Common Sense, by Glenn Beck

July 3, 2011 at 16:01 (Book Reviews, Politics, Poorly Rated Books) (, , , , )


It would be easy and remarkably cathartic to rail against Glenn Beck’s hyper-right wing politics in this book, or to lay bare his anarchic vitriol against the government; but this is a book review, and not a political polemic. Thus, the most instantly objectionable part of this book will be its opening line: “I think I know who you are.”

Beck begins in this nauseatingly-chummy way, and proceeds to describe in immaculate detail his perfect upper-upper-middle class family: falling apart at the seams, politically illiterate and impotently angry, based on pettiness and denying its own rampant materialism. Presumably, this ideal reader is supposed to chuckle and admit, “That’s me, all right. In a nutshell.” It certainly frames the book in a revealing light.

Beck has the good grace to admit that he is no Thomas Paine. He does, however, have a gift for bungling the most dreadfully mixed metaphors, and explaining without any trace of irony that the boat and lifeboats are both sinking without any chance of winning the lottery, and the mob is on its way to break (the boat’s?) kneecaps. This bungling becomes less farcical and more concerning when he echoes the murderous rhetoric of the recent past, in condemning his political opponents as cockroaches, and balances his denouncement of armed revolution with constant invective and repeated insinuations that the “Progressive Class” is the unalterable and eternal enemy of all redblooded Americans.

Beck reveals himself to be something of a pedagogue, and seems to consider that one successful accusation of any historical figure, or any one quote that he can attribute to any politician ought to be enough to demonise that man or woman eternally. Lest we forget, he will soberly remind his reader, this is the same man who said thus in the last chapter. Ergo, what he has said now might as well have come from the lips of the devil himself. How will you trust him now? Regardless of his politics (some of his alleged faults found in others could easily be seen as virtues by less right wing readers), this is simply unconvincing as a basis on which to build a sound political theory.

His constant appeals to the ghost of Thomas Paine are, besides one quotation utterly ripped from any context, limited to three chapters of Paine’s work reprinted verbatim as a postscript to Beck’s book, and are apparently intended to stand on their own: no commentary or exposition are offered by Glenn Beck, and it is left to the reader to wonder how these ought to be interpreted. Beck’s philosophy is rather haphazard and scattered, and hardly expounded clearly. Mostly it is gleaned by Beck’s neo-McCarthyism, where certain figures are singled out for their sins against his brand of sickly and malnourished objectivism. This is a book without either warmth or clarity, and is as plain an example of preaching to the converted as anyone might wish to see. An ill-advised compendium of half-baked claptrap and humdrum sophistry.


  1. mickeymurphy said,

    This is an insightful review of an illiterate man’s book. I don’t know how you were able to work your way through the whole thing. A little bit of Beck goes a long, long way. Keep up the good work.

    • J. Holsworth Stevenson said,

      I’m glad it meets your approval! I think if a body can make it through a thousand pages of Ayn Rand, a hundred pages of Glenn Beck is a walk in the park. Albeit the sort of walk where a car drives through a puddle and splashes you, and you find out you’ve been locked out when you get home.

  2. mickeymurphy said,

    Beautiful metaphor! Isn’t it interesting that idiotic screeds like The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged are now holy books on the far right? By the way, you may enjoy my recent post about numbskull Beck:

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