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Tyrants real and imagined

From ludicrous to lively, five books about leaders

Palin: J. Scott Applewhite/AP • Brezhnev: AP • Washington: North Wind Picture Archives/AP • Herod: Handout • Bolivar: Handout

Tyrants real and imagined
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Both sides of the cultural war dream nightmares about their opponents setting up a dictatorship. The latest from the left (July 1 publication date) is Frederic C. Rich’s Christian Nation (Norton), which starts with John McCain winning election in 2008 and soon dying: Sarah Palin takes over and Christians set up a religious tyranny, murdering thousands who rebel. The evangelical fascists destroy parts of San Francisco and invade the last holdout, Manhattan. It’s all ludicrous, but a major publisher is propelling it into the marketplace: Will Hollywood be far behind?

To read about real tyrants, see Koenraad De Wolf’s Dissident for Life: Alexander Ogorodnikov and the Struggle for Religious Freedom in Russia (Eerdmans, 2013, English edition), a readable biography of a courageous Christian who stood up first to Communists and then to Putinists. Norman Gelb’s Herod the Great (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013) is a pungent biography of the Stalin-like dictator 2,000 years ago, with a subtitle (Statesman, Visionary, Tyrant) that shows Gelb’s attempt, like some Stalin apologists more recently, to balance out the bad and the good.

The United States until now has been spared tyranny, and one of the reasons is the example George Washington set in saying no to pleas that he seize power: Logan Beirne tells that story well in Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency (Encounter, 2013). If you’ve never studied South American history, Marie Arana’s Bolivar (Simon & Schuster, 2013) is a lively start: Simon Bolivar liberated six countries from Spanish rule, but “the George Washington of South America” had neither the willingness to walk away from power nor the faithfulness in marriage that set a good example for future leaders.

Political treadmill

Most Jews vote Democratic, against their material interest, partly because they’re worried about evangelicals establishing a “Christian nation,” but also because of a history lesson passed on from parents to children: Franklin Roosevelt purportedly stood up for Jews against reactionary interests. Barack Obama’s anti-Israel position has shaken some of that support, and if the story told in Rafael Medoff’s FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith (David S. Wyman Institute, 2013) gets out, Democrats will receive fewer legacy votes.

Medoff details Roosevelt’s disparaging remarks about Jews and includes previously unpublished interviews with Jewish leaders who say Roosevelt “hoodwinked” them and “didn’t lift a finger” to help Jewish refugees from Hitler. Had the United States allowed in escapees instead of sending them back to Europe, or had FDR pressured Great Britain to allow refugees to settle in what is now Israel, many lives could have been saved. Even as late as 1944, U.S. action could have helped the 400,000 Jews of Hungary, most of whom then died at Auschwitz.

African-Americans show no signs of leaving the Democratic plantation, and one of the reasons lies not in left-wing conspiracy but in mostly white evangelical churches. Aliens in the Promised Land, edited by Anthony Bradley (P&R, 2013), includes excellent essays examining why many integrated churches and other Christian institutions overlook minority leadership. One of the chapters, by Carl F. Ellis Jr., brilliantly outlines the clash of values between African-American achievers on the one hand and those with subsistence or nihilistic values. Ellis shows how to tell Bible stories in a way that makes sense to urban men who have treated Scripture with contempt.

Republicans also helped the Democratic surge by dithering on healthcare reform when they controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The Heritage Foundation 20 years ago offered a good healthcare reform proposal that emphasized a decentralized approach and an individual mandate to buy insurance, with federal tax credits helping out. (Some conservatives attacked the mandate then, and almost all attacked Obamacare’s mandates.) Lee Edwards tells the story of Heritage and Ed Feulner, its head for 36 years, in Leading the Way (Crown Forum, 2013). Edwards shows how Heritage changed American public policy analysis through the provision of concise and timely background analyses. —M.O.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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