Saturday, May 9, 2009

"Manifesto" a Worthwhile Read for Reasonable Minds

The left loves to hurl epithets at conservative talk radio. They have a right to their opinion, but I think they would get a lot more traction if they tried to engage in serious debate about the actual assertions and ideas expressed as opposed to just ranting and raving about Rush babies, ditto heads and Hannity’s insanity. My suspicion is that the louder and more persistent they are in name calling, invective and mockery, the less likely it is that they have ever stopped to listen and consider what is being said, much less engage it in serious debate.

I don’t get much of a chance to listen to talk radio unless I happen to have a day off in the middle of the week, except I do manage to catch a few minutes of Mark Levin while driving home, just after the news at the top of the hour. And Levin is probably my least favorite talk show host, not because I have any substantive disagreement with what he says, but because I don’t care for his style. He strikes me as a bit shrill and sometimes stoops to the same level of invective that is more typical of the left, prematurely cutting off debate with his infamous line, “Get off the phone, you big dope!”

It’s for this reason that I was somewhat hesitant to pick up a copy of Levin’s latest book. But after hearing one rave review after another week after week as it remained at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List, I finally picked up a copy of Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto (New York: Threshold Editions, 2009). I quickly learned that whatever defects I might find in Levin’s spoken delivery on talk radio is more than compensated for in the written word. The book is persuasive and well documented, and does an excellent job of educating the reader about the people and ideas that inspired our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and how those ideas have ever since been under assault and have ever so slowly eroded over time.

Liberty and Tyranny compares and contrasts in stark terms two predominant and incompatible world views. Most people today are familiar with the terms “conservative” and “liberal”, but these terms are unhelpful. Actually, the conservative of today is the liberal of yesteryear, which is the reason some conservatives prefer to call themselves “classical liberals”. They identify with the founding fathers that rebelled against government tyranny and cherished individual freedom; their maxim was and is that “the government that governs best governs the least.’

While Levin chooses to stick with the term “conservative” to describe his world view, he no longer allows the “liberal” to hijack and misrepresent a term that usually connotes liberty. The world view that today almost invariably looks to government as the promoter and guarantor of general welfare, more often than not at the expense of individual liberty, is more aptly described as “statist”. Levin ably applies this moniker to the people and movements who over the years have slowly eroded individual liberty by increasing the scope, size and intrusion of the federal government, far beyond what was intended by our founding fathers, and who have done so by reinterpreting and/or ignoring what is clearly written in our Constitution.

The rear book jacket of Liberty and Tyranny is graced with a wonderful quote from Abraham Lincoln:

While I imagine that our sixteenth president spoke these words primarily in his argument against slavery, they equally apply to those who would use the power of government to forcibly take wealth from one individual and to give it to another.
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.

In Liberty and Tyranny, Levin masterfully compares and contrasts two incompatible world views and makes a compelling case for conservatism. You may not agree with all of the specific details of how he applies his premise. Indeed, there are some points where I am not sure I agree. But the book is certainly worth reading with an open mind.

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