Authors champion the ‘lost cause’ of liberty

Book Review

District 1 Delegate Pat McGeehan preaches the gospel of limited government in his new book, “The Liberty Essays: Restoring a Lost American Principle” (Wythe-North Publishing, $19.95). A Republican by affiliation, McGeehan shows his strong libertarian leanings throughout.

The book is a collection of 32 essays, some of them relatively short, on the broad themes of constitutional government, individual liberty, free markets, sound money and foreign nonintervention–in other words, things that got zero notice in the recently-concluded presidential election. Which does not make them any less important or urgent.

As the subtitle suggests, the topics treated by McGeehan and his coauthor, Ashley Stinnett, were fundamental to America’s founding but don’t get the attention they deserve in what passes for political discourse these days. When was the last time anyone, much less Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, had a lively debate on the principles of federalism or the separation of powers or the proper place of the Ninth and 10th Amendments?

McGeehan and Stinnett try to bring these seemingly arcane concepts into the 21st century and make them relevant to the modern reader–and they succeed, sometimes. While the authors are to be commended for tackling some difficult ideas, they both would have benefited from the attentions of a careful editor. Some of these essays probably deserve a rewrite. That aside, Stinnett touches more on “culture war” issues, such as religious liberty, while McGeehan devotes his pen to foreign policy, monetary policy and the proper role of government.

On the latter, McGeehan mines the New Testament, as well as the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, for a classical Christian understanding of government that may strike some readers as harsh and unrealistic. “If the Christian is to be consistent, then government must be opposed,” he writes. It’s hard to reconcile such a hostile view of government with McGeehan’s own service as a state legislator–someone whom the electorate has sent to Charleston to, well, govern.

A devout Roman Catholic, McGeehan wrestles with his own faith tradition and admirably brings the voices of the Church Fathers–most notably, the brilliant Augustine–into the conversation. “If you identify as a Christian,” he writes, “then neglecting these early Church Fathers is to neglect the mental pillars that make up Christianity.”

Does a robust understanding of liberty necessarily mean a philosophy of small government? Both authors would answer in the affirmative, while bemoaning the size and reach of the federal government today. As a check on that power, they argue for a reinvigorated private sector, a better educated electorate and a rediscovery of the documents that informed this country’s founding.

In probably his most interesting essay, Stinnett calls for a resurrection of the doctrine of jury nullification, whereby juries, not judges, determine the meaning and application of the law in particular cases. Meanwhile, McGeehan pines for the days before the 17th Amendment, when U.S. senators were selected by their state legislatures, not by popular vote.

If, at times, McGeehan and Stinnett seem to be championing lost causes, perhaps that says more about the modern American citizen than the authors.

–Stephen Huba