on November 14, 2012
Ameritopia is the complement of, or the sequel to, Liberty and Tyranny. The flowers of liberty and the weeds of tyranny have their philosophic roots. That is the subject of Levin’s inquiry this time. This is about the origins of what was defined in the preceding book. Since the republic of America has already slipped into soft tyranny, an oppressive form of democracy, if not yet full-blown democratic despotism, these two questions bookend the volume: (1) “What kind of power both attracts a free people and destroys them?” (p. x); (2) “Have too many among us already surrendered or been conquered?” (p. 246.)
Oppressive power attracts people who want to be governed instead of represented (p. 209), even to the point of being told what kind of lightbulb they must use (p. 225), which is just one example of ‘administrative tyranny’ (p. 168.) They want, not equality under the law that recognizes one’s right to self-govern and to reap the fruit of one’s labor (pp. 8, 9), but equality of status through unconstitutional means that are used to plunder the gains of some in order to profit others (p. 121.) They support a tax plan that will ‘redistribute the wealth’ and ‘level the playing field’ (p. 103.) These people have been socially engineered, by reeducation that cuts ties with past customs, traditions, and beliefs (p. 229), to view America as a ‘land of haves and have-nots’ instead of the ‘land of opportunity’ (p. 210.) Communism can work, they argue; it just hasn’t been ‘faithfully executed’ yet (p. 77.) Tocqueville: “It is indeed difficult to conceive how men who have entirely given up the habit of self-government should succeed in making a proper choice of those by whom they are to be governed” (p. 178.) What kind of people will find themselves under the rule of Despotism? Tocqueville: a multitude of men “incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives” (p. 174.) Obviously, not just the Democrats are included here. And both political parties have, by taking advantage of thoughtless, pleasure-seeking citizens, grown more despotic, iron-fisted, and unaccountable. Levin puts the blame too much on one side. The republic will end in Despotism ‘when the People shall become corrupt,’ predicted Benjamin Franklin (p. 243.) What person is not guilty? What party is not guilty? “All that really stands between the individual and tyranny is a resolute and sober people” (p. 246.)
It should be obvious to all, as it seems to be to Levin, that a turnaround by ‘resolute and sober people,’ if it happens at all, will take decades of ‘prodigious effort’ (p. xii.) Levin, probably in the interest of not sounding pessimistic, does not delve into this question like he should. There is no question about it: Americans are presently too corrupt, immoral, and selfish to endure the hardships and privations necessary to getting back on firm Constitutional ground. Freedom from federal power is what the Framers tried to guarantee (p. 243.) But they knew that no guarantee was possible to transmit, especially to a future corrupt society, no matter how carefully the Constitution was drafted and amended. The people don’t need change, like the politicians preach. It is the people that need to change. That is the message that Levin almost, and should have, hammered on.
Like its prequel, this book is well organized. The downgrade from Constitutional conformity to Ameritopia is traced from Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, and shown for what it is by parallels drawn from four utopian schemes that are presented in chronological order: Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. The parallels that are drawn (from one or more of these) should send shivers down the spines of those who still have them: redistribution of wealth, class warfare, reeducation, dissolution of family units, imposed or suggested euthanasia, religious intolerance, the banning of free expression, and unaccountable sovereigns. The American people have the right, from their founding documents, to throw off tyranny (pp. 113, 118.) How may that be done in the present situation? Will the Tea Party increase and retain its integrity? Will it convert enough ‘Pollyanas’ and ‘blissfully indifferent citizens’ to its cause? (p. 247.) Tocqueville (1805-1859) observed in his day, that the hand directing the social machine was invisible (p. 165.) Who can believe that it will be this way again? The choice for Ameritopia continues.
By this one book, a person may acquire a fairly good understanding of what the American republic is, ideally as well as presently. To this end, questions like the following are answered in it: Why were Amendments to the Constitution passed? Why the Bill of Rights? How are the branches of power balanced? Why was a confederate republic adopted? In supplying his answers, Levin takes us all the way back to the men who influenced the Founders in the decisions they made for the good of the nation: John Locke, Charles de Montesquieu, and Alexis de Tocqueville.
As well, some new questions come to mind from reading this. If Despotism is measured by whether one works to acquire or preserve, as Montesquieu suggests (p. 132), how despotic has America become? In light of the downgrade toward Despotism that has come to pass, what might have been the result if the states had never united? (p. 20.) There had been no Civil War, though slavery would have lingered longer. Can it still be said in America that after choosing his parcel of land, man has left ‘never the less for others’? (Locke, p. 93.) There is an advancing protest from the Left about how the Indian tribes were dispossessed by the pilgrims. Since God gave the world to be cultivated (Locke, pp. 93, 94, 119), do we have a valid reason for dispossession by the more industrious?
There are few propositions that I disagree with. Hobbes erred in his Leviathan. But man is, the Bible, history, and experience confirm, in a state of war naturally. Hobbes is correct here; Locke and Montesquieu err (p. 126.) Virtue is not ‘mostly impossible’ in a monarchy and ‘nonexistent’ under a despot, for we observe much virtue in people under each of these. Montesquieu is wrong here; and virtue cannot be reduced to ‘love of the republic,’ as he says.
Levin’s follow-up to Liberty and Tyranny is instructive, but a lesser work than the first. More digging should have been done to avoid repetitious quoting; more originality should have been attempted. It is worth reading. But I would not read it again except for the places I have marked. Levin’s offering is sober and resolute. If he were more like that himself, he had written more challengingly for the good of everyone.