Brief Reviews, VOLUME 2

Brief Review: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING HONEST. by S. Lubet. [Vol. 2, #28]

A Brief Review of
The Importance of Being Honest:
How Lying, Secrecy, and Hypocrisy Collide with Truth in Law
By Steven Lubet

Hardcover: NYU Press, 2008.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Mark Eckel.

“Who says?”  This is the first note on the first page scrawled in my copy of Steven Lubet’s The Importance of Being Honest.  The most important question in life is “Why?”  Indeed, that is the question plaguing the reader as soon as the book is begun.  Page two opens the door for honesty’s definition: “truthfulness, candor, integrity, or something less ineffable.”  But again one must ask “Who says?”  What is “basic honesty?” (2)

Of course, if the definition is left up to a group or individual then interpretation is left to whomever holds the pen.  In this case, Lubet actually acknowledges his liberal tendencies (138) as it relates to politics (“their less altruistic supporters in the Republican Party,” 234), economics (“free market fundamentalism,” 138), medical ethics (where patients have rights but no responsibilities, 224-28), and the law itself (144).  While I’m personally pleased that someone actually acknowledges their assumptions (albeit, in the middle of the book) in a book on honesty, earlier is better.  For the casual observer, it is important to note left-leaning tendencies.  After a while it is more than obvious that it is conservative persons who are seen as negative.

Exposing left or right is not the issue: “like all human beings [they] are just plain bad at evaluating their own motives or objectivity.” (133)  Lubet rightly exposes “human factors such as pride” (179) to show the shortsightedness of academic theory.  “Perception of bias” before the public is important.  “Partisan mud-slinging” hurts everyone (144).  The goddess of justice “wears a blindfold for a reason” (154).  “Civility” is based on internal character development (158).  And the wrongful use of power is always wrong (176).

I could not agree more with Lubet’s general tenor, nor his judicial skewering of anyone less than forthright.  Indeed, his writing wit leaves one laughing out loud as they read!  But we are left with the universal problems identified above.  There need be a transcendent standard for honesty.  A human-based foundation is ever shifting desert sand.  The “common sense perspective” (213) obvious to most seems anchored outside human control.  I had a conversation recently with a native of Sierra Leone who now teaches at a Midwest liberal arts college.  He suggested his academic colleagues have “lost all common sense” when they separate truths from true Truth.  The Lawgiver Himself sets the standard, enacts justice, and passes judgment.  Perhaps He is “Who says.”


Mark Eckel is director of the Mahseh Center.

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