“Lies the Government Told You” by Andrew Napolitano [REVIEW]


“Truth is identity between intellect and reality. A lie is a knowing and intentional violation of the truth.”

With these words,Judge Andrew Napolitano draws the battle lines within which he will fight for the rest of this book, Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History. Unfortunately, though, these lines are where the book’s liabilities also fall. 

The book goes through a series of principles on which the American mythos has been built and offers vivid anecdotes, data, history, and musings as to how the American government has not only fallen short of these ideals, but has codified and structuralized the outright denial of those ideals. 

There’s a little something for every political stripe here. For example, the opening chapter, “All Men are Created Equal”, spends most of its time sounding like a Black Lives Matter treatise, recounting the views of slavery by the founding fathers, disillusioning the Lincoln-as-great moral-Liberator myth (arguing that Lincoln freed slaves more out of political calculus than genuine moral courage), and the systemic injustice of Jim Crow. In this, he talks like an activist trying to show how America has never been on the side of black humans. And yet, he ends the chapter by waxing away about how affirmative action is just one more version of “government sanctioned racism”.

So on and so forth it goes throughout the book. As a laudably logically-consistent Libertarian, he bemoans everything from the Fed and the income tax to foreign intervention and racial profiling. 

At the end of the day, however, this book suffers from the same weakness as his political philosophy: a lingering and abiding sense from the reader of “yes, but”. As in, “yes, I see your point, but what about this situation, this exception, these facts on the ground?”

Libertarianism is philosophical post-Enlightenment idealism cloaking itself as hardened realpolitik realism delivered with a take-your-medicine swagger. For a philosophy supposedly rooted in the in a radically pessimistic view of human nature, it is so utopian and idealistic that if only its simple principles were applied fairly, evenly, and consistently, every question could be answered, every dilemma solved, and every injustice sorted out equitably. 

Yet when applied in real-life, it all begins falling apart. The “yes, but”s come in. The structures of culture and human nature show themselves to be more powerful and slippery than any pure-form philosophy can contain, channel, or control. This is why I can grant Napolitano nearly every charge he levels against the government and still think he’s not living in the real-world. 

The book is a polemic against a series of things the author hates. And so, the book clearly avoids any argument against his case; it tells history with a slant and agenda using charged words to describe events, motives, and ideas; it prejudices against all his opponents, trying to tell us the he, Judge Napolitano is the one person telling us the truth in a world of lies.Yet all he has to offer as solutions is a cynical rage and a “vote the bastards out of office” kind of nihilism. 

Oh the cynicism is choking in this book. In Napolitano’s telling, no one’s motives are even attempted to be pure, no situation warrants a messy call, no choice ought to be difficult if people were rational and saw things “clearly” as he does.

Judge Andrew Napolitano describes “truth” as identity between intellect and reality”. Unfortunately for him, however, this book though filled with idealist philosophy and intellect, has very little grounding or application in reality. Thus we are forced to say, on his terms, this book is fundamentally untrue. 

DISCLOSURE: I received a free copy this book from the publisher for review.

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