Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto — Mark R. Levin — Threshold Editions — Hardcover: 245 pages — 2009 — ISBN 13: 978-1-4165-6285-6

There is simply no scientific or mathematical formula that defines conservatism. Moreover, there are competing voices today claiming the mantle of “true conservatism”—including neo-conservatism (emphasis on a robust national security), paleo-conservatism (emphasis on preserving the culture), social conservatism (emphasis on faith and values), and libertarianism (emphasis on individualism), among others. Scores of scholars have written at length about what can be imperfectly characterized as conservative thought. But my purpose is not to give them each exposition, as it cannot be fairly or adequately accomplished here, nor referee among them. Neither will attempt to give birth to totally new theories. Instead, what follows are my own opinions and conclusions of fundamental truths, based on decades of observation, exploration, and experience, about conservatism and, conversely, non-conservatism—that is, liberty and tyranny in modern America.

Mark Levin is worried. What worries him is the inexorable drift away from the principles of self-government as formulated by the Founding Fathers and formalized in the Declaration of Independence and the Consitution.

Does he have a justification for his concerns? Let’s see: The electorate have installed a person whom Levin characterizes as “the most ideologically pure Statist and committed counterrevolutionary to occupy the Oval Office,” elected as representatives people who continually prove their unworthiness to manage a lemonade stand much less propose, approve, and oversee multi-trillion-dollar public policy spending programs that tend to undermine the nation’s economic structural foundation, and allowed appointments of Supreme Court judges who progressively look abroad for guidance on how to administer American justice. Yeah, I’d say he’s justified.

In Liberty and Tyranny, Levin not only proffers a detailed analysis of what has been going wrong with America’s grand experiment in self-government but also presents in general outline steps that need to be taken to remedy these problems. Since Karl and Friedrich had their manifesto, I suppose Levin figures turnabout is fair play.

Throughout his manifesto, Levin continually compares and contrasts the philosophical viewpoints of the notional “Conservative” and his nemesis the “Statist.” A more profound difference in outlook it is hard to imagine. The two diametrically opposed philosophies have been in conflict with one another since the foundation of the American republic. At their base, each rests upon a fundamental view of what constitutes human nature and the society derived from it: One says man is basically flawed and needs minimal government to restrain him from his tendencies to harm others; the other says man is basically good and that government’s function is to enlarge that goodness without limit—hence Levin’s dichotomous distinction between “Conservative” and “Statist.”

For Levin, “civil society” may be the highest expression of American civilization, but it is constantly under threat:

The Statist’s counterrevolution has turned the instrumentalities of public affairs and public governance against the civil society. They can no longer be left to the devices of the Statist, which is largely the case today.

According to Levin, one recently controverted policy program being promoted by the Statist has the potential to be the final nail in the coffin of American freedom:

Fight all efforts to nationalize the health-care system. National health care is the mother of all entitlement programs, for through it the Statist controls not only the material wealth of the individual but his physical well-being. Remind the people that politicians and bureaucrats, about whom they are already cynical, will ultimately have the final say over their choice of doctors, hospitals, and treatments—meaning the system will be politicized and bureaucratized.

A final note: Levin’s recommendations are all praiseworthy, but he needs to be more exact in some details (wherein, as we know, the devil is). For example, when he advocates “the denial of most social services to illegal aliens to deter their migration to the United States,” you stumble on that word “most.” You must wonder just which social services illegal aliens are entitled to in Levin’s estimation. Long-time readers of are acutely aware that such imprecise statements are loopholes through which tens of millions of illegal aliens and hundreds of billions of tax dollars can be and have been funneled. Here Levin seems to be replicating the standard Wall Street Journal/National Review boilerplate advocacy for cheap labor.

In addition, Levin supports eliminating the progressive income tax, the automatic withholding of taxes, the corporate income tax, and the death tax—and correctly so—but then also asserts: “All federal income tax increases will require a supermajority vote of three-fifths of Congress.” Unless I’ve misunderstood him, he seems to concede that the federal government has a moral right to confiscate some, most, or all of a wage earner’s income; but who, when, where, how, and why was it decided that the government has any right to anyone’s earnings? Unexamined assumptions such as these could undermine Levin’s intent; he needs to revisit and clarify them in subsequent editions of his book.


1. On Liberty and Tyranny
In the midst stands the individual, who was a predominate focus of the Founders. When living freely and pursuing his own legitimate interests, the individual displays qualities that are antithetical to the Statist’s—initiative, self-reliance, and independence. As the Statist is building a culture of conformity and dependency, where the ideal citizen takes on dronelike qualities in service of the state, the individual must be drained of uniqueness and self-worth, and deterred from independent thought or behavior. This is achieved through varying methods of economic punishment and political suppression.

2. On Prudence and Progress
The Conservative believes, as Burke and the Founders did, that prudence must be exercised in assessing change. Prudence is the highest virtue for it is judgment drawn on wisdom. The proposed change should be informed by the experience, knowledge, and traditions of society, tailored for a specific purpose, and accomplished through a constitutional construct that ensures thoughtful deliberation by the community. Change unconstrained by prudence produces unpredictable consequences, threatening ordered liberty with chaos and ultimately despotism, and placing at risk the very principles the Conservative holds dear.

3. On Faith and the Founding
The Statist may wrap himself and his deeds in the language of enlightenment—claiming to be the voice of reason, the beholder of knowledge
, and the architect of modernity—but recent history has shown him to be unenlightened in his understanding of mankind, moral order, liberty, and equality …. For the Statist, revolution is an ongoing enterprise, for it regularly cleanses society of religious dogma, antiquated traditions, backward customs, and ambitious individuals who differ with or obstruct the Statist’s plans. The Statist calls this many things, including “progressive.” For the rest, it is tyranny.

4. On the Constitution
[Current administration official Cass] Sunstein believes that economic value and private property are not natural occurrences in human interaction but rather the outgrowth of government and law. Therefore, he and other legal “realists” assert that government authority should be used to better exploit and redistribute wealth …. Sunstein’s “realism” is not new. He creates the false choice between anarchy (where there are no laws protecting the individual, private property, and contracts) and tyranny (where the sovereign and the sovereign alone arbitrarily grants fundamental rights, including property rights). Having declared the sovereign paramount to God and nature, and having delinked liberty from property, the individual must rely on the government for his sustenance. Of course, history shows that man will starve and freeze if he relies on the government for his sustenance—and surrender his liberty as well.

5. On Federalism
In many respects, the once-powerful states, thirteen of which ratified the Constitution in the first place, have themselves become administrative appendages of the federal government  …. Does anyone believe that the states would have originally ratified the Constitution had they known this would be their fate? [In undermining the founding document] the Statist has also constructed a Fourth Branch of government—an enormous administrative state—which exists to oversee and implement his policies. It is a massive yet amorphous bureaucracy that consists of a workforce of nearly 2 million civilian employees.

6. On the Free Market
… the Conservative believes the free market is a vital bulwark against statism. And it would appear the Statist agrees, for he is relentless in his assault on it. Indeed, the Statist’s rejection of the Constitution’s limits on federal power is justified primarily, albeit not exclusively, on material grounds.

7. On the Welfare State
But it is the Statist’s purpose to make as many individuals as possible dependent on the government. Most Americans are, in fact, satisfied with what they pay for their own health care, the quality of the health care they receive, and their health-care coverage. However, the Statist continues to press for government control over the entire health-care system. He is not satisfied with constraining liberty today. He seeks to reach into posterity to constrain liberty tomorrow.

8. On Enviro-Statism
The Enviro-Statist poses as the defender of clean air, clean water, penguins, seals, polar bears, glaciers, the poor, the Third World, and humanity itself. But he is already responsible for the death and impoverishment of tens of millions of human beings in the undeveloped world. Now he has moved on to bigger tasks—imposing his societal designs on a free and prosperous people, dictating their lifestyle, controlling their movement, and breaking their spirit.

9. On Immigration
The Statist’s argument for “comprehensive immigration reform” reduces to this: America is a nation of immigrants …. Of course, to say [that] is to say every nation is a nation of immigrants. Mexico, the source of most immigrants to the United States today, is a nation of Spanish (and other) immigrants. The implication is, however, that both legal and illegal immigration, no matter how extensive, is another moral imperative justifying the transformation of the civil society. This is not so.

10. On Self-Preservation
The Conservative does not seek rigid adherence to any specific course of action: neutrality or alliance, preemptive war or defensive posture, nation building or limited military strike. The benchmark, again, is whether any specific path will serve the nation’s best interests. It is difficult to imagine a theory under which a society could otherwise survive …. For the Statist, however, U.S. foreign policy is another opportunity to enhance his own authority at the expense of the civil society.

Epilogue: A Conservative Manifesto
So distant is America today from its founding principles that it is difficult to precisely describe the nature of American government. It is not strictly a constitutional republic, because the Constitution has been and continues to be easily altered by a judicial oligarchy that mostly enforces, if not expands, the Statist’s agenda. It is not strictly a representative republic, because so many edicts are produced by a maze of administrative departments that are unknown to the public and detached from its sentiment. It is not strictly a federal republic, because the states that gave the central government life now live at its behest. What, then, is it? It is a society steadily transitioning toward statism. If the Conservative does not come to grips with the significance of this transformation, he will be devoured by it.


Mike Gray