Radio talk-show host Mark Levin has coined a new term — Ameritopia — to describe what he sees as a growing utopian movement in the United States, a movement that he believes holds the reins of power in this country and poses a threat to authentic human freedom everywhere.
Levin’s primary criticism of utopians is that they believe mankind is perfectible and that it is possible to create a “heaven on earth” through government. This idea is blatantly false because it denies the true nature of mankind. To the utopians, the unwashed masses are “one-dimensional … selfish … [possessing] little moral value” — fallen, to use the Judeo-Christian term — while they themselves are enlightened, secular messiahs. These saviors create a “perfect society” run by the “right people.”
By contrast, Christianity proposes the message of salvation, and each individual chooses whether to accept it. Evangelization respects the freedom and dignity of individuals to respond to the Gospel proclamation and change their lives and engage in social action in accordance with God’s grace.
Compulsory salvation at the hands of people “who know better” leads to tyranny by compelling individuals to conform to someone else’s impossible dream.
The foundation of Levin’s book is an in-depth description of four major works of political philosophy which “are indispensable in understanding the nature of utopianism,” namely Plato’s Republic, St. Thomas More’s Utopia, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Each of these works has, in some way, influenced every subsequent utopian movement, including the one Levin believes is on the rise today in America. He describes the particulars of this movement in the section of the book called “Post-Constitutional America.”
Levin, a constitutional lawyer and former member of the U.S. attorney general’s staff under President Ronald Reagan, posits that utopianism is the philosophical foundation for “big government” welfare states and top-heavy, hyper-regulatory bureaucracies, as well as out-and-out totalitarian regimes.
The inclusion of St. Thomas More in the same group as Karl Marx may be hard for Catholics to accept. Levin does not criticize More’s motives, character or intelligence, and he acknowledges More’s heroic virtue in defense of the Church’s teaching on marriage and papal authority. Nevertheless, he does plainly state that More’s fictional exploration of an ideal society is no better than the oppressive societies envisioned by Plato, Hobbes or Marx and that at least some people — despotic utopians and social engineers who came after More — took Utopia seriously and used it as a model for their social experiments.
A book featuring Plato, Hobbes, Locke, More and Montesquieu sounds like it would be tough-going, yet, despite the scholarly nature of the subject matter and sources, Levin’s prose is extremely readable, his tone urgent and passionate:
“It is neither prudential nor virtuous to downplay or dismiss … that America has already transformed into Ameritopia. The centralization and consolidation of power in a political class … whose authority is also self-perpetuating is apparent all around us and growing more formidable. The issue is whether the ongoing transformation can be restrained and then reversed, or whether it will continue with increasing zeal, passing from a soft tyranny to something more oppressive.”
Highly recommended reading, especially for an election year.
Register correspondent Clare Walker writes from Westmont, Illinois.
The Unmaking of America
By Mark Levin
Threshold Editions, 2012
288 pages, $26.99
To order: Threshold Editions