A quick review of a DVD I recently watched on the plane, coming back from a conference in Montana.
It was “Overview of America,” produced by the John Birch Society and narrated by John F. McManus, President of JBS.
Mr. McManus has been President of JBS since 1991, and the organization has changed a bit from the more “in your face” tactics of the 1960s and 70s. McManus has worked for JBS for 40 years now, but his first career was electrical engineering. He still takes a careful, systems-based approach to understanding government and policy problems, and it shows in this short and well-executed video.
Don’t get me wrong; there is content here that dissenters will no doubt call “ideological.” Of course, for those people “social science” is simply whatever they happen to believe themselves, and “ideology” is what all those wrong people think. I don’t agree with everything Mr. McManus has to say here, but the systematic approach he takes, and the way he addresses issues of basic governance rather than small points of policy makes the video a very valuable tool for starting discussions.
The main claim that he makes, that there are in fact only a few viable forms of government, no matter how much we might wish it were otherwise, is both well-argued and persuasive. (Of course, I believe it myself, so persuading me wasn’t very hard!) The most stark part of the argument is likely also the most controversial: the only two forms of government that are viable in the long run are some form of totalitarian, or at least authoritarian, system or else a constitutionally limited republic. “Pure” democracies either don’t exist, or else lead quickly to Napoleon, or Stalin, Mao, or Castro. The fact that we can imagine a pure democracy is beside the point. I can imagine unicorns, but I don’t expect one to give me a ride to work.
(Overview of America, DVD and VHS, 2006; 32 mins., John Birch Society and available from American Opinion Book Services. Written and narrated by John F. McManus.)