Friday, April 24, 2009

Mark Levin's Conservative Manifesto

Readers might be surprised, with my schedule and commitments, that I find the time to get a lot of reading done. I should be reading more, actually, but I have been able to sock away a few choice titles this last few months. I'll put up a little bibliography on the books I've read this year at some point, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

For now I just wanted to say a few things about Mark Levin's,
Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. I picked up a copy at the bookstore sometime after April 1st. I read it pretty quickly, but one thing led to another (especially the Tea Parties), and I put off reviewing until right now.

The book's currenty #2 on Amazon's best-seller list, so demand for conservative ideas is clearly robust. Recall we saw huge crowds of excited conservatives waiting hours in line to get a signed copy of the book last month. I too was excited about getting my hands on one of them. As so many others, I'm hoping and yearning for some direction and optimism that can lead conservatives - and perhaps the GOP - back to power sooner rather than later. While Barack Obama's election is generally
not considered a relaligning one, we're certainly in a period of "public purpose" rather than "private interest" (to borrow from Arthur Schlesinger, Jr's., typology), with long-term implications for American government and political culture.

At base, Levin's thesis is a call to constitutional principles. He advocates not just a return to conservative principles in the mold of Barry Goldwater's, Conscience of a Conservative, but also stresses a privileged emphasis on restoring the animating vision of liberty and individualism of the nation's founding. I was especially pleased with the book's strong reminder of God as the natural rights foundation of our political regime. Jefferson and the later delegates at Philadelphia in 1776 were diverse in religious denominations, but all had a distinct grounding in a universal power of goodness in the cosmos from which mankind was endowed with inalienable rights. Levin's discussion of this Natural Law tradition is powerful reading.

Surprisingly, I found errors in some of Levin's coverage of the key issues at the founding, or at least his interpretation seemed unorthodox from the perspective of a professor of political science. For example, speaking of the compromises of federalism and slavery in the Constitution, Levin writes:

The oppression of African-Americans was never compatible with the civil society, although some northern state delegates recognized this fact and sought to abolish slavery at the Constitutional Convention. The southern states would not unite behind such as constitution. It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that certain compromises were reached with the Southern state delegates respecting slavery. The constitution they adopted empowered Congress to prohibit the importation of slaves to the United States in twenty years' time, which it did. It reduced the influence the southern states would have in the House of Representatives by counting slaves as three-fifths persons for the purpose of apportioning seats. Unfortunately, the southern states did succeed in inserting language requiring the return of slaves who escaped to other states. However, the Constitution did not, as some contend, compel the practice of slavery.
This passage is a bit strained. The compromises of 1787 legitimized slavey, if not compelled it. And rather than "reduce the influence" of the southern states, the "Three-Fifths Compromise" likely empowered the southern states to a greater degree than would have been true had slaves not counted for purposes of representation in Congress (the southern states held 45 percent of the seats in the House of Represenatives with slavery, and 35 percent without). And because each state's Electoral College vote is equal to that state's legislative apportionment, southern states would have more influence in the selection of the president than had slaves not been counted at all.

But issues like this are hardly damaging to the power of Levin's vision for a restoration of first principles of American constitutionalism. A look at
the book's table of contents reveals a straightforward amalgamation of theory and practice. Levin examines federalism and economic liberty, the welfare-state and "enviro-Statism" (where Levin discussion the leftist agenda with the fervor of free-market economist), and immigration and national defense. The book's conclusion lays out a "conservative manifesto" which provides a simple road map and agenda for the restoration of an individual-maximizing polity of constitutional liberty.

As one who stresses strong national defense, I came to Levin's discussion of America's role in the world with a little trepidation. Because so much of the book's discussion would warm the hearts of libertarian-oriented conservatives, I had almost expected a "come home America" approach to American foreign policy under the Levin manifesto. But I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised with the discussion (I felt almost a transcendental affinity for the author). On Iraq, for example, which has been the focus of endless debates in American politics, between parties and within them, Levin comes down squarely in the "necessary war" camp. America should fight only when vital national security interests are at stake. Yet, as Levin clearly demonstrates, the national interest was deeply implicated in the Iraqi regime's violations of interational law and in the expansionist intentions of the leadership of the state.

Reviewing the debate on the right on the justification for the war (and especially the establishment critiques of William Buckly and George Will), Levin writes:

If the war in Iraq is understood as an effort to defeat a hostile regime that threatened both America's allies and interests in the region, the war and the subsequent attempts at democratic governance in that country can be justified as consistent with founding and conservative principles. Indeed, since the Will-Buckley exchange, when victory in Iraq appeared elusive to some, changes in military and political strategies dramatically improved the situation. Of course, Iraq is not necessarily a model for future engagements but nor can it easily be dismissed as unreasonable and imprudent. Saddam's Iraq had a history of aggressive behavior against America's ally Kuwait (and threatened Saudi Arabia) and had actively pursued nuclear weapons (such as Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, destroyed by Israel in 1981). The United States and its allies no longer face the prospect of a nuclear Iraq under the control of a megalomaniac. For now, at least, it is one less destabilizing threat to American interests.
This brief passage is so simple and clear. Just reading it is like a breath of fresh air after years of recriminations over every possible angle of political conflict related to war, peace, and domestic civil liberties.

In articulating a realistic case for the exercise of military force, Levin echoes not only Barry Goldwater's discussion of a robust Cold War foreign policy as the sine qua non for the preservation if liberty at home, he's also in sinc with more neoconservative-oriented analysts who place a priority on national defense and forward strategic doctrines of hard power (see, especially, Peter Berkowitz, "
Constitutional Conservatism).

The flip side of Levin's realistic embrace of America's forward world role is that "libertarian" conservatives in
the mold of Patrick Buchanan or Ron Paul will find little to agree with on foreign policy. Indeed, Levin's likely to be attacked mercilessly by these folks as a "faux" conservative and an imperialist warmonger.

Leven finds no fault with me, however, other than the small quibbles I mentioned above. On questions of faith and culture, liberty and markets, and the security of our borders and our national interests abroad, Tyranny and Liberty is a commanding achievement. I hope it's widely read as the conservative/small government movement consolidates the wave of Tea Party demonstrations that have swept the country in recent weeks.


Greywolfe said...

I've purchased the book and the audio version so that I can listen to it while at work. You get a feel for it in a visceral way when you here it read. Especially when, like the introduction, it's read by the writer. I just wish he'd read the whole book.

Mark Levin is a passionate conservative and a very talented writer. The one or two historical questions found ( and I wonder if it's a matter of point of view. Cause versus effect?) Take nothing from the conclusions or bases that make up the foundations for True Conservatism.

Long story short, I completely agree with you. I guess I could have said that and made this a lot shorter.

Old Rebel said...

Problem is, we cannot preserve what's left of liberty in this country with an aggressive, interventionist, centralized government.

DC's meddling around the world is directly responsible for the unsustainable debt that our great-great grandchildren will still be burdened with. And that intervention has only made matters worse -- not only is the war in Afghanistan hopeless, the chaos DC's stirred up there has spilled over into Pakistan. Who knows where that will lead.

9/11 was just a taste of the blowback from enraged victims of DC's violent meddling in other's affairs. The next round of domestic terrorism is guaranteed by DC's "invade the world/invite the world" agenda, which will be followed by more government spying on civilians and assaults on our traditional rights. And now "conservatives" are supposed to support torture of suspects? Where does that end? How long until torture becomes routine procedure?

Sheer insanity. I've had enough, and so have most other Americans.

William John Perry said...

Just got the book. Can't wait to read it. I am a big fan of Levin. Thanks for the review.


Unknown said...

For what its worth I consider myself a conservative with strong libertarian leanings, not necessarily of the Paul or Buchanan cut though, and a robust foreign policy is just fine with me.

PS I highly suggest reading Amity Shlaes' newest, "The Forgotten Man." This one of the best chronological pieces on the Great Depression I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

The left's assault on free speech is just beginning. "Hate speech", talk radio, censoring the internet... The left does not believe in liberty. We need to speak out every day while we can!

Anonymous said...

A slight quibble with your first quibble:

"And rather than "reduce the influence" of the southern states, the "Three-Fifths Compromise" likely empowered the southern states to a greater degree than would have been true had slaves not counted for purposes of representation in Congress "

This is true, but if I recall correctly, thhe southern states originally wanted slaves counted as 1/1 for representation, while the northern states didn't want them counted at all. So the 3/5 compromise did reduce the southern power from what the south originally wanted.

Law and Order Teacher said...

I agree with your 3/5 assessment. It is no accident that 4 out of the first 5 presidents were from the powerful, slave-holding state of VA. I really like his proposal to do away with the progressive tax in favor of a flat or sale tax (Fair Tax). I'm still burning over my tax bill.

Gayle said...

If people are "burning over this year's tax bill", I hope they won't blow up over next years'! It will be worse than ever. :(

Donald, I have the book and haven't had a chance to read it yet. I'm hoping to be able to read it when we finish with the gardens and potted plants. Thanks for the terrific review on it. I would purchase the audio too but I don't enjoy being read to. I don't retain as much as when I actually read something.

Tim said...

...and when y'all get round to reading said book, make sure you thank that liberal teacher who taught you how to read in the first place. (as the bumper sticker so rightly told me.)

Law and Order Teacher said...

I went to Catholic schools in the 50s and 60s. Not a lot of liberal thought there. Wow, that was a stretch. Bumper sticker. Drag yourself back to your land of self delusion. People really agree with you. No, really.

Anonymous said...

Clear, concise, readable book. Agree with everything you wrote.

I read somewhere, though, that the way to deal with the problem is start on local levels...take everyone you can to a city council meeting...and protest spending on smaller levels...and then keep going to tea party protests, grow those too.

I don't know how much good it will do. But we have to try. And, politicians respond to such things, sometimes...if they see the writing-on-the-wall, i.e. they won't get re-elected..they will cave.

The problem is that the Dems are rushing to do everything quickly and make it a fait accompli....

I'm drifting here. Anyway, get anyone who is not sure what the entire brouhaha is about to read Levine's book. So many Americans really do NOT understand the dangers here...they've been brainwashed, and it's not just kids in school. Most of my friends and relatives don't understand how freedom can be lost in an instant

beaglescout said...

Tim, I taught myself to read at the age of 5. I didn't need a teacher, liberal or not, to teach me. Not that Mrs. Albaugh, or as I called her Mrs. Eyeball, was liberal. I only needed my parents nearby to pronounce a word that was spelled oddly, or tell me the meaning of a word I couldn't figure out from the context.

And that does not mean I'm exceptional. This is the way that everyone used to learn to read back in the days of the founders. Teachers may be helpful when learning to read Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but if you're learning to read a language you speak a teacher is excess baggage.

It took teachers following Deweyian educational malpractice theories to make reading difficult. Fire them all. That'd be a good start.

Steven Orrange Texas said...

Unfortunately Levin is read and listened to by the the most uneducated conservatives. Please read the following conservative books before giving Levin a dime.
1. Nothing for the Nation: Who Got What Out of Iraq: Hon. John N. Hostettler
2. Imperial Hubris by Michael Scheuer
3. Marching Towards Hell by Michael Scheuer
3. The Revolution: A Manifesto by Ron Paul.
4. The Real Lincoln, Thomas DiLorenzo
5. Meltdown, Thomas Woods
6. A Nation of Sheep, Andrew P. Napolitano
7. The Road to Serfdom, Hayek, Fredrich
and there are so many other great conservative educational college level CONSERVATIVE works available. Levin is an entertainer, not an educator. Don't leave your continuing education in the hands of a radio talk show entertainer.

Greywolfe said...

Actually Mark Levin is more than just an entertainer. He is a Conservative political Activist of the first order. He founded the Landmark Legal Foundation, and has been instrumental in keeping the government's feet to the flames. There are Conservative thinkers and then there are Conservative doers.

Mark is definately the latter.