ISBN is

978-0-375-50422-8 / 9780375504228

The Lost Art of Drawing the Line: How Fairness Went Too Far

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Publisher:Random House

Edition:Hardcover

Language:English

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About the book:

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

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