Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Ben Shapiro, a William F Buckley for the Internet Age

From The Catholic Herald:
Brilliant, impish and alarmingly productive, Ben Shapiro is a William F Buckley for the internet age. Hundreds of thousands of fans listen to his podcast, read his columns and crowd campus auditoriums to see him spar with liberals. Shortly after his new book, The Right Side of History, debuted at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, The Economist described Shapiro as a sage of the “alt-right.” In fact, he is the most articulate advocate of a more familiar kind of conservatism – sometimes called fusionism, because it seeks to fuse the spirits of order and liberty.

Everything about Shapiro suggests that religious tradition can be combined with the forward-looking individualism of the tech entrepreneur. A devout Orthodox Jew, he pairs sleek modern suits and open-collared shirts with his yarmulke. For a recent Vanity Fair profile, he posed with his laptop in front of an impressive shelf of Mishnah and Talmud sets.

In The Right Side of History, Shapiro makes this logic explicit. He argues that we must return to our religious and cultural inheritance, the twin legacies of Jerusalem and Athens, in order to preserve our freedoms. There is much to admire in the book. Unlike members of the alt-right, who imagine that our civilisation is a genetic inheritance, passed on through DNA and limited to those who look a certain way, Shapiro understands that it is a spiritual inheritance that began with the Greeks and the Jews, passing only later to savage Teutons.

Shapiro places the usual fusionist emphasis on individual liberty, but he presents it in new terms for new times. When the Young Americans for Freedom drafted the “Sharon Statement” at Buckley’s estate in 1960, they stressed individual liberty. Doing so made polemical sense, because conservatives viewed the Soviet Union as the paramount threat.

Young Americans for Freedom still exists (and sponsors Shapiro’s gladiatorial campus engagements), but the Soviet Union is gone. Today, threats are more likely to come from what Solzhenitsyn called “a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil”. Conservatives who bang on about the perils of collectivism and enthuse about liberty while deaths of despair continue to rise risk sounding like they care more about ideology than about reality. Shapiro is careful to avoid this peril. He consistently speaks of communal as well as individual values. There is an admirable moderation in his account, an eagerness to avoid falling into excess on either side. (Read more.)

No comments: