My Favorite Liberal Review of Freedom in Chains

I appreciate the feedback on the National Review’s take on Freedom in Chains that I posted yesterday. 

Here is my favorite liberal review of the book.  (For the record, I have never even been to Oklahoma City).

 Los Angeles Times        March 4, 1999



   The rhetoric of liberty has sustained the American republic from
its founding to the Senate’s recent vote to acquit President
Clinton on Lincoln’s birthday. Having no monarchy, no common
religion, no ancient history, the country lives by the words of its
founders, who wrote and spoke them not all that long ago.

   Those words have served us well. They helped us through a
terrible civil war. They have brought us to our present state, in
which we (most of us) enjoy personal freedom and prosperity
unimaginable not many years ago. But along the way an odd thing

   As Richard Hofstadter and other historians have noted, from the
beginning of the new nation there has existed a paranoid strain of
political thinking. The rhetoric of freedom has been turned by a
small but noisy minority against the concept of democratic
government itself, so that the government becomes not the agent of
the people’s common purpose but the very enemy of the people. In
the political paranoid’s view, the government assumes an
overweening, menacing aspect. It becomes not the creature of the
citizen but the citizen’s mortal enemy.

   “Freedom in Chains” is an unvarnished example of this
contemptuous attitude toward the American political system. From
beginning to end it quivers with  Bovard’s  hatred of government
It is a polemic heavily populated with villains. Jean Jacques
Rousseau and Franklin D. Roosevelt, for their support of the common
good, are James  Bovard’s  principal malefactors, but the American
people and Bill Clinton are not far behind.

    Bovard’s  opinions about the relation between democracy and its
citizenry suggest a situation that falls far short of the ideal of
the framers: “Governments and citizens blend together only in the
imaginations of political theorists. Government is, and always will
be, an alien power over private citizens. There is no magic in a
ballot box that makes government any less coercive.” “Rather than
broadening people’s minds,”  Bovard  argues, “the exercise of
voting too often merely debases their character.

   “The problem with democracy is not only that government
routinely scorns citizens’ values, it is also that government
imposes majority preferences that have no legitimacy. . . .
Majorities are routinely the ephemeral creations of political
promises to confiscate one group’s property and render it to
someone else. What virtue does a majority of tenants have when the
one policy they demand consists of little more than the looting of
all apartment owners via rent control?”

   “Confiscation” is much on  Bovard’s  mind. Taxes, he says, are
“confiscation,” not the price we all pay for living in a civilized

    Bovard  doesn’t think much of civilized society. He opposes
Social Security, Medicare, federal job training, government
spending on education, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the
Food and Drug Administration, land use zoning  and so on. The
reasons for his opposition lie not in an inquiry into the facts but
in his ideology: If it is done by the government, it is coercive
and confiscatory.

   He admits that some sort of national defense is a necessary
governmental function and concedes that the National Institutes of
Health have done some good. But in the main he brings toward
government relentless hostility and pervasive fear.

   All this is nonsense. Is  Bovard’s  argument harmless? Not
necessarily, and not always. In  Bovard’s  defensive and
disingenuous discussion of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal
building, he reveals that he is aware of the possible consequences
of his words

   “Regardless of whether Americans consider the federal government
illegitimate,” he writes, “attacks that kill innocent people are
never justified. The 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal
building was inexcusable. . . .

   “The militia movement in this country became highly active only
after the federal killings at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas,”
Bovard  states. “The fact that no federal officials have been held
legally responsible for the  deaths at Ruby Ridge and Waco made many people presume, not surprisingly, that the government was out of control and a dire threat to their rights and safety.” And that is exactly the view that  Bovard  expounds in this chilling polemic.


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12 Responses to My Favorite Liberal Review of Freedom in Chains

  1. Adam S. February 26, 2007 at 11:03 pm #

    The reviews of Mr. Bovard’s books are almost always the same, outside of the Libertarian press. Dismissive (that is most)reviews sound something like this: “Mr. Bovard, in another rabid Libertarian broadside, unnecessarily attacks our benevolent and providential government as an evil, cancerous excrescence that must be trimmed back. He does not understand that all men have a childish side and loved being talked down and dirty to. Therefore, we must have an iron-fisted, patronizing state to lead us by the hand. The very thought of freedom gives most sheepish, opium-smoking intellectuals like me the willies. This book is first-rate garbage because it isn’t despairing in its prospects for the future of America. It tells the truth instead of giving us hatred. Big Government is a good thing if we all just manage it well and elect virtuous people to office. Why who will give us cheese and third-world, second-rate goods and services, other than the government? Anyone who opposes the way our exploitative social arrangements are made is a baby-eating, terrorist-loving, enemy of the STATE. So there Mr. Bovard!”

  2. Adam S. February 26, 2007 at 11:29 pm #

    This review was just pitiful because it begs the question in the fifth to last paragraph with the “civilized society” comment. Societies form first, they then create governments. Under the reviewer’s own logic, the United States was formed, like Athena from Zeus’ head, straight from the heart of Washington,D.C., and it is only because the drones in the bureaucracies clock in every day that the U.S. isn’t descended upon by Mongol hordes. I beg to differ. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t pound my chest, take a deep breath and go “Gee, I wonder what’s going on in Washington today?” I should have to care as little about the federal government as I do about the roadkill I see on my way to work.
    Furthermore, does it even make sense to talk about the “public interest” or the “common good”? The public good is “…defined tautologically as the interest of all the people considered as a whole rather than any interest of any particular group of them…” No one can talk with any due seriousness about government providing goods and services. The bulk of American history shows that government has not always, and should not, much less cannot, provide anything for anyone. Beyond running the military, the government is so myopic an entity that I want to entrust as little as possible to them. The reviewer’s attitude is, again, absolutely condescending. He really views all people as puppets. They should all turn around and bend over so he can put his hand up their backside and make them talk the way he wants to.

  3. Jim February 26, 2007 at 11:38 pm #

    I fear that my books fail to bring about the moderate disposition lurking in reviewers’ hearts.

  4. Jim February 26, 2007 at 11:43 pm #

    The only problem I had with the L.A. Times piece was that I wondered what the reviewer really thought.

    The reviewer’s diffident manner made it difficult to get a sense of his real feelings for Freedom in Chains.

    Actually, the mindset shown in this review is probably very widespread. I think this helps explain why the Friends of Leviathan cheered on Bush after 9/11 for one legal atrocity after another.

  5. Larry Ruane February 27, 2007 at 12:02 am #

    It has taken me many years, but I finally realized that it is impossible to convince people like this reviewer that their love of big government is misplaced. They consider us to be a threat to something they consider to be very valuable; they view us as destroyers.

    So, lately I’ve begun to say: If you are satisfied with your relationship with your government, be my guest; don’t let me stand in your way. Create as many “programs” (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) as you like. Best of luck! (And I really do mean that.)

    But if some of us disagree, and don’t want to belong to the club, please leave us out of it! Each person should be free to decide which (if any) government he wants to contract with. And I don’t want to have to have to physically move to switch — I can change my cell phone service provider without having to sell my house. Of course, this also implies that anyone should be able to start competing governments (within the same geographic area). You can get even lefties to agree that monopolies are bad.

    Government by the consent of the governed, literally!

    So far, no one I’ve put this to has been able to come up with a counter-argument that even he thought was sufficient or convincing.

  6. Tom Blanton February 27, 2007 at 12:52 am #

    “Bovard doesn’t think much of civilized society.”

    Apparently, Mr. Day thinks civil society and government are one and the same thing. This guy is a real hoot – I laughed so hard that I had an attack of political paranoia.

    But, you’re still an evil bastard, Bovard – you and your chilling polemics that rile up the militias. Not to mention your quivering hatred of government.

  7. Don Bangert February 27, 2007 at 10:44 pm #

    Jim, I think the answer to your question of what Mr. Day thought of your book can be found in his comment, “The reasons for his opposition lie not in an inquiry into the facts but in his ideology…” (Except you have to turn it around.) Mr. Day opposes your book because he feels you’ve threatened his ideology by presenting an inquiry into the facts.

    Good book! I’ve just started Attention Deficit Democracy… So far: Excellent! Thanks for going where many dare not tread.

  8. Jim February 27, 2007 at 11:27 pm #

    Don – some of the less emphatic reviews of the book noted that it sought to tie closely together ideas and their policy results. I can understand why Statists would find this riling.

    Thanks for the kind words on A.D.D. I hope the book is also good for a few laughs.

  9. Jim February 27, 2007 at 11:31 pm #

    Tom – on the bright side, at least my paranoia of government drives me to drink – the one thing I have to thank politicians for.

  10. Jim February 27, 2007 at 11:33 pm #

    Larry – I’m glad to hear that you common sense has swayed all so far. It’s a good principle, and I hope more people are open to it.

  11. americanintifada February 28, 2007 at 11:19 am #


    This review has the odorous stench of a poorly written book report by a high school English student who failed to actually read the book, depending solely upon cliff notes and blarney for content. One cannot expect much more from an alleged journalist who would stoop so low as to work for LA Slimes.

    By the way, I HAVE been to Oklahoma City and they are still fighting the “Injuns” back there. It’s the only city in America that had a non-union GM plant and they used to brag about that!

    In that town, they would mis-pronounce your ‘chilling Pole-Mick’ and regard it as a racial slur, thinking that you meant someone’s ethnic background on a cold, wintery day!

  12. D. Saul Weiner February 28, 2007 at 12:58 pm #

    If you in fact stated that the NIH had done some good in this book, I would say that you were being charitable!