[This review was published in the November/December 1994 issue of Conservative Review, pp. 35-36.] 

 

 Book Review

 

The American Revolution Resurgent

By Raphael G. Kazmann

Washington, D.C.: Scott-Townsend Publishers, 1993

 

Reviewed by Dwight D. Murphey 

 

            Until his retirement in 1982, Raphael Kazmann was a professor of civil engineering at Louisiana State University.  It is the tendency of a true intellect to range widely, with the result in Kazmann’s case that he brings his practical wisdom to bear on issues of moral philosophy, political economy and economics.  In this book, he has applied liberalism (in its classical rather than its twentieth century American statist sense) to a variety of contemporary issues.  He has at the same time restated classical liberalism’s fundamental theory in a semantic of “democracy” that is most attractive in our own century.

            Several themes stand out:

            First, he has drawn his philosophy from such classical liberal stalwarts as Frederic Bastiat, Alexis de Tocqueville, Ayn Rand, and the Austrian economists.  So much does their thinking undergird his discussion that it is helpful to think of the book as at least in part an application of their analysis to current topics in American economics and politics.  Readers will find the book an excellent contemporary primer on classical liberalism.

            Kazmann holds steady with classical liberal premises, taking us back to fundamentals.  This is very much a virtue in an age that tends so easily to proceed without reference to those fundamentals (such as Americans are doing with regard to the principle of federalism, as we allow more and more governmental functions to be centralized in Washington, virtually without discussion of the whole issue of what used to be called “the division of powers”).

            A second salient characteristic of the book is Kazmann’s application of natural law theory.  He argues persuasively that principles of society can be distilled from experience that are on a par with physical laws.  Run contrary to them, and the consequences will be injurious—if not sooner, then later.  Human beings cannot do with impunity just anything they decide to do; there are realities they must take into account.  What are these realities?  Kazmann finds them, as we would expect, in such insights of classical liberalism and of basic moral theory as “do not steal,” “do not lie,” and “do not murder,” each of which has extended applications in a number of areas.

            Third, Kazmann relates classical liberalism to “democracy.”  Vital to his argument is his contention that the most enlightened definition of that term necessarily involves, as a major ingredient, the society’s ongoing adherence to the principles of morality (i.e., of natural law).  The reader will notice that for Kazmann this makes the substantive doctrines of classical liberalism virtually coterminous with democracy.  Should anyone argue that this is simply an ideological preemptive strike, seizing for a certain philosophy the benefits of yet another of the great emotive words—e.g., freedom, justice and equality—by which people guide their attachments, let it be answered that that is precisely what each of the other philosophies has done.  There is no reason for classical liberalism to do any less.  Whether the claim is valid or not must be judged by whether the philosophy as a whole is sound: if it is, its claim to the word is acceptable; if it is not, then the claim is spurious.

            Fourth, the book makes valuable contributions through the author’s discussion of specific issues.  His chronological history of the German hyperinflation of 1922-3 is astounding to anyone who hasn’t seen it anywhere else before—as I haven’t.  He gives tables showing the growth of transfer payments in the United States, of Social Security rates, and of youth unemployment.  Kazmann’s background as an engineer makes especially rewarding his discussion of the problems inherent in water resource programs and in environmental protection.  (It is almost providential that the great Midwestern floods of 1993 came along when they did to show just how right his criticisms of government water programs have been.)

            Always readable, always interesting, and relatively brief in its span of 186 pages, The American Revolution Resurgent deserves a wide circulation.  It is a book that every American should read.