Blogging Liberty and Tyranny, Chapter One, Part Two

Part two of the ongoing series blogging Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny.

Part two of a continuing series wherein Liberty and Tyranny is blogged.

Chapter 1 – pp. 4-11 (hardcover edition)

Since this is a Conservative Manifesto, and Manifestos tend to manifest against something, and we live in polarized times, I’m sure it’s not hard to guess what comes next. Liberal Bashing.

“The Modern Liberal,” according to Levin, “believes in the supremacy of the state, thereby rejecting the principles of the Declaration” and further believes that “the individual’s imperfection and personal pursuits impede the objective of a utopian state.” Is it even worth explaining how silly it is to think that liberals reject the Declaration of Independence and want an all-powerful state? Are the liberals who spoke out against torture during the Bush Administration representative of the “supremacy of the state”? Is Glenn Greenwald advocating an all-powerful state when he argues against pervasive surveillance and violations of the laws of war? Is Matthew Yglesias advocating for an all-powerful state when he calls for an end to most rent-seeking, zoning regulations, and licensure laws? It’s absurd and empirically, demonstrably false.

Levin then goes on to state that “it is more accurate, therefore, to characterize the Modern Liberal as a Statist.”

This is, of course, nonsense. In the broad strokes, there’s actually quite a bit of political consensus in the United States — much more so than in other countries. Most of the heavy fighting is on the margins, and is over social issues. Because American institutions don’t really allow for multi-party systems, in modern times people have a tendency to pick a camp and stick with it, because that’s where political authority is. To write off half the country as “Statists,” rather than fellow citizens with whom one disagrees about politics is an incredibly ignorant, naive, Manichean worldview.

After this little tidbit, we are then given a completely false picture of America from 1789 to 1932 as a nation where “Federal power was confined to that which was specifically enumerated in the Constitution and no more.”

Except for, of course, the Bank of the United States. And the Second Bank of the United States. And the Louisiana Purchase. And the Trail of Tears. And the annexation of Spanish Florida. And the French Embargo. And the Alien and Sedition Acts. And the Palmer Raids. And the Espionage Act of 1917. And President Cleveland using the army to stop the Pullman Strikes.

And that list is just off the top of my head. While there were definitely politicians who thought that the enumerated powers should be adhered to strictly, the fact of the matter is that throughout American history, most politicians have broadly interpreted the Constitution along Alexander Hamilton’s lines, and quite a few have simply ignored the Constitution altogether. To say that Federal power was limited until 1932 requires, basically, not cracking open a single history book. Ugh.

Levin then goes on to castigate the New Deal as the time when “the Statists successfully launched a counterrevolution that radically and fundamentally altered the nature of American society.” I find the rhetoric here and in the paragraphs that follow because they imply that the New Deal was some sort of conspiratorial horror imposed from above on an unwilling American populace, rather than a wildly popular set of initiatives, many of which survive to this day, but were hardly unprecedented — large scale federal intervention in the economy began with the Bank of the United States and the Federal government’s supplantation of the state role in many areas of economic regulation began in the 1870s with the Interstate Commerce Commission. And while federal economic regulation suffered some setbacks with the Lochner v. New York decision imposed during the Gilded Age, it still moved largely unchecked and most of the New Deal can find predecessors in the Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, and Hoover Administrations. It’s not like the New Deal sprang up magically overnight.

Again, Levin’s knowledge of history appears to be sorely lacking, which is easily the most frustrating thing about reading this book. Also, I have 199 pages to go, which is terrifying right now. But I’m not going to abandon this project, so let’s press on to the post-New Deal stuff.

No, wait, I have to stop here. There’s one line that’s incredibly annoying:

Ironically, industrial expansion resulting from World War II eventually ended the Great Depression, not the New Deal. Indeed, the enormous tax and regulatory burden imposed on the private sector by the New Deal prolonged the economic recovery.

Okay, no, this is crap. Virtually every economist who’s studied the Great Depression noted that the length of the depression in most countries was linked to how long they kept the Gold Standard. Milton Friedman, Ben Bernakke, and Christina Romer all agree on this point, and if you have consensus between these three, you’ve got a decent chance of noting the correct cause of recovery. Hoover’s stubborn insistence on hanging on to the outdated gold standard prolonged the deflation of the dollar and that deflation prolonged the Depression. Upon abandoning the Gold Standard in 1933, the economy surged. Unemployment dropped from 25% to 11%. The economy continued to improve until 1937 recession, when Roosevelt cut federal spending significantly in an attempt to balance the budget. And the idea that World War II somehow magically made the economy better is a charge that’s often asserted, but rarely supported.

Okay, now let’s move on.

For the next few pages, Levin mostly talks about the Statist boogeyman, who “has an insatiable appetite for control”, “speaks in the tongue of the demagogue”, and is constantly “concocting one pretext and grievance after another to manipulate public perceptions”.

Another note about Levin’s style. Apart from his love of italics, he also so far appears to be immune to irony.

At any rate, he keeps blah blah blahing in this tone as he builds up his Statist boogeyman. A boogeyman who appears to exist entirely in Levin’s imagination, at least in the American context. My favorite bit is this, though:

As the Statist is building a culture of conformity and dependency, where the ideal citizen takes on dronelike qualities in service to the state, the individual must be drained of uniqueness and self-worth, and deterred from independent thought or behavior. This is achieved through varying methods of economic punishment and political suppression.

Does Levin think this is actually happening in the United States? Seriously? And keep an eye on the line “the individual must be drained of uniqueness and self-worth, and deterred from independent thought or behavior”, because I know…. I just know that later on in the book, we’re going to find this idea come head to head with Levin’s earlier assertion that “the individual has a duty to respect…the values, customs and traditions, tried and tested over time and passed from one generation to the next, that establish society’s cultural identity.” At least, I hope so, because that’s going to be really fun.

At any rate, in the next couple of paragraphs Levin takes a swipe at Michael Gerson, David Brooks, and William Kristol, whom he refers to as “neo-Statists” and not really conservative. He then goes on to describe the solution to the Statist devil as, of course, Conservatism, which he states is the “antidote to tyranny precisely because its principles are the founding principles.”

Except that based on the first chapter, I’m going to hypothesize that what Levin sees as “founding principles” are nothing like what the Founding Fathers had in mind. And also that what he sees as “Conservatism” is pretty much limited to “Mark Levinism”.

Coming Next: Chapter Two – which features Burke! And Hoffer! Will they be taken out of context to prove points they had no intention of making? Stay tuned to find out!

FILED UNDER: Book Reviews, Entertainment, 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.

Comments

  1. Alex Knapp says:

    Hm. Upon re-reading this, I’m thinking that I might love italics more than Mark Levin does. Scary.




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  2. RW Rogers says:

    LOL! Better watch out, Alex! God only knows what else inside might be contagious! I guess someone had to read this book. If ever the saying, “Better you than me!” was apt, it is now. 😉




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  3. Hello World! says:

    This is funny because a conservative friend of mine gave me a copy of this book 2 weeks ago, and I am supposed to read it to prove to him that I am open minded and willing to look at other sides.




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  4. Pug says:

    “The Modern Liberal,” according to Levin, “believes in the supremacy of the state, thereby rejecting the principles of the Declaration” and further believes that “the individual’s imperfection and personal pursuits impede the objective of a utopian state.”

    If you are going to visciously attack the straw man, you must first set him up.

    Define what your enemy believes, then attack the beliefs you have defined. It would be nice if more Americans would take a simple, first year philosophy class in critical thinking. If they did, charlatans would be much less successful.




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  5. Pete says:

    Yes, a philosophy class taught by our intellect rich teaching class. The same class of people who work so hard to produce Wii playing, IPod stoned, Dancing with the Stars devotees. Good idea, Pug.




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  6. Jay Dubbs says:

    Alex, I am having a hard time deciding which you hate more: America or yourself.




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  7. tom p says:

    >>>Alex, I am having a hard time deciding which you hate more: America or yourself.<<<

    Jay, he hates himself more. He is sacrifying himself on the great altar of patriotism (indeed, putting his very soul at risk) by reading this inane (insane?) screed titled "Liberty and Tyranny"

    Why oh why Alex, do you engage in this absurd act psychic immolation?




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  8. floyd says:

    Alex;
    I’ll bet you play a mean pinball!




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  9. floyd says:

    Hello World!

    If you are anything like the “gallery ” here … That really IS funny!




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  10. michael reynolds says:

    I think you left out the annexation of half of Mexico, the colonization of the Philippines and Puerto Rico, and the enforcement of censorship of the US mails as demanded by the slave states. But as you say: so many more examples.




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  11. @Pete:

    Yes, a philosophy class taught by our intellect rich teaching class. The same class of people who work so hard to produce Wii playing, IPod stoned, Dancing with the Stars devotees. Good idea, Pug.

    You are going to have to explain the causation chain you have in mind here.

    While I own an iPod (3 in the family) and a Wii (but do not watch DWTS), I can attest that none of these things come into play in the intro to political philosophy class I teach nor does it in any with which I am familiar.




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  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    ****Except that based on the first chapter, I’m going to hypothesize that what Levin sees as “founding principles” are nothing like what the Founding Fathers had in mind. And also that what he sees as “Conservatism” is pretty much limited to “Mark Levinism”.****

    lol, he is not the only one:) See the TEA PARTY, Also see most of super pooper duper successful authors and commentators on the right and most their readers, listeners, and commenters and peers….

    lol. you have your professors and we have ours. Ours are not paid for by and control and are controlled by the state. Ya, I know it gets confusing.

    They get out their lessons out with the free market, teaching for us, cash, fame and community service for them. Oh it must be so rewarding, (snicker)……

    He is a fan of Hastur Palin also, Not in the book.




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  13. Pete says:

    Steven, the snark was not directed at higher ed, but at the K-12 crowd. I got a little carried away. In your case, the education came first. In my snarky example I was dissing the education system which produces all the seemingly mindless young people today with pants around their ankles, walking about entranced by the noise in their IPods, glued to TV’s for American Idol or Dancing with the Stars and no clue about American history, the difference between profit and profit margin, how to balance a checkbook, or most other simple necessities to being an informed and responsible citizen. Granted, philosophy is not taught in K-12, but maybe it should be.




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  14. floyd says:

    Alex;

    As I said when you started this nonsense……
    “” 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.””

    You have apparently succeeded. Congratulations.

    After all that time trying to prove that you’re smarter than God, this is a bit of slumming don’cha think?!
    When you decide to go out on your own again, I suggest you call it “Smar-Tass” a sort of intellectual communist blog.
    Heck, I still like you enough to read it!




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  15. michael reynolds says:

    Shorter Floyd: Stop being smart, be stupid.




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  16. @Pete:

    Fair enough (i.e., that your snark was intended for K-12), but even then I don’t think that most K-12 teachers are actually trying to produce iPod listening, Wii playing and DWTS watching students. On balance, as I can attest that kids do stuff of that nature sans prompting.

    It would be nice if we could, at least in High School, teach some logic and philosophy, although that does raise the risk of the students becoming even more rebellious if we teach to think for themselves 🙂




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  17. Kylopod says:

    I am loving this series.




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  18. anjin-san says:

    I suggest a superior alternative – Tyranny and Mutation by Blue Oyster Cult:

    http://www.amazon.com/Tyranny-Mutation-Blue-Oyster-Cult/dp/B00005LNBP




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  19. Alan says:

    I suspect that Mr. Levin would find touching the Sword of Shannara to be a devastating experience.




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  20. Alex Knapp says:

    Alan,

    You get the Geek Cred Prize for the day!




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  21. Stefan says:

    Ironically, industrial expansion resulting from World War II eventually ended the Great Depression, not the New Deal. Indeed, the enormous tax and regulatory burden imposed on the private sector by the New Deal prolonged the economic recovery.

    Ironically, industrial expansion resulting from World War II was…wait for it…spending by the government! The US government, financed through very high levels of taxation on the rich and deficit spending in the form of bond sales, put in massive orders for industrial machinery, armaments, food, clothes, in order to run the war, etc., and in addition put through an even greater level of tax and regulatory burdens on the economy (including wage and price controls, rationing of fuel and food use, etc.) and it was this increase in demand by the government (and in government regulation!) that Levin says proves that the government didn’t end the Great Depression?

    So Levin’s argument is “government spending and regulation didn’t end the Great Depression, instead it was vastly greater levels of government spending and regulation during WWII that ended the Great Depresssion, and this proves that we need less government spending and regulation!” Ipso, uh, facto, I suppose.

    Did Levin actually type the sentence I quoted or did he just strike the keyboard with his forehead until an approximation of writing appeared?




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  22. Axel Edgren says:

    Evil liberals of today: “Government is sometimes good. Sometimes more government and taxes will be better than less.”

    Sensible republicans and libertarians of today: “Always less government and less taxes, now and forever. Unless there’s a WAR on!”

    In a universe where change is the only constant – who do you want to turn to when aiming to build reasonable societies?




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  23. MT from CC says:

    Stefan – Is that a rhetorical question? Because, quite clerly, he was striking the keyboard with his forehead until the approximation of writing appeared. A very poorly written and even more poorly thought out approximation.




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  24. Alex Knapp says:

    Stefan,

    I hadn’t even considered that point! Well done.




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  25. Michm says:

    Do conscription for the Civil War, a progressive income tax to support the war effort and the emancipation of the slaves count as powers granted to the federal government in the Constitution? Conscription wasn’t spelled out–it was permitted based on common law, according to the Supreme Court circa WWI. And the federal income tax , a progressive tax, was clearly not a federal power granted under the Constitution at the time. And what about Emancipation prior to any constitutional amendment granting the federal government the power to strip slave owners of their “property” without due process?




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  26. Stefan says:

    Stefan, I hadn’t even considered that point! Well done.

    Thanks very much. Levin completely overlooks the fact that his “industrial expansion resulting from World War II” was almost 100% financed by government spending (itself financed by taxation and deficit financing), since the government was basically the final purchaser of all food, fuel and industrial materials at that time due to the overwhelming need to keep the military machinery running.

    None of the “industrial expansion” was really business to business, or business to customer — instead it was business (or farm, etc.) to Uncle Sam. I’ve often heard on those on the right repeat Levin’s claim that “it wasn’t government that ended the Depression, it was WWII!” I then ask them who ran WWII, and wait for the slow light of understanding to flicker behind their eyes.

    It’s a long wait.




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  27. Kylopod says:

    I once looked at a chart showing the national debt during every fiscal year from the beginning of the 20th century to today, and I noticed that in the four years in which the U.S. was involved in WWII, the government added more proportionally to the debt than at any other four years in American history. It’s one of the primary reasons Keynes became so popular.




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  28. beejeez says:

    One quibble with Alex’s contention that conservatives favor “always less government and less taxes, now and forever. Unless there’s a WAR on!” Recent experience suggests conservatives don’t even see the need for more taxes when there is a war or two on.




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  29. Harry Glissner says:

    To expand on Stefan’s point I would point out such entities as the US Railway Administration in WWI and the vast array of economic controls put in place in WWII-food and fuel rationing, War Production Board, metal and rubber drives. It would almost seem that Levin is demanding a kind of command economy version of Fascism, with the romanticized image of the individual citizen (e.g. NSDAP German Worker, New Socialist Man) as a willing cog in the machinery of the combined state/industry/corporation.
    I am always struck by the modern conservative who seems to want nothing less than to recreate the rise of that former German power in such a fashion as to claim to be the “Good Guys.” Maybe it’s movement envy in general because conservative movements cannot be both honest about their goals and popular.




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  30. Brian says:

    Alex, impressive historical knowledge and analysis. Stefan, very good, and very funny. I wish I could photoshop key-shaped indentations on Levin’s head on the book cover.




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