“Lies of State”, under the direction of Yvonnick Denoël and Renaud Meltz: the misfortunes of republican truth

Demonstration in Fort-de-France, February 27, 2021, against the limitation of legal action in the chlordecone case.

“State lies. Another story of the Fifth Republic”, edited by Yvonnick Denoël and Renaud Meltz, New World, 560 p., €24.90, digital €19.

The Ve Republic, founded in 1958, is it really a democratic regime? The question has not ceased to be asked in recent months, in the light of challenges to the pension reform and the terms of its adoption. The power available to the executive has, as often, focused criticism. But the collective book edited by Renaud Meltz and Yvonnick Denoël, State lies, gives an unexpected depth to this questioning, by shifting its terrain. Can democratic life put up with lying that has become a habit, if not a system? Does not the official disregard for the truth, for decades, corrupt the social contract?

Health and environmental scandals

The statement may seem excessive, and worthy of a militant rant. The bet of the book consists in supporting it with an original form, halfway between investigative journalism and historical inquiry. To attest “our strange tolerance for state lies”all the files are open there: those of the founding of the regime, its colonial wars and its “external operations” as well as those of health and environmental scandals, without forgetting police blunders and political and financial affairs.

The lies are scrutinized there, whether they come from individuals like the former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac or from entire institutions. From green algae to the business of rainbow warriorfrom asbestos to Clearstream, from the hidden disease of Georges Pompidou to the insufficient stocks of masks from the first confinement, it is a dizzying panorama of public insincerity which unfolds in eighty alert chapters.

If the work brings together not only historians, but also journalists and researchers from other disciplines, it is indeed the historical method that serves as its guiding thread and safeguard. Such a project, which does not hesitate to include very contemporary facts, not yet settled by justice, does indeed involve a share of risk and uncertainty. “On these still burning issues, the historian is hard pressed to access primary sources”thus admits a contributor.

More profoundly, the hybridization between historical rigor and citizen indictment is not self-evident. Part of the book leans moreover on the side of indignation, by qualifying such a law as “rogue”, or by wielding irony without measure, in particular in the chapters on the police and justice. However, the overall performance of the project remains guaranteed by the precise contextualization of each section, which avoids generalizations and the risk of “to sink into a disgusted denunciation of institutions”against which the editors of the volume defend themselves.

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