Thursday, May 07, 2009

Book Review: Liberty and Tyranny

Guest post by MJB

Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto by Mark R. Levin presents the two forms of world polity—liberty and tyranny—and the views shared by those who believe in them. In the first chapter, Mark Levin divides people into two categories: he who supports liberty—the Conservative—and he who supports tyranny or the all-powerful, authoritarian state—the Statist. The author asserts that these two groups, although claiming to share the same goal, diametrically oppose each other and thus are incompatible. As summed up by the following quote of President Abraham Lincoln found on the back cover of the book:
We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names—liberty and tyranny.

Liberty and Tyranny does not bull-headedly focus on a certain facet of conservative thinking such as paleoconservatism, conserving the culture, or social conservatism, or focusing on faith and values. Rather, the author looks at all areas of political controversy through a conservative’s eyes. Indeed, he states that conservatism isn’t meant to be cherry-picked to suit one’s political motives. One believes in either individual liberty or communal slavery. All aspects of politics lead to one of these situations.
Mark Levin repeatedly writes of the different methods the Statist uses to reach his goal of an omnipotent state. The crisis method has proved most popular. Utilizing this method, the Statist must create a sense of urgency, danger, and a need to act immediately so as to remediate the supposed poor judgment of a previous political leader or from the supposed lack of compassion, responsibility, and sacrifice on the part of the people. Examples of such artificial crises becoming tools of the Statist include “The War on Poverty,” “The War for Children,” and “The Fight against Global Warming.”

What solution does the Statist always propose? Change. Change wipes out everything that was before and replaces it with something new, fresh, and good. Or so people believe. Edmund Burke, the English Parliamentarian and thinker, explains elegantly the fallacy of such thought:
There is a manifest, marked distinction, which ill men with ill designs, or weak men incapable of any design, will constantly be confounding,—that is, a marked distinction between change and reformation. The former alters the substance of the objects themselves, and gets rid of all their essential good as well as of all the accidental evil annexed to them. Change is novelty; and whether it is to operate any one of the effects of reformation at all, or whether it may not contradict the very principle upon which reformation is desired, cannot be known beforehand. Reform is not change in the substance or in the primary modification of the object, but a direct application of a remedy to the grievance complained of. So far as that is removed, all is sure. It stops there; and if it fails, the substance which underwent the operation, at the very worst, is but where it was.
Many of the American electorate today express surprise at President Barack Obama’s Statist view of economics, social issues, and foreign policy. But one has only to look at his campaign speeches in which he constantly emphasized that he was “fundamentally opposed” to the ways and institutions of the United States government. His campaign slogan: "Change!"

So how does the Conservative battle against the schemes of the Statist? For one, the Conservative must act as an educator to those who follow the Statist. For example, many Americans today believe that universal health care should be a right. They ask, “How can we rest when 47 million people lack health insurance? How can we be so heartless and uncaring?” In this instance, the Conservative could respond, as Mark R. Levin does, with the following information from the U.S. Census Bureau report in 2006: 9.5 million people of the purported 47 million uninsured were not U.S. citizens but can be treated anyway, if they so desire to be treated, under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. Seventeen million of the uninsured lived in households having incomes of more than $50,000. Eighteen million were between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four, viewing themselves healthy enough to survive without paying for health insurance. Fifty percent of the 47 million regained their health insurance in four months. In the end and no matter the argument, the Conservative must present facts to educate those who have been chicaned by the Statist.

Another way the Conservative can battle the schemes of the Statist is by the usage of reasoning to combat the attractiveness of Statism in its various do-good manifestations. The Statist promotes solutions for all the problems that face us, or so he says. But how does the Statist reach his goals, which today includes emotionally charged issues such as fighting, fighting global warming, and fighting poverty? How can we fight the collapse of the auto industry? As his name indicates, the Statist believes in totalitarian government as the panacea to the ills of society. But the Statist does not believe in nor act for the benefit for the individuals who build the society. Rather, the Statist believes that government should act as the clean-up crew which alone knows how to give meaning to the lives of people, and afterwards the Statist will invariably control and dictate the people's lives and actions. British writer C. S. Lewis noted the following on the subject of the government acting for the good of the people:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their conscience.

What lies before today's Conservative? Even though the United States is inching slowly towards Statism, the belief in authoritarianism proves more popular than ever in American history. What can the Conservative do? He can educate. He can reason. He can warn those who are tempted by the siren’s call of Statism of the consequences of bequeathing power to a cold oligarchy. He can explicate the many pervasive historical examples of the horrors of such governmental systems.

Above all, the Conservative must show ideological determination in this battle and recognize that our nation wasn’t founded on tyrannical ideology, no matter how seductive that ideology is under certain circumstances. Over the last century, the Statist has manipulated the American people into a centralized-government way of thinking. The Conservative must remember the deceptive determination of his opposition if he desires to reclaim his country.

Over two decades ago, President Ronald Reagan recognized the fragility of our way of life:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
Those words call out to us today. The Conservative must choose to act if the Statist is not to claim tyrannical victory. By reading Liberty and Tyranny, the Conservative can fortify himself in this ongoing battle for freedom.

Note from AOW: MJB, the author of the above book review, is a student in my American Government class.

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posted by Always On Watch @ 5/07/2009 05:00:00 AM