“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants, and it provides the further advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience.” — Albert Camus
I have not written a book review since I was in high school and then I did not like to it because I did not like reading the book. Most of the books we were assigned in our 11th grade English literature class I found dull and uninspiring so I would get the Classic Comics version and use that as the basis for my report.
That was then and this is now. After reading Mark Levine’s Liberty and Tyranny I became a Levine fan so I was anxious to download his latest book Ameritopia to my newly purchased iPad. Boy, am I glad I did.
Ameritopia is not an easy or a fast read. It’s like the Bible in the sense that you have to read a bit and allow it to germinate in your mind. This is book loaded with political philosophy ranging from Plato’s Republic to the influence of Charles de Montesquieu on the framers of or Deceleration of Independence and Constitution.
Like Liberty and Tyranny Ameritopia is a well-researched and accurate book with adequate end notes to back up Levine’s writings. Ameritopia should be required reading in all high schools (if the students can read). There are more facts and details than I've seen in any other source.
Ameritopia is divided into three parts. The first part delves into the philosophy of governance and the masterminds push towards a utopian society. Its chapters are titled:
Chapter 1: The Tyranny of Utopia
Chapter 2: Plato’s Republic and the Perfect Society
Chapter 3: Thomas More’s Utopia and Radical Egalitarianism
Chapter 4: Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan and the All-Powerful State
Chapter 5: Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and Class Struggle
In Part two Levine defines Americanism and the philosophers who most influenced the Framers. It chapters are:
Chapter 6: John Locke and the Nature of Man
Chapter 7: The Influence of John Locke on the Founders
Chapter 8: Charles de Montesquieu and Republican Government
Chapter 9: The Influence of Montesquieu on the Framers
Chapter 10: Alexis de Tocqueville and Democracy in America
In part three Levine examines the effects of utopianism in America and how we have drifted away from the intent of the Framers over the past 100 years beginning with Woodrow Wilson. Its chapters are:
Chapter 11:Post-Constitutional America
Chapter 12: Ameritopia.
Levine ends the book with an epilogue and 22 pages of end notes.
In the last chapter Levine wraps up all of the political philosophy in the book by showing how the quest for the utopian society has brought us to the brink of losing our Constitution and our freedom. After reading the first 11 chapters you will understand with absolute clarity what Levine is talking about.
In his Epilogue Levine writes:
“MY PREMISE, IN THE first sentence of the first chapter of this book, is this: “Tyranny, broadly defined, is the use of power to dehumanize the individual and delegitimize his nature. Political utopianism is tyranny disguised as a desirable, workable, and even paradisiacal governing ideology.”
Plato’s Republic, More’s Utopia, Hobbes’s Leviathan, and Marx’s workers’ paradise are utopias that are anti-individual and anti-individualism. For the utopians, modern and olden, the individual is one-dimensional—selfish. On his own, he has little moral value. Contrarily, authoritarianism is defended as altruistic and masterminds as socially conscious. Thus endless interventions in the individual’s life and manipulation of his conditions are justified as not only necessary and desirable but noble governmental pursuits. This false dialectic is at the heart of the problem we face today.
In truth, man is naturally independent and self-reliant, which are attributes that contribute to his own well-being and survival, and the well-being and survival of a civil society. He is also a social being who is charitable and compassionate. History abounds with examples, as do the daily lives of individuals. To condemn individualism as the utopians do is to condemn the very foundation of the civil society and the American founding and endorse, wittingly or unwittingly, oppression. Karl Popper saw it as an attack on Western civilization. “The emancipation of the individual was indeed the great spiritual revolution which had led to the breakdown of tribalism and to the rise of democracy.”1 Moreover, Judaism and Christianity, among other religions, teach the altruism of the individual.
Of course, this is not to defend anarchy. Quite the opposite. It is to endorse the magnificence of the American founding. The American founding was an exceptional exercise in collective human virtue and wisdom—a culmination of thousands of years of experience, knowledge, reason, and faith. The Declaration of Independence is a remarkable societal proclamation of human rights, brilliant in its insight, clarity, and conciseness. The Constitution of the United States is an extraordinary matrix of governmental limits, checks, balances, and divisions, intended to secure for posterity the individual’s sovereignty as proclaimed in the Declaration.
This is the grand heritage to which every American citizen is born. It has been characterized as “the American Dream,” “the American experiment,” and “American exceptionalism.” The country has been called “the Land of Opportunity,” “the Land of Milk and Honey,” and “a Shining City on a Hill.” It seems unimaginable that a people so endowed by Providence, and the beneficiaries of such unparalleled human excellence, would choose or tolerate a course that ensures their own decline and enslavement, for a government unleashed on the civil society is a government that destroys the nature of man.
On September 17, 1787, at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Delegate James Wilson, on behalf of his ailing colleague from Pennsylvania, Benjamin Franklin, read aloud Franklin’s speech to the convention in favor of adopting the Constitution. Among other things, Franklin said that the Constitution “is likely to be well administered for a Course of Years, and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become corrupt as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.…”2
Have we “become corrupt”? Are we in need of “despotic government”? It appears that some modern-day “leading lights” think so, as they press their fanatical utopianism. For example, Richard Stengel, managing editor of Time magazine, considers the Constitution a utopian expedient. He wrote, “If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it sure doesn’t say so.… The framers weren’t afraid of a little messiness. Which is another reason we shouldn’t be so delicate about changing the Constitution or reinterpreting it.”3 It is beyond dispute that the Framers sought to limit the scope of federal power and that the Constitution does so. Moreover, constitutional change was not left to the masterminds but deliberately made difficult to ensure the broad participation and consent of the body politic.
Richard Cohen, a columnist for the Washington Post, explained that the Constitution is an amazing document, as long as it is mostly ignored, particularly the limits it imposes on the federal government. He wrote, “This fatuous infatuation with the Constitution, particularly the 10th Amendment, is clearly the work of witches, wiccans, and wackos. It has nothing to do with America’s real problems and, if taken too seriously, would cause an economic and political calamity. The Constitution is a wonderful document, quite miraculous actually, but only because it has been wisely adapted to changing times. To adhere to the very word of its every clause hardly is respectful to the Founding Fathers. They were revolutionaries who embraced change. That’s how we got here.”4 Of course, without the promise of the Tenth Amendment, the Constitution would not have been ratified, since the states insisted on retaining most of their sovereignty. Furthermore, the Framers clearly did not embrace the utopian change demanded by its modern adherents.
Lest we ignore history, the no-less-eminent American revolutionary and founder Thomas Jefferson explained, “On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”5
Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times and three-time Pulitzer Prize recipient, is even more forthright in his dismissal of constitutional republicanism and advocacy for utopian tyranny. Complaining of the slowness of American society in adopting sweeping utopian policies, he wrote, “There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today. One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.”6 Of course, China remains a police state, where civil liberties are nonexistent, despite its experiment with government-managed pseudo-capitalism. Friedman’s declaration underscores not only the necessary intolerance utopians have for constitutionalism, but their infatuation with totalitarianism.
It is neither prudential nor virtuous to downplay or dismiss the obvious—that America has already transformed into Ameritopia. The centralization and consolidation of power in a political class that insulates its agenda in entrenched experts and administrators, whose authority is also self-perpetuating, is apparent all around us and growing more formidable. The issue is whether the ongoing transformation can be restrained and then reversed, or whether it will continue with increasing zeal, passing from a soft tyranny to something more oppressive. Hayek observed that “priding itself on having built its world as if it had designed it, and blaming itself for not having designed it better, humankind is now to set out to do just that. The aim … is no less than to effect a complete redesigning of our traditional morals, law, and language, and on this basis to stamp out the older order and supposedly inexorable, unjustifiable conditions that prevent the institution of reason, fulfillment, true freedom, and justice.”7 But the outcome of this adventurism, if not effectively stunted, is not in doubt.
In the end, can mankind stave off the powerful and dark forces of utopian tyranny? While John Locke was surely right about man’s nature and the civil society, he was also right about that which threatens them. Locke, Montesquieu, many of the philosophers of the European Enlightenment, and the Founders, among others, knew that the history of organized government is mostly a history of a relative few and perfidious men co-opting, coercing, and eventually repressing the many through the centralization and consolidation of authority.
Ironically and tragically, it seems that liberty and the constitution established to preserve it are not only essential to the individual’s well-being and happiness, but also an opportunity for the devious to exploit them and connive against them. Man has yet to devise a lasting institutional answer to this puzzle. The best that can be said is that all that really stands between the individual and tyranny is a resolute and sober people. It is the people, after all, around whom the civil society has grown and governmental institutions have been established. At last, the people are responsible for upholding the civil society and republican government, to which their fate is moored.
The essential question is whether, in America, the people’s psychology has been so successfully warped, the individual’s spirit so thoroughly trounced, and the civil society’s institutions so effectively overwhelmed that revival is possible. Have too many among us already surrendered or been conquered? Can the people overcome the constant and relentless influences of ideological indoctrination, economic manipulation, and administrative coerciveness, or have they become hopelessly entangled in and dependent on a ubiquitous federal government.”
Take a look around at the sad state of our nation. In the 100 years since the self-proclaimed "progressive" Woodrow Wilson was President of these United States Americans have slowly but surely been ceding their rights and liberties to the state. The "masterminds" in our government, those who are so cock-sure that they know what is best for the rest of us, have been systemically consolidating their power and building a mammoth bureaucracy designed to control nearly every aspect of our lives. Then in 2008 the American people elected Barack Obama who promised to "fundamentally change America". Obama has taken the "statist" agenda to a whole new level and most Americans have become increasingly alarmed at the direction this country is headed in. The battle lines have been drawn and the 2012 election will no doubt prove pivotal in the ultimate direction our nation will take. Those of us who favor the traditional American values of hard work, freedom of speech and free enterprise are going to have to articulate our case in the best possible way to a wider audience of our fellow Americans in order to win the day. Lawyer, author and syndicated radio talk show host Mark R. Levin has given us all a huge assist in this regard with the release of his powerful new book "Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America". Drawing on the writings of the great philosophers on both ends of the political spectrum Levin provides his readers with a plethora of devastating arguments against the direction Obama and the progressives in both political parties are taking this nation. It is a truly compelling read!
I think that it is fair to say that most Americans have only a passing knowledge of the writings of philosophers such as Plato, Thomas More, Thomas Hobbes, Karl Marx, John Locke, Charles de Montesquieu and Alexis de Tocqueville. Some would attribute this to the "dumbing down of America" that has been inexorably taking place in our schools over the past half-century or so. But the truth is that all of these individuals as well as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels have exerted a great deal of influence over American political thought in the 235 years of our nation's existence. Plato, More, Hobbes and of course Karl Max all come down on the side of "collectivist" or "utopian" states whereby individuals must necessarily become subservient to the interests of the state. In such an environment individuals "must be managed and suppressed by masterminds for the greater good." There is no tolerance for individual self-interest or even self-preservation. A person's labor and property belong to the state or are controlled by the state. Citing lengthy excerpts from the extensive writings of each of these individuals, Levin points out the obvious flaws in this line of thinking. Mr. Levin succeeds in arming his readers with the ammunition they will need to refute the arguments offered by the leftists and statists in this country on a wide variety of issues like universal health care, the progressive income tax and an ever-expanding and intrusive federal government. To paraphrase an old boxing expression "in this corner we have the Barack Obama's, Nancy Pelosi's, Harry Reid’s and Chuck Schumer's of the world."
Part Two of "Ameritopia" hones in on the writings of John Locke, Charles de Montesquieu, and Alexis de Tocqueville who all champion a much smaller, less intrusive government. John Locke in particular had an enormous influence on our Founding Fathers as they went about the rough and tumble business of fashioning the Constitution. It is an indisputable fact that for most of the history of the world mankind has been ruled by despots and repressive governments. The Founding Fathers wanted something much different. John Locke wrote that "laws made by men and governments without the consent of the government are illegitimate and no man is bound to them." Regarding personal property rights Locke explained that there is always going to be an unequal distribution of property resulting from the manner in which a man applies his labor. This is just plain common sense. "As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labor does, as it were, enclose it from the common. He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational; not to the fancy or covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious." Amen! Meanwhile, another major influence on the thinking of the Founding Fathers was the French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu. Montesquieu warned of "the dangers of a republican government attempting to transform a civil society — including superseding the effects of religion, family, commerce, traditions, customs, mores etc. through legal coercion." Sounds like a page from the Saul Alinsky handbook does it not? Finally, Montesquieu goes on to observe that "There are two sorts of tyranny: a real one, which consists of the violence of the government, and one of opinion, which is felt when those who govern establish things that run counter to a nation's way of thinking." Many of us would argue that this is precisely what has been going on for the past three years. This tyranny is bolstered by today’s main stream media, a media comprised of indoctrinated “journalists” devoted to the progressive cause.
In the final section of "Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America" Mark Levin explains how the statists have advanced their agenda over the past eight decades and why the 2012 elections stand as a watershed in American history. The choices we face have never been clearer. If you are one of those people still sitting on the fence I urge you to read "Ameritopia". Meanwhile, if you are someone who is largely in agreement with the principles espoused by our Founding Fathers I would wholeheartedly encourage you to pick up a copy of "Ameritopia" as well. Mark Levin's compelling book will help to crystallize the arguments in your mind as your attempt to educate your friends, relatives and neighbors in the coming months leading up to the election. Kudos to Mark Levin for an extremely well thought-out and well-executed project. Very highly recommended!
You can preview the various sections of the book by clicking here.