[This review was published in The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, Summer 2003, pp. 249-251, in edited form. What follows here is the review as submitted for publication.]
The Savage Nation: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Borders, Language, and Culture
WND Books, 2002
The "Michael Savage Show" has grown to become one of today's major conservative talk shows in the United States, featured on over 300 stations and heard by between three and five million listeners each week. Michael Savage, the grandson of a Russian immigrant, is highly educated, with two masters degrees and a Ph.D from the University of California-Berkeley. As with so many others, he has made the switch from a leftward orientation as a young man to his present "independent conservatism."
Despite his education, his appeal is in his stridency. Conservative intellectuals in the United States have long found a considerable appetite among Americans for a "red meat" presentation that will point with alarm in a rising crescendo of anger and disillusionment. It is in satisfying this demand that Savage finds his niche. Almost all the issues he discusses are related to the culture-war which, despite voices such as his, the American mainstream is so rapidly losing.
Those of any persuasion who wish to convince others are well advised to welcome voices that will make the appeal at a variety of levels. If the culturally conservative message is to get out, it needs, no doubt, to be carried to the lowest common denominator as well as articulated in nuanced fashion to the most thoughtful.
From a culturally conservative point of view, Savage is "right on," hitting issues of major importance. He decries the growing decadence and the clamor for false causes; assesses that "our borders, our language, and our culture are under siege"; criticizes the gay rights movement as a "celebration of sodomy," and speaks of feminist and animal rights fanatics; opposes the "developing mandarin class" that now, as an oligarchy, rules America and finds willing spokesmen in both political parties; would stop the tax funding of degenerate artists; and opposes both abortion and the cloning of embryos. Among the things he favors: English as the official language; religion, without which "mankind is doomed"; Israel; Martin Luther King, Jr., as a "great leader of the civil rights movement"; and "the values of the fifties."
If he reaches millions of Americans with these messages, he is performing, as we have said, a service to his cause by articulating it at a certain level. This much, at least, can be said for him. There is, however, a fundamentally anti-conservative aspect in his tone. His style is replete with such exclamations as "I hated his guts," "Who are these traitors? Every rotten, radical left-winger in this country, that's who"; "the left-wing pinko vermin in high places"; and others too endless to mention.
There is no philosophical depth to his argumentation, which is all expletive. Nor is there any civility. Sharp dichotomies between Good and Evil are his stock in trade, as when he says "two Americas are emerging... the Rats and the Eagles."
We live in a time, however, when the divisions within American society are becoming more and more marked. Americans have, indeed, barely begun to see the sources of division, even though it seems the ideological and cultural chasms are already extreme. It is likely that economic displacement, the clashes over the bio-medical revolution (that are likely to make the argument over abortion seem mild in comparison), the animosities that portend to arise out of ethnic balkanization, and the social tearing that will come out of America's newly-affirmed role of world intervention will combine to heighten those divisions far beyond anything Americans now experience.
A paradox is that in this context "civility" looms as both far more essential and far less attainable. If people can't "hear each other out" and remain in civil society with each other, we enter a Hobbesean world of "all against all" -- or, unless Americans are very lucky, a time comparable to the first century B.C. in Rome when civil war rent the social fabric and destroyed the Republic. Every breach of civility exacerbates the problem, heating passions and lessening the chance of living together in a social order.
The paradox is further heightened by the fact that the needed civility must not mute the expression of vital opinion. A civility born out of apathy or a flight toward continuing comfort can't face up to the monumental issues that challenge Americans (indeed, all of western civilization) today. What is imperative is a combination of passion, careful analysis and insight, and (at the same time) a compassionate respect for those one sees as "plainly wrong." Michael Savage is strong on the passion, and to a cultural conservative is right on many things; but he is abysmally bad on analysis and civility. If as time passes he were to learn to combine the needed elements, his voice would become much more constructively significant than it now is.
Dwight D. Murphey