My Conversation with Mark Levin
Rush Limbaugh – March 2012 issue
Always a marvelous privilege to speak with the Great One, whose latest must-read book, Ameritopia: The unmaking of America, debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times best seller list:
Rush: How are you doing, sir?
Levin: Rush Limbaugh! How are you?
Rush: I am extremely happy.
Levin: Why is that?
Rush: Because of your book I don’t have to write one now.
Levin: Oh! (laughs)
Rush: People are after me to write a book, and I don’t have to now because you’ve done it with yours. I want to start right at the top, on the title page. You’ve coined a word: Ameritopia. How did you come up with that, and why?
Levin: I’m a big believer in using the language properly, and America is not so much moored by a Constitution anymore. I want to live in America. I want us to be a Constitutional republic, a federal republic, a representative republic, I want the central government to abide by the limits of the Constitution, but it doesn’t. So this is not the same country it was two centuries ago, or even 100 years ago. So what is it? It’s an “Ameritopia” – an America mixed with utopian statism, heading in the wrong direction. I felt that the title needed to appropriately characterize the nature of the country today. So that’s what I think it is, an Ameritopia, and I know who is at fault for it, I know who to blame for it.
Rush: For people how haven’t read it – an increasingly small number – it’s a book about political philosophy, and two overarching political philosophies, one which you call “utopian statism,” which is tyranny. By the way, your last book, Liberty and Tyranny, was totally snubbed –
Rush: - not just by the mainstream media, but some of our friends in some conservative media also ignored it. Why, do you think? That book was about America, and was also about what’s wrong, how to improve it. It was aimed right at the hearts of everybody who calls themselves a conservative – selling 1.2 million copies – and they ignored it, Why? And are they ignoring this one?
Levin: Because I’m so deeply loved –
Levin: - by you. (laughter) I don’t know, and I don’t even care. I don’t pay attention to this much anymore. I don’t need accolades from people who set themselves up as arbiters of what people should read. The fact of the matter is – and you taught me this a long time ago, Rush – my connection is with my audience, and the extent to which the American people want to participate in my program or read my books. I don’t need go-betweens, I don’t need their approval, and I don’t really give a damn, to be honest with you.
Rush: That’s good. It still is an item of some curiosity, because your audience – and I found this one out over my 23-plus years – thinks we’re all on the same team. In the past couple of years particularly it has been an eye-opening thing for members of my audience to realize that the Republican Party is a bunch of different teams. Even conservatism is split into different teams. But back to Ameritopia: you focus on political philosophy, and you contrast utopian statism, which is tyranny, with individual sovereignty and Constitutionalism, which is liberty. You’ve gone deep with this. Explain the difference in those two competing philosophies.
Levin: When I wrote Liberty and Tyranny, I was just trying top reintroduce some basic concepts about conservatism and non-conservatism, the sort of things you talk about every day. But after it was done, I started thinking: What is the force that attracts millions of people, and yet winds up destroying and enslaving them? On the other hand, what is this other force that should appeal to more people, that should cause them to defend it in debate and in any other way that they can? I felt I needed to take it a couple of steps deeper. In order to do that, I had to go pretty far back, even before the Founders of this country.
If you’d look at my dining room table, I literally have hundreds of books on philosophy piled on top of each other. When you research these books, you actually end up using about 5 percent of what you’ve read. I decided that Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto were very crucial to understanding what’s going on – this whole mindset, this philosophy of centralized, all-powerful government that we hear every day from the President and his supporters. On the other hand, the Founders didn’t wake up one day and come up with the notion of unalienable rights, consent of the governed, natural law, the state of nature, and so forth. Where did they get these things?
When it comes to Americanism, John Locke had the biggest influence on the colonies at the time of the Revolution. We know that because of the pamphlets that were distributed and read. After the Revolution, in the Constitutional period, Charles de Montesquieu had the biggest influence.
In rereading these men, it became clear to me that most people coming out of high school and college today are much more expert on Karl Marx and know almost nothing about Charles de Montesquieu, whose name was mentioned repeatedly on the floor of the Pennsylvania Assembly during the Constitutional Convention. His name appears in the Federalist Papers, and now is never discussed, and yet he was absolutely crucial to the establishment of our Constitution.
So if we are going to save this country, and bring it back to its ideological roots, I feel that people really need to understand more fully where those ideas come from, and they also need to understand that they’re not new. The ideas behind totalitarianism and tyranny are as old as mankind. If Plato couldn’t come up with a perfect society, an ideal society, in The Republic, Obama certainly can’t do it today. That’s why the “American experiment,” as it is called, is so crucial, and the American spirit is so fundamental, and must be defended.
Rush: You mentioned that Plato wasn’t able to pull it off. Marx wasn’t able to pull it off. None of the utopians who envisioned a perfect human society have been able. In fact, not only have they not pulled it off, every one that has been attempted has been a dismal failure, and they have been noted by murder, dungeons, tyrannies. That’s the history of the world, Mark. That’s one of the things about American exceptionalism that people misunderstand: we are the exception to the assumption of servitude. People are not serfs, they’re not slaves; we’re the exception to the norm. Yet despite failure from the beginning of time, what is the continuing allure for what doesn’t work, for what dehumanizes, for what kills, for what imprisons – what is the allure, how do they pull it off?
Levin: That gets to the heart of the matter. First, I would suggest that the natural state of man, the natural yearning of man is liberty. But I would also suggest the natural state of government over time is tyranny. That’s exactly why they come in conflict, and exactly why the Framers wrote the document that they wrote, and why it’s constantly under attack by these utopian statist. Because utopianism, the promises of these grand schemes, these ambitious programs, these fantasies, these abstractions pushed by fanatics and masterminds, whether they be politicians or journalists or professors, almost like a pseudo-religion, are destructive to the individual.
The target is individual free will, the target is individual sovereignty, yet they are sold as promoting humanity. There are a lot of people who get sucked into this. People, for instance, who are malcontents, who are unhappy with their lives, and blame it on society. You’ve seen it with this Occupy Wall Street crowd, and there have been others before them, and there will be others after them. They don’t take personal responsibility; they blame it on the system. Others are blissfully walking through life, going to and from their job, and don’t realize this storm of utopian tyranny swirling around them that threatens them. Yet others benefit either through power or financially, by a centralized system of government, more so than in an actual Constitutional republic.
And the “masterminds,” as I call them, like Obama in the State of the Union speech, tell us which people are good, which people are bad, which company should be destroyed, which company should be subsidized, and so forth. These masterminds don’t know anything. In fact, they don’t know what they don’t know – and besides, they reject knowledge, while they claim to embrace it. They reject reason, while they claim to embrace it. They reject what Locke thought was fundamental to everything: human experience. As you’ve said many times, they believe the world began them – they really do. So any past failures are seen as failures of the people who just wouldn’t sacrifice enough of their free will and private property to make these things work. The schemes are just not big enough, not expensive enough, people aren’t taxed enough.
There is no end to this coercion, and there is no end to this torment, and there is this constant effort to impose lifestyle calibrations, and torment the individual. People are attracted to this because they don’t look at it this way. They look at it, for the most part, as somebody trying to equalize things. They think they don’t have more money because somebody is taking it from them, or don’t have a certain way of life because somebody is obstructing them. So the mastermind plays into these human jealousies and hatreds.
Rush: Exactly. Now, that’s key. You mentioned Obama, but it could be anybody, it could be Castro, it could be any of the leaders of these totalitarianism regimes. What they’re promising is perfection. It really appeals to the idealism of young people, that there is perfection out there, where everybody is equal, everybody is nice. Everybody is respected; everybody is the same, that’s the allure. Those people are really dupes because Obama, Castro, and others, know full well it’s a lie. They know full well that the objective here is not the promises they’re selling. The objective is total domination over everything and everyone for themselves.
Levin: Yeah, and that’s what’s so interesting and diabolical about all of this. What they’re trying to do is reshape man. They’re trying to mold man, the individual, to what they claim he needs to be. It’s an attack on man’s nature. So fundamentally they’re constantly at war with our notion of individual sovereignty, they’re at war with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
You have to believe me in this. In Ameritopia I have quotes from Woodrow Wilson before he became President where he is specifically attacking the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He is attacking the notion of unalienable rights of the individual, he’s attacking the checks and balances under the Constitution, much like Plato’s Republic. Wilson was a learned man; he read Plato’s Republic. He viewed the government as a human body, and said, “How can you have these in the body all working against each other? They have to work as a whole.” That’s similar to what Plato says in The Republic, and similar to what every dictator that man has ever known has thought. That’s the argument for centralizing power.
And the experts, the professors that Wilson and FDR and others even today rely on, were constantly talking about this problem with individualism in the United States. You can hear it, it’s clothed in a different language, but there is this incessant attack on independence and industriousness, on success – because you have to destroy the existing society, or “fundamentally transform it,” as Obama says, in order to impose their own.
Rush: You have to destroy history, too.
Levin: Absolutely. In fact, Marx is very specific about that in The Communist Manifesto. All history that went before is the history of materialism and its all bad history; history starts today. But the biggest problem is that these people misunderstand what individual liberty is about. The utopian never supports liberty on its own – have you noticed that? He only supports liberty when liberty avails equality.
Rush: Exactly right.
Levin: And by “equality” he doesn’t mean equal access or equality under the law. He means uniformity, conformity of the human being, which is a complete disaster. Utopianism, as commonly understood, is not utopia. Utopianism is hell.
Rush: Because it’s not possible. These people think they’re smarter than everybody else. You make the case that utopians, statist, pride themselves on their superior intellect, but they’re actually reactionaries.
Levin: How can it possibly be that 310 million of us are riffraff, and a relative handful of masterminds believe they know how to run everything – yet so many of them have never run anything?
Levin: It is a complete fraud. I just want people to understand that when you hear a politician tell you that incomes are unequal, and that we need to do something to change that, that politicians can’t do anything to change that. Incomes have always been unequal, and they always will be unequal if we have a free society with actual human beings. When people say that the rich have to give more, you have to understand that what that really means is that success and economic progress have to be attacked so that the central power, and the politicians who have it, have more control over the individual.
Let me offer a footnote on the rich; there used to be a time when we really wanted our kids to work hard so they could become rich. The whole point about a capitalist system is the notion that you not only want to pursue your own interests, you not only want to be secure in your property and so forth, but you want to create those conditions for your children and your grandchildren. We seem to have lost that.
Levin: So now we just attack the rich – as if attacking them is going to somehow help our children or grandchildren. It destroys the future.
Rush: It’s because in the past, being rich was synonymous with having achieved something of great significance, accomplished something of importance. Today the rich are cast as a bunch of thieves, essentially. The rich have stolen what they’ve got, the rich are exploiting people. It really is dastardly, what’s been done via language to the whole notion of achievement. You’re right, you’re describing a power base that must tear down from the top, not elevate people who are near the bottom. What this is about is making everybody equally miserable.
Levin: We can’t even define what the middle class is in this country. Can an Internal Revenue Service chart based on income determine you’re in the middle class? Say you’re a single woman, 28, a paralegal for a big law firm in Manhattan, earning $85,000 a year and living in a studio. Now say you’re a couple with five kids living on a farm in Kansas earning $65,000 a year, and you’re very religious, as opposed to the individual in Manhattan. The one thing you both have in common is you’re Americans, but your lifestyles are different, the way you spend money is completely different. The whole notion of a middle class, or any class, gets its roots in The Communist Manifesto and other places, which is why we should reject it. We’re not a class system in this country, we’re not a caste system in this country, but in order to divide us and have us at each other’s throats, this is the way people talk. I just wish Republicans and conservatives wouldn’t join in.
Rush: That’s a great point, the categorization of people; victim status for one group, exploiters in the other. It’s insidious. I know you’re not optimistic about where we’re going. One of your chapters is titled, “Post-Constitutional America,” and I think recent events demonstrate that your argument is correct: Obamacare as an attack on religious liberty; the unconstitutional appointment of Administration officials, recess appointments when there’s no recess; the appointment of czars not accountable to anybody; Obama simply refusing to enforce certain laws. Where’s the outrage from the Republicans in Congress? Where in the world are the leaders in the Senate? They stand up and “deplore” the unconstitutional appointments, but then what? Obama’s getting away with all this. The Constitution is a big impediment to Obama. It’s in his way so he just ignores it. If he’s not going to be challenged on it, why should he abide by it?
Levin: If we rely on Republican leaders for our salvation, we’re doomed. In many respects we first have to rely on ourselves.
Levin: No society is guaranteed perpetual existence. This country belongs to us. This government belongs to us. It’s been seized from us, and it’s been seized in bits and pieces over the last century. That is an intentional effort by a number of people – I’ve talked about a couple briefly with you, Wilson and FDR, but many, many more than that. We now have a court system that’s involved in all kinds of policy decisions. We have what I call “the administrative state,” a fourth branch of government, which spits out over 80,000 pages of regulations a year that have the force of law.
So people vote, and yet the EPA doesn’t change for the most part, the Education Department doesn’t change for the most part, the courts don’t change. Liberal Democrats are constantly trying to confer more and more power to the unelected branches. They keep conferring it and delegating it to the administrative state, which means it is immune from elections every two and four years. Politicians for the most part, the Republicans anyway, will respond to us, if we are outspoken, and if we are consistent, and resolute. The question I have, and what I’m concerned about, is whether there are enough of us left who believe in the American spirit, who believe in individual sovereignty – or have too many of us already surrendered to the entitlement state, to the propaganda, to the coercion? Have too many of us been conquered by it? Has the American psychology been so completely warped that we can’t get it back?
I love Ronald Reagan, and I love quoting Ronald Reagan because he was very positive. He said, and I paraphrase, this is not inevitable – but it is inevitable if we don’t do anything. The question now is, what can we do? I think that tea party movement is a very positive sign, which is why you can see the fury against the tea party by the utopian statist who try to destroy them. But the fact is, we have to have successive elections of solid conservatives who are prepared to take the heat for taking on this entrenched utopian statist government.
I don’t think it’s virtuous or noble to pretend that this country is in a good place. I think the only way that we can address this is to accept the fact of what’s going on around us, and to try to convince family members, co-workers, neighbors, friends, anyone who will listen to us, that they need to embrace the American spirit, they need to embrace individual sovereignty, and every chance they have, every election, every way possible in whatever walk of life we’re in, spread the word, because there’s no other way.
Rush: the media loves to tell us the tea party is fractured, and has lost all enthusiasm. We’ll learn a lot the next election, but is that the sole measure you’ll use to determine where the country is?
Levin: I don’t think one election, one event, is going to tell us. I do think more people than ever before in my lifetime are informed about our history, and are craving even more information, for guidance. But I also think there are more people than ever before who have surrendered, or have been conquered. I think the middle ground of people who are just not sure is getting smaller and smaller. I do know that what’s going on with our government now is really at a perilous point.
It’s not just financial; it’s Constitutional, it’s cultural. This is the nature of an all-powerful centralized government, and why it’s so dangerous in a society like this. In the last few years, a not-so-subtle campaign against the Constitution has begun – this notion that “the world’s rejecting it,” as if that matters. Or that it’s just a document that’s unworkable. These people are now out of the closet, they are very brazen. There are attacks on the Constitution while many of them have taken an oath to uphold it. So the question is whether the American people are prepared to do what’s necessary to reverse course and secure their own and their children’s liberty. I don’t know. I’m concerned about it, to be quite frank.
Rush: You mentioned it’s going to take successive elections of victorious conservatives, at as many electoral levels as possible. I know you’re concerned about the state of modern conservatism. It seems fractured. There are a lot of people who claim to be conservatives who really aren’t. There seems to be an internecine battle within the conservative movement for who leads it and who defines it. Does that have to be resolved first, before we end up electing or even positing a series of conservatives to win elections? Or can that happen independently with what’s going on with the so-called conservative movement?
Levin: One of the great disappointments I have is that these conservative institutions that have been around for some time, and handed off to the next generation, have not been performing the way they need to be performing. They’re not provided the substantive and intellectual foundation to reach young people, as an example. They are really not engaged in a battle of ideas, they’re engaged in something else – gossip, or poll-monitoring, or just largely superficial activities.
It is problematic, because if we’re going to reestablish a Constitutional government where the individual is respected again, we need all the forces of liberty, all the forces that have been developed over a half a century, to come together – not necessarily with the same exact idea, but at least one aim, and that is to fend off and defeat this utopian tyranny.
I can tell you from history, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists fought like hell. They fought like hell at the ratifying conventions in the states. If it wasn’t for the Anti-Federalists, we wouldn’t have the Bill of Rights, the 9th and 10th Amendments in particular. But they always agreed on this idea of the individual, and the limits on central government, because these cannot possibly work together. I don’t see that agreement now. I see some self-labeled “conservatives,” talking about how to adjust this or that program, or how to replace it with another program. It is just a completely defeatist attitude, which surrenders our principles. You’ve talked about for years. So I think we have to just move on and do the very best we can with the citizenry and the conservatives who are willing to plow ahead, and the rest are just going to have to be left behind talking about polls and which television shows they’re going to appear on.
Rush: I listen to your radio show quite often at night when I’m driving around. I happened to be listening while you were writing the book. I didn’t know what the book was going to say, obviously nobody did, but now I’m able to put some things together since the book has come out. I wouldn’t say you were on a rant or a mission, but it seemed more often than not you were, while discussing candidates or political people that there is no such thing as perfection in a candidate, in a person, in anything. That despite the greatness of the country, it was put together by imperfect people. That all the demands voters today have for perfection in a candidate, or that the utopians have for perfection in society, is simply unrealistic. I remember you focusing a lot on this whole notion of imperfection, imperfect people. Were you trying to tell people to lower the demands, which might have been unreasonable when selecting candidates?
Levin: I’ve been trying to explain as best as I know how to my audience that we are trying to find the perfect candidate and humans are not perfect. In fact, the Constitution is written the way it’s written because it knows that humans aren’t perfect – particularly humans who seek power and gain power. That’s the whole point of the Constitution, to prevent a President from doing what a Barack Obama and other Presidents have done. Or other politicians, for that matter.
Rush: You were making the point that the Founders knew people were imperfect.
Levin: Exactly right. My concern is not only us trying to seek perfection, but we’re embracing the utopian notion that we can actually find this great Pied Piper who is going to lead us. There are no Pied Pipers. There are great statesmen who can certainly help us, like Reagan, like Churchill, like Thatcher, and so forth – but they would have been the first to tell you that they’re not perfect. We don’t have to have perfection; there is no such thing.
Yet what utopians like Barack Obama constantly talk about is some big abstraction in the future: “What we need is more money”; “I wasn’t able to get my programs in place”; “I just need four more years.” We’ve heard this for thousands of years. Conservatives need to understand the nature of man, the way that the Founders did, which is precisely why I talk about John Locke, Charles de Montesquieu, and so forth. Man has free will; man shouldn’t be coerced, controlled, and punished for the sake of some dream by a handful of people. On the other hand, man is imperfect, which is why we have constitutions and laws and jails. When we’re picking a politician, when we’re picking somebody to run for President, we need to have our heads screwed on tight; they’re not going to be perfect, but on the other hand, it would be nice if they were more conservative.
Rush: How many months or years were you working on this book?
Levin: I spent about a year and a half researching and writing the book. It was an extremely difficult project because you have to read and study so much to determine what it is you’re going to actually use, because I try and keep these books under 250, 280 pages.
Rush: I can’t imagine the mental editing process after you absorbed all this. But you were very learned going into this. You’re a Constitutional authority, a Constitutional lawyer, you do a lot of work that a lot of people don’t know about in Constitutional law, helping people fight these battles, such as Attorneys General and health care. Given that you started with a knowledge base far above the average person, was there anything you came across that either surprised you or enthused you?
Levin: Nothing really surprised me, but what struck me most is when I went back and read Woodrow Wilson’s speech from the early 1900’s, before he became President, where he really lays out point by point the attack on the Declaration, on the Constitution, and the individual. I don’t ever remember it being just so straightforward. Today they try to conceal this stuff, they try to dress it up. He didn’t dress it up at all.
Rush: I was never taught any of that about Woodrow Wilson. Even in the 50’s and 60’s when I was in school, nobody taught that about Wilson.
Levin: All I remember about Woodrow Wilson growing up was he tried to start the League of Nations, and was stopped.
Rush: Yeah, that’s it.
Levin: We know he was a racist, and we know he was a globalist. But his contempt for the Constitution and the Declaration and the individual is what really struck me when I was actually studying his words. Not only Wilson, but Franklin Roosevelt. FDR is held up as one of our greatest, if not the greatest President, on college campuses, and most other places.
Rush: Newt thinks that, too.
Levin: (Laughs) Yeah. Well, FDR also said things in a speech in the 1920’s that were just amazing; again, his contempt for the individual and the rule of law. It’s important for people to understand this stuff didn’t just happen today. It has actually been in different forms for many years. That’s why I say, when we have people who downplay all of this with platitudes, or when we have Republicans running for office who don’t realize this – we vote for people like this at great peril. I don’t know how many more elections we can have where we just have “placeholder” candidates, or if we have somebody who just grows government on the edges. I don’t think we can take too much more of that.
Rush: No. That’s exactly right. Well, this is great. I know the book is selling well, and I hope its being read cover to cover, and we’ll do our part here to expand both of those numbers. I can’t believe the body of work you’ve put together here. It is tremendously helpful, it’s inspiring. It’s really a great body of work. You should be very proud of it.
Levin: I am, but I also want people to know what a mentor you are to me, and I wouldn’t even be in this business but for you. I’ve told you this privately, but when I write things like this I always wonder to myself, “I wonder what Rush will think about this?” So you have an enormous impact on so many people, including me, and I just want to tell you thank you and how much I love you and adore you.
Rush: Same here. And I love the book. I think it’s one of the best efforts of its kind. You set out with a mission and you accomplished it. So congratulations. And chin up! People like you are going to be responsible for ultimately reversing where we’re going and saving the day. I have no doubt about that.
Levin: Well, God bless you, man.
Rush: Thanks a lot.
To read another Rush Limbaugh interview of Dinesh D'Souza, talking about his book "The Roots of Obama's Rage, click here.