The leading Democratic contender to unseat Donald Trump isn’t known as a phrase maker, although his reputation as a phrase borrower is second to none.
Mr Biden has been mocked for plagiarising other politicians and especially for choosing the wrong politicians to plagiarise, such as Neil Kinnock. I myself had some fun at Mr Biden’s expense a few days ago, which I now wholeheartedly regret.
For, belying his reputation, Mr Biden has come up with an epigrammatic insight of rare depth. He displayed an ability only the great thinkers possess: that of encapsulating a complex phenomenon in a poignant, penetrating aphorism.
I’m man enough to admit that he made me ashamed of my own prolixity. While I had to write several books trying to come to grips with the nature of post-Enlightenment modernity, Mr Biden managed to do so in one spiffy phrase.
Campaigning in Iowa, Mr Biden eschewed the apophatic trick of defining his liberalism (in the modern, American sense) simply by what it isn’t. Instead, he boldly came out and stated what it actually is:
“We got to let him [Trump] know who we are. We choose unity over division. We choose science over fiction. WE CHOOSE TRUTH OVER FACTS.”
I emphasised the last sentence out of sheer admiration for its brilliance. Seldom – possibly never – has such an exhaustive insight been expressed in just five words. (If you don’t believe it possible, see for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15RjcRJ3Z70)
Just ponder the implications. First, truth has nothing to do with facts. Second, in case of conflict, truth has precedence over facts. Third, Mr Biden hints at possessing the answer to the question once posed by Pontius Pilate: “What is truth?” (John 18: 38)
All three components elucidate expodentially, to use one of Mr Biden’s own creative neologisms, the very nature of modernity.
For modernity treats facts as the trees for which one can’t see the wood of virtual reality, which alone is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Now, throughout his distinguished career Mr Biden has drawn inspiration from other politicians, which is a sign of a humble and quietly confident man. Typically, his role models come from the left reaches of what I call the philistine end of modern politics.
Hence he can’t be accused of borrowing from Joseph Stalin, the epitome of what I call the nihilist end, and any coincidence between his thoughts and Stalin’s has to be purely coincidental. But that isn’t to deny that a coincidence exists.
In 1932, at the height of yet another murderous famine, Stalin turned his mind to literature. Displaying a genius prefiguring Joe Biden, his namesake Uncle Joe laid down the doctrine of ‘socialist realism’.
Its essence was that the sole function of literature was to reflect the current line in party propaganda. Everything else (style, character development, structure, imagery, psychological depth and credibility) was strictly optional and only allowable inasmuch as it didn’t contradict the ‘general line’.
As an example of new art in action, while millions starved to death in the Ukraine and cannibalism was rife, a socialist realist poem of the time boasted that “our Ukraine is hard to beat, there’s things to drink and things to eat.”
However, some writers were slow to grasp the nature of socialist realism. They begged the Great Leader to provide guidance in a personal meeting, and he magnanimously agreed.
“What is socialist realism?” asked the top writers admitted into the inner sanctum. “Write the truth,” explained Stalin. “That’s what socialist realism is all about.”
Since in those early days it was still possible to express mild misgivings and live to tell the tale, someone quoted John Adams’s saying about facts being stubborn things. “Well,” frowned the Great Leader, “if facts are stubborn things, then so much the worse for facts.”
That was the first attempt to define truth as discrete from facts, yet it took another 87 years and Joe Biden to put this staggering discovery into a nutshell. Being a sublime metaphysical concept, truth soars above the crude physicality of facts.
To Mr Biden’s credit, he provided an instant illustration to this philosophical postulate by warning that another eight years of Trump’s presidency would change America beyond recognition.
That’s the ultimate, metaphysical truth – even though the constitutional fact is that, even if Trump wins the 2020 election, he only has five, not eight, more years in the White House.
The list of truths negating facts is long, and it comprises every cherished belief of modernity. I can offer a brief random sample, in the certainty that you can easily expand it no end.
Truth: Unlimited democracy elevates to government those fit to govern. Fact: It demonstrably doesn’t.
Truth: The composition of a government must reflect the demographic makeup of the population. Fact: Ability to govern is relevant; race and sex aren’t.
Truth: To relieve poverty, the state is justified to redistribute wealth. Fact: High taxation rates make more people poor.
Truth: A nation’s sovereignty isn’t compromised by being vested in a foreign body. Fact: It’s not so much compromised as destroyed.
Truth: It’s only because of racial discrimination that most prison inmates come from ethnic minorities. Fact: They commit more crimes.
And so on, ad infinitum. You see how a tersely worded aphorism can unshackle one’s imagination?
Some may argue that Mr Biden came up with his insight inadvertently, that he didn’t know what he was saying. My reply to those sceptics is a resounding ‘so what’.
Think of Archimedes in his bath, Newton and his apple, Mendeleyev and his dream – many great men stumbled on truth seemingly by accident. That diminishes neither them nor their discoveries. And now we can mention Joe Biden side by side with those intellectual giants.
Aren’t Americans lucky to have him as a possible future president.