“Conservatism should be held out as the only example of the antidote to tyranny.”
— Mark Levin (posted on his Twitter and Facebook feeds)
Even at the height of my feud with Mr. Levin, when I critiqued his rhetoric and he made fun of my name, I credited the talk radio host with possessing one of the most impressive intellects among his colleagues in right-wing media. Liberty and Tyranny may waste most of its attacks on straw men, but it ably lays out certain basic tenets of conservatism, so we know that its author is perfectly capable of conceiving pithy paeans to his belief system that are true.
But for some reason he is prone to making dogmatic statements so dubious that it is impossible to treat them charitably, because either the man is asserting things he doesn’t believe, or else his ideology has utterly blinded him to reality. Conservatism is one important factor that prevents free societies from becoming tyrannical. But it is not the only antidote to tyranny. Did conservatism end apartheid in South Africa? Or drive the British from India? Did the Allied powers led by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin triumph over the tyranny of Nazi Germany via the antidote of conservatism? In the Spanish Civil War weren’t the eventual tyrants and the conservatives on the same side?
Mr. Levin’s statement may seem like a harmless untruth, especially if you’re someone who finds value in “rallying the base.” Upon reflection, however, it ought to be clear that it’s not only false, but harmful. Slowly but steadily, words like those turn thinking conservatives with defensible, reality-based beliefs into human talking points with an increasingly tenuous grasp on the comparative strengths and weaknesses of their belief system, and what it has to offer the world.
Convince a conservative that his belief system is the only method of ending tyranny the world has ever known and he will become hubristic, arrogant, and condescending, qualities that shrink movements rather than growing them. Whereas someone with a more realistic assessment of conservatism can persuasively articulate its actual strengths. Ever sat next to that uncle at Thanksgiving? The one you can’t talk to about politics? The guy whose pronouncements are so absurd that there isn’t even enough common ground for conversation?
I know how he got that way.
He listened to people like Mr. Levin. On doing so, he heard absurdities like, “Conservatism should be held out as the only example of the antidote to tyranny.” Several weeks later, sitting at the dinner table, his dogmatically liberal niece mentions something she’s been reading at college about Andrew Jackson’s execrable treatment of Native Americans.
“He was a tyrant,” she insists.
“Well, those Indians had their faults too,” the uncle replies, “—and another thing, they would’ve wound up better off if they were conservatives.”
“What does that even mean?” the niece says.
“It’s a fact,” he replies. “Conservatism is the only antidote to tyranny.”
Behold the many Mark Levin sycophants who, by lauding an absurd assertion, prove that they are the crazy aunts and uncles of American politics — well-meaning, lovable enough when they aren’t talking politics, and frighteningly able to suspend their critical thinking.