Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Last Sunday's New York Times reported: "Mr. Obama will confront resentment over American-style capitalism and resistance to his economic prescriptions when he lands in London. … He will be tested in face-to-face meetings by the leaders of China and Russia, who have been pondering the degree to which the power of the United States to dominate global affairs may be ebbing. … The American banking collapse, which precipitated the global meltdown, has led to a fundamental rethinking of the American way as a model for the rest of the world."
This may seem an odd beginning to a review of Mark Levin's spectacularly well-timed and vital new book, "Liberty and Tyranny." But it catches perfectly the always-present instinct in the world to strive to crush liberty by those who have neither the courage nor the capacity to exercise it. The dignity of free men and women is a constant moral reproach to those who chose or are compelled not to live in such dignity. And each time a free people suffer some temporary material reversal, such as in 1929 and now, the enemies of individual freedom and liberty offer up some substitute for it that goes by many names but ultimately devolves toward tyranny.
And that is the vital lesson that my friend Mark Levin instructs us on in his new book, which is already a best-seller in America -- and also should be so in London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow and Beijing. Individual freedom should be a universal blessing. That it isn't is a cause for lamentation. That it miraculously was born and thrived in America is a cause for thanksgiving and celebration. That we are losing it should be a spur to rise to its defense. "Liberty and Tyranny" is precisely such a stiff, sharp goad to the body politic.
This is really a superbly useful book. It is the perfect companion for the college freshman to fortify the student against what he or she is about to hear. It is an ideal detoxicant for the graduating senior. Most vitally, it should be read by those who do not consider themselves conservatives, because it carefully lays out the central historic, philosophic and constitutional relationship between conservative principles and our individual freedom.
Even for ilk such as me (now in my fifth decade as a conservative activist, government official, lawyer, author, journalist and commentator), this book is very useful. Mark has an eye for exactly the right historic examples, current facts and obscurities that illuminate well-known events.
In the last instance, I learned from this book the bigoted reason that the constitutional misconception of separation of church and state became the law of the land through the Supreme Court's 1947 Everson v. Board of Education decision.
I knew anti-Catholicism had supplied a unifying principle for a majority Protestant culture threatened by fragmentation and decline in the first half of the 20th century. And because Catholicism seemed to represent unification of church and state, many Protestants came to use the Jeffersonian language of "separation of church and state" in generally opposing Catholic participation in politics and education.
What I learned in Mark's book (pages 30-31) is that former Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black -- who wrote the fateful, culturally damaging, precedent-breaking 5-4 decision -- was described by his own son as an avid reader of the vilest anti-Catholic hate literature. This fact contradicts the usual excuses for Black's former membership in the Ku Klux Klan (youthful indiscretions, socially required, etc.). So this American Civil Liberties Union-cherished provision was not the product of 18th-century enlightenment, but 20th-century rural anti-Catholic Protestant bigotry. Fascinating and useful.
In another instance, Mark pinpoints and explains precisely the right Supreme Court case that killed federalism, authorized national central economic planning, and established precedent for new congressional laws and regulations that, no doubt, soon will be enacted and fatefully retested by today's Supreme Court (pages 53-54).
One cannot understand how we got to the legal plausibility (though, I hope, ultimate overruling) of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's shocking proposal last week to possess legal discretion to seize any private-sector business in America without understanding the 1942 case of Wickard v. Filburn.
This case broke my heart when I studied it 40 years ago as a law student. Could there really be such wickedness in the high court? In a nutshell, it found that a farmer who grew some grain on his own property and himself consumed it on that same property had entered interstate commerce (and thus could be regulated by Washington) because by not being in interstate commerce, he was affecting interstate commerce and thus was being in interstate commerce.
That decision could only be written by a clinical lunatic or a smart person intent on subverting the unambiguous meaning of the Constitution. In 1942, it was written or endorsed by nine men, none of whom was clinically lunatic. "Liberty and Tyranny" is a battle cry and a battle plan to take our Constitution back from such people.
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