Blogging Liberty and Tyranny, Chapter One, Part One

I'm blogging Mark Levin's Conservative Manifesto. Here's part one...

A few days ago, I realized that I have, in some way, shape or form, been actively blogging about politics for almost ten years, which is a rather staggering amount of time — almost a third of my life, actually, which is kind of scarier. And for the past few weeks, people I know in “real life” have discovered this. (I usually don’t talk about politics unless directly asked–politics is for the internet. Also, when it comes to controversy, I prefer to stick to more enjoyable subjects in person, like religion). Inevitably, when someone discovers I write about politics, and they are also into politics, I’m always asked what I think of Glenn Beck/Keith Olbermann/Ann Coulter/Joe Scarbrough/Michael Moore etc etc etc. To which I invariably reply that I don’t watch TV pundits. Nor do I listen to opinion talk radio shows apart from the Scottish Calvinist preacher who sermonizes on one of the Christian stations. He’s awesome in his pure Calvinism.

Since this information is often greeted with shock, followed by exhortations to watch a favorite pundit or read one of their books.

Having given this some thought, it occurs to me that I might be missing something from the tenor of American politics, since I pretty much only interact with it through blogs, magazine pieces and straight news reporting. So I decided to embark on a project to pay more attention to the pundits. And blog about it. This is probably bad for my sanity, but losing my mind and blogging about it is probably good for pageviews so James will be happy.

I realized right away that there’s no way that I will be able to interact with pundits through the prism of radio or TV. Both formats are just TOO SLOW and not nearly as information dense as reading. So reading books it is.

So over the next few months or years, I’ll be reading books written by radio/TV pundits and blogging them. First up is Mark Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, which I selected based on the fact that it was on an endcap at my local library. Mark Levin is a former lawyer and now a talk radio host of a show I’ve never listened to. I have also never read any of his op-eds, although it appears he’s written a few here and there. He also got into some sort of internet tussle with Conor Friedersdorf a while back. I’m a fan of Conor’s, but I’ll try not to let that bias me to much. Liberty and Tyranny is, as it turns out, a pretty good book to start this project with, both because of its bold decision to feature a burning flag on the cover as well as the fact that it was a New York Times best seller.

Okay, that’s quite enough introduction for now. Let’s take a look at the book.

* * *

Chapter 1 – On Liberty and Tyranny

Levin starts out by noting that there’s no way to define conservatism, so even though his book is subtitled “A Conservative Manifesto”, what’s really being presented are Levin’s own views about what it is to be a conservative. This takes up the first two paragraphs, and is quite possibly one of the most boring ways to start out a non-fiction book I have ever read. But let’s press on.

The next few paragraphs are an attempt by Levin to equate conservative ideas with the ideas of the Founding Fathers (and Edmund Burke), particularly that both groups of folks are influenced by Adam Smith, Charles Montesquieu, and John Locke. Which is pretty much what you’ll find in an 8th Grade history textbook. And, like an 8th Grade History textbook, it completely misses any nuance, sophistication, or support for its assertions.

Here’s the thing. Lately I have been having issues with the term “Founders” or “Founding Fathers” because it’s pretty nebulous and undefined. There’s Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who signed the Declaration of Independence but had no involvement in the Constitution. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison did a lot of the heavy lifting in drafting the Constitution but neither signed the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense and worked for the Continental Congress but pretty soon became a persona non grata thanks to his religious views. Patrick Henry gave the famous “Liberty or Death” speech but was also one of the most articulate voices against adopting the Constitution. Which of these are “Founders”? All of them? None?

Even if we accept all of these men as “Founding Fathers” (which I think most would), to say that they disagreed on fundamental political principles is the height of understatement. And an attempt to put together the varying strains of conservative thought under the same “Founders” rubric is overly simplistic and misguided.

Levin then goes on to explicate his Conservative political philosophy through the lens of traditional social contract theory, where “the individual is recognized and accepted as more than an abstract statistic…[and] is free to discover his own potential and pursue his own legitimate interests, tempered, however, by a moral order that has its foundation in faith and guides his life and all human life through the prudent exercise of judgment.” (The italics are in the original. If there’s one thing I’ve gotten out of the first few pages of this book, it’s that Mark Levin loves italics.)

Levin goes on to express the rather strange notion that people have a “duty to respect the unalienable rights of others” — so far so good, and I’m with him there — “and the values, customs, and traditions, tried and tested over time and passed from one generation to the next, that establish society’s cultural identity.” And there he loses me. There are, after all, lots of “values, customs, and traditions” that are in conflict with respecting the rights of others. Moreover, in a diverse society such as here in the United States, there are lots of different “values, customs and traditions” — not all of them compatible. So what should the individual do? Levin doesn’t answer that question in this chapter (or even address it, for that matter). I’m interested to see if he picks it up later, but given the four pages of long, banal platitudes that have constituted this book so far, I’m not going to bet on it.

The next paragraph leads me to believe that Mark Levin has lived his entire life in his basement, shut away from the world, with no concept of history, economics, or how the world works. This is a brief discussion of the “right to acquire and possess property”, which he defines as representing “the fruits of [one’s] own intellectual and/or physical labor”, the “illegitimate denial” of which is akin to slavery. This, obviously, begs several questions, and I’m flabbergasted by the naive, simplistic, elegantly self-contradictory description of property in this paragraph. So rather than spend too much time trying to unpack it, I’m going to cross my fingers and hope he comes up with a more rational basis for property later. If not, I may come back to this in a later post. Property is way more complicated than this.

At any rate, that’s enough for now. Stay tuned for our next exciting blog installment, in which we learn what Levin’s Manifesto is manifesting against.

FILED UNDER: Books, Entertainment, Political Theory, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. Brett says:

    Having given this some thought, it occurs to me that I might be missing something from the tenor of American politics

    You’re mostly just missing irrelevant noise and blathering. The trivial, gossipy stuff that the pundits usually talk about doesn’t really influence elections (at least from what the political scientists have said), and even most of their serious commentary is simplistic by necessity.

  2. tom p says:

    Alex, thank you. no time to read the full post now. tomorrow, maybe. if not???? well it may pass into the dust bowl of history. I f so, I am one small mote in God’s eye…

    You go.

  3. Michael says:

    This is probably bad for my sanity, but losing my mind and blogging about it is probably good for pageviews so James will be happy.

    You could just write negative articles about Palin, that’s an easy way to boost the page views, and you don’t even really have to put any effort into it.

  4. steve says:

    I am with you on the radio and TV stuff. How can people stand dealing with such slow media? How can they tolerate sound bites? So much better to read and be able to immediately check on what someone has written for confirmation. BTW, good luck on this project. Seems a bit masochistic.


  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***The next paragraph leads me to believe that Mark Levin has lived his entire life in his basement, shut away from the world, with no concept of history, economics, or how the world works.***lol it’s a concrete bunker. Mark says he is willing to debate any or all of these subjects with you and he has a special line for you to call into. 🙂

  6. Andy says:

    I have actually heard Levin’s radio program. I wish I hadn’t. It’s bad, really bad, dumb demagoguery. I’ll bet five bucks, Alex, that you don’t – that you can’t – finish this book.

  7. floyd says:

    Most people actually read a book before reviewing it, your piecemeal approach is novel to say the least!
    Mark Levin has a rare and brilliant intellect, Keep an open mind as you read, and you will learn a few things.
    Of course if all you plan to do is find fault, you will succeed… and learn nothing.

  8. james says:

    Seems this point of view,

    is like rowing from the left side.


  9. anjin-san says:

    > Mark Levin has a rare and brilliant intellect

    Yea, well, you think Sarah Palin is groovy too. I submit that you do not have a clue what a “rare and brilliant” intellect is.

    At any rates, the brief excerpts Alex shared sounded like shallow right wing boilerplate that would be disappointing if a third year college student wrote it.

  10. Gerry W. says:

    ***Mark Levin has a rare and brilliant intellect***

    They are all robots on the right…………..Tax cuts, the constitution, and God and country. Each book is the same.

  11. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***Mark Levin is a former lawyer and now a talk radio host of a show I’ve never listened to.***


    ****Mark R. Levin grew up in Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Levin graduated from Cheltenham High School and holds a B.A. from Temple University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude. Levin also earned a Juris Doctor from Temple University Beasley School of Law.

    Beginning in 1981, Levin served as advisor to several members of President Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet, eventually becoming Associate Director of Presidential Personnel and ultimately Chief of Staff to Attorney General Edwin Meese; Levin also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education, and Deputy Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

    He has practiced law in the private sector, and is president of Landmark Legal Foundation, a conservative public interest law firm founded in 1976 and based in Leesburg, Virginia.****

    H/T wikipedia

    He is a great teacher, funny as hell, far of more an expert on U.S. history then anyone I have read here. and loves dogs:)

  12. floyd says:

    Kneejerk; aka anjin-san; aka blackthorne;
    Yea, well I’ve read your stuff for a long time, so I guess most anyone else would seem to have a rare and brilliant intellect, Maybe my standards are too low.

  13. Derrick says:

    Elitist and a lawyer to boot. Give me Joe the Plumber over this Mr. Smarty Pants any day.

  14. anjin-san says:

    Well Floyd, I’ve been published in two magazines in the last 4 months, and I am a published poet and photographer. Safe to say you have never seen a serious effort from me. Perhaps I will do some actual writing on politics some day and see if James has any interest in posting it. For me this is mostly a forum for quips and popping off.

    Tell me Floyd, have you ever had anything published?

  15. anjin-san says:

    > Chief of Staff to Attorney General Edwin Meese

    Yes Meese. One of the worst Attorney Generals in history.

  16. floyd says:

    “Safe to say you have never seen a serious effort from me.”

    True that!

  17. anjin-san says:

    So Floyd, tell us about something serious that you have written. Surely you do not claim that what you write on OTB has much weight…

  18. floyd says:

    There once was a boy from Japan
    ‘thought a pseudonym made him a man
    though he tried and he vied
    even plied and denied…
    his real name was not Anjin-San

  19. anjin-san says:

    Not too bad. Of course you are not the first to try the pitch that I am living some kind of fantasy out through the use of “Anjin-San” (MENSA founder Jay Tea beat you too it). . Where in reality, it is just the name of a character in a book I liked. Tell me Floyd, what was the defining moment for Blackthorn in Shogun? Let’s put your literacy to the test.

    The meme that I am living some kind of fantasy life is pretty funny, my actual life has a reasonable amount of glamor, if you put stock in such things. But hey, I get paid pretty well to associate with a lot of interesting people, and that does not suck.

  20. G.A.Phillips says:

    I do think it’s an interesting idea, for a series of posts Alex.

  21. G.A.Phillips says:

    I think anjin-san is a cool handle, I also thought it was cool when I thought it was your real name.

  22. anjin-san says:

    There once was a righty named Floyd,
    Who’s political life was a void,
    With no reason or rhyme,
    ‘Cept for Sarah Devine,
    The resigning
    And the whining
    Fox News drone…

  23. anjin-san says:

    Hannity, oh Hannity.
    He of the perfect hair,
    And the lost humanity.
    Though his soul he has sold,
    Hear the stories he told,
    Of the right wing insipid insanity.

  24. anjin-san says:

    > even plied and denied…
    his real name was not Anjin-San

    should be

    his true name, it was not Anjin-San

    just flows better…

  25. Herb says:

    I bet you picked this book up cheeeeeeeeeap.

  26. anjin-san says:

    Oh what can we say
    Of the man they call Boehner?
    With the bright orange face
    And the so doubtful honor…
    Yes his hammer is big
    Yet his uncertain Id
    Renders all that he says
    Quite the yawner.

  27. anjin-san says:

    Come on now Floyd, we can’t have a cutting contest if you won’t do re me…

  28. Michael says:

    I always heard it pronounced “Bay-ner”.

  29. anjin-san says:

    > I always heard it pronounced “Bay-ner”.

    I am probably not watching enough cable news 🙂

  30. michael reynolds says:


    Wow. Better you than me having to read through this dreck. A worthy effort, but I feel almost guilty encouraging you. It smacks of urging the young Doughboy up over the top of the trench. You may suffer serious brain damage.

  31. floyd says:

    My excuse may seem pretty thin
    For published I haven’t been
    It must be admitted
    I have not submitted
    My work, much to my chagrin.

    For years i’ve been spending my time
    Trading labor for dollar and dime
    still I was a winner
    it earned me my dinner
    though barding is far more sublime

  32. Michael says:

    I can’t help but be amused by the use of limericks to prove literary prowess.

  33. floyd says:

    True that, once again we agree. It proves very little. I for one am glad you found it amusing. It was my aim to lampoon “literary prowess” (if there is such a thing).
    Perhaps some didn’t like it and there was some “Ogden Nashing” of teeth [hehe]

  34. anjin-san says:

    Not too bad Floyd, you should do some writing.

    > Prior to this lifetime… I surely was a tailor. Look at me.

  35. anjin-san says:

    As Boz Scaggs once said, one more for the road…

    Sarah, oh Sarah
    When will you come home?
    Wasilla is lonely,
    And I suspect so is Nome.

    Yes you’ve traveled so far
    Seeking fortune
    Seeking fame

    And a leader you are
    Not in fact
    But in name

    Oh the tundra is empty
    Borealis burns blue
    Are they good dreams or bad
    The far north dreams of you?

    Are we raising the discourse yet??

  36. KevinNYc says:

    If you haven’t heard Levin, he sounds like a little man with a big microphone. His voice drips with resentment and contempt. More so than anyone on the radio, he reminds of what Goebbels would sound like if he spoke English. (Yes, I know Levin is Jewish.) Unlike a Beck or Limbaugh, he has no wit at all. His insults are what you would hear dim-witted third-graders say. The sophisticated third-graders would roll their eyes at his best material.

    My favorite part of his shtick is the pure jealousy he has for conservative voices who are more successful than he is, particularly O’Reilly and Beck.

  37. Brian says:

    Great work. Thanks for doing this, because I couldn’t justify wasting time reading Levin’s tripe.

    One suggestion: I do not think begging the question means what you think it means. Double check that use in the latter part of the post.