America The Strong: Conservative Ideas To Spark The Next Generation, by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
As a conservative who has read more than my fair share of conservatarian manifestos , it was nice for a change to actually read a book that very closely tracked according to my own political worldview, with proper focus given to issues of virtue, even if this book was written from a more traditional and less strictly biblical point of view than I would normally take as a writer. Having read some of Dr. Bennett’s voluminous work before , this book was a comfortable read–it spoke about virtue, was knowledgeable and open about American history, and presented conservatism as it is and not as it is often parodied by the left. As might be expected, it made a demanding case for the responsibilities of citizens in a free nation like the United States, and also pointed out that the rise of government would not have been possible without the failure of many institutions, like the family and the church. If we do not wish for government to become tyrannical, we must through our neighborhoods and local institutions and households and families seek to take care of the poor, the strangers, and those who are isolated, to the best of our abilities.
This book, which weighs in at 250 pages of core material, is guided around a useful mnemonic device, the acronym FLINT, which stands for “Free Enterprise,” “Limited Government,” “Individual Liberty,” “National Defense,” and “Traditional Values.” Each of these elements in the author’s conservative vision gets its own section, some of which are a lot longer than others. After introducing conservative principles and defending the American record, the first part covers free enterprise, equality and opportunity, and energy and the environment. The section on limited government covers the subject of limited government, the welfare state, taxes and spending, and government debt. The section on individual liberty again examines the rule of law, immigrations, a strong case against the legalization of marijuana, and issues of race, class, gender, and ethnicity. The section on national defense is fairly short, dealing specifically with the subject of Islamic terrorism, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the section on traditional values is the longest, with chapters on marriage and family, faith and religion, abortion, K-12 education, and higher education. Throughout the author is honest and direct, but also generous-minded towards political opponents. It is clear in reading this book where libertarians of various stripes and conservatives agree, and where they differ, and makes it very clear that a genuine conservative is not looking to bring back the past for everyone, nor wishes to preserve all traditions, whether good or bad, but seeks to preserve what is best and desire only gradual change.
Whether one has conservative leanings or not, this book is useful in understanding what is appealing about conservatism to many people, myself included. The appeal of conservatism, in the United States at least, combines a few elements. For one, there is a strong tradition of liberty and a recognition that government is a threat to freedom because of its desires to enforce uniformity and ignore individual and local differences. Additionally, there is a strong distaste in the tendency for large governments to increase inequality within the marketplace by granting favored status to cronies, a form of inequality that is particularly galling to those who are already disinclined to countenance large degrees of government involvement. Despite the strong strain of skepticism for government, though, as well as its power to remake culture, there is a strong degree of support for police and the military, at least insofar as it represents protection from anarchy within and the threat of foreign invasion and terrorism from without. It is the combination of faith, faith in oneself, and not very much faith in authority, but respect for those whose duties are to protect and to serve mostly law-abiding citizens that tends to make one a conservative, someone who is adventuresome but also cautious. This is not an unappealing mixture of qualities, to say the least, and it presents a strong case for a conservative approach, one that combines compassion with a strong sense of the proper boundaries of authority which are not to be exceeded. All in all, this is an excellent book.
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