I started M. Stanton Evans' 1975 book, Clear and Present Dangers: A Conservative View of America's Government. You can read more about Evans here. The reason that I am reading this book right now is that it will set the stage for my "Year (or More) of Nixon", in which I will blog through books by and about Richard Nixon throughout 2013, which is the one-hundredth year after Nixon's birth in 1913.
Why would blogging
through Evans' book set the stage for my "Year (or More) of Nixon"?
For one, this book by Evans dates to 1975, which was soon after the
Presidency of Richard Nixon. Second, Evans had definite opinions about
Richard Nixon: Evans didn't care much for Nixon's foreign policy or
domestic policy, but he started to like Nixon when Watergate happened!
It will be interesting, therefore, to see how Evans addresses Nixon's
Presidency. And, third, I bought this book because it appeared
to me to criticize the expansion of the Presidency's power and the
decline of Congress, and that reminded me of a book by John Dean that criticized George W. Bush's Administration for expanding Presidential power. It's
interesting that what is considered right-wing and what is considered
left-wing can vary with time. You'd expect for conservatives, who claim
to believe in less-government, to oppose a more powerful Presidency,
but that's not always the case!
In my latest reading of
Evans' book, at least four things stood out to me. First, Evans says
that he is challenging the liberal consensus that few in that day were
challenging. That intrigued me because, nowadays, a significant number
of people challenge liberalism. Back in Evans' day, however, that was
probably not the case, at least not as much. Although I am
rather left-wing, I happen to admire contrarians----those who challenge
conventional wisdom. That's probably why I played that role for so many
years, even though people may not have thought that I was intelligent
when I did so.
Second, Evans argues that the American
system (the ideas of equality, limited government, opposition to
tyranny, the value of the individual, etc.) is based on biblical rather
than Greek values, and that liberals have tended to accept moral values
while detaching them from their theistic roots. Evans may have a point
when he says that biblical values influenced the development of the
American system. At the same time, I wouldn't go so far as to say that
the American system is entirely consistent with biblical ideas, for the
Bible in some places is quite supportive of monarchy, stomping on the
religious freedom of idolaters, and the fusion of religion with
government (whereas Evans says on page 10 that the state in the Hebrew
Bible is merely a "peace-keeping agency", not a "compact
religious-political institution"). Conversely, there are liberals who
root their liberalism in the Bible and religious beliefs, so I think
that Evans is wrong to characterize liberals as people who detach ethics
from religion. Even if Evans can make a solid case that prominent
liberals have done this, such a characterization disregards the many
liberals who have not.
Third, Evans wrestles with the apparent
inconsistency of liberals in supporting an active state that
subordinates the individual to the common good, while maintaining an
almost absolutist regard for certain rights, such as free speech. Evans
believes that there is a thread that ties all of this together, but, at
the moment, I'm unsure what exactly he believes that thread is. It
will be interesting to see how he handles conservatism's inconsistency
in supporting economic freedom but also restrictions in the social and
Fourth, Evans talks about federalism and the
Tenth Amendment. I'll have to admit that the Tenth Amendment is a
challenge to my liberal support for an active federal government, for
Evans is probably correct to note that a number of Founding Fathers
sought to limit the federal government's authority to certain enumerated
powers, while reserving other powers to the states and the people. I
guess that the question then would be what powers the U.S. Constitution
enumerates for the federal government. Many liberals interpret the
Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution quite expansively, which means
that they believe that the federal government can regulate, not just
interstate commerce, but also whatever affects it (see here).
The Commerce Clause may have originally been intended to allow the U.S.
government to regulate trade between the states, but liberals have a
more expansive application of it. Is this wrong? Perhaps, in
the Founders' time, what went on in an individual state primarily
affected the state itself, and the Constitution granted the U.S.
Government the power to step in when one state impacted another through
commerce. Nowadays, however, what goes on in one state can arguably
impact the entire country. Would that not necessitate a broader
interpretation of the Commerce Clause?