Mythologies of State and Monopoly Power

REVIEWS, 19 Nov 2018

Michael E. Tigar | Monthly Review – TRANSCEND Media Service

Mythologies of State and Monopoly Power, by Michael Tigar, Nov 2018, 168 pp.

“Mythologies,” writes veteran human rights lawyer Michael Tigar, “are structures of words and images that portray people, institutions, and events in ways that mask an underlying reality.” For instance, the “Justice Department” appears, by its very nature and practice, to appropriate “justice” as the exclusive property of the federal government. In his brilliantly acerbic collection of essays, Tigar reveals, deconstructs, and eviscerates mythologies surrounding the U.S. criminal justice system, racism, free expression, workers’ rights, and international human rights.

Lawyers confront mythologies in the context of their profession. But the struggle for human liberation makes mythology-busting the business of all of us. The rights we have learned to demand are not only trivialized in our current system of social relations; they are, in fact, antithetical to that system. With wit and eloquence, Michael Tigar draws on legal cases, philosophy, literature, and fifty-years’ experience as an attorney, activist, and teacher to bust the mythologies and to argue for real change.

Beautifully written, learned, and profoundly insightful. In a better world, Michael Tigar would be a justice on the United States Supreme Court.

—Michael Steven Smith, Co-host, Law And Disorder Radio; formerly, board member for The Center for Constitutional Rights

From a famed criminal defense lawyer and prolific author, this collection of elegant, brilliant, and timely essays is a breath of fresh air, busting open the mythologies of the state power that work to overwhelm us. Despite the barriers that limit change in the system, which these essays so lucidly reveal, Michael Tigar provides analytical tools that inspire and empower.

—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment

With a keen, roving, literate eye, attention to historical detail and caselaw, and a sharp wit, Michael Tigar identifies the vulnerabilities in and cuts the heart out of the destructive mythologies he addresses. These essays are particularly timely because the forces of greed, ignorance, and bigotry are now so firmly in power.

—Jerry Cohen, General Counsel, United Farm Workers

In this brilliant collection of essays, Michael Tigar lays bare mythologies about the most important issues of our time—racism, criminal justice, free speech, worker rights, and international human rights. Beautifully written with Tigar’s characteristic wit, passion, and deep knowledge of jurisprudence and literature, Mythologies of State and Monopoly Power explores important issues through the lens of his extraordinary personal and professional experience, and through his analysis of some of the most important cases decided by the nation’s courts. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in law, history, and the pursuit of justice.

—Angela J. Davis, Professor, American University Washington College of Law; author, Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor and Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution and Imprisonment

Mythologies is an incisive, unsparing, creative and brilliant critique of capitalist law and its dire human consequences. This book tears the cover off what power says about justice, and shows us what power does. Michael Tigar has written a must-read for prisoners, law students, activists, artists, lawyers, and anyone concerned with where we are and how to fight back. You’ll never forget his fictional debate between Lucy Parsons and Clarence Darrow.

—Bernardine Dohrn, clinical law professor, Northwestern University School of Law; author; co-editor with Bill Ayers, Race Course: Against White Supremacy and Sing a Battle Song: The Revolutionary Poetry, Statements, and Communiques of the Weather Underground 1970-1974

Like Clarence Darrow, Michael Tigar is a “defender of the damned.” Ignore what he says, and we are all damned by a justice system that he shows to be anything but just.

—Charles Glass, author, They Fought Alone: The True Story of the Starr Brothers, British Secret Agents in Nazi-Occupied France; former ABC News Middle East Correspondent

For anyone concerned with the rule of law, or more generally with the real significance of freedom and justice, this highly informed and carefully argued study should be essential reading.

—Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor (emeritus), MIT; Laureate Professor (University of Arizona); writer and activist


Michael Tigar has worked for over fifty years with movements for social change as a human rights lawyer, law professor, and writer. He has taught at law schools in the United States, France, South Africa, and Japan, and is Emeritus Professor at Duke Law School and American University Washington College of Law. He has authored or co-authored fourteen books, three plays, and scores of articles and essays. His book, Law and the Rise of Capitalism, first published by Monthly Review Press, has been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish, and Chinese.

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