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


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