In one of his essays C.S. Lewis declared: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” These words rather sum up the case drafted by Mark R. Levin in Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto(New York: Simon & Schuster Threshold Editions, c. 2009), a case that is simply presented and thus accessible to the general reader.
Liberty and Tyranny provides a series of deeply-researched primers on the most pressing issues confronting Americans today. Mark Levin’s essays address: Liberty and Tyranny; Prudence and Progress; Faith and the Founding; The Constitution; Federalism; The Free Market; The Welfare State; Enviro-Statism; Immigration; Self-Preservation; and close with A Conservative Manifesto. These studies make this book both an informative journey and a valuable source-book for future reference.
Liberty, Levin believes, was the guiding principle of America’s 18th century Founders, who insisted it could be preserved only through carefully limited governmental powers, enunciated in the nation’s Constitution. Consequently, he defends: 1) the federalism decreed by the 10th Amendment (“the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”), and 2) the free market, with its commitment to the sanctity of private property, “the material value created from the intellectual and/or physical labor of the individual, which may take the form of income, real property, or intellectual property” (p. 62).
Both federalism and private property have been discounted for nearly a century by courts and congressmen. Thus Levin decries the rapidly growing power of those (dubbed “Statists”) who seek to centralize power and manage not only the economy but all of life for the “good” of the people. Statists such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter established the ubiquitous welfare state, promoted dubious environmental causes, and championed unlimited, illegal immigration—all designed to establish an administrative state, run by experts determined to reconfigure the polity of this nation.
In sum: “So distant is America today from its founding principles that it is difficult to precisely describe the nature of American government. It is not a strictly a constitutional republic, because the Constitution has been and continues to be easily altered by a judicial oligarchy that mostly enforces, if not expands, the Statist’s agenda. It is not strictly a representative republic, because so many edicts are produced by a maze of administrative departments that are unknown to the public and detached from its sentiment. It is not strictly a federal republic, because the states that gave the central government life now live at its behest. What, then, is it? It is a society steadily transitioning toward statism” (p. 192). Inexorably, this leads to the loss of liberty and the establishment of tyranny.
What then should be done? Nothing less that President Ronald Reagan prescribed when he said: “‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free’” (p. 205).
Gerard Reed is a retired professor of history and philosophy, most recently Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. He is the author of three books--The Liberating Law; C.S. Lewis and the Bright Shadow of Holiness; C.S. Lewis Explores Vice & Virtue--as well as a variety of articles and book reviews.