More interesting than Levin’s analyses of Plato’s Republic, Hobbes’ Leviathan, More’s Utopia, Marx’s Manifesto, and the infinitely more welcomed Locke, de Montesquieu, and de Tocqueville is Levin’s motive for writing this book, and now.
Most people have not pieced together the works to the extent that Levin does here, but these works fill typical secondary education curriculums, they are not exotic or pointy-headed. I’m most interested — and delighted — that Levin wrote this book for 2012: philosophy and statesmanship matter most when a state is in decline, and Levin is smart enough to recognize both that philosophy must be the matter of the day and that those who love freedom embrace the challenge of the discussion.
Levin’s first five chapters — Part One of Ameritopia – discuss the utopian works of the ones mentioned above. A lasting benefit of these chapters: exposing to present day utopians — today most active under the flag of socialism — that they are not, in fact, at the cutting edge of human reasoning.
An actual contender for “irony of ironies”: every age and nation is hampered by utopians who support ignoring the prior experiences of humanity, and because of their ignorance, they believe they are cutting-edge. (Levin does mention that we do not know Plato’s motivations for describing the tyrannical Republic.) The utopians appear in the Bible — a book presently neglected by most socialists — as false prophets; utopians generally appear everywhere, and probably began preaching shortly after man cultivated farmland. And this isn’t important just as a general observation: ignorant men attempting to transcend natural law is the primary — the only — struggle of human society; what could be more important than that?
That Levin wrote this book now demonstrates not his passion for the United States, but his awareness that he is a statesman defending natural law at a pivotal moment in human history: the United States in decline represents a far different thing than the failure of Europe’s utopianism. The key lies in recognizing John Locke’s accomplishment for what it objectively is, which Levin does with Part Two of Ameritopia. John Locke’s Second Treatise is properly understood as the “black monolith” moment for human history.
Utopian thinking has never represented brilliance or historical greatness; if it did, there wouldn’t be utopians in every age and nation and we wouldn’t be littered with the evidence of their perfect failure rate. Utopianism instead represents the simplest of philosophical thinking: trying to make survival easier not with innovation but with brute force. Indeed, a defining characteristic of utopian thought is neglect of the math and economics of the idea — details for the philosopher class to hammer out later while the leader poses for portraits.
But Locke is different — there is only one Locke. His recognition of natural law did not occur soon after man had the time to think, but 9700 years later; much trial and error of society came before his discovery. Which is: man feels violated if he is to lose his life to another, or if he has his liberty or property taken, and no system of laws can prevent that emotion or halt actions taken because of it. Therefore laws cannot be arbitrarily chosen by men, but must exist only to defend the rights of the individual. Under this we necessarily thrive, otherwise we are doomed.