Books: Liberty and Tyranny

My husband is enjoying being able to discuss politics with our older son, now that he is old enough to understand and take an interest in current issues and events. At his request, I checked this book (along with Ann Coulter’s latest book) out from the public library, for them to read and discuss. When they were done, he offered them to me to read. I wasn’t interested in Coulter’s book, from what I had heard about her and the excerpts our son had read aloud.

But I took a look at Mark Levine’s book and decided it was worth reading. I even kept it two days past the due date, when I discovered I couldn’t renew it because someone else put a hold on it, so I could finish the book. (Fortunately our library only charges a dime a day per book.) I’ve considered myself a conservative for a long time, but it’s a long time since I had seen someone articulate the conservative views clearly and succinctly without indulging in sarcasm and invective.

I do have some criticisms of the book, but for the most part I thought that Levin presented the main principles of conservatism well. At first I thought some statements were made without offering examples or corroboration, but once I got into the meat of the book, he provided examples and lots of footnotes. If I were to purchase the book, I would be able to do further research into some of the areas he discusses, using the sources noted in the notes at the end of the book.

I first came to hold a conservative position in college. I happened to turn 18 in 1980, right at the start of the presidential campaign (although that first semester I was studying at Word of Life Bible Institute, where no TV or radios were allowed and I paid little attention to the outside world (they kept us much too busy anyway). By the time Reagan emerged as the Republican candidate, I had decided to transfer from WOLBI to Cedarville College (now Cedarville University), and that fall I took a required course that included an introduction to both economics and political science.

I wasn’t certain just how the Bible supported free markets as clearly as our professor said, but everything he said about free markets and limited government made sense to me. When a straw poll taken that fall at the college showed over 90% support for Reagan among the student body, I was actually surprised it wasn’t higher. How could anyone listen to what they taught us about what the Republicans stood for and what the Democrats stood for, and not choose to vote for Reagan?

At that point I was going purely by ideology, and while ideology can be good it can also be easily twisted to less noble ends. After I got out of college I got to know more people from different backgrounds, including a friend who was a staunch Democrat. I observed times when Republicans didn’t act according to the principles I had been taught to associate with them.

I became more aware of the messiness of politics, where you often have to choose between getting part of what you are striving for, while letting your opponents also get part of what they want, or insisting that you cannot vote for a package that includes some things you consider just plain wrong (even if it means your opponents win while you stand up for principle). I still considered myself a conservative, but found myself having more sympathy for moderates or centrists on some issues. (And I found Tony Campolo’s book Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat? very thought-provoking, regardless of whether I agreed with him on the issues.)

In recent years I’ve become disillusioned with the failure of Republicans in Washington to practice fiscal conservatism, and finally voted for a third party for the first time last year. In the usually contentious discussions of issues on worldmagblog, I found myself often disagreeing (in my head, even if I didn’t post my thoughts) with many conservatives on some issues, and with their ways of trying to make points (wild exaggeration, ridicule, name-calling) even when I did agree on the issues. Some other regulars suggested that I was more a moderate than a conservative, and I wondered if they were right.

Then I read Levin’s book this week. If a conservative is defined by the principles he articulates in these chapters, then I am a conservative. He presents the type of government the Founders of our country envisioned, and which they prescribed in our Constitution, and he shows the great wisdom of their approach. Then he shows how the country moved away from that vision, giving more and more power to the federal government, and the negative effects this has had on our society.

He covers a lot of issues, from the economy to foreign relations to the environment. But always his point is that the federal government was never intended to take on itself so many of the roles that it has. It’s something that I’ve heard and read many times, since that first intro to political science in the fall of 1980, but never so clearly, and never with such relevance to very current events (the debate over health care reform).

There’s too much to discuss in one post, and it’s my bedtime now, so I will continue this in the next post.

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