George Will says: This book is a blast

When Encounter Books debuted its Broadsides series of pamphlets in 2009, I saluted it in this post. Three years later, it is time to look back. That is the mission of The New Leviathan: The State Versus the Individual in the 21st Century: A Collection of Encounter Broadsides.

Edited by Roger Kimball, the book compiles Broadsides pamphlets written by a panoply of prominent authors including Daniel DiSalvo (“Government unions and the bankrupting of America”), Richard Epstein (“Why progressive institutions are unsustainable”), Peter Ferrara (“President Obama’s tax policy”), John Fund (“How the Obama administration threatens to undermine our elections”), Andrew McCarthy (“How the Obama administration has politicized justice”), Victor Davis Hanson (“How the Obama administration threatens our national security”), Stephen Moore (“How Barack Obama is bankrupting the U.S. economy”), and Michael Mukasey (“How Obama has mishandled the war on terror”). The book concludes with recent Broadsides pamphlets by Glenn Reynolds (“The higher education bubble”), Rich Trzupek (“How the EPA’s green tyranny is stifling America”) and Kevin Williamson (“The dependency agenda”).

I have been working my way through a galley copy of the book; it is terrific. The book kicks off with a foreword by George Will that is something like the big bang. The foreword strikes themes that we have touched on here repeatedly over the past 10 years. I asked our friends at Encounter whether we might preview the book by posting George Will’s introduction. After checking with George Will’s office, they have graciously agreed. Thanks to Encounter and to George Will.

The book is published officially today. We ran this post last month as a preview with the thought that we would run it again on the book’s official publication date. Consider this:

This book is a double-barreled blast–using “blast” in two senses. One meaning of that word is a forceful, indeed explosive discharge. The second meaning, a colloquialism, is a party tending to happy raucousness. What you hold in your hand is a compendium of constructive explosions from men and women intelligently exasperated by current tendencies in American politics and culture–but also exuberantly combative against those tendencies.

Early on in the Obama administration, the clearheaded people at Encounter Books had a splendid idea. They would invite accomplished writers with expertise in particular fields to distill their discontents into 5,000 or so words. These distillations would be called “broadsides.” The results, as you will see, are both efficient and exhilarating.

In the Oxford English Dictionary, one definition of the word broadside is “a strongly worded critical attack: broadsides against political correctness.” Each of the chapters in this volume is such a broadside. Another definition, however, is “a nearly simultaneous firing of all the guns from one side of a warship.” The book itself is a broadside in this sense. In these pages the right side–in two senses–of the ship of American politics is heard from, resoundingly.

Pascal once wrote to a correspondent, “I have made this [letter] longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” A columnist who must compact his thought on any subject into 750 words knows exactly what Pascal meant: Brevity is a challenge. But not an insuperable one, as every chapter in this book demonstrates. Each of these essays is a bright, gem-like bead. All of these beads are threaded on the sturdy string of a shared understanding of the importance–and danger–of this moment in American history.

The temperature of American politics just now is unusually high–unusually, but not excessively. The temperature of contemporary argument is proportional to the stakes. We are, after all, arguing about fundamentals–the proper relationship of the citizen to the state, the actual competence of government, and the continuing vitality of the Madisonian project of maintaining a government of limited, because enumerated, powers.

The essays in this volume constitute a collective rejoinder to the insufferably high-minded scolds who are forever deploring “partisanship.” What they really deplore is determined, principled resistance to the progressive agenda. That agenda depends on erasing from the American consciousness the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. Woodrow Wilson, the first person to carry pure progressivism into the presidency, urged Americans to disregard those paragraphs. He understood that they constitute an impediment to the progressive goal of limitless growth of the regulatory, administrative state. If government really does exist, as the Declaration says, to “secure” our rights–rights that preexist government–and if government therefore is not a fountain of whatever rights government is pleased to confer upon the governed, then the progressive project must be stymied.

At the strong beating heart of this volume is the belief that progressivism is in radical conflict not only with the Declaration, but also with realism. These essays are a summons to realism about the fecundity of freedom. They are a call for government to respect the spontaneous creativity of American society, which needs less, not more, supervision from the state. And they call for an unsentimental assessment of the world, which remains a dangerous place.

Those who have enlisted in the swelling resistance to progressivism have one great advantage. It is that, as Wilson recognized, progressivism is discordant with the American creed, to which most Americans remain committed. The resistance to progressivism has, however, one great problem: It is difficult getting the attention of Americans. We live in a society filled with distractions. George Eliot wrote in Middlemarch: “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.” Living in contemporary media-drenched America, one wonders where silence can be found. Today Americans live on the receiving end of an incessant communications blitzkrieg. Day in and day out they are bombarded with commercial, journalistic, political and cultural messages. Fortunately, they have developed mental filters to protect them from the cacophony. By now they are, in effect, wired to reduce almost all the noise to barely noticed static. Otherwise they would go mad from the roar.

Hence this volume of crisp, efficient arguments. Readers will find these essays not only informative but entertaining and exhilarating. Political combat should not be a joyless chore; there should be pleasure in its rough-and-tumble. So, enjoy this volume. It is a banquet of intelligent pugnacity and a handbook for the fun of rescuing progress from progressivism.

From The New Leviathan: The State versus the Individual in the 21st Century: A Collection of Encounter Broadsides. Foreword by George Will. Edited, with an introduction by Roger Kimball. Copyright © 2012 Encounter Books. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the kind permission of George Will and Encounter Books.

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