Famous Misquotations: In a Time of Universal Deceit, Telling the Truth is a Revolutionary Act

atkins bookshelf quotations

This quotation, which has a few variants (such as, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary art” or “Speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act.”) is often attributed to George Orwell. It’s irresistible to writers — particularly political writers — serving as a brilliant epigram that captures the zeitgeist of the modern world. It certainly sounds like him, but, unfortunately there is no evidence that he either said or wrote those words. (Sorry, Orwell fans.)

Thanks to the dedicated detective work of several persistent quotation sleuths, two early sources of the misattributed quotations have been found. So at the very least, we have identified the rascals! The earliest appearance is in the 1982 book Partners in Ecocide: Australia’s Complicity in the Uranium Cartel by Venturino Venturini. Venturing includes the quote “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” as an epigraph and attributes it to Orwell. The second is a letter from a reader of Science Dimension, a Canadian periodical, that repeats the misattribution: “I think George Orwell said in his book 1984 that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Perhaps the closest that the quotation detectives could find, as a precursor to this famous quotation, is this sentence by Antonio Gramsci, a political theorist, that appeared in the Italian weekly newspaper L’Ordine Nuovo (“The New Order”) in 1919: “To tell the truth, to arrive together at the truth, is a communist and revolutionary act.”

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For further reading: Famous Misquotations: Blood, Sweat, and Tears
Famous Misquotations: A Civilization is Measured by How It Treats Its Weakest Members
Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life

Famous Misquotations: The Triumph of Evil is That Good Men Do Nothing
Famous Phrases You Have Been Misquoting

For further reading: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/02/24/truth-revolutionary/

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