Levin exposes the dangers of utopian thought
Levin’s objective has been achieved. Readers of Ameritopia will be introduced to Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, and Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto—the works that comprise the foundation of liberal/statist thought. Most readers will be appalled not only by the ideas championed in those works, but also by the multiple examples of those principles at work—in modern America. Levin contrasts, to dramatic effect, the failed philosophy of the aforementioned authors with the ideas of John Locke, Charles Montesquieu, Alexis de Tocqueville, and the American Founders.
In Plato’s Republic, Levin writes, “it is not difficult to find the germs of Marxism, National Socialism, Islamicism, and other forms of utopianism….Plato provided a philosophical and intellectual brew for a utopian society that would influence tyrannies for centuries to come.”
Perhaps the most destructive idea introduced by Hobbes’ Leviathan is absolute equality, the champions of which are prominent in contemporary America. “Even more thoroughly than the Republic,” Levin writes, “More’s Utopia demands conformity, uniformity, and communal living for nearly all of its inhabitants. Apart from its religious component, it is similar in kind to, and a forerunner to, the ‘utopian socialism’ in The Communist Manifesto and its emphasis on radical egalitarianism.”
The latter work includes multiple diabolical tenets, including the abolition of private property, a heavy progressive or graduated income tax, and the abolition of the right of inheritance. Levin writes: “The Communist Manifesto seethes with hate for the so-called bourgeoisie. Their freedom, families, and of course, property, must all be abolished.” “This person,” the Manifesto declares, “must, indeed, be swept out of the way and made impossible….The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie.”
Despite the abysmal failure of communism, many American leftists—including several in lofty positions—advocate for the implementation of Marxist ideas: “Communism’s utopian underpinnings and characteristics,” Levin writes, “attract sympathetic attention, including in America and especially among the intelligentsia and malcontented, as it is romanticized as ‘social justice’ and a ‘liberation’ movement.” The fact that such a destructive philosophy remains fashionable among statists can only be attributed to ignorance or outright contempt for our nation’s founding principles.
At the opposite end of the political spectrum are a couple of thinkers who influenced the Founding Fathers: Locke and Montesquieu. Locke was, for instance, a staunch defender of property rights: “Man…hath by nature a power not only to preserve his property—that is, his life, liberty, and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men, but to judge of and punish the breaches of that law in others, as he is persuaded the offense deserves, even with death itself, in crimes where the heinousness of the fact, in his opinion, requires it….” A philosophy further removed from that of Marx is difficult to imagine.
Montesquieu, “believed to have been the most widely cited philosopher in America during the 1780s,” clearly had an impact on the thinking of our Founding Fathers. According to Montesquieu, “There are two sorts of tyranny: a real one, which consists in the violence of the government, and one of opinion, which is felt when those who govern establish things that run counter to a nation’s way of thinking.” The Obama administration offers scores of examples of the latter form of tyranny; ObamaCare is merely the most conspicuous.
One of the hallmarks of liberalism is its obsession with equality—not equal opportunity, but equal economic results. Alexis de Tocqueville warned us about the danger posed by such a misunderstanding: “There exists also in the human heart,” he wrote, “a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality in freedom.” Tocqueville, then, would not be surprised by the so-called “99 percent,” the envy-driven rabble at the heart of the Occupy movement.
Champions of ordered liberty, limited government, and the principles of our founding will savor Ameritopia, which is a textbook, of sorts, on the history of political thought.
Charles Davenport Jr. is the editor of The Greensboro Guardian.
Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America, by Mark R. Levin
Simon & Schuster/248 pages/$26.99
Beautiful decay: Dalrymple diagnoses long-term poverty
Our friends at Webster’s define the term “bibliophile” as “one who loves or collects books.” I am a proud member of this dying breed, and most of us have developed a list of favorite writers, whose works we seek out, collect,read, and re-read. My shelves groan under the weight of volumes by and about George Gissing, Bill Buckley, Russell Kirk, and Thomas Sowell. These are simply the most potent and inspirational scribblers I have encountered.
But I have been remiss. I recently discovered another author of uncanny ability, who should have long ago been inducted into my chosen elite: Theodore Dalrymple. Although I had read and been impressed by Dalrymple’s essays in National Review and elsewhere, I had not read any of his books until a few months ago, when Thomas Sowell raved about Dalrymple in his syndicated column. I dutifully raced to Barnes & Noble.
The volume I purchased, Life at the Bottom, is Dalrymple’s incisive and often amusing analysis of the British underclass. The author knows of what he speaks: as a psychiatrist in a hospital and a prison situated in a gloomy, crime-infested slum, Dalrymple has rubbed elbows with and analyzed the proletariat for several years. His authority is unimpeachable: He has interviewed approximately 10,000 people, he writes, and “learned about the lives of some fifty thousand: lives dominated, almost without exception, by violence, crime, and degradation.”
Hanging about the doctor’s environment is an air of desperation and failure, which renders all the more striking the grace and eloquence of Derbyshire’s scribbling. The contrast is akin to a solitary, defiant rose bush taking root, exploding with color, and scattering to the wind its fragrant petals – in the middle of a sewage plant.
Here, for instance, Derbyshire writes about Indian immigrants, whose cultural aspirations are often downward, toward the underclass: “Young Indians have adopted, too, the graceless manners of the class to which they aspire to belong. They now walk with the same self-assured vulpine lope as their white compatriots, not merely as a way of locomotion but as a means of communicating threat. Like the whites, they shave their heads to reveal the scars upon their scalps, the wounds of the underclass war of each against all.” (The term “vulpine” is not often encountered, but it means “of or resembling a fox, esp. in cunning.”)
This is writing of extraordinarily rare quality, but readers of Life at the Bottom will encounter such flashes of brilliance every two or three pages. Dalrymple describes a gyrating cluster of humanity on a dance-club floor as “a great seething mass” moving “like maggots in a tin.”
A common error among conservatives—here I speak from experience—is writing didactically; that is, pounding readers over the head, when subtlety would be more effective. Dalrymple has mastered the technique, as demonstrated in the following passage:
“Opposite my house, in the center of the square, stands a Victorian Gothic church, a building of some grandeur, which soars upward with immense confidence. Its interior is unspoiled, its stained-glass windows magnificent. It is almost always empty.” The message is loud and clear, is it not?
Downward cultural aspirations are not strictly a phenomenon among Indian immigrants; they are a becoming the norm. (This is also taking place in the U.S.) “It is a curious characteristic of our age,” the good doctor writes, “that cultural influences now seem to flow from the lower social classes upward, rather than from the upper classes downward…” Diction, or speaking style, is one of the examples Dalrymple cites.
“Diction in Britain has always been an important marker, to some extent even a determinant, of a person’s place in the social hierarchy….The British almost
universally associate what is known as received pronunciation [proper English] with high intelligence, good education, and a cultured way of life.” No more. “Where once the aspiring might have aped the diction of their social superiors, the upper classes now ape the diction of their inferiors,” as if something were wrong with proper English.
Word, yo. Know what I’m sayin’?
Theodore Dalrymple argues, quite persuasively, that the culprit behind long-term, generational poverty is neither racism nor lack of economic opportunity; rather, the dysfunction that stifles the British (and, by the way, American) underclass is an abandonment and distortion of traditional values.
Dr. Dalrymple is a magical wordsmith, and his diagnosis of societal ills is breathtakingly forthright. This is the best book I have read in years, and I am eager to devour all of the author’s works.
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass, by Theodore Dalrymple
Ivan R. Dee publishing/255 pages/$16.95
Charles Davenport Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and editor of The Greensboro Guardian.