Jerry's Reviews > Ameritopia

Ameritopia by Mark R. Levin
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's review
Mar 12, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: politics
Read in March, 2012

A very insightful analysis of the American Republic as designed by the founders and of the current progressive America as it has veered away from the original model which had made America exceptional.

Mr. Levin quotes and interprets Locke and Montesquieu whose philosophy greatly influenced the founders, and also quotes Plato, More, Hobbes, and Marx and shows how their philosophy appears to be the foundation of the modern American political system.

A key difference between the two philosophical schools is that the former values the individual and is based on the nature of man as he was created while the latter values the collective (as declared by the elites) and is based on impossible fantasies and deceptions.

Locke argued that knowledge is founded on experience. The natural state of man is perfect freedom and equality: “God gave the world to men in common, but since He gave it them for their benefit and the greatest conveniences of life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed He meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational..."

Charles de Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws (1748) argued for the separation of powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial and that republican government does not work well over large regions and thus it is best to govern by a collection of smaller republican states.

The name Utopia comes from Sir Thomas More's novel of the same name in 1516. Utopia was a fictional island nation that featured plentiful goods to meet the needs of its people, every person (except rulers) being the same, houses all the same, everyone dressing the same, each family having a trade, to change trades one had to change families, farm harvest by compelling laborers from the cities, every city alike, no private property, no money, no poverty, 6 hour work day, each family with between 10 and 16 children, everything produced turned over to a central warehouse where each family takes only what they need, sick cared for in wonderful hospitals, but the chronically ill encouraged to commit suicide.

Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan in 1651 argued that men live in a constant state of conflict and thus can not be trusted to govern themselves. “The state of man … is a condition of war of everyone against everyone...” The answer is to turn over all his rights to a Sovereign and every other man also turning over his rights.

To contrast the founder's American Republic to today's Ameritopia, Mr. Levin first quotes Alexis de Tocqueville who, observing the new American republic in 1835, commented “Nothing is more striking to a European traveler in the United States than the absence of what we term government, or the administration. Written laws exist in America, and one sees the daily exercise of them; but although everything moves regularly, the mover can nowhere be discovered. The hand that directs the social machine is invisible... The administrative power in the United States presents nothing either centralized or hierarchical in its constitution; this accounts for its passing unperceived.” Then he quotes Tocqueville on the danger of what America could become if it pursues equality of outcome rather than sticking with liberty and equality of opportunity: "I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind... Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances; what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits."

Then Mr. Levin describes present-day America: "The federal government has become the nation's largest creditor, debtor, lender, employer, consumer, contractor, grantor, property owner, tenant, insurer, health-care provider, and pension guarantor. Its size and reach are vast.” In 2010 the federal government spent 24% of GDP, in 2008 private sector regulatory compliance costs consumed 11.9% of GDP. Total unfunded obligations totals $61.6 trillion, $528,000 per household. Congress has established a massive administrative bureaucracy that unconstitutionally exercises legislative, executive, and judicial powers. The 2010 Federal Register totaled 81,405 pages. The number of criminal offenses is not actually known, but probably numbers in the tens of thousands.

How did we get from the America that Tocqueville observed in 1835 to the present? A major influence was the philosophy of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. In 1908 Woodrow Wilson argued the president is to be as powerful as he can, the courts are to rewrite the Constitution at will, and the Congress is to rule over state legislatures without limits. Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 proposed his Second Bill of Rights which included the right to a job, a decent living, decent home, adequate medical care, a good education, and protection from economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. Levin argues “These are not rights. These are tyranny's disguise. By dominating the individual's property, the utopian dominates the individual's labor, by dominating the individual's labor, he dominates the individual. There is little space between Roosevelt's premise and the distorted historical views of Marx and Engels... Indeed, Roosevelt's worldview harks back to Thomas More's Utopia, a precursor to Marx's workers' paradise, where the individual's labor and property are ultimately possessions of the masterminds and subject to their egalitarian designs.”

Levin concludes, “It is is neither prudential nor virtuous to downplay or dismiss the obvious --- that America has already transformed into Ameritopia. The centralization and consolidation of power in a political class that insulates its agenda in entrenched experts and administrators, whose authority is also self-perpetuating, is apparent all around us and growing more formidable. The issue is whether the ongoing transformation can be restrained and then reversed, or whether it will continue with increasing zeal, passing from a soft tyranny to something more repressive... Have too many among us already surrendered or been conquered? Can the people overcome the constant and relentless influences of ideological indoctrination, economic manipulation, and administrative coerciveness, or have they become hopelessly entangled in and dependent on a ubiquitous federal government?”

All in all I found this to be a very worthwhile book. At times it is a difficult slog. I found myself having to reread pages and think about what is said. In the end, it is very clear to me that the Founders of the American Republic designed a precious and effective system that has gradually been torn down and replaced by an unsustainable utopian dream state that in the end crushes its citizens.
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