SalvoMag | reviewed by Terrell Clemmons | Autumn 2009
In Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, Mark Levin identifies and analyzes two divergent, mutually exclusive philosophies of governance. Tracing the threads of each through American history, Levin discusses America’s founding, the Constitution, federalism, the free market, environmentalism, immigration, and the rise of the welfare state and shows how the conservative principles upon which America was founded have fostered opportunity, prosperity, and strength, and have preserved freedom.
Established on belief in divine providence and natural law, conservative principles recognize “a harmony of interests” and “rules of cooperation” that foster “ordered liberty” and a social contract, which brings about what Levin calls the civil society. In the civil society, the individual is recognized as “a unique, spiritual being with a soul and a conscience.” Though civil society recognizes and sanctions a transcendent, objective moral order, which the citizen has a duty to respect, it acknowledges man’s imperfection and anticipates flawed observance.
In stark contrast to the civil society stands modern liberalism, which Levin says would be more accurately described as statism because it effectively abandons faith in divine providence for faith in the supremacy of the state. Consider this distinction concerning the origin of unalienable rights: “The Founders believed, and the Conservative agrees . . . that we, as human beings, have a right to live, live freely, and pursue that which motivates us not because man or some government says so, but because these are God-given natural rights.” But statism replaces the recognition of unalienable rights as rights inherent to an individual because he is a human being created by God, with the perception that it is the state that is the grantor of rights.
Having dismissed divine providence, it follows that statism would abandon natural law as the objective basis for civil law and replace it with relativism, where truth is, in theory, a matter of opinion, but in effect, it becomes whatever those in power say it is. The combined shift works to change the understanding of a right as something inherent to an individual, which the state is obligated to respect, to pseudo-rights or benefits the state bestows (or promises to bestow), usually in return for popular support. Consider the “right” to health care or affordable housing.
The inexorable culmination of statism is tyranny. For statists, government interventions are required to perfect society. Capitalizing on human imperfections, the statist, who has an insatiable appetite for control, stirs up grievances. Then, in classic divide-and-conquer mode, he poses as a champion or savior for one “oppressed” group while reviling another, all along camouflaging the reality that both groups’ liberties are being gradually subjugated to the insuperable authority of the state.
Statism behaves like a false messiah. The statist “veils his pursuits in moral indignation, intoning . . . injustices and inequities . . . for which only he can provide justice and bring a righteous resolution,” Levin writes. “And when the resolution proves elusive, as it undoubtedly does . . . the Statist demands ever more authority to wring out the imperfections of mankind’s existence.” Unopposed, he exhibits the traits of a megalomaniac.
The antidote to statism, says Levin, is conservatism. He concludes by offering thoughts on how liberty-loving citizens can dissect these antithetical approaches to governance and get involved in public matters to reverse the rising tide of statism. As truth disarms falsehood, conservative principles have the power to uncloak statist duplicity, expose the bankruptcy of its ideas, and preserve the civil society for America’s posterity.
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