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The Path To Tyranny by Michael Newton

Michael Newton

Reviewed by:
On December 23, 2010
Last modified:October 5, 2012


Author Michael Newton has set out the warning signs on the path from liberty to tyranny. Starting at ancient Greece, he takes the reader on journey through the Roman Empire, ancient Israel, the Soviet Union and the Fascist states of Italy and Germany.

Author Michael Newton has set out the warning signs on the path from liberty to tyranny.  Starting at ancient Greece, he takes the reader on journey through the Roman Empire, ancient Israel, the Soviet Union and the Fascist states of Italy and Germany.  Not surprisingly, his last stop is a still free (but not as free as it once was) United States.

This is not an easy book to read.  The author has done a prodigious amount of research into ancient societies and the less knowledgeable reader is likely to become discouraged.  That’s unfortunate because Newton has much to say of value.

The path to tyranny is clearly marked and the signs, regardless of location, are remarkably repetitive.  When free societies permit their economic systems to fall under government control, loss of freedom and penury are not long in coming.

In Greece, Newton writes, “defenders of liberty argued for constitutional government. Constitutions were popular in ancient Greece, establishing the rule of law, guaranteeing the rights of the people, and limiting the power of the government or ruler.  With a constitution, the ancient Greeks hoped the tyrants would not be able to rise to power… Unfortunately, constitutions are often ignored by the leaders of the people…   To grant themselves new ‘rights,’ the people change, ignore, violate or throw out the constitution.”

Gives you that “someone is walking on my grave” feeling doesn’t it?

Newton traces the decline of Rome as the government increasingly intervened in the economy and imposed taxes to finance its extravagances, the growing bureaucracy and military excursions.  Rome’s economy was in shambles, it’s civil society morally degraded and militarily weakened before it was overrun, first by the Visigoths and then the Vandals.

Russia, however, does not really belong in the list of those that abandoned freedom and succumbed to tyranny.  Russia has no history of liberty.  It went from feudalism and a repressive monarchy to The Union of Soviet Social Republics; one of the most ironic appellations ever attached to a totalitarian state.  The Russian people and surrounding territories were terrorized and brutalized in the name of equality and the promise of an international collectivist Utopia.

Newton’s comments on the rebirth of socialism, after its demise in the Soviet Union and the nations it subjugated, are especially insightful.  Despite socialism’s bloody and economically disastrous history, under the sway of charismatic leaders it continues to be reinvented and persuasive.  He notes that Hugo Chavez has been elected three times by the people of Venezuela.

Newton examines the tension between liberty and equality and provides numerous examples of leaders who persuade their citizenry that government can do a better, more equitable job of managing their lives than they.  The transformation from liberty to tyranny is sometimes incremental and sometimes rapid, but the result is always the same.

The author’s survey of American history is subject to debate.  He lumps Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and FDR together as expansionist presidents who increased the power of the central government at the expense of the states and the general population.  In a book that is concerned with the ideological roots of tyranny, it can be argued that the philosophical divide between Lincoln, and the other two should have at least been noted.  But that is a small quibble in a generally sound book.

In the last chapter, the author traces the expansion of American government far beyond the parameters set in the Constitution.  He makes a compelling case for restraining government before America travels that well-worn path.


1 Bob Mack { 12.24.10 at 7:33 am }

Thanks for the review. I’d come across Newton’s book during a search on Amazon a few months back & placed it in my cart for a possible future purchase. I’ll now order it for the New Year. BTW, I think Newton has a point re: Honest Abe, Woody, & FDR–those 3 may not have spoken quite the same language, but they all slept in the same bed…


2 Chris Kaup { 01.17.16 at 2:48 pm }

As a life time Republican, lawyer and amateur Constitutional scholar, I disagree completely with this review. This author clearly has a political view point and uses only a few sources in an attempt to support his opinions. Unfortunately, especially in the chapter on the United States, he has neglected, over looked or not read several critical original sources which do not fit or contradict his opinions. For example, he does not reference and apparently has not read Madison’s Notes on the debates at the Constitutional Convention, including the speeches of James Madison, Gouveneur Morris, James Madison, and James Wilson, the other works of Wilson, Madison and Morris, any of the writings by Max Farrand numerous other scholars. He also misunderstands portions of the Federalist Papers on which he places great reliance.

The result is a poorly supported political screed, against “big government” and in favor of “states’ rights”. For example, he asserts, without identifying even a clause in the Constitution, that “the states lost their right to question the federal government” and the states held an “important check the federal government’s power” due to the outcome of the Civil War and a subsequent Supreme Court decision. However, a review of the words of many of the delegates to the Convention in Madison’s Notes, the Constitution itself, James Wilson’s StateHouse Yard Speech and Speech at Pennsylvania Ratification Convention make clear the States never had such a power.

For example, James Wilson made clear during the debates at the convention that “He saw no incompatibility between the National and State Governments, provided the latter was restrained to certain local purposes; nor any probability of their being devoured by the former. In all confederated systems, ancient and modern, the reverse had happened; the generality being destroyed gradually by the usurpations of the parts composing it.”

Michael Newton also misses the critically important point that in the minds of the most important and influential Framers, including Madison and Wilson, that the People, not the States, were the source of all sovereignty. For example, Wilson pointed out that “It is objected to this system, that under it there is no sovereignty left in the state governments. . . . I should be very glad to know at what period the state governments became possessed of the supreme power. On the principle on which I found my arguments,—and that is, the principle of this Constitution,—the supreme power resides in the people.”

Newton’s repeated criticism of “big government”, without really defining the term, and near pejorative reference to “public welfare” and “host of other pleasant sounding programs” ignores import lessons from Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham and other classical economists on the need for government activity to help create a higher standard of living for all persons. Despite citing to other works by F.A. Hayek, Newton also has not a absorbed the lessons from Hayek’s classic work The Constitution of Liberty that the size of government, itself, or even the existence of regulation is not destructive of liberty. It is “coercive” government action which is a problem. Consumer protection and environmental protection regulations which Newton identifies as “a form of tyranny” are just limitations on what certain individuals can do which protect society. They are not “coercive” and, therefore, not destructive of liberty under Hayek’s construct in The Constitution of Liberty.

As a result, Newton misleads the reader who is without the benefit of the true historical record to understand this book is mere rhetoric to support a Tea Party anti-government, states rights, anti-regulatory view of the world. It appears that Newton is one of the “radical libertarian anarchists” referenced by Lanny Ebenstein in his excellent book Chicagonomics.


3 Marcia { 01.20.16 at 3:09 pm }

Thank you for your comments. I am at a disadvantage having read and reviewed The Path to Tyranny several years ago. As I no longer have a copy my comments are general and drawn from memory. The author, if available, may respond to your specific contentions.

Regarding states rights, they were certainly a political issue during the Founding and in the years preceding the Civil War. Newton did not repudiate “We, the people” as the foundation of our system of government. Nor, as I recall, does Newton’s preference for limited government reject the need for the rule of law, protection of property, sanctity of contracts or the civil society’s obligation to help those who are unable to care for themselves.

However, the greatly expanded powers of the EPA, the attempts to limit free speech (Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi’s stated desire to narrow the First Amendment), the ideological vendetta against fracking, are all justified by the claim that they are needed to “protect society.” Yet, they exemplify “coercive government.”

Neither did I t think it necessary for Newton to define “big government.” The Federal Register is public information. I might add that it is not government’s job to create “a higher standard of living” other than through the aforementioned legal constraints necessary for the free market system to do so.

One need not agree with everything in Newton’s book to grasp his point that the path to tyranny is well marked and within our field of vision. That doesn’t make him a “radical libertarian anarchist.”


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