The Central Liberal Truth,
by Lawrence E. Harrison (Hardcover - May 1, 2006) |
Mark Lamendola, author of over 5,000 articles.
The odd mix of mutually exclusive words in the title
was the first thing about this book that grabbed my attention. The
meaning becomes clear as you read the various examples in the book: the
central truth is that liberal programs don't work. As these
programs try to mandate change, they invariably produce consequences
that are the opposite of what they were supposed to produce.
Harrison would probably disagree with what I just
said, because throughout the book he uses "liberal" as a positive
label--and he concludes the book by pushing leftist opinions that don't
really derive from the rest of the book. Yes, there's a connection if
you want to read that into the book--but the author's "central"
conclusion is tacked on, rather than proven.
Let's briefly address this label of "liberal." In
the USA, those calling themselves liberals have given us such enormous
taxes (128 taxes on a single loaf of bread) that Americans work 50% more
hours each week and take 25% of the annual vacation time as their
European counterparts to maintain a similar standard of living (yes, we
do have big homes and big cars--but that doesn't account for most of it). These
people are actually "statists"--they believe that the government really
is here to help you. Many statists also call themselves
conservatives. Statism characterized the Clinton administration and it
characterizes the Bush administration. One was "liberal," the other is
"conservative"--both have grown government enormously at great cost, but
with no discernable benefit.
Another point I want to clear up is the issue of
exporting freedom. The author derides the notion that the USA can export
freedom to the Middle East. He states cultural differences as the reason
we cannot do this. Well, he is assuming we have something to export. But
The United States spends more on its military than
the next five nations combined, but the number of people on the IRS
payroll exceeds the number of folks in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and
Marines combined. That has some rather serious implications. Try seeing
what freedoms you have if these people dig their claws into you. The
facts don't matter, due process is absent, the Bill of Rights is
suspended, and you could lose your ability to feed, clothe, and shelter
John Graver has interviewed wealthy expatriates and
found that every one of them
cited the IRS as the number one reason for moving abroad. Anyone who has
been caught up in the machinery of this criminal-infested agency
understands why. The GAO reports each year on IRS employee behavior that
normal people would be locked up for (such as stealing 4300 computers from
their own offices or kidnapping toddlers at gunpoint). And yet, these
demonstrably dishonest people have the absolute authority (regardless of
statute or principle) to act as judge, jury, and executioner over people
being tried for real or perceived "deficiencies." People on trial for
multiple homicide have more rights than people deemed "deficient" by the
IRS. Another country noted for allowing the morally bankrupt this level
of unbridled power over "deficient" people on such a massive scale was
So much for having freedom to export. We are
exporting citizens who seek freedom.
The author reveals a bit of his own idealism and
naiveté regarding these two issues. But once we get past those, we can
see he has dug into an entire body of knowledge that is routinely
ignored by people in power--regardless of whether those people are
liberal or conservative. And for this we can be thankful.
Harrison looks at broad trends,
and--admittedly--draws broad conclusions. But as you look at the cases,
you can see these conclusions are, by and large, reflected in reality.
Harrison also does a good job of explaining what the effects are of
various religions, cultural taboos, and attitudes. He looks at the
effects of female literacy, punctuality, and trust--or the lack of
these. These various factors flavor the stew that gives a country its
As I read this book, I kept nodding my head: "Yes,
that makes sense" or "That's a well-supported point." I kept feeling I
was learning how culture is more than a mere factor in the
progress of a nation--it's a determinant. Then, toward the end of the
book, we see the real reason Harrison had the word "liberal" in the
title. Harrison ties the whole book into the standard commentary of the left,
just (thinly) disguised a bit.
I have read several books that, had the author
restrained himself from needlessly adding in leftist statements, would
have been just fine. These authors have an almost Pavlovian approach to
writing--no matter what they write about, they have to either lace the
whole piece with leftist opinion or write a fine book and then cap it
with leftist conclusions that really have nothing to do with the book.
As I said in the beginning of this review, the
real problem Harrison is talking about is statism. We get it from the
left and from the right. Liberalism is an enabler of statism, not a
solution to it. Statism is the belief that the government actually
solves problems--and the more government you have, the better. This
belief has dominated politics since the early part of the last century.
It failed most dramatically perhaps with the Soviet Union. But it's also
failed in the United States, and we have the
of capital and talent to prove that.
If Harrison writes a second edition, my
recommendation would be to limit the book to its central topic of culture.
Also, the subtitle "How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It From
Itself" was not evident in the book--at least, not to me. Removing the
Bush-bashing would make the political aspects of this book very minor.
Renaming it to "The Central Cultural Truth" would more accurately
reflect its contents.
If you are a leftist, liberal, or Bush basher,
you'll love this book because it contains the normal party line and you
can mistakenly point to that party line as being supported by the book.
Similarly, you could point to the ocean, say it's wet, and then conclude
that the leftist view is thus well-supported. Either way is about as
good. If you are a conservative, you might begin to see that statism
isn't helping your cause at all. And on that, the author has plenty of
If you want to understand the effects of culture,
attitude, and other factors on how affluent or poor a nation is, you'll
like this book until almost the end. It's got a wealth of good
information and thoughtful analysis. Just take the leftist part with a
grain of salt, and you'll find this book rather satisfying.
A note on the writing: form is important, as it dictates readability.
Fortunately, this book scored very well on substance and on form.
This book actually uses Standard Written English (SWE). This was a
refreshing change from the Pidgin English that so many of today's authors
slop onto our reading palettes. The care taken in writing this book shows
that the author and publisher actually cared about the reader. That's a