It begins with an “Initial Public Offering” (punctuated by nearly 40 parenthetical asides—some as long as a paragraph). In it, the author, disarmingly casual, explains his method. It goes something like this: Since 2007, Princeton professor Jeff Nunokawa has written a short reflection every morning in response to a phrase from a work of literature using Facebook’s Notes application. These were originally intended for his friends and current and former students, but at some point, he decided to select some out of the over 3,000, revise them (“And revise them. And revise them. And revise them.”), and publish them in a book “to address” our shared “state of loneliness.” The result is Note Book, “a work of strange and enduring wonder” according to The New Yorker’s Rebecca Mead.
“All revolutions are failures,” George Orwell once wrote, “but they are not all the same failure.” Those alls should give us pause. Most revolutions—those in France and Russia spring to mind—certainly didn’t end well. But the American Revolution ended well. It created a stable and prosperous nation state, under a constitution that is still the law of the land two centuries after its adoption. New men, in a New World, violently shook off the bonds of monarchy, yet restored order in good time—something the peoples of old Europe never managed to achieve.
Charles Murray’s By the People: Rebuilding Liberty without Permission is an important book that advocates of constitutional government should consider carefully. While Murray overstates the case, his book articulates a novel argument, replete with insights on the nature of political corruption and how to fight it.
Murray’s book attempts two tasks. First, it argues that the federal state has become overbearing. During the New Deal era, Murray claims, the feds managed a remarkable inversion: whereas once the government was only able to do what the Constitution authorized, it can now do anything that it does not specifically forbid. In many cases, the government does what is explicitly forbidden anyway.