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McCotter’s Book Serves as a Call to Citizenship

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Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s new book on political philosophy doesn’t pull punches as the Republican Congressman takes issue with aspects of both parties.

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter is probably not the only Member of Congress who would write a treatise on political philosophy pitting Jean-Jacques Rousseau against Edmund Burke with Russell Kirk as moderator. But he’s probably the only one who would do so while working in references to “The Brothers Karamazov,” “Tricky Dick” and Saul Alinsky. 

The Michigan Republican’s well-
deserved reputation for wit is on display in “Seize Freedom: American Truths and Renewal in a Chaotic Age.” Although McCotter’s name has come up in some quarters — such as S.E. Cupp’s column — as a dark-horse 2012 presidential possibility, this is not a trot-out-the-truisms campaign book.  

If McCotter went to Iowa and started talking about conservatism being “the negation of ideology,” voters would shrug and the political press would roll its collective eyes. But it makes for good reading.

The other tip-off that “Seize Freedom” is not a standard campaign book: McCotter is not reluctant to offend, and he takes some chunks out of both sides. 

For a Stratocaster-playing baby boomer, he seems to have a particular affinity for ripping hippies. Invoking T.S. Eliot’s “barbarian nomads,” McCotter applies the term equally to “a camouflaged panzer at the Maginot Line or a psychedelic VW ‘Love Bug’ at Woodstock.”

He doesn’t spare his own, however. Just at the moment when Republicans had reclaimed a House majority for the first time in 40 years, he argues, they fell for Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history,” forgetting the basic conservative tenet that the human race is imperfectible and instead acting like a bunch of souped-up utopian leftists.

“Buying into this ideology that claimed freedom would magically happen sooner or later,” McCotter writes, “the Republican Party dimmed the lights of America’s ‘shining City on a hill’ and abdicated its historic role as the champion of American exceptionalism. Instead it became the middle managers of American monotony.”

That goes to the heart of McCotter’s premise: Real conservatism is philosophical, not ideological. It aims to build on what has come before rather than sweep away what exists and replace it with the ideological vision of the moment, whether that ideology is leftist or rightist or something else altogether. 

He ridicules the “wilted flower children” of the left who “discarded hard hats for raspberry berets” and thus drove people like his father out of the Democratic Party (a story related in the best personal anecdote in the book). He heaps only slightly less scorn on the ideologues of the right. “In their ample leisure hours, these cosmopolitan conservatives prefer the febrile climes of the Potomac, and while they date everyone but Americans, they mate only within their class,” he writes. No names are given, unfortunately.

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