Review--The Liberty Amendments: Amend the Constitution--to Save It
Radio host Mark Levin does not follow the news cycle. He often opens his shows by warning listeners that he will not talk about the the day's headlines, or play clips from cable TV programs. Instead, he focuses on agendas: those of the "Statists," i.e. the progressive left; and those of the constitutional conservatives to whom, and for whom, he speaks.
Those conservatives have struggled to find a way forward. Until now.
Levin's The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, released Aug. 12, is an ambitious plan to save the American political experiment from the encroachments of big government in Washington, D.C.
Yet his solution is not a political one that looks for new ways of winning elections, or a policy formula to enact conservative ideas. Levin proposes to amend the Constitution itself--not once, but eleven times.
He goal is to motivate and mobilize fellow conservatives to push for a national convention to propose new amendments, under a never-before-used provision of Article V of the Constitution. Before meeting, the convention will require the assent of two-thirds of the states; afterwards, its proposals will require the approval of three-fourths.
Levin, however, is confident of eventual success. He sees no other alternative.
Last week, Levin granted an extensive interview to Breitbart News about The Liberty Amendments, and about detailed aspects of each of his eleven proposed amendments. The full interview presents an overview of the book itself--a well-written, fluent and smooth read, elegant in its interweaving of history, its scholarship, and its passionate argument that while the amendment process may be long, the time to start is now.
More generally, the book has three main strengths.
The first is that it identifies the key challenge facing the conservative movement as a constitutional one--not a "demographic problem" that must be rectified through identity politics and pandering to various groups--and more than just a lack of credible leadership. The main problem facing conservatives, Levin suggests, is their failure to present an alternative to the left's statist project.
The second strength of The Liberty Amendments is that it provides readers with a forward-looking agenda, a series of pro-active steps that the conservative movement as a whole can take, and in which individuals may become involved themselves. With Republicans controlling one or both houses of state legislatures in 32 states, the prospect of convincing 34 states to vote for a convention may be tough, but remains achievable.
Third, and perhaps most important, The Liberty Amendments finds inspiration for its proposals in the Constitution itself, not in philosophical abstractions or international inspirations. The genius of every great reform is to ground new ideas in old precedents. Levin shows not only how the Framers designed the Article V process, but also that they anticipated it as a remedy for the very challenges the Republic faces today.
"There is a path forward," he writes, "but it requires an enlightened look back at our founding. And what we find is that the Framers rightly insisted on preserving the prominent role of the state legislatures as a crucial mechanism to containing the power of the proposed new federal government." Levin applies that argument to each of his proposals, showing how each new amendment fits into a old procedure whose hour has come.
He also argues that these changes are needed because the Framers' original intent has been perverted by subsequent amendments, executive actions, or judicial decisions. In defending his proposed amendment to require photo ID for voting in federal elections, for example, he shows there is no alternative, given that states' efforts to fulfill the Constitution's edict have been rejected by the federal government and the courts.
There is little discussion of social issues in The Liberty Amendments--no amendments to ban abortion, no amendments to enshrine traditional marriage, no amendments to protect religious freedom, and so on, though these would certainly be proposed and supported by at least some of the states. Levin's focus is on the basic architecture of the government, however--and his list of amendments, he says, is not meant to be exhaustive.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of history to each of Levin's arguments. Indeed, the book could be described as an historical study, in which the author traces the Framers' original intent to each of his new proposals. For that reason, the book is useful as a primer on the history of debates--including key input from the Anti-Federalists--about some of the key features, and emerging weaknesses, of our constitutional system.
Yet for all of the detail Levin includes, the text is barely 200 pages long--a tribute to Levin's concise writing style and his clarity of thought. There is little of the snark and sniping of most political polemics. The arguments are methodical but lively, easy and interesting to follow. The Liberty Amendments therefore stands a decent chance of not only being a new classic in the conservative canon, but also a popular success as well.
The proposals in The Liberty Amendments are the sort of thought-provoking ideas that ought to be debated by political scientists and constitutional experts--and it may be, despite the intellectual establishment's general hostility to conservative writers.
The true test of Levin's remarkable book, however, will not be how it is received by the liberal academy, but whether it ignites the hoped-for spark among conservatives.
In that regard, Sean Hannity will be devoting his television show to The Liberty Amendments on Friday, Aug. 16 at 9 p.m. EDT (on which Breitbart News Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon and I will appear). Levin will also be embarking on a brief tour, as well as using his radio show to promote the book.
Yet the book is really its own best advertisement. Agree or disagree, The Liberty Amendments inaugurates a new debate.