Still The Best Hope
Why The World Needs American Values to Triumph
By Dennis Prager
On his nationally syndicated radio broadcasts, Dennis Prager constantly affirms that his goal, for discussing any issue, is clarity. He is faithful to that determination in this book. He supports the contention in the title with history, current events, and a passion derived from a lifetime of engagement with ideas and their consequences.
He examines the values that animated the Founders more than 200 years ago, and have defined America ever since, and contrasts them with the values on which Leftism and Islamism are based. He presents the three value systems as the choices that will determine the future, not only of America, but of the world, and explains why the American value system is the most likely to produce a good society.
Prager begins by defining terms. By Islamism he distinguishes between those who identify themselves as Muslim and those within that community who would aggressively impose Sharia, Islamic Law. Prager provides an insightful analysis of fundamentalist Islamism and explains why, its insularity, its rejection of reason, religious intolerance and suppression of women, prevent it from producing a good society.
Similarly, he characterizes the Left as a moral failure. ’Left” he writes, “refers to the values associated with the Western welfare state, secularism, and the vast array of attitudes and positions identified as Left from Karl Marx to contemporary socialist democrat parties and today’s Democratic Party in the United States.” His examination of the Left is perceptive and devastatingly accurate. He finds the Left a purveyor of statism, pacifism, egalitarianism and moral relativism. It rejects limited government, as it does nationalism, patriotism, and free markets.
The Left prides itself on its good intentions. It claims to be fairer, kinder and more virtuous than opponents on the Right. It is unfazed by the disastrous results its policies often produce. It is not concerned that its noble causes almost always require some one, often many some ones, to be deprived of liberty or property. The Left’s primary goal is abolishing material inequality, not preserving liberty.
Discussing the tactics of the Left, Prager recalls Rahm Emanuel’s famous dictum ‘never let a crisis go to waste.’ “Without constant crisis,” Prager writes, “the Left has no raison d’être, and even worse it is not needed.”
For the Left, there is no division between the personal and political. Everything is the state’s business. Childhood bullying, 32 oz sodas, light bulbs, toilets and speech purported to offend some newly minted victim group. All require intervention by a beneficent state. All are important to Leftism because they provide justification for more laws and more government.
On a humorous note, the unlimited grasp of the state explains the “Obama Gift Registry,” recently generated by his campaign website to suggest that instead of buying birthday, wedding or anniversary gifts, donations should be made to the president’s reelection in the celebrant’s name! Included on the website is appropriate language for soliciting campaign cash. (Donating for Dummies?) One commentator quipped that the kids’ tooth fairy money may be next. You just can’t make up stuff like this.
Prager calls the American value system “The American Trinity,” and observes that Its ideals are inscribed on every American coin: “Liberty,” In God We Trust, and E Pluribus Unum.”
He explores what liberty means and expands on two of his favorite aphorisms to explain the conditions necessary for its survival: “Individual Liberty exists in inverse proportion to the size of the state; and “the bigger the government, the smaller the individual.“
He next turns his attention to “In God We Trust.” Unlike the Left, the Founders did not believe in the basic goodness of people or that human nature could be perfected by materialistic means. They mistrusted big government because they believed it would inevitably abuse power. Their problem was how to prevent a flawed people from abusing liberty.
And that is the reason for the second value of the American value system – God… What the Founders did regarding God and liberty was as unique as it was brilliant: they substituted God (and moral religion) for a powerful secular or religious state and they tied liberty to God.
Matthew Spalding In his brilliant book, We Still Hold These Truths, elaborates:
That there are laws of God that exist prior to, outside of, and above the laws of the state necessarily means that the laws of the state are limited and controlled by a higher or transpolitical authority… The idea of human dignity, that we are created in the image of God, forms the theological underpinning of the ideas of human nature and human equality–core principles of liberty.
Next Prager moves to E Pluribus Unum – from many one – and explains that although its original meaning was the forging of a nation from thirteen colonies, it also refers to the diverse people who make up America.
E Pluribus Unum rejects tribal, ethnic and blood ties and elevates the individual. It is the individual who matters, not any group to which the individual may belong. Anyone can become an American because America, unlike other nations, is not defined by territory, religion, or ethnicity, but by allegiance to a set of ideals. It is telling that the “hyphenated American” only became a part of political speak with the ascendency of the Left. For two centuries, Americans, whatever their place of origin, were just Americans.
This is a splendid book and, true to its author’s design, does much to clarify understanding of the competing ideologies of our time. That having been said, this reviewer finds Prager’s reluctance to condemn the motives of the Left troubling. He says he does not think Leftists are unpatriotic. He thinks they love America, but want to perfect it. Such generosity of spirit may be admirable, but I, for one, am through acknowledging the Left’s good intentions for the very reasons cited in the chapter entitled “The Left’s Moral Record.”
It’s not only its atrocities and failures; it is the Left’s arrogant refusal to learn from them. Despite the inability of the European welfare state to sustain itself, the Left wants America to emulate it. The belated renunciation of multiculturalism by some European leaders has not stopped American Leftists from attempting to send America over the same cliff. The destructive policies of the Left are remarkable for their ability to keep being resuscitated.
Arthur Brooks in The Road to Freedom, recommends confronting the Left on moral grounds. Robert Hessen, writing in Reason Magazine, in 1986, made a similar although somewhat stronger case.
Hessen quotes F. A. Hayek who wrote, “‘Socialist thought owes its appeal to the young largely to its visionary character.’ Obviously the only way to undermine the appeal of their utopian ideals is to expose them to critical scrutiny–to show that they are incompatible with human liberty and are necessarily coercive and repressive.”
Perhaps if proponents of the American value system had heeded Hessen’s advice 26 years ago, we would not be at the proverbial tipping point today.
It is past time to admit that we are engaged in a war and that the enemy is known by his works. It may be that some, perhaps even most, in the Leftist camp are deluded by ignorance. Thanks to the Leftist capture of academia, we have a nation of Manchurian voters, brainwashed since birth to believe in an expansionist state. Others have been corrupted by the spread of entitlement mentality, or mislead by the Left stream media. But those who deliberately court power with lies, buy votes with taxpayers’ money, and divide the nation into antagonistic groups are not well intentioned. They are not naïve. They are not Utopians. They are totalitarians and need to be identified for what they are.