25 May 2015 - clay
Critical Mass: The Conservatarian Manifesto
I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.
Most political books tend to be dry, hard to read, wonky screeds which shower you with polemics as to why the position they are arguing against is awful, and that if you hold that position then you are a horrible person. In other words, they are impossible to crawl through if your political leanings don’t fall in line with the author. If you agree with them, then they are an echo chamber where you merely nod along with the sentiment you already believe.
This book is neither of those.
The Conservatarian Manifesto, by Charles C. W. Cooke, documents the missteps that the right has taken over the years and explains how libertarians and conservatives, who share more common ground than either seem to believe, can retake the rudder of American politics. Mr. Cooke provides reason for the need for such a movement, saying:
Governments are unlike most private enterprise, which much stand or fail by its merits, and unlike civil society, which survives only by convincing volunteers that their time is being well spent. Able to recruit an almost endless stream of treasure and violence to its cause, Washington makes mistakes that live on for decades — becoming petrified by the self-interested and then wrapped for the electorate in warm language and vague sentiment that has little to do with the actual consequences of whatever is being discussed. Having a movement that opposes much of this in principle is not an annoyance; it is a prerequisite for liberty. (page 6)
Consistently throughout the book, Mr. Cooke makes the argument that a better government is smaller and more local. He never states that government is not needed, but simply that “government is important, but if it is to work, it should be close to you.”(57) The idea behind this is that the federal government should not have to weigh in on each and every issue that comes before it. There are differences between the states and each state should be able to make up its own mind on how to deal with issues like the drinking age, minimum wage, marijuana, and a host of others.
This book reads like a instruction manual. Mr. Cooke not only hits on a large array of topics, he also offers solutions to them. Some of these solutions may be ways that Christian conservatives may not like, but they are ideas which deserve thought. As a conservative Christian, there are a couple of suggestions that I find difficult to get behind. This is not so much because I believe Mr. Cooke to be wrong, but because I find it difficult to square what he writes with my own religious beliefs.
For instance, he says about gay marriage that “conservatives would do well to recognize that their battle against the measure has been lost, and that it has been lost badly.”(173) Mr. Cooke argues that since this is inevitable, it is more important to determine how it will be enacted. Will conservatives fight it tooth and nail to the end, or accept defeat and move on? Mr. Cooke is decidedly for gay marriage, something that Christian conservatives are not. Does this deflect from his point? I don’t believe so. [footnote]There is so much more to explore on this topic, much more than can be done justice in a book review.[/footnote]
Secondly, he makes a compelling argument as to the legalization of recreational drugs. I’ve always believed that drugs are bad and that they should be illegal because they are bad. However, Mr. Cooke points out that alcohol also can have terrible effects on people and the country prohibited it once, only to find that it was untenable and overturned it. He uses the idea of “drug choice”, much like the idea of gun ownership. People are free to buy, sell, and use them, but they are also responsible for the consequences of their actions. We treat alcohol this way, why should drugs be any different?
This book will make you think, which is what one should require from a book. There will be things you agree with and things you don’t, but it is written in an entertaining, matter-of-fact way which presents new and old ideas with the same steady conviction. Overall, I highly recommend it.