Yikes! Yuval Levin's book The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left (Basic Books, 2014), based on his 2010 doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago, is clearly designed to be a feel-good read for American conservatives and thereby contribute to their recuperation in time to pull out significant victories in the 2014 mid-term elections.
However, just as contemporary Republicans are up to no good politically, so too Levin is up to no good in this book, as I will explain momentarily.
For understandable reasons, many American progressives and liberals today are probably not as familiar with the political views of Edmund Burke (1729-1797) and Thomas Paine (1737-1809) as Levin is. As a result, many progressives and liberals today might quickly skip over Levin's book. But it might be a mistake for them to ignore or under-estimate what Levin is up to by giving his fellow American conservatives today a feel-good book to read to bolster their spirits in time for the 2014 mid-term elections.
No, there's not a word in Levin's book about possibly repealing Obamacare -- if Republicans can gain enough seats in Congress in the 2014 mid-term elections to over-ride President Obama's predictable veto. Ah, wouldn't that be the greatest victory for the Republican obstructionists in Congress?
No, there's not a word in Levin's book about the obstructionist tactics of Republicans in Congress over the last two years.
No, there's not a word in Levin's book about the Republicans' efforts to overturn and reverse legalized abortion in the first trimester.
No, there's not a word about outlawing the teaching of evolutionary theory in public secondary education, or about requiring equal time in public education for so-called intelligent-design theory, or about requiring textbooks to advertise that evolutionary theory is a theory, not a fact.
As a matter of fact, Levin characterizes Burke as favoring evolution as a model for political change, because Burke clearly does not prefer the kind of political revolution that occurred in the French Revolution. Question: Would supposedly acceptable political evolution resemble the spirit of social Darwinism -- dog eat dog, eh?
In any event, Levin does not say a word to criticize his fellow conservatives today.
Instead, he says something like the following to his fellow conservatives today: "Time out, guys! We've got the winning way for American politics to proceed because we American conservatives carry on the spirit of the British conservative Edmund Burke. I've studied Burke's conservative views and Thomas Paine's radical views. Paine's radical views resemble in spirit all those radical views today that we conservatives dislike. So we in movement conservatism should refresh our understanding of Burke's views, because he is the founding father of our movement conservatism. If we re-dedicate ourselves to our founding father's rationalizations of conservatism, his views will help us prevail in the 2014 mid-term elections and in the 2016 elections."
I am sorry to say that conservative Chicken Littles might just buy into Levin's set up, because they might find it flattering to buy into Burke's rationalizations of his conservativism -- in the 18th-century British political system, which is significantly different from our American political system in the 21st century..
Now, we have all heard about generals who are prepared to fight the last war.
If conservative Chicken Littles today buy into Levin's flattering set up, then they might be equipped to participate in the 18th-century British debate about the French Revolution. But they will not be well prepared to participate in the important debates of our times.
The important debates of our times involve our understanding of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and the body of American law.
The Declaration of Independence is a philosophical statement. It is a byproduct of 18th-century Enlightenment philosophic thought.