Review of Andrew Napolitano, It is Dangerous to be Right When the Government is Wrong: The Case for Personal Freedom (Thomas Nelson, 2011), 320 pp. Hardcover: $24.99 ($16.49 on Amazon.com).
I am long overdue to comment on what I sincerely believe to be one of the best new libertarian works from 2011, Judge Andrew Napolitano’s It is Dangerous to be Right When the Government is Wrong. To a great extent, I am tempted just to stop here and tell everybody to buy the book and read it immediately, but such would make me a very poor reviewer overall. The heroic host of FreedomWatch deserves better than that.
The prime beauty of Napolitano’s work is encapsulated in the Introduction, titled “Where do Our Rights Come From?” Napolitano takes his legal background as a judge and explains the natural law and natural rights (which he says are separate but related concepts) in an incredibly powerful way. He places the natural law and our rights as human beings in contradistinction with the fake “laws” that governments impose. The “legal positivism” philosophy, which says that whatever the state says is law, is denounced as a falsehood. What is more, Christians will clearly see Napolitano’s Christian faith (with a Catholic background) through his discussions of the origins of the natural law.
Napolitano continues in the “chapters” of the book working out this understanding of the eternal law, natural law, and natural rights, approaching a variety of topics including economic freedom and property rights, free speech, freedom of association, self-defense, freedom to travel and immigration, sound money, and doing what you want with your own body. Dealing with these topics is not novel, but what makes Napolitano’s explanation special is the data presented in the book. Example after example is provided that illustrate the principles in enlightening ways, and all the examples are backed up in the notes with websites, books, articles, and various other source materials.
The “Ride on Dr. Feinberg’s Bus” chapter, for instance, was particularly interesting to read. Napolitano poses a hypothetical situation for us to consider, a ride on the bus that becomes annoying and disgusting to the point of absurdity, but that none of the actions, however annoying they may be, can be considered criminal. Without getting too detailed with the specifics, Napolitano then explains why there must be a moral limit upon what kind of actions can be made illegal (hint: only aggressive behavior). Besides colorful examples, the statistics in the book are a terrific resource for future use. Indeed, I have already referenced this book a number of times when writing articles and discussing particular topics (namely, guns and health care) with my non-libertarian friends.
Part of what excites me about the book is that it is clearly targeting people who are questioning the government, but don’t know where to start building their philosophy of government. He says, “If there is any message that I hope to communicate in this book, it is that all of us should be constantly questioning the validity of our officials’ commands… We must stop obeying the unjust laws with which the government enslaves.” Napolitano has gone back to the basics and covers the gamut of personal liberty boldly and convincingly. This is not a new thing to do, but this book is special because it does so in a more accessible way to outsiders than I generally have the pleasure of reading. I cannot imagine someone from the left or right putting down the book and rejecting the fundamental claims about law and rights without understanding that by doing so they spurn all the benefits of Western civilization itself.
I do not know if this will be a book looked upon in a century as a timeless classic. However, this is a book whose time has come. In a day when so many of us do not understand what the basis of law is, Napolitano has provided an accessible book that will remind some, educate all, enlighten our way, and encourage many to take a strong stand against the tyranny of statism.
Interested in learning more? Check out the book at Amazon.com. Remember that you support the work of LibertarianChristians.com every time you make a purchase at Amazon for 24 hours after clicking an LCC link!