Shapiro blames our woes on our retreat from Judeo-Christian principles. But history presents a more complex picture.

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Ben Shapiro speaks onstage during Politicon 2018 in ~ the Los Angeles Convention facility on October 21, 2018. Affluent Polk/Getty images for Politicon
Ben Shapiro is arguably the most renowned conservative commentator in the country.

He’s do a name for himself as a lib-owning, fast-talking logician, the type of pundit who thrives in the age of Twitter. Currently 35, he climbed to fame as a 17-year-old wunderkind columnist and also has to be a main part the conservative discourse because that the past decade and a half. The brand-new York Times called him a “provocative gladiator” and also “the voice of the conservative millennial movement.”

His book, The appropriate Side of History: exactly how Reason and also Moral purpose Made the West Great, is an attempt to rebrand himself together a high-minded intellectual, a kind of cross in between Jordan Peterson and also George Will. Unequal his ahead books, this one does not take top top an clearly partisan tone. Instead, that a lamentation that the decline of spiritual values in American life.

The thesis walk something favor this: Western civilization in general, and also America in particular, is great because we’ve managed to balance religion and reason in a means that drives material progress and also satisfies our deep need for function at the very same time. However in the past few decades or so, we’ve slowly abandoned our “Judeo-Christian” roots, and that’s making united state feel less fulfilled and less happy.

I’m sympathetic to Shapiro’s most noticeable claim, which is that us shouldn’t cut ourselves off from our religious and philosophical history. You can not make any kind of sense that Western civilization without some knowledge of Judaism, Christianity, and also Greek philosophy.

But the intellectual background Shapiro offers is incomplete, and obscures some important facts. That does caution reader at the start that he’ll be “giving an excellent philosophers much shorter shrift than they deserve, and also simplifying concerns for the services of brevity,” but what he leaves them v is a nuance-free narrative the dismisses counterarguments and also distorts 3,500 year of history.

I review the publication closely and reached the end in great faith come Ben to conflict it. We were never going come agree, however the differences are, i think, revealing.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

You open up the publication with a parade the statistics showing how negative things space — document drug overdoses, decreasing marriage rates, enhanced rates the depression, high level of distrust, etc. And also the factor for this, you write, is that we’re abandoning our “Judeo-Christian heritage” and that “facts have been buried to make means for feelings; a society of vital oils and also self-esteem has replaced a culture of logic.”

What’s astonishing to me is the in noting every one of this, girlfriend dismiss material problems as a relevant causal factor. Wages have actually been stagnant for 40 years, Americans are working longer hrs for much less pay, the vast bulk of wide range being produced is going to ever before smaller number of people, much more people space facing economic precarity due to rapid technical change — girlfriend don’t view that as part of the story here?

Ben Shapiro

I think it’s part of the story. I don’t think that the main component of the story. The factor I say the is because we’ve obviously had much worse economic problems in America through much much less political polarization. And frankly, some of those stats you mention I just don’t agree with. Ns think some of the metrics that have been used, because that example, to measure the growth in earnings inequality space not accurate. There space at least some questions around how this things gain measured.

But in any kind of case, I think that financial inequality doesn’t matter almost as much as poverty. I really don’t care if Bill gates is do the lion’s share of wealth if other world are also increasing their wealth. By any type of historical standard, us live in the best accessible age. While there’s a reality in the claim that some people are being left behind, ns don’t think that’s solvable simply through economic means.

The collapse of our social fabric, the fallen of communities, is a lot graver crisis.

Sean Illing

Part of what I’m obtaining at is the overly simplistic story you desire to tell around history. Friend write, “We provided to think in the founding vision. We supplied to watch each other as brothers and sisters. … we weren’t enemies. We were a community, forged in fire and also tethered with each other by a collection of values stretching back to the Garden of Eden.”

Who is the “we” in this American story? due to the fact that from the view of black and also brown Americans, and also of bad people generally, this reads favor nostalgia because that a target audience. The violence, the oppression, the long history of slavery and segregation, the bitterness fights for labor civil liberties — all of this to be hard and contentious, and it all happened under the banner that Christianity.

Ben Shapiro

What I expected is the Americans used to have in usual a id that the ethics of the explanation of self-reliance were correct, the the values of Judeo-Christian principles were correct. The story of America is the progressive realization that those values over time. I obviously don’t mean that racists in the southern agreed v the establishing principles. In the book, ns talk about the evils that have taken location in west civilization.

The point that’s lost, and this is specifically true of the last 10 years, is that there was a directionality come America — we were gaining better. And also I think that’s been reversed. So when I speak we provided to believe that us were brothers and also sisters, if you look in ~ the polls of racial polarization, you have the right to see the it’s getting substantially worse end the past decade or so, and also that’s a substantial reversal. And I don’t think it’s justification by public policy alone.

It might be too large a statement come say that us all offered to believe we to be brothers and also sisters, yet it to be at least a principle to which we might appeal. This is what young name Luther King Jr. To be able to carry out so effectively, for instance.

Sean Illing

MLK was also protesting the Vietnam War and also American capitalism.

Ben Shapiro

Well, among my bugaboos is the the stuff most Americans revere MLK because that is not the stuff the left wishes us revered him for.

Sean Illing

I’d speak the stuff the appropriate wants to forget around MLK is the stuff the left thinks we should remember, and also that the more inconvenient things he stated are erased from history such that most civilization don’t even know around it.

But back to her book: yes this feeling that America’s moral clarity stems indigenous its spiritual roots, the the founders were all Christians, and also that the country might not exist without this spiritual ground. But America is a secular republic. The word “Christianity” does not appear in our establishing documents. Thomas Jefferson’s version of the new Testament erased all references to the great of Jesus.

To say the America is a product of religious beliefs and ancient Greece is in ~ the an extremely least woefully incomplete. We’re much much more the product of roman inn law and secular knowledge philosophy.

Ben Shapiro

Of course secularism is equally important. I think civilization are misreading the publication as a rejection of secularism and the Enlightenment. My dispute is that secularism and also secular humanism room outgrowths of Judeo-Christian thought and Greek approach that has progressed over the course of numerous thousand years. The knowledge didn’t spring from nowhere, in various other words.

I execute concede the the enlightenment that developed in Europe was an ext aggressively secular 보다 the more Burkean kind of enlightenment that motivated the American Founders, which to be much more grounded in the Judeo-Christian heritage. World are missing the fact that the publication is fifty percent about Greek reason, yet they want to focus on the religious stuff due to the fact that they’re upset around Christians and also the Bible.

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But the whole thrust of the publication is that when you’re talking around Judeo-Christian values, you talking about values that room still undergirding the secular knowledge worldview. The belief that people are basically equal, because that example, comes from the Christian tradition.

Sean Illing

The worry here is your claim that religion was a ethical anchor for the American founders. These very same men, who you say knew that slavery was a moral crime, however refused to end it, and that to be the original sin of America.

And however you seem to think the woke progressivism is the an excellent moral poison in our body politic splitting us along racial lines. I in reality agree with you that identification politics ~ above the left often does more harm than good, however this kind of revisionist history blots the end a an important part of the story and also ignores the reasons of our social turmoil. There would, after ~ all, it is in no need for gyeongju justice motions if the nation wasn’t started on racial plunder.

Ben Shapiro

I’m pretty simple in the book about how evil slavery and segregation was. But I don’t think slavery and segregation are major problems today.

There are basically 2 visions that American history. One is that America was established on great moral ethics that we failed come live as much as historically and we’ve been striving come fulfill. The various other is the America is rooted in racism, bigotry, sexism, and homophobia, and also that these good moral ethics were the founders simply flattering themselves. Clearly I’m suggesting for the previous over the latter.

So I’m not saying we don’t feel the impact of slavery and also segregation today; it is obviously true. Yet I think the biggest trouble in our politics today is not that people are stumping for enslavement or Jim Crow.