Aliens in America: The Strange Truth about Our Souls by Peter Augustine Lawler

Faith, Reason, and Political Life Today edited by Peter Augustine Lawler and Dale McConkey

Through his books, anthologies, and editorship of Perspectives on Political Science (on whose editorial board this reviewer sits), Peter Augustine Lawler has established himself as a noteworthy voice in the debate over reason and revelation in contemporary political life. Throughout his scholarly career, Lawler has been guided by these highest of themes in his investigations, whether of Tocqueville, Vaclav Havel, or contemporary neoconservatives and leftists. David Brooks’s Bobos, Whit Stillman’s films, and Walker Percy’s characters all play parts in his flailing of the postmodern American soul. In Aliens in America, Lawler treats the human soul in all its dimensions, as reflecting the Biblical God and the Platonic-Aristotelian nous, as part of political man and transpolitical man. He warns against interpretations of the Declaration of Independence and America that lead “toward an unreal and unvirtuous independence from nature and God.”

Faith, Reason and Political Life Today, edited by Lawler and his colleague, Dale McConkey, elaborates these diverse themes. Treatments of “Star Trek” (by Paul Cantor and Diana Schaub), Flannery O’Connor (by Henry Edmondson), and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (by Daniel Mahoney) bring forth themes such as globalization and statesmanship, and grace and redemption in contemporary political life. The most interesting of these essays is Paul Seaton’s interpretation of Pierre Manent, the French Straussian and Christian.

As commendable as these books are, one wonders whether Lawler and these contributors mischaracterize American liberalism, which they identify with modernity. Might they appreciate the “liberalism” of I Peter, 2:16: “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cloak for vice”?

—Ken Masugi

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Medicare’s Midlife Crisis by Sue A. Blevins

Sue A. Blevins’ new book is to the health policy debate what Thomas Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed is to the social policy debate. The history of Medicare follows a pattern similar to other Progressive initiatives. It was a solution to a problem that did not exist. Contrary to liberal think-tank folklore, Blevins argues that the availability of health care to seniors had been on the rise, long before Medicare was adopted in 1965. In the course of offering a solution to a non-existent crisis, Medicare created a new set of very real problems: skyrocketing costs, invasions of privacy, and interference in the doctor-patient relationship, to name a few.

Blevins paints a bleak picture of Medicare’s demographic realities, noting that the Congressional Budget Office “points out that the number of beneficiaries in 2030 will be 90 percent greater than it is today, but the number of workers supporting Medicare will be only about 15 percent greater.” The Medicare system is stretched to the limit. Any new additions, such as a prescription drug benefit, will likely push the system past the actuarial breaking point.

The Sisyphean cycle of Medicare—big government solutions creating problems that require big government solutions—can be broken, Blevins argues, by adopting something akin to President Bush’s proposed Social Security savings account plan. A worker under such a plan could, upon retirement, purchase health coverage from a private insurer at a cost savings of 50 percent when compared to the current Medicare plan.

The sheer size of the looming Medicare financial crisis will continue to spawn a variety of proposed solutions. Blevins’ preferred option is not the first or last word on this matter. But her analysis is indispensable.

—Brian P. Janiskee
California State University, San Bernardino