Two of the more fascinating reads published recently are Mark Levin’s Ameritopia and Dennis Prager’s Still the Best Hope. Both provide penetrating analysis on why a century of progressivism has propelled the USA to the brink of a national catastrophe. And both offer a compelling vision of a return to bedrock conservatism as the only and obvious solution to the economic and cultural calamities that barely checked liberalism has bestowed upon the nation. Each author writes with great passion, as exemplified in the following typical excerpts:
Levin. America today 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, federal power. 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. America is becoming, and in significant ways has become, a post-constitutional, democratic utopia of sorts. It exists behind a Potemkin-like image of constitutional republicanism. Its essential elements and unique features are being ingurgitated by an insatiable federal government that seeks to usurp and displace the civil society.
The Founders would be appalled at the nature of the federal government’s transmutation and the squandering of the American legacy. 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. Its interventions are illimitable.
Prager. This book delineates with scores of examples the toxic impact Left-wing thought and actions have had on civilization. From the far Left – with its virtually unparalleled mass murders and totalitarianism – to the democratic Left, nearly every area of life that the Left has influenced has been adversely affected. The culture has been debased, from the fine arts with their scatological exhibits and contempt for beauty and excellence, to the popular culture’s nearly omnipresent vulgarity. Education has been corrupted, with students learning less and propagandized more. Economies have been wrecked by the irresponsible accumulation of debt, almost entirely a result of government expansion and entitlement programs. Masculinity and femininity have been rendered archaic concepts. The will to fight evil has been almost eradicated in the Western world outside the United States. The moral character of great numbers of people has been negatively affected … [by] the effects of the welfare state on the character of citizens. And in the United States the Left has marshaled its influence in schools and universities, labor unions, news media, entertainment media, and the arts to undermine the bases of Americanism – liberty, small government, God-based ethics, and E Pluribus Unum.
The authors’ passionate arguments lead them to very similar conclusions. However, there is a major difference in the approaches of the two works. Levin emphasizes the flawed political and economic theories that animate the progressive agenda. He explains how four fundamentally utopian fantasies (Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto) have provided the political playbook from which liberals over the last century have drawn their inspiration and hatched their strategies. Prager, on the other hand, attributes much of the motivation for liberal initiatives to a reaction to the innate feelings that progressives have about the issues that confront the nation. Rather than follow a specific blueprint for ‘hope and change,’ progressives are inclined, according to Prager, to follow their feelings about how things should be, why they are not and how to bring them about.
Of course, whether they heed their head or their heart, liberals advance their progressive agenda in the face of overwhelming evidence that their statism results in: high unemployment, decreased productivity, diminished freedom, cultural decay, inadequate defense capabilities, entrenched poverty, and the erosion of family, community and the pillars of civil society. Now the most important progressive operating in the US today is President Obama. Any self-respecting conservative – and one would hope, any objective American who is not hypnotized by leftist propaganda – is appalled at the economic and cultural carnage thrust upon the country by the Obama administration. His removal from office is mandatory if the country is to be rescued from the pit toward which he is driving us with reckless abandon. Therefore, to maximize the chances of that eventuality, it would be helpful to know exactly what motivates the President – his head or his heart?
Levin and Prager are in apparent agreement that the progressive portion of America comes in two flavors – intellectuals and, for lack of a better term, ordinary foot soldiers. The former consists of professors, lawyers, school administrators, Hollywood glitterati, liberal think tank leaders, librarians, journalists, most media types, certain philanthropists, many clergy and even some corporate moguls. These are people who are true believers in Levin’s four utopian (actually dystopian) fantasies; people who are convinced that America’s founding was based on flawed principles, and that the country must be remodeled according to a more progressive image. The insidious nature of their venture is that they pursue their revolutionary goals using the language and tools of the Founding (the Constitution, the invocation of freedom, appeals to rights), but at every turn, they subvert founding principles to serve their revolutionary purpose. The danger they pose to the Republic springs from the transformational plans in their heads.
Progressives who lead with their heart, on the other hand, tend to be “ordinary” Americans – government employees, union laborers, school teachers and secretaries, cops and cab drivers, farmers, firemen and factory workers – who feel that rich people have too much and more of their wealth should be spread around. They’ve never read Levin’s four utopian fantasies and rarely, if ever, think about the philosophical characteristics of progressivism or conservatism. Throughout their entire life, they have been subjected to a progressive programming (really a brainwashing) carried out by their teachers, public officials, union leaders, media sources, liberal clergy and even their parents. They are clueless as to the radical alteration that American society has already undergone. What they do know is: they are uncomfortable with perceived inequities in American society; the government has had success in the past at alleviating the discrepancies; but much more needs to be done in that vein. They have been told, and they believe that America’s economic system, i.e., free market capitalism, while it offers the opportunity for a few to amass great wealth, keeps most citizens – like themselves – in a perpetual state of stress trying to meet monthly bills, perform satisfactorily on the job, provide adequate sustenance for one’s family and find some time to enjoy life.
Moreover, such thinking infects the substantial portion of the population that does not consider itself progressive. As Prager relates, the pervasive liberal brainwashing to which all of America is subject explains how, despite the fact that only 20% of the people self-identify as liberal – whereas 40% self-identify as conservative, and another 40% as moderate – a hardcore, unabashed liberal like Barack Obama could be elected President.
Obama is clearly from the intellectual class, not a foot soldier. So the answer to the question posed in the title is presumably that his head is more dangerous than his heart. Ah, but here is a point that is mentioned, but not emphasized in both books. Namely, the heart of an intellectual progressive is every bit as devoted to the progressive cause as is his head. Progressives are absolutely convinced of the correctness of their philosophy and the justice of their cause. Therefore, the legitimacy and necessity of the remake of society that they seek to engineer – and at which they have been remarkably successful – is so deeply ingrained in the fiber of their being that it is inevitable that their feelings about the cause are as strong, if not stronger, than they are among the foot soldiers. In principle, one can argue with and try to persuade a progressive of the error of his philosophy if his motivation is solely intellectual. But if the impetus is internalized and abetted by powerful feelings, then – as anyone who has tried knows – arguing with a progressive is a futile exercise.