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Tuesday, January 17, 2012
I checked out Mark Levin’s book Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America, which was released today. That’s time I can’t get back but at least I can review it. Although the book is pretty unimaginative stuff, it’s sure to sell well to the teabaggers (to paraphrase Paul Krugman, this is a stupid person’s idea of an intelligent book). I submitted a two-star review to Amazon.com. If you have an Amazon account and you like the review, feel free to give it some positive feedback. The review (with links) is at the end of this post.
ADDENDUM: Levin is a talk radio show host. He is a standard Rush clone. He got the radio gig because Hannity is his friend. One of the things I find amusing is that Levin is feuding with Michael Savage (Levin and Savage compete with each other on the 6-9 PM EST time slot). They trade on-air personal attacks, e.g., Levin calls Savage (born Weiner) “little wiener” and Savage refers to the high-pitched Levin as “Groucho Marx’s grandmother after a hysterectomy”). Anyhow, I wrote about Levin versus Savage (click here and scroll down).
Mark Levin’s Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America is a flawed book, not just because of points that Levin gets wrong but also because of the book’s glaring omissions that refute the premises of the book. This book is the kind of pseudo-scholarship that has characterized the American reactionary counterestablishment—the forty-year effort by the hard right to create alternative institutions that appear to be legitimate think tanks, journalistic outlets, and educational institutions but whose “research” could never withstand the scrutiny of impartial peer review. It’s not surprising that Levin has been part of this counterestablishment; he is the head of the Landmark Legal Foundation, a right-wing legal group that only exists because of largess from the Koch Brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife, and the now-defunct John M. Olin Foundation.
The majority of Levin’s book is a literature review of some of the core works that address utopianism, namely, writings by Plato, Thomas More, Thomas Hobbes, and Karl Marx. These sections of the book are generally adequate though the reader would be better informed by reading academic books on these theorists and their works. Levin is also correct to point out the utopian view that a perfect world is imminent often has led to extremely dystopian societies.
What is particularly flawed about Levin’s book is that it is devoted to arguing that FDR, the Obama administration, and modern progressivism epitomize this dysfunctional utopianism and that the modern right is inherently anti-utopian. For instance, Levin absurdly claims, “[i]ndeed, [Franklin] Roosevelt’s worldview harks back to Thomas More’s Utopia, a precursor to Marx’s workers’ paradise, where the individual’s labor and property are ultimately possessions of the masterminds and subject to their egalitarian design.” It is also a stretch, at the very least, to lump a pragmatic reformer like Obama in with totalitarian utopians. While this line of argument is manifestly ridiculous, it fits into the tea party’s stock narrative that Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonial Marxist who seeks to turn American society into a socialist utopia.
At the same time, Levin’s attempt to portray American conservatism as a bulwark against utopianism is completely baseless. Indeed, much of the contemporary American right’s embrace of utopianism happened right under Levin’s nose when he was working in the Reagan Department of Justice. It was under Reagan that the American right began endorsing the following crackpot utopian movements: 1) The Unification movement; 2) the neo-Confederate “Lost Cause” movement; and 3) theocratic millenarianism (the online article “The Theocratic Chain of Misery” illustrates how these pernicious movements symbiotically support each other).
Although Reagan himself wasn’t a utopian and supported these causes for cynical electoral reasons, the dangers of the fanatics he welcomed into the conservative movement are real. Reagan praised self-proclaimed Messiah and cult leader Sun Myung Moon’s dubious journalistic outlets (Reagan’s vice president George H.W. Bush later called Moon “the man with the vision”). Reagan shamelessly pandered to those in the “Lost Cause” movement who romanticize the paradise lost of the antebellum South; among other things, Reagan called Jefferson Davis one of his heroes (amazingly, some people still wonder why so few blacks support the contemporary Party of Lincoln). Reagan also gave credence to chiliastic fundamentalists, such as Jerry Falwell and Hal Lindsey, who had prayed for a worldwide nuclear apocalypse in the belief it would lead to The Rapture (the moment that God sweeps True Believers into the utopian ecstasy of Heaven, leaving behind nonfundamentalists to dodge unmanned moving vehicles). Incredibly, Reagan invited Lindsey, the author of the asinine apocalyptic best-selling book The Late Great Planet Earth, to address Pentagon strategists about the prospects of nuclear war with the then-Soviet Union. Clearly, contrary to Levin’s argument, it is the contemporary American right that champions fanatical and dangerous utopian movements whose actions could lead to horrific consequences.