Book Reviewed: Preserving Democracy

Henry Neufeld, long time blog neighbor, owns a small publishing firm. Quite surprisingly (to me), he offered to send me a pre-publication copy of a book which he is releasing shortly, more specifically on April 15. I readily agreed and here is a short review of the book he sent me. This book, Preserving Democracy by Elgin Hushbeck, Jr. will be released next month. Mr Neufeld locates this as “a conservative” book, and I’m not entirely sure I agree with that assesment. First, bear with me for a quick overview of the book (my impression at any rate from a somewhat cursory/quick read) after which I’ll explain what I mean by that that claim.

Mr Hushbeck’s book is an eminently readable exposition detailing point by point what might be described as political or cultural catchpoints with each chapter addressing a different catchpoint. These catchpoints are issues which, if matters go unchecked might be seen as most likely stumbling blocks for our American political experiment. Taxes, Law, Central planning, Voting, Language and other issues are covered succinctly and simply. The language is plain spoken and non-technical with liberal illustrative examples from current events and past history. Graphs and charts are frequently used and contain no evidence of the sorts of trickery used to mislead via manipulation of axis, the data is honestly presented (and the source data cited).

Another item which I must praise highly is that Mr Hushbeck doesn’t fall into the all to common “Thomas Paine” fallacy. John Adams, according to his biographer, praised Mr Paine for being very good at “tearing down” and assisting the American efforts at Revolution but noted that Mr Paine was not well suited for “building up.” It is terribly easy to criticize. But criticism is incomplete without an offer of a solution. Mr Hushbeck in each of his chapters in which a catchpoint for our society is identified and located also then briefly sketches a way to avoid or steer clear of the problem.

My only criticism of the book is that some of his historical allusions to highlight a modern problem gloss over historical details perhaps stretching some points in order to make a point. Allow me to give one example, in the first chapter in a long historical overview of the (Western) Roman progression from Kingdom to Republic to Empire … Mr Husbheck notes that:

It was only with the fall of the Roman Empire 500 years later and the subsequent rise of Christianity that a new set of values would dominate the culture and slavery would be questioned

and to this a footnote expands

Slavery did disappear in Europe following the rise of Christianity, only to reappear following the Renaissance as the Church’s hold on the culture weakened and Europeans explorers started sailing down the coast of Africa encountering and then becoming part of the slave trade.

I’d take issue with that reading of the history of slavery and the Christian influence … setting aside the very Western reading of Christianity in general as an member of the Easter Orthodox tradition myself as well, e.g., Rome finally fell in 1453. It might be argued that the timing of slavery disappearing from the West in a large part coincided less with the spread of Christianity than with the economics of Western Europe. Western Europe slid back into late Bronze age subsistence economic and social conditions. Organized and widespread slavery needed a higher level of culture and standards of living in order to exist. When economic and social conditions improved … slavery returned. This aside is a brief sidelight to the main point of a brief summary of Roman political history. My only point is that Mr Hushbeck in painting the historical situation with a broad brush, well to be frank, paints with a broad brush and in doing so occasionally makes claims which when examined in detail are questionable.

Aside from that (minor) criticism this book makes for a very readable overview a number of issues facing America today. However, in conclusion I’d like to return to the claim that this book is not conservative. The issues chosen are in fact issues which conservatives would identify as the most serious issues facing our nation today. However by and large the methods used to address these issues and way in which these issues are framed are not “conservative” per se, but more aligned with classical liberalism. Mises and Hayek, the Founders, Locke, Smith and so on (for example) are quoted as much if not more often by Libertarian writers as conservative and these sources are used liberally in this book. I don’t see a Libertarian or Conservative disagreeing with much that is said in this book. What exactly a liberal/progressive would disagree with … that might be a task more suited for a different reviewer. :)

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