- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

LIBERTY AND TYRANNY: A CONSERVATIVE MANIFESTO
By Mark R. Levin
Threshold Editions, $25, 256 pages
REVIEWED BY ELI LAKE

Mark Levin’s new book, “Liberty and Tyranny,” hits bookshops as the American conservative movement is in civil war.

On one side are the elites — writers including David Brooks, Ross Douthat and David Frum — who argue that conservatives must accept a large federal government and steer it to the right.

On the other side of this debate are Mark Levin and his fellow AM talk-radio hosts, including Rush Limbaugh. Their view is that the conservative principles of limited government, personal liberty, free markets and constitutionalism cannot abide an ever-expanding state.

In recent weeks, this dispute has boiled over. Mr. Frum, a personal friend, made the case on a recent cover of Newsweek that Mr. Limbaugh is precisely the kind of self-indulgent, pill-popping, fat man the Obama White House would like to affix to the Republican brand. Before this, Mr. Levin, in defense of his friend Mr. Limbaugh, lashed into Mr. Frum, telling listeners that the former Bush speechwriter is a “putz” and an even more profane word in conservative circles, “Canadian.”

While Mr. Frum thinks Republicans will be consigned to a permanent minority status unless fresh thinking is accepted and not derided, Mr. Levin wants to roll back the modern state to what it was about 100 years ago. Put simply, he thinks government should exist only for the preservation of ordered liberty, or civil society. This leaves no room for a federal bureaucracy that endures and expands no matter what party controls the executive branch.

The administrative state Mr. Levin would like to destroy is described as follows:

“It administers a budget of over $3 million. It churns out a mind-numbing number of rules that regulate energy, the environment, business, labor, employment, transportation, housing, agriculture, food, drugs, education, etc. Even the slightest human activity apparently requires its intervention: clothing labels on women’s dresses, cosmetic ingredients, and labeling. It even reaches into the bathroom, mandating showerhead flow rates and allowable gallons per flush for toilets. It sets flammability standards for beds.”

Mr. Levin contrasts his vision of limited government aimed at preserving ordered liberty with the aims of modern liberals, whom he has renamed “statists.” The statist builds a “culture of conformity and dependency, where the ideal citizen takes on drone-like qualities in service to the state, the individual must be drained of uniqueness and self worth, and deterred from independent though or behavior.” Contrast the man of the modern state to the individual of Mr. Levin’s civil society who “is recognized and accepted as more than an abstract statistic or faceless member of some group; rather, he is a unique, spiritual being with a soul and a conscience.”

Mr. Levin charts the expansion of the American state over the past century or so. He points out how the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1917, stripped the state legislatures of the authority to appoint senators and thus deprived them of a meaningful role in the federal government. He derides President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s view that there should be a second bill of rights and blames his presidency with creating not only modern entitlement programs but also a school of thought that reads foreign meaning into the Constitution.

Some of Mr. Levin’s toughest language is aimed at the environmentalist, whom he calls the enviro-statist. This chapter begins with a debunking of Rachel Carson, the author of “Silent Spring” and advocate against DDT pesticides. Mr. Levin forcefully argues that Miss Carson, in the name of stopping cancer, indirectly caused the deaths of millions in the Third World who perished from the malaria carried by mosquitoes DDT helped eradicate.

“The Enviro-Statist poses as a defender of clean air, clear water, penguins, seals, polar bears, glaciers, the poor, the Third World, and humanity itself,” he writes. “But he is already responsible for the death and impoverishment of tens of millions of human beings in the undeveloped world.”

In his 2008 book “Comeback,” Mr. Frum compared the conservatives today who seek to run against the New Deal of the 1930s to the Republicans at the end of the 19th century who insisted on calling out Democrats as slaveholders and secessionists in their campaigns. His point is that even if this view is correct, it will not win elections.

Mr. Levin dissents. The conservative manifesto at the end of the book calls for a radical shrinking of the state, from the abolition of the progressive income tax to the sunset of all independent federal agencies at the end of every budget year. Mr. Levin wants to revoke tax-exempt status for environmental groups and neuter the national teachers unions.

As it stands, millions of Americans every day tune in to hear a full-throated assault on the modern state and the Democratic Party from Mr. Levin, Mr. Limbaugh and others. It is also true that these millions, as recent elections have shown, do not make a governing majority.

“Liberty and Tyranny” is a powerful book that will convert many Americans to conservative thought the way Milton Friedman’s Newsweek essays converted an earlier generation. But until most Americans agree with Mr. Levin, the Republican Party will also need David Frum, Ross Douthat and David Brooks to build national coalitions to govern in the years, and maybe decades, before the bloated federal state implodes.

Eli Lake is national security correspondent for The Washington Times.


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