Kirk Sinclair's Reviews > Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto

Liberty and Tyranny by Mark R. Levin
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Sep 18, 10

Read in October, 2009

Perhaps I should put a disclaimer as to why I read this book. I am a "grassroots empiricist," meaning: 1) the literal meaning of words matter and 2) localized community experiences matter more than centralized ideologies. When I first saw the title I immediately was disinclined to read it because: 1) liberty and manifesto do not belong together literally, so 2) I suspected that this was some type of ideological propaganda. I did not really know anything about Mark Levin ahead of time so only the title formed the basis of this opinion.

Precisely because I'm a "grassroots empiricist" that unpacks the meaning of words and puts a premium on actual experiences, my conservative nephew asked me to deconstruct this for him. He agreed with it in principle but thought there were things not quite right about it. As it turns out his intuitions were sound.

The title, in fact, is indicative of a good many hypocrisies wrapped into Levin's thesis. You would be bored to tears if I exposed them all so I'll just feature one. Levin faults the Statist court that came out of the New Deal, and the heavy-handedness of FDR to pack that court. In truth, the Supreme Court was first packed in 1800 by Federalists, and in 1805 had arbitrarily made itself the final arbiter of the Constitution (that role is not accorded to the Supreme Court by the Constitution itself).

Up until the New Deal the Supreme Court demonstrated the same "Statist" tendencies that Levin criticizes, they were just done for a different purpose. Furthermore, by the seventies one could make a fair argument that the "Statist" court had returned to its original nature, branded as the "laissez faire" court in the nineteenth century.

I actually wrote a series of blog posts that unpacked some of the other hypocrisies of this work, once again at the behest of my conservative nephew. I'm neither conservative nor liberal; I believe strongly in fighting the misinformation either ideology tends to generate.

Overall, the work would be better titled: Order and Tyranny. Levin really advocates the type of order typical of a conservative position. There is nothing wrong with that. We need order, just as we need liberty. When you use propaganda to "have it both ways," so to make it seem that your ideology has no trade-offs, is when you create more harm than benefit for society.

Despite these problems I give the book two stars instead of one because, after all, I have no doubt that propaganda is its intent and the book achieves its goal with a fairly well-written style. The people most likely to read it would be likely to embrace it without awareness of the hypocrisies.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Ted (last edited Apr 16, 2011 09:09AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted I would tend to disagree with your assertion "Up until the New Deal the Supreme Court demonstrated the same 'Statist' tendencies that Levin criticizes". FDR's New Deal is considered by most Political Scientists to be "the" point that our government embraced Statism.

Although I don't necessarily agree with you, thanks for a good review that is not laced Left Wing talking points and demagoguery, but instead based on your "empirical experience".


Kirk Sinclair Greetings Ted,

I appreciate your very friendly disagreement -- there's not a lot of that these days. I would like to point out that "most Political Scientists" carries very little weight with me, once again because I come at this as an empiricist from my science background with a premium on experience rather than authority.

When the Supreme Court usurps state court authority in McCullogh v. Maryland, then throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century overrules those courts on a consistent basis, generally for the benefit of a corporate economy (i.e., Santa Clara v. South Pacific Railroad defining corporations as individuals or Lochner v. New York defining contracts as liberty), then that is using a more centralized State authority to overrule more decentralized State authority. Whether you agree with those decisions or not they exercise the same centralized authority as was being done in the New Deal.

Indeed, the judicial philosophy of substantive due process really got legs during the laissez faire court era, with the "substance" almost always favoring corporations. Once again, maybe you side with what is essentially corporate socialism, maybe not, but it can't be underestimated just how much centralized authority benefited corporations over the first half of our country's existence.

To prove my assertion wrong with an empirical approach you would need to provide actual examples of the Supreme Court undermining centralized authority for states rights, or undermining the State dependent wards known as corporations for proprietors or (real) individuals before the New Deal occurred.

Thanks again, though, for your friendly comment.


message 3: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted The Supreme Court's job is to rule on what laws are Constitutional, not to consolidate Federal power.

That said, to my understanding in McCullogh vs. Maryland the Supreme Court ruled against the State of Maryland not in an effort to consolidate power (as a "Statist" would in Mr. Levin's book), instead to uphold the Constitutional mandate that it is the Federal Government's job to print currency. The State of Maryland was trying to tax notes NOT printed by a State chartered bank. Clearly THAT is Unconstitutional.


Kirk Sinclair Greetings Ted,

You bring up an important point to consider. If the intent was not Statist is it fair to claim it such? First, I would suggest there are multiple ways to craft a decision, and it seems to me the Marshall Court crafted their decisions collectively in a way that suggests an intent to consolidate power. Certainly the centralization of federal power was the intent of Adams when he packed the court with Federalists begin with. But for the sake of argument let us assume that there was never an intent with any of their decisions to consolidate federal power. Intent, after all, is a tricky thing and focusing on alleged intent opens the door to the sort of demagoguery (both liberal and conservative) that you faulted.

Marshall is, in fact, illustrative in this regards. He was known to dislike slavery, yet he upheld slaves as international property that had to be returned. Do we give him a pass for decisions that helped to entrench slavery further because that was not his real intent?

Any single Supreme Court decision, such as McCullogh v. Maryland can perhaps be excused for its main intent. But it's the effect that counts and, furthermore, it's the effect of many decisions acting in synergy. The proof is in the pudding.

The overwhelming majority of early colonialists were states rights agrarians. They were less involved in federal government than the centralized/commerce/corporate oriented Federalists, yet they were involved enough so that the only parties that went extinct in the early going were those who overstepped their efforts at centralizing either wealth or power. Now all parties, including the Tea Party, are much closer to the original Federalists in orientation than the overwhelming majority of states rights agrarians that began our country.

How did such a total reversal come to pass? The collective EFFECT of Supreme Court jurisprudence over the years, particularly during the nineteenth century, was one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, contributor.

I should add I see nothing conspiratorial in this, just as I realize Marshall was not conspiring to extend slavery. Supreme Court justices are unelected and overwhelmingly come from backgrounds of wealth and power, overwhelmingly from either government or corporate sectors. I do not doubt their sincere intent of doing right by the Constitution all throughout, just as I do not doubt that their backgrounds would inevitably lead the country one way instead of another when the effect of their jurisprudence is taken in its entirety.


message 5: by Ted (last edited Apr 17, 2011 06:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted I agree that there are many "unintended consequences" with each and every ruling in all levels of law. I also know that Justices, more so in the last 50 years, have become more partisan. That, to me, is the real danger we're facing. Can we truly trust that a given case is being ruled on "the law", or are we know forced to live under rule of law interpreted by ideology?

Back to the point of book re: "Statists". I think Mr. Levin's point when describing a "Statist" isn't as complex as you have made it. What I walked away with is it is someone who is a Marxist/Leninist/Socialist in ideological view. It's someone who loaths wealth and private property. The only way to eliminate it, in an effort to guarantee "equal outcome" is to abolish personal property and individual liberties.


Kirk Sinclair Well, with that we can come close to consensus. I agree I make this more complex than what Levin would intend, though I would add that is part of the problem with his thesis.

I also agree he is linking Statist with Marxist/Leninist/Socialist and almost anything else that might hit a negative chord with the reader. I'm not sure "Statists" exist as described precisely by Levin but, even if they do, they share more in common with conservatives than either shares with the original states rights agrarians that existed before the nineteenth century Supreme Court worked its top down magic to shape, indulge and entitle a corporate economy. By ignoring that the infamous Laissez Faire Court also exhibited centralized heavy-handedness one must conclude that Levin's real issue is the purpose behind the centralized heavy-handedness of the New Deal Court, and not the actual centralized heavy-handedness.

There is much to be said for a corporate economy, but it is a form of order with many, many top down components absolutely necessary to succeed, not the perfect expression of liberty that one might assume from reading Levin, Friedman or many others trying to capture both sides of the fence to impose a dogmatic view of the world.


message 7: by Philip (new) - added it

Philip Evans Because you only read the jacket blurbs, your review comes off as pompous bullcrap.
"Grassroots empiricist," -- give me a friggin' break -- please. This may be new info for you, but language is flexible and subjectively interpreted.


message 8: by Philip (new) - added it

Philip Evans Because you only read the jacket blurbs, your review comes off as pompous bullcrap.
"Grassroots empiricist," -- give me a friggin' break -- please. This may be new info for you, but language is flexible and subjectively interpreted.


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