Young conservatism’s firebrand
Witty, provocative pundit Ben Shapiro is the blunt spokesman for a new generation of political conservatives
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Ben Shapiro, 33, is an Orthodox Jew, a father, and a UCLA and Harvard Law grad. Shapiro was a Breitbart editor and is now editor in chief of The Daily Wire, a website that includes his own podcast. Shapiro’s young conservative fans enjoy his skepticism toward the Republican Party and Donald Trump (he was an early Never Trumper), his irreverent yet intelligent tone, his references to both pop culture and philosophical books, and his lawyerly, facts-only dissection of current issues. His enemies are so vociferous that the University of California, Berkeley, recently spent $600,000 “to put the campus on virtual lockdown” when he visited it to give a speech. Here are edited excerpts of our discussion over kosher omelets in Los Angeles.
Congrats. You are now the face of the debate over freedom of speech on college campuses. Yeah, which is weird. I’ve spoken at hundreds of universities, but last year at California State University, Los Angeles, was the first time we had to hire security at a college. It was crazy—people beating each other. I was puzzled at first, wondering, “What did I do to merit this? What’s going on?” Then I got angry. I don’t think any of these protesters calling me a Nazi or white supremacist had read or heard anything I’ve written or said.
What’s scarier: That these protesters are protesting out of ignorance, or that they know fully what you stand for and yet came out to protest anyway? Ignorance, or insanity? It’s scarier to think they did look at my stuff, because that would demonstrate they completely lost all sense of rationality.
I’ve talked to some who protested your speech at Berkeley and said they did look you up. Mostly, they disagreed with your views on transgenderism—that it’s a mental illness. That’s not ignorance, that’s insanity. When I say a man is a man and a woman is a woman, that’s not being a hater, that’s stating reality. People who believe that my perspective on transgenderism is hateful or terrible or destructive—that’s legit crazy.
You left college 13 years ago. What’s changed? I saw protests while I was an undergrad at UCLA, but the idea of using violence to shut people down didn’t exist five years ago. Threats that shut down college campuses have only arisen in the last couple of years.
Why do you keep accepting invites to speak at college campuses? It’s important to demonstrate that we shouldn’t be afraid to speak out. I can’t control how people react to me. If they decide to get violent, that’s their prerogative, and they should be dealt with accordingly. If you spend your life worried about how people are going to react, you should just stay home.
Or find a safe space. I think safe spaces are a terrible idea and make kids weaker and stupider and crazier.
You became a syndicated columnist at age 17. Have you always been into politics? Yeah. I always loved U.S. history. I grew up on the movie 1776, so much that I dressed up as John Adams every Halloween. I still remember the lyrics to that entire movie. My family would also talk about current events a lot, and I always read a ton. Conservatism appealed to me ever since I was young because of the emphasis on personal responsibility, also emphasized in Judaism. The Bible is not exactly a lefty document.
Any predictions for the next election? I gave up on predictions. I lost too much money on the last election when I bet that Trump would lose.
Do you think that Trump has hurt the young base of Republicans? It hurt the young base of potential Republican voters, who are now more likely to vote Democrat. For example, he makes it difficult for Republicans to reach young Hispanics when he says Mexican-Americans cannot be fair judges.
You grew up in a religious Jewish family, but not all your siblings stayed religious. Why did you? I always liked the religious lifestyle. I never found arguments against the existence of God compelling. I thought having standards and rules was good for personal betterment, getting married, and creating good homes for raising children. The best proof to the truth of my faith is how its moral rules contributed to the building of mankind’s greatest civilization, Western civilization, which has the highest standard of living and has championed the value of women, reason, freedom, and individual worth.
Christianity believes in similar moral rules. Why Judaism? I believe all the claims in the Old Testament (our Jewish Bible) are reiterated in the Christian New Testament as opposed to being fundamentally changed. But my own view of Jesus, as is Judaism’s, is that God does not take human form. My business partner is an evangelical pastor, but it makes more sense to me that you take responsibility for your own sins, as opposed to Jesus dying for your sins. In Judaism, you’re constantly atoning for your own sins. I’m works-based; Christianity is largely grace-based.
What worries you most about the direction of this nation? The lack of unity. There’s a God-shaped hole in our hearts, and we’re all filled with anger against each other. We’ve got no common vision on what this country is here to do, or what human happiness looks like. When Jefferson wrote “pursuit of happiness,” he didn’t mean “whatever floats your boat,” as most people now think. John Adams said the Constitution will not work unless you have moral and religious people. We’ve lost that. We don’t have a common purpose anymore.
How did we get here? It’s the end of 200 years of ripping away Judeo-Christian religion—and then secular humanism eating itself. Western civilization, based on faith and reason, combines Judeo-Christian religion and Aristotelian-Greek logic to form the idea that you have to use your reason to pursue the purpose that God has ordained for you, under the rules He has established. Nineteenth-century European philosophers said we don’t need Christianity anymore, we’ll just use reason. That led to some awful things, because reason leads you only to where you want to go. Then something even more cataclysmic happened: Reason ate itself. Secular humanism says human rationality can make worthwhile rules, but God doesn’t exist and we’re just balls of meat wandering around the universe for no reason. If that’s the case, there is no purpose to reason, so why should we build a society according to it? We aimlessly wander around according to our passions, running off the fumes of Judeo-Christian principles. The tank is beginning to reach empty in America. In Europe, that tank has been empty for a while, so Europe is collapsing from within. Now, that’s happening in the United States.
You have two children. What will you do? Send them to private schools, for sure, but they also at a young age need to know the threats to their beliefs. Their beliefs need to be reinforced and defended strongly. It’s a battle: Retrenchment may be successful for your kids, because you put them in a bubble, but it’s not successful for your civilization.
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