Blogging Liberty and Tyranny, Chapter Two

The blogging of Mark Levin's magnum opus continues.

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

A word about my blogging style for this project — all I’m doing is reading the book and writing as I go along. Everything is pretty much just my immediate reaction to the words on the page. Most of my factual references are going to be just what’s pulled off the top of my head, edited for accuracy when I’m done with the post. So if the writing appears to be a bit schizophrenic at times, that’s why. A large part of my reactions are going to be mood dependent and mercurial, so be prepared for that.

Okay, enough meta-commentary. On with the show!

Chapter 2 – “On Prudence and Progress” – pp 12-23

Mark Levin opens this chapter with an idea that I wholeheartedly agree with: armed revolution against the government of the United States at the present time is a bad thing. I am happy to agree with him on something.

This is the world’s oddest segue way into a meditation to answer the question “What kind of change, then, does the Conservative support?” I’m presuming he means political change since this is a political manifesto. He boils it down to “change as reform was intended to preserve and improve the basic institutions of the state.” This is as contrasted with the Statist boogeyman, who

“justifies change as conferring new, abstract rights, which is nothing more than a Statist deception intended to empower the state and deny man his real rights–those that are both unalienable and anchored in custom, tradition, and faith.”

I’d love to see an example of what Levin actually means by this, but it doesn’t appear yet that he’s interested in actually providing evidence to support his claims. No doubt that’s a Statist deception, too.

Okay, so what’s the “right kind” (pun intended) of change? According to Levin, it’s that

“prudence must be exercised in assessing change. Prudence is the highest virtue for it is judgment drawn on wisdom. The proposed change should be informed by the experience, knowledge, and traditions of society, tailored for a specific purpose, and accomplished through a constitutional construct that ensures thoughtful deliberation by the community.”

For some reason, this sparked in my head the words of William Lloyd Garrison in the first edition of The Liberator:

I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.

Sometimes, patience and prudence are the right path. But sometimes, you know, they’re just convenient covers for men to do nothing, you know? There’s a time and place for different attitudes. Sometimes prudence is called for. Sometimes we need radicals. Sometimes it’s better for change to come slow. Sometimes it needs to happen now. This applies to all kinds of social change — not just political change.

But I’m also intrigued by the concepts Levin invokes here, because they appear to be anti-free market! I’m interested to see how his Conservative reacts to creative destruction, rapid technological change, dance clubs, the internet, and rock music. Chapter six is entitled “On the Free Market” where I’m willing to bet that prudence isn’t discussed. But we’ll see. In the meantime, Levin’s description of change reminded me of the description of the government council in Ayn Rand’s Anthem, which rejected the invention of the light bulb because the world was still transitioning from torches to the candle, which had been invented a century prior….

A couple of paragraphs later, and we’re greeted with this sentence:

“The Conservative understands that Americans are living in a state of diminishing liberty–that statism is on the ascendance and the societal balance is tipping away from ordered liberty.”

This is an incredibly simplistic way of looking at the world. In most ways — not all ways, but most ways — Americans are freer now than they’ve ever been. Consider the country’s state at the Founding — only landowners could vote. Women couldn’t own property. Blacks were property. Native Americans were being murdered and having their land stolen from them. Asians were prohibited from immigrating into the country. Trials were short, provided very few protections for defendants, and most people accused of crimes were on their own when it came to representation. Most trades were locked down by guilds, which were protected by law. State chartered corporations dominated the economy. Government jobs were determined by who was in favor with the local party bigwigs. You couldn’t have a business open on Sunday or overnight. Blacks, Germans, Irish, and Italians were forbidden from even entering certain towns, or at least staying overnight in them.

Almost 250 years later, can you honestly tell me that people are less free than when the country was founded? The economy is enormously freer. Civil service is determined by merit, not political bootlicking. (Thanks for that, James Garfield Chester A. Arthur!) Women can own property and their husbands can’t rape them. Slavery has been abolished. Equal treatment is the law of the land. Immigration is no longer determined by race. Defendants have much more protection from the depredations of the State. Every citizen can vote regardless of whether they own land.

There are a lot of problems, to be sure. And the federal government, in the name of the “war on terror” has adopted an enormous number of illiberal, unconstitutional policies. But I’ll take today over 1790 in a heartbeat when it comes to personal liberty. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a freer country than it was in 1790. Hell, I’ll go so far as to say that we live in a freer country now than we did in 1990.

The next few paragraphs are more Statist boogeyman nonsense. Statists hate freedom. Statists hate the individual. Statists are “angry, resentful, petulant, and jealous.” Blah blah blah.

But it culminates in what might be one of the stupidest paragraphs I have ever read in my entire life:

The Statist’s Utopia can take many forms, and has throughout human history, including monarchism, feudalism, militarism, fascism, communism, national socialism, and economic socialism. They are all of the same species — tyranny. The primary principle around which the Statist organizes can be summed up in a single word — equality.

Do I even need to explain how stupid this is? Does Levin really think that fascism, feudalism, and monarchism are expressions of equality? Or that American liberals support anything like the idea that the individual needs to “abandon his own interests for the ambitions of the state”?

I am banging my head into my desk here.

The next couple of paragraphs are about how liberals, and Barack Obama in particular, hope that the “individual surrenders himself to the all-powerful state.” I went into this in detail in the last post, but it remains unfair and ignorantly Manichean.

The next part made me laugh, because it’s a paragraph about how what makes America special and better than Europe is that it doesn’t have any type of class aristocracy. I laugh at this because of our first ten Presidents, two of them were Adams. We’ve had two Presidents Bush and two Presidents Roosevelt. Several Kennedys have held public office. Al Gore was a Senator — just like his dad. Vice President Dan Quayle’s son, Ben Quayle, is a Congressman. And that’s just off the top of my head — there are lots more examples, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the business world. But it’s enough to note that the United States has pretty low social mobility compared to other countries. In other words, you’re more likely to be stuck in the same economic class that your parents were in the United States than you are in Canada, where you’re more likely to move up the economic ladder.

No aristocracy in America, indeed.

The next paragraph is a tirade against international institutions. Never minding, I suppose, that the United States was an early adopter of internationalism as a means to promote trade, fight piracy (the aar matey kind, not the music kind) and establish codes of conduct during armed conflicts. They’re a proud part of our American heritage — which is why treaties are considered to be a higher law of the land under our Constitution than acts of Congress are.

The next two paragraphs are an indictment of all academics, who serve as “missionaries” for “the Statist.” Something that no doubt comes as a surprise to my academic colleagues here at OTB. One thing he rails against in particular is that through academics students learn through “distortion and repetition” such falsehoods as “corporations as polluters, the Founding Fathers as slave owners, the military as imperialist, etc.”

Except I’m not sure what he’s getting at. Many of the Founding Fathers were slaveowners. Is he denying that? Lots of corporations did and do pollute! Is he denying that? The United States has fought imperialist wars — which is why Texas, Arizona, California, and New Mexico are a part of the Untied States right now and not Mexico. Does he think that the history of the Mexican War is all made up and we really just hired a realtor to make a sweet land deal or something?

The next couple of paragraphs lambast actors and the media in their roles as tools of Statists. So I’m looking forward to hearing about how much he hates Ronald Reagan in later chapters, since he was both an actor and a broadcaster. (And a union leader! But there haven’t been any tirades against unions in the book so far.)

Levin closes the chapter with a quote from C.S. Lewis that actually isn’t bad, but I’ll close this edition of the blog review with this much better one from the same author:

What can you ever really know of other people’s souls — of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole of creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculation about your neighbours or memories of what you have read in books.

I think that Levin should meditate on that the next time he’s tempted to create a straw man villain and use it to condemn his fellow citizens.

Next time – it’s Mark Levin’s chapter on religion!

FILED UNDER: Book Reviews, 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. Kylopod says:

    >Prudence is the highest virtue for it is judgment drawn on wisdom.

    Now I know what the Beatles meant with “Dear Prudence.”

    Is it just me or is Mark Levin simply an idiot?

    He’s just making arbitrary statements and infusing them with grandiose meaning. Prudence is the highest virtue? Really? Like higher than kindness, compassion, courage, justice, responsibility, wisdom, etc?

    That’s not to mention that there is nothing “prudent” about Levin or his ilk, and furthermore, “prudent” is exactly a word I would use to describe, say, Barack Obama, and not President Bush.

    Based on the little I know about Mark Levin, you can probably look forward to his defense of such “prudent” policies as invading Iraq, warrantless wiretapping, torture, etc.

    Excellent rebuttal, by the way. Keep up the good work!




    0



    0
  2. Michael says:

    I don’t think anybody would criticize you for giving up on the rest of the book right now.




    0



    0
  3. The next two paragraphs are an indictment of all academics, who serve as “missionaries” for “the Statist.” Something that no doubt comes as a surprise to my academic colleagues here at OTB

    I would comment, but my Statist Overlords have not yet provided the approved response as yet.

    In all seriousness, he seems to be saying that he doesn’t want teachers to say anything negative about the US and its mythos as he sees it.




    0



    0
  4. sam says:

    Anybody who wrote the paragraph beginning, “The Statist’s Utopia” is not someone to be taken seriously.




    0



    0
  5. floyd says:

    “I’d love to see an example of what Levin actually means”
    “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

    Nonsense!




    0



    0
  6. tom p says:

    Alex, thank you, you read it so that I don’t have to… but then I didn’t…. and neither do you… Why do you hate yourself so? If you continue, your very soul could be in danger.




    0



    0
  7. Alex Knapp says:

    Michael and tom p –

    I appreciate your concerns but this is kind of an interesting exercise.




    0



    0
  8. anjin-san says:

    Alex, if you can finish this book, you will never have to prove your courage in any other way.




    0



    0
  9. ponce says:

    “Alex, if you can finish this book, you will never have to prove your courage in any other way.”

    An “Apocalypse Now” quote?

    How appropriate, because I was just thinking America’s fringe right wingnuts like Levin and Pol Pot hate the same people: Teachers, judges and pointy-headed intellectuals.




    0



    0
  10. anjin-san says:

    Ponce,

    If Alex survives reading this, he will find himself dazed and numbed, muttering repeatedly, “The horror, the horror”…




    0



    0
  11. ponce says:

    Alex is Willard, Loudmouth Levin is Col. Kurtz.




    0



    0
  12. Alex Knapp says:

    @Ponce and Anjin-San –

    Personally, I feel more like Group Captain Lionel Mandrake to Levin’s Jack D. Ripper.




    0



    0
  13. HAL 90089 says:

    The idea that Statism “justifies change as conferring new, abstract rights,” while “real rights” are “those that are both unalienable and anchored in custom, tradition, and faith,” makes clear that Levin doesn’t know Political Philosophy 101. Rights conferred by custom, tradition and faith — rights as Burke understood them — are precisely NOT unalienable rights, which Burke and others denounced as abstract and a mere creation of liberal thinkers. This is one of the most basic distinctions in rights theory. What does Levin think “unalienable” means if not separate from and not dependent on custom or tradition?




    0



    0
  14. sam says:

    “Personally, I feel more like Group Captain Lionel Mandrake to Levin’s Jack D. Ripper.”

    Heh. Does he have a chapter on precious bodily fluids?

    Actually, now that I think of it, maybe the better parallel is Mandrake to Bat Guano:

    Guano: “But that’s private property.”




    0



    0
  15. rbzbos says:

    Nice blog, but your statement that at the nation’s Founding, “…State chartered corporations dominated the economy….” is completely wrong.

    Corporations were quite rare in the 18th century; their domination of the economy didn’t happen until around or after the Civil War, and is perhaps greater now than at any other time of our history.




    0



    0
  16. Alex Knapp says:

    @rbzbos –

    I’m not sure I agree with you. Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward was decided in 1819! I agree that the corporate form picked up after the Civil War, but that was after a mid-century decline. There were still a lot of state chartered corporations in the late 18th century.




    0



    0
  17. Alex Knapp says:

    @Hal –

    That’s an excellent point!

    @sam –

    I think that Bill O’Reilly is the Col. Guano in the right-wing pundit world. Every now and again, you can tell he’s getting uncomfortable with the crazy.




    0



    0
  18. sam says:

    Yeah. I was just thinking “clueless”. But I think you’re right.




    0



    0
  19. rbzbos says:

    The US at its founding was mostly rural and its economy non-corporate. Farms were owned by individual farmers as sole proprietorships. In towns and the few cities, most economic activity was conducted by sole proprietors and/or partnerships of individuals who owned and operated small shops.

    To the extent that corporations existed, they mainly conducted non-profit activities (such as a few colleges like Dartmouth, Harvard or Yale) or, in the modern sense, were formed to raise capital and avert risk for international trade (like shares given to sailors, or The Dutch East Indies Corp. [not even American, but still….]).

    Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that “state chartered corporations dominated the [nation’s] economy”. This is NOT a minor point, either, because the rise of the large modern federal government that Levin rails against is, in large part, a natural and NECESSARY defense against the power and anonymity of large corporations.




    0



    0
  20. Scott says:

    Alex, Good series. You mentioned in the first part that you had never listened to Mr. Levin’s show. I think if you gave it 5 minutes some day it would give some insight. The contemptuousness must be experienced to be believed.




    0



    0
  21. Alex Knapp says:

    @rbzbos –

    You’ve given me some info to look up and look into. Thanks. I agree with you re: government power vs. corporate in the broad sense in the modern era.




    0



    0
  22. Steve V says:

    Levin says America doesn’t have any type of class aristocracy … even if you grant him that as true, America sure will have a class aristocracy if the estate tax is eliminated, which I’m sure Levin supports.




    0



    0
  23. Terry says:

    Unless I’m mistaken, wasn’t C.S. Lewis an Academic and an educator?




    0



    0
  24. Alan says:

    But isn’t the only demonstrably statist movement active in the American political scene at the moment the Christian Dominionists? It could be Levin is looking in the wrong direction. Or perhaps their utopia is one which he finds desirable. Certainly the principles of the Enlightenment are not favored in his ideological placing of custom, tradition and faith as the source or anchor of individual rights.

    I assume that history professors must be pacifists to a man, because only such could peruse the violence Levin does to history and not rise up and strike him down in vengeance.




    0



    0
  25. Rick Massimo says:

    “The Conservative understands that Americans are living in a state of diminishing liberty–that statism is on the ascendance and the societal balance is tipping away from ordered liberty.”

    Leaving aside the question of whether we ARE in a state of diminishing liberty, have we ALWAYS been in a state of diminishing liberty? No.

    Therefore, this isn’t a statement of eternal principle; it’s a tribal identifier. As, it would seem, is this book.




    0



    0
  26. Rick Massimo says:

    P.S.: Re “I’d love to see an example of what Levin actually means” – I have found that the question “Can you give me an example of what you’re talking about?” is kryptonite to conservatives.




    0



    0
  27. PETE says:

    Alex,

    I am hooked on this series. I’m just glad I heard about it when you were only a few posts in, ensuring that I wouldn’t spend an afternoon during which i was supposed to be working reading through the archives from the beginning.

    One comment: Before I’d ever heard of Mark Levin I started seeing this book pop up in stores and airport gift shops, and the thing that killed me, or kills me, I guess, is his expression on the cover. What emotion, exactly, is he expressing here? It’s certainly not anger, or frustration, or the resolute stoicism of those who, though oppressed, refuse to have their spirit broken.

    He has the look of a man who, after a long day of travel, has been told by a hotel clerk that, sorry to say, they have no record of a reservation and, regretably, so, so sorry, they’re all booked up for the weekend. Captured in his face is the moment of indecisiveness wherein he weighs his options, considering whether exploding in anger would be more effective than taking a more conciliatory tone.

    Also, does he have a lazy eye?




    0



    0
  28. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***Alex, Good series. You mentioned in the first part that you had never listened to Mr. Levin’s show. I think if you gave it 5 minutes some day it would give some insight.*** lol, sounds about right…..

    It works around here for Beck and Rush, but then its mostly someone else’s second hand 5 minutes a day. And if it’s not completely taken out of context, it is always completely made up and completely overreacted to.

    ***The contemptuousness must be experienced to be believed.***lol try bringing up God, creation, American history,the Constitution, the word illegal, how non gay people feel, the Police, Superman, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny around here and see what you get.

    I dare you to say apple pie, I dare you.




    0



    0
  29. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Alex, why do you blog in an echo chamber? If you want logical arguement with your thoughts go elsewhere. Did you expect exactly whom would disagree with you here. Like G.A. suggested. Try listening to Mark with all the open mind you can muster. I know that will not be much, but he is open to challenge, if you dare.




    0



    0
  30. Michael says:

    Alex, why do you blog in an echo chamber?

    Yeah, taking liberal stances on a blog dominated by conservative and libertarian authors is just like preaching to the choir. Everybody knows there’s only two “real” political parties, those who love Sarah Palin and everybody else.




    0



    0
  31. ponce says:

    “Personally, I feel more like Group Captain Lionel Mandrake to Levin’s Jack D. Ripper.”

    LOL.




    0



    0
  32. floyd says:

    This place wasn’t always an echo chamber, there was a time when all views were welcome here, the cacophony from the left is driving off any discourse, watch …..




    0



    0
  33. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***eah, taking liberal stances on a blog dominated by conservative and libertarian authors is just like preaching to the choir.*** Michael, Mr.Dill does the caption contest and Mr. Dodd is the DJ. Dominated? Hardly.




    0



    0
  34. michael reynolds says:

    This is actually very helpful in understanding some of our less, um . . . let’s go with . . . um . . . okay, f^ck the euphemism, it helps me understand some of the idiot commenters a little better.

    You take the jaw-dropping ignorance of Levin, filter it through Beck’s paranoid hysteria, subtract 20 IQ points and you have Zelsdorf.




    0



    0
  35. tom p says:

    Whatever… Alex??? I appreciate you taking one for the gipper… (why you would I have no idea, if the gipper can’t take it, he should DUCK!)




    0



    0
  36. tom p says:

    >>>>This place wasn’t always an echo chamber, there was a time when all views were welcome here, <<<<

    Floyd, have you EVER been denied posting priveleges here? GA??? ZRIII?????

    I don't even know where you come up with this sh*t… Reality, it's a beach.




    0



    0
  37. G.A.Phillips says:

    🙂 how many best sellers and how many millions of listeners you got Harry? yaya I know, just a beautiful head of hair, a charming personality and astronomical IQ…………better then nothing.




    0



    0
  38. michael reynolds says:

    GA:

    How many bestsellers? Well, the rough estimate is that alone or in partnership with my wife I’ve sold give or take 35 million books. The single bestselling title hit 2 million. My current titles aren’t doing quite that well, just a few hundred thousand.

    No listeners. Then again, I never tried.




    0



    0
  39. An Interested Place says:

    I see that some people have taken whining to a new level…here is this conservative blog, with posts written primarily by conservatives and libertarians, with comments supplied by plenty of the same, and yet we see moaning and groaning about some supposed domination by “the left” and how such people are killing discourse around here…it is so appropriate that Sarah Palin is the subject of so many posts here, as some around here have adopted the same victimization she wraps herself in…




    0



    0
  40. anjin-san says:

    > moaning and groaning about some supposed domination by “the left” and how such people are killing discourse around here

    My take is that the Palinites are pretty desperate to control the playing field. They know she cannot function out side of a Hannity ass kissing session…




    0



    0
  41. wr says:

    “You take the jaw-dropping ignorance of Levin, filter it through Beck’s paranoid hysteria, subtract 20 IQ points and you have Zelsdorf”

    Then add a couple of quarts of MD 20/20 and you’ve got GA…




    0



    0
  42. wr says:

    AIP — To disagree with a Tea Partier is to oppress them. It’s kind of like not clapping when a fairy is dying. They know so little and are so desperate to hold onto what Papa Rush and Unca Glen told them, but if they hear a dissenting word they get all confused and their heads start to hurt.




    0



    0
  43. Just saying says:

    🙂 how many best sellers and how many millions of listeners you got Harry?

    Might I suggest this fun reading as to why this appeal to booksales is a fallacy that doesn’t necessarily hold up:

    http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/2011/01/anti-missourian-best-sellers.html




    0



    0
  44. Quiddity says:

    I’m a little confused by the passage: “Thanks for that, James Garfield!”

    James Garfield’s assassination led to Chester A. Arthur becoming president – and it was he who championed civil service reform. I would have thought thanks would go to Arthur (an under-rated president in my view).




    0



    0
  45. Alex Knapp says:

    Quiddity,

    You are absolutely right. I always get Garfield and Arthur mixed up. Thanks.




    0



    0
  46. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***How many bestsellers? Well, the rough estimate is that alone or in partnership with my wife I’ve sold give or take 35 million books. The single bestselling title hit 2 million. My current titles aren’t doing quite that well, just a few hundred thousand. ***I’m happy for you Harry. Not exactly what I was getting at, but heck, if you get a radio show I hope to be your fist caller :)…..

    ***Then add a couple of quarts of MD 20/20 and you’ve got GA…***lol……I’m not paranoid…..




    0



    0
  47. Villago Delenda Est says:

    SteveV makes a very important point.

    The Founders were very interested in preventing any sort of hereditary aristocracy from developing in their new republic, which is why the instituted an estate tax. Jefferson considered it to be one of his most important accomplishments.




    0



    0
  48. Troll4trolls says:

    RE: Kylopod says:
    Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 03:37

    Is it just me . . . ?

    Yeah, it’s just you.




    0



    0
  49. Brian says:

    “which is why treaties are considered to be a higher law of the land under our Constitution than acts of Congress are.” – I’m not sure about that one. In what sense do you mean treaties are “higher?” My take is that they are accorded equal status as Acts of Congress, i.e., they trump state law.




    0



    0