This book, by an attorney, former Reagan Administration official, and now radio talk show host and founder of Landmark Legal Foundation, is a serious effort to elucidate the political problems that have developed in this country in the past 100 years, from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama.
Levin previously authored Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America (2005) and Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto (2009) on the outrages of the courts and the problems of leftist politics.
Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America is his most erudite and engaging book, in which Levin puts down the polemical pen to review the history and philosophical underpinning of American republican representative government and to inquire why it is at odds with the socialist movement that has invaded society in all sectors—academic, political, and cultural. Click here to buy a copy of Ameritopia at Amazon.
Levin condemns the New Age “living Constitution” approach of liberal judges and politicians, and he instinctively rejects socialism and the modernist form of fascist or socialist tyranny advocated by statists, which could destroy America as the bastion of individual liberty. He always comes back to the group of political geniuses and practical politicians who conceived, framed, and created the greatest government experiment in human history. Starting with those sacred and honored concepts of the American founding, Ameritopia also tries to educate the reader about how and why we have lost ourway.
The new “hope and change” statists are just warmed-over ancient utopians, Levin states. He shows how old and new utopian concepts and campaigns are flawed. He plows the ground of philosophy and political thought to help the reader understand how respected and revered philosophers planted the seeds of liberty killing utopian tyranny of ideals and mystic political dreams.
The first five chapters of Ameritopia are devoted to utopian political thought, using Plato, Thomas More, Thomas Hobbes, and Karl Marx as exemplars. Chapters six through 10 discuss the origins of the concepts of individual liberty and limited government, including John Locke’s ideas on natural law and how it protects the individual from the state, which are incorporated in the Declaration of Independence. Charles deMontesquieu focused on balancing and dividing the sources of power in the government so that the citizen could be assured of liberty and a limited government. Montesquieu provided the plan for a structure of federalism and separation and balance of enumerated powers that is the unique American experiment ingovernance.
In the section on the American Founders, Levin describes how Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Mason, and others founded a limited government based on the consent of the governed, respectful of individual liberty and freedom. Their ideas were derived from those of Montesquieu and Locke. The government was to have only designated and specified limited powers, with those not enumerated being reserved to the people and to the states.
Throughout the book Levin discusses how limited government is jeopardized by the ambitions and overreach of modern utopianism, and how, with the best of intentions, “progressive” statists incrementally expand the powers and influence of government in a soft tyranny of welfare and administrative programs — the end being oppression and loss of liberty.
Most of all, Levin warns us of the terrible consequences of allowing elites (he uses the term “masterminds”) to presume to be capable of creating utopia. Citizens are allowed to vote for leaders, but between elections, governance is by the soft tyranny of the administrative state.
Allowing those Plato called “philosopher kings” to gain control is to become their subjects. Levin remarks that the electorate is considered qualified to choose its leadership, but not its light bulbs, vehicles, health insurance, or toilets.
Section III exposes the results of ambitious statist expansion, with special emphasis on Woodrow Wilson, who attempted to devalue the founding documents and declared them inadequate.
Wilson’s ideas were expanded in the domineering nanny state created by Franklin Roosevelt and his “Brain Trust.”
After the New Deal, the die was cast for an administrative welfare state — even supposedly conservative administrations and governments subsequently pushed this with few pauses or retreats. Nixon and others advanced new agencies and government programs. There were some real pauses during the Reagan years, but little was done to restore the original concept of limited government.
Levin concludes that the American experiment was a great success, but warns that we are on the brink of terrible failure if we accept utopian ideas and destroy functional representative government with its limited and enumerated powers. He is deeply concerned that we may be in the process of giving up liberty for the security of an administrative welfare state tyranny imposed by an oligarchy of elitist ideologues.
Levin has achieved his goal of a concise and insightful history of political ideas, with a mind to what those ideas mean to modern Americans, and he did it without showboating and in fewer than 300 pages.
Review by John Dale Dunn, M.D., J.D. Brownwood, Tex.