- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (April 24, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375504222
- ISBN-13: 978-0375504228
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,938,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Lost Art of Drawing the Line: How Fairness Went Too Far 1st Edition
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Author Philip K. Howard returns with the same storytelling style and supreme reasonableness that made his first book, The Death of Common Sense, such a smash hit in 1995. He begins The Lost Art of Drawing the Line by noting the damage predatory litigation has done to the communal fabric of the United States: "Social relations in America, far from steadied by law's sure hand, are a tangle of frayed legal nerves." He tells how seesaws have started to vanish from playgrounds, how teachers are banned from touching students, and how emergency-room staff are blocked from attending to patients off hospital grounds--even if they can see them bleeding to death just 30 feet away. These aren't just speculations, a parade of hypothetical horror stories--they are actual trends and events that Howard describes and documents. The ability to weave dozens of anecdotes like these into his narrative is one of Howard's great strengths, and it allows him to make important points in entertaining ways.
Yet the book is much more than a collection of outrageous stories or a mere broadside against the legal system--though the legal system does come in for plenty of criticism. Instead, it's a meditation on the meaning of freedom, why freedom cannot exist outside of authority, and why individuals in positions of authority should have the ability to make decisions based on sound judgment. There is a temptation to secure liberty by restricting authority through the law, but this can be overdone, and it carries a high price: "Put law or any other formal construct in the middle of daily dealings, and people will start looking to the law instead of to one another." Then things get much worse: "The more our common institutions fail us, the more Americans want to limit their authority. Through a downward cycle of distrust, legal controls, [and] worse failure ... we drive Americans' governing institutions further into the bureaucratic maw." That is a terrible place to be, where no one is held accountable and antisocial behavior rules. And it has nothing at all to do with freedom. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
Howard offers a powerful though myopic look at our litigious society. When the common interest is undermined by the fear of being sued, as in America today, Howard claims, we have a social dysfunction rooted in the embrace of individual rights. Understanding justice as the right to champion individual interests and judicial fairness as neutrality between claimants provides no standard for what is good or even reasonable: "Justice today is purposeless" and has become "a kind of sporting contest." Instead of protecting society, law has become a vehicle for the pursuit of individual entitlement, while judges shy away from making value judgments. What's missing, says Howard, is authority, a recognizable source of values and leadership that asserts a hierarchy of goods in place of the undifferentiated arena of individual rights. Far from threatening individual freedom and democracy, Howard argues, authority is indispensable if we want to overcome the "structural flaw" of individual rights, with its unintentional transfer of "power for common decisions to self-interested individuals." While this argument is sensible and persuasive as far as it goes, it suffers from an oddly truncated view of the world. It's as if society consists only of individuals and government, with interests limited to individuals and the public as a whole, without corporations, interest groups and other organizations anywhere in sight. With the exception of teacher's unions, Howard strips his analysis of much of the sources of power and interest in American society, leaving his otherwise thoughtful efforts seriously incomplete. (Apr.) Forecast: Howard's last book, The Death of Common Sense, earned him a reputation as a cultural pundit, so his 10-city tour should garner him media attention if not respectable sales.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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This book is well written. Definitely 4 stars. I like the title "The Collapse of the Common Good" more than "The Lost Art of Drawing the Line". Both are the same books.
Howard traces the roots of our current legal problems back to the late 19th Century when the political spoils system was replaced with an impartial legal and bureaucratic approach. By replacing politics with a system of rules it was hoped that governmental dealings would be fairer. As anyone who has ever had to deal, or much worse work, with the stifling bureaucracy that grew out of this movement knows it is clear that somewhere along the way fairness went too far.
Howard uncovers the paradox of how our quest for individual rights has actually resulted in a diminution of our freedom. True, we can still do what ever we want by ourselves but we must walk on eggshells when dealing in groups, afraid to offend lest someone take us to court. Howard bravely goes one step further and examines the detrimental effects that the law has had on race relations. He notes that the ticking bomb of the race card has created a minefield of fear and bitterness in the modern workplace.
Whether intentional or not, The Lost Art of Drawing the Line serves as an excellent companion book to Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone. By getting to the core of why coming together to work for the common good has become such a risky proposition The Lost Art of Drawing the Line answers the question of why one would choose to bowl alone.
The book is not all doom and gloom. We still have a government of the people. And, as Howard proposes, if as a nation we are able to gather the national will to fix our system, no government can get in our way.
Read this book. And then recommend it to your friends.