Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Art of Political Lying

In 1712, John Arbuthnot, chiefly known as a satirist, considered second only to Jonathan Swift, was also the Queen Anne's doctor and a Fellow of the Royal Society, proposed the publication of a book with two volumes, titled, The Art of Political Lying. Sadly, the book never appeared although it would be more relevant than ever today. Arbuthnot praised, "the noble and useful art of political lying, which in this last age having been enriched with several new discoveries" (p. 8) Obviously, he did not have the Internet in mind, but perhaps something similar had recently happened in England.

The loosening of government restrictions opened the country up to a flood of pamphlets. A recent critic noted that "greater freedom to print is more deviously related to the prevalence of accusations of lying" (Condren 1997, p. 125). Arbuthnot, himself, pointed to the role of "the great fondness of the malicious and miraculous: the tendency of the soul towards the malicious, springs from self-love, or a pleasure to find mankind more wicked, base, or unfortunate than ourselves."

Arbuthnot also promised to explore whether political lying should be the exclusive right of the government.

Not being erudite enough to follow through with Dr. Arbuthnot's project, I appeal to you to complete his work.

Arbuthnot, John. 1712. Proposals for Printing a Very Curious Discourse, In Two Volumes in Quarto, Intitled, Psuedologia Politike, or, A Treatise of the Art of Political Lying: With an Abstract of the First Volume of the Said Treatise (London: Printed for John Morphew, near Stationers-Hall).

Also see the proposal at


Anonymous said...

We should start with Packard's "Hidden Purse Waders" - the basic text for all the political minders and branding merchants that wrap political communications. Then move to the essence of the lies... then to the truths left out.

Shag from Brookline said...

Perhaps a history of public relations starting with Edward Bernays, its "father," would be a good start, although political lying started well before this saucy fellow. But two volumes would not be sufficient. The fourth estate has the benefit of the First Amendment which limits government regulation and self-regulation does not work, what with the cash-cow of a Fox News.

Sandwichman said...

Why not start with Smith and Walmsley, who opened the first "publicity bureau" in Washington, D.C. around 1901?

Jack said...

"The World As We Know It to Be," Rove, Karl and Cheney, Richard. This recent text seeks to review the recent past presidency of George W. Bush, in which both authors played key roles. The reader will be pleased to note that no effort is made by the authors to clutter this historical review with foot noted references.
They relu=y upon their vast store of detailed information about the activities and the underlying planning of the key players in world shaking events of the past decade.