ZS: How could we define truth in terms of function in public life?
RR: There are two questions here. I think that what people really worry about is truthfulness. They think they are being lied to all the time, and usually, they are right. They are being lied to. And they wish that people would tell them the truth. But what they mean here is not a question of the nature of truth. They just want people to say what they believe, governments to say the same things to the public that they say to other governments, and so on. Truth as a philosophical problem is a question of whether true statements are representations of reality, or whether the notion of representation applies to statements, and so on. This is really technical.
ZS: What is the role of truthfulness in the international public sphere or on the platform where discussions take place?
RR: It is a question here of making democracy work by having information freely available. That‘s why people put such hopes the Internet. If one wants to know how many people are out of work in a given country, or what the average wage level in the country is, one can find it. One won‘t be lied to. And that, of course, is terribly important, but it‘s not the kind of thing a philosopher has anything to say about. My slogan is that if you take care of freedom, truth takes care of itself. A true statement is just one that a free community can agree to be true. If we take care of political freedom, we get as a bonus.
ZS: What are the significant ideas produced in this, the twentieth century?
RR: They are just the same ones that were important in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Christian idea of human brotherhood, the democratic idea of constitutional, representative government. I don‘t think that the twentieth century has come up with any improvements die nineteenth.
ZS: For some, the twentieth century has also brought great moral achievements.
RR: The most obvious thing is voting rights for women. And increasingly religious tolerance; I mean that religion is not as much of an issue as it was in 1900. There is more sexual tolerance, too. Things are better for homosexuals now. The sexual revolution of the seventies helped to overcome the churches and the clergy. In the twentieth century, people did learn not to take sex as seriously as the churches had told them before, and that was a good thing.
ZS: The caesura of 989, when communism in Eastern Europe unexpectedly collapsed, is seen by many people a moment of great liberation on the one hand, and as the beginning of a great ideological void on the other. Does the downfall of the pre-1989 ideologically bipolar world mean entering a vacuum?
RR: No, in 1989 much of the world got out from under a gang of criminals, of some gangsters who had been ruling Poland, Russia, Romania, and so on. It wasn´t that those opposed to them lacked ideas. The dissidents had kept the good old ideas of the Enlightenment alive, and these ideas were still lying around waiting to be used. I don´t see that there has been a vacuum. What is still happening in Eastern Europe can be seen as a struggle between the gangsters and the intellectuals, and I have no idea who is going to win in which country. The astonishing thing that happened in Russia, it seems to me, is that the entire property of the state was stolen within a couple of years, (laughter) and now everything is privatized which means that the nomenklatura owns it privately.