Mark Levin’s warmed-over patriotism falls flat

Simon & Schuster

In “Rediscovering Americanism and the Tyranny of progressivism,” Mark R. Levin treats his version of the truth as so self-evident that he need not support it with fact. Instead, he strings together the eloquence of others and then ruins the compilation with unsupported assertions.

Levin is a lawyer and Reagan administration official who now toils in talk radio, TV and as president of the nonprofit Landmark Legal Foundation. (In April, that firm joined the chorus of conservative voices calling for investigations into the information leaks related to the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.) He’s the author of numerous books, which he excerpts often and at length in “Rediscovering Americanism,” starting with its second paragraph.

The better quotes are those of the nation’s founders and the philosophers who inspired them, plus the thinkers who, in his telling, laid the groundwork for progressivism. The same material could have been forged into a thoughtful exploration of the longstanding tensions between progressives who believe government should focus the national consciousness and energy, and conservatives (like Levin) who think it should stay out of the way.

Levin instead twists the political philosophy of others into a thesis that seems out of synch with reality. “Again and again, the goal of progressives is to unmoor the individual and society from America’s heritage with populist tirades, prodding and indoctrination, the purpose of which is to build popular support for a muscular centralized government ruled by a self-aggrandizing intellectual elite through an extra-constitutional and autocratic administrative Leviathan,” he writes.

He draws that conclusion from the writings of Walter Weyl, founding editor of The New Republic, dead 98 years. An even bigger bugaboo is President Woodrow Wilson, who centralized government (and taxed the rich) during World War I. If Levin detects any populism, self-aggrandizement or autocracy on the political right, he doesn’t let on.

To Levin, anything beyond fealty to his spare interpretation of what he calls the “eternal principles” of the Declaration of Independence is a violation of natural law and a push for totalitarianism. “Suffice to say that America’s founding principles are eternal principles,” he writes in the epilogue. Without examples, he asserts that “these principles are apparently so grievous and abhorrent that they are mostly ignored or even ridiculed today by academia, the media and politicians — that is, the ruling elite and its surrogates.”

Unlike more thoughtful conservative and libertarian thinkers, Levin doesn’t wrestle with the tough questions that have arisen in the 241 years since the Declaration. He spills no ink on the ways in which the “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” play out in a world of six-figure medical bills, monopolistic internet companies and a dangerously destabilized climate.

“Rediscovering Americanism” reads like a call to arms written in anticipation of a progressive president with a clear vision for expanded federal power. We don’t have that. We have different threats to the Constitution’s separation of powers and the guarantees in the Bill of Rights. We have populist tirades but not, for the most part, from the left. And we have Levin and others on the right, trumpeting Americanism while circling the wagons around an autocrat with ties to a tyrannical foreign power.

Book review

“Rediscovering Americanism and the Tyranny Of progressivism” by Mark R. Levin, Simon & Schuster, 272 pages, $27.