathan Rauch reaches back to the parallel eighteenth-century developments of liberal democracy and science to explain what he calls the “Constitution of Knowledge”—our social system for turning disagreement into truth.

By explicating the Constitution of Knowledge and probing the war on reality, Rauch arms defenders of truth with a clearer understanding of what they must protect, why they must do—and how they can do it. His book is a sweeping and readable description of how every American can help defend objective truth and free inquiry from threats as far away as Russia and as close as the cellphone.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780815738862
Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
Publication date: 06/22/2021
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 25,431
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow in the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution and a contributing writer of The Atlantic. His previous books include Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought.Rauch resides in Washington, DC.

Table of Contents

1 "A Terrible Statement Unless He Gets Away with It" 1

Chaos and conformity have caused an epistemic crisis

2 The State of Nature: Tribal Truth 20

Bias, groupthink, and the epistemic war of all against all

3 Booting Reality: The Rise of Networked Knowledge 43

Outsourcing reality to a social network is humankind's greatest innovation

4 The Constitution of Knowledge 79

The operating system of the reality-based community

5 Disinformation Technology: The Challenge of Digital Media 118

Making the online world truth-friendly is difficult but doable

6 Troll Epistemology: "Flood the Zone with Shit" 155

Disinformation is an old enemy with new weapons and powerful friends

7 Canceling: Despotism of the Few 189

Coercive conformity is corrupting the reality-based community

8 Unmute Yourself: Pushing Back 232

Defending the Constitution of Knowledge requires confidence and counter-mobilization

Acknowledgments 265

Notes 267

Index 289

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