Deep Thoughts

Ben Shapiro’s Morality Play

September 14, 2018

Ben Shapiro’s Morality Play

“Indifferent hacks and mediocrities tower, by pushing their forces to a lucrative point, or by working power, over multitudes of superior men.” —Emerson

It is a common error of intellectuals, and pundits in particular, to assume that the nature of politics is determined by their own moral idealism and confusion. Consider, for instance, the influential Ben Shapiro, a former Never-Trumper who has come around to the president on certain issues. “Leftist institutions,” he writes in an Aug. 28 article in National Review, “will occasionally oust people who openly promote violence or involve themselves in outright fabrication,” but “the Left almost never throws out thinkers for ideological reasons.” Meanwhile, there is the rank hypocrisy that “time and again, mainstream institutions on the right are slandered as homes for racism, sexism, and miscellaneous other bigotry, even when those institutions work to root out such bigotry.”

Shapiro goes on to recount National Review’s long history of excommunicating bad guys. “The institutional Right,” he proudly declares, “spends an inordinate amount of time self-policing,” and that’s “a good thing.” Finally, descending into the depths of banality, Shapiro tells us that “good people should always attempt to disassociate from evil, no matter whether others acknowledge such attempts. But the Left’s refusal to acknowledge good-faith efforts on the part of conservatives is an ongoing problem.”

Shapiro, we see here, expects the Left to recognize their enemy’s rectitude. He thinks his side, those “good people” on the revealingly named “institutional Right,” is playing fair. Why, then, shouldn’t the Left as well?

Shapiro thus shows himself to be a prime example of the humorous naivete of pundits and intellectuals generally. There’s no lesson for him in the Left’s hypocrisy and greater pardon for its own sins. It is as if politics—and the human nature it reflects—were supposed to be so very fair and consistent.

In actual practice, politics is defined by group interests—both within nations and internationally—and therefore by conflicts, often unscrupulous and brutal. The principle virtues, then, are sober, exacting judgment and decisive action. Nor is there any place for moral idealism, let alone for blindly yielding to your enemy’s terms and thereby advancing their goals: facile charges of racism that only harm the Right.

Having failed to understand the nature of politics, Shapiro doesn’t realize the deep foolishness of making enemies of his potential friends: a decision that only helps the Left of which he is such a vociferous critic, even as it hinders any serious Right. More on that shortly. For now, some background is necessary.

The occasion of Shapiro’s article is the fabricated controversy regarding Darren Beattie. A former policy aide and speechwriter in the Trump administration, Beattie was fired last month as a result of the very sort of moralistic manipulation of which Shapiro himself is a practitioner. In 2016, Beattie earned a Ph.D. from Duke after writing a thesis on the philosopher Martin Heidegger. In the same year, he delivered a talk at the H.L. Mencken Club called “The Intelligentsia and the Right.” On Aug. 20, the White House confirmed that it had fired Beattie after CNN reported that he had “white supremacist ties.”

“One suspects that, deep down, Shapiro doesn’t care much about the Right or the Left.”

A means to an end for the politically owned establishment media, Beattie was put to the same purpose as Russia: a handy pretext for tarnishing the Trump administration. As such, Beattie is a testament to the unforgiving cynicism that characterizes politics. Our president chose to throw the hapless Beattie under the bus. What he should have done was stand up for the man.

For nothing in Beattie’s talk had anything to do with race, nor is he a white supremacist. Yes, he wrote a dissertation on a philosopher who was affiliated with the Nazis, but that no more makes Beattie himself a Nazi or a racist than my admiration for William Hazlitt makes me a Leftist.

As for the H.L. Mencken Club, it’s named after a journalist, satirist, and scholar who did write some rather unkind things about blacks, Jews, Southerners, Christians, and probably other groups—like many great literary men, Mencken was a fierce hater. Needless to say, however, this logically entails nothing about the Club itself or its members, whom establishment media have smeared with their usual irresponsibility. To think otherwise would be nothing but cheap guilt by association. The Club is named after Mencken because of his exuberant independence of mind, a virtue from which “the institutional Right” could learn a great deal, were it not so priggish.

Though I’ve never been to a Club meeting, its founder, Paul Gottfried, is a friend of mine. When I emailed him this week to ask for a statement on the Club’s purpose, Gottfried replied:

The H.L. Mencken Club came into existence in 2008 as an organization for independent-minded intellectuals and academics of the Right. The HLMC is in no way allied to either of the two national political parties, and it should not be confused with the “conservative movement.” We were in fact founded precisely because that movement has suppressed open discussion and seems entirely beholden to corporate donors and Republican Party bosses.

Themes of past conferences include “The Future of the Right: Where Do We Go From Here?” “Elites and the Rest of Us,” and “The Left.”

We welcome discussion and debate from diverse perspectives.

Gottfried is a practicing Jew whose family immigrated to this country in flight from the Nazis. Writing in American Greatness, our mutual friend Jack Kerwick notes that other Jews associated with the Club “include, but are not limited to, Byron Roth, Carl Horowitz, and Robert Weissberg.” It would be quite strange for such Jews to associate themselves with the Club if it were actually “white supremacist.”

Paul Gottfried, it is true, was once a friend and mentor to the anti-Semitic Richard Spencer, but Spencer has not been to a Club meeting in five years. Spencer’s politics have become extreme in recent years, so Gottfried and the Club broke with him. Their last conversation, Gottfried told me, was about three years ago. In 2015, The Great Purge: The Deformation of the Conservative Movement was published. Although he and Spencer coedited the book, the material that went into it, according to Gottfried, was submitted before Spencer left the Club in 2013.

“Facts don’t care about your feelings,” runs Shapiro’s popular mantra, and yet he not does provide the crucial facts about Darren Beattie and the H.L. Mencken Club, even though he and Beattie were both Publius Fellows at the influential Claremont Institute. Charles Johnson—their fellow former Publius Fellow—mordantly mocked the Left’s baseless attribution of racism to Beattie, as well as the Left’s touchiness about racism in general. “White-nationalist nonsense” Shapiro calls this. Concerned to present a righteous appearance to the Left that, for all his criticism, he is ever anxious to please, Shapiro is all feelings and unmanly submission just when facts and standing up for others are most in order.

No wonder he describes VDARE as “white supremacist.” It’s true, of course, that the website advocates white interests and responsible immigration policies. Shapiro need not agree with those positions, but it won’t do, and is simply not intellectually serious, for him to shirk substantive argument by ad hominem means. For many years Peter Brimelow, VDARE’s founder and editor, has denied that he and his website are “white supremacist.” No matter for the careless Shapiro, a character assassin who might as well be working for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

According to neocon sycophant Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of The Washington Free Beacon, Ben Shapiro is “the Future of American Conservatism.” Conservatives now coming of age are doing so in “Generation Shapiro.” Such puffery belongs to a very popular genre, in which journalists and writers in general are endlessly prolific: How to make the right friends and influence dull but powerful people.

It was Continetti, recall, who ordered the original Steele dossier on President Trump. A standard globalist puppet, with a physiognomy that suggests he was born to take orders from idiots and liars, Continetti is the son-in-law of warmonger Bill Kristol, that indefatigable Never-Trumper who, in a desperate attempt to stay relevant, has cozied up to the Democrats and CNN.

Continetti’s newspaper is mainly funded by billionaire investor, hedge fund manager, and vulture capitalist Paul Singer. Can you, intelligent reader, guess why Singer might want to get rid of our anti-globalist president by helping to work up a conspiracy about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election?

Maybe Continetti is right that Ben Shapiro is “the Future of American Conservatism.” If so, it’s not a good thing. For Shapiro’s morality play is a representative example of what Gottfried, in an essay in the current New English Review, shows to be merely “functional opposition.” Like his fellow neoconservatives, Shapiro presents himself as nobly fighting against racism and other moral evils. This typically involves not a little misunderstanding. What is more, irrespective of the intentions—whose sincerity one may fairly question—the main effect, again, is that Shapiro helps his ostensible enemies while harming his potential friends.

Politics consists of group interests and conflicts, I have said, and I have treated Shapiro as though he were on the Right. A constant critic of the Left, Shapiro certainly presents himself as such. Yet we may question whether it’s really so. With his daily podcast, articles published in various publications, and editorship of The Daily Wire, Shapiro maintains a frenetic schedule. In an interview with Allie Stuckey, he explained his motivation: “The money—I mean, c’mon.” One suspects that, deep down, Shapiro doesn’t care much about the Right or the Left.

Indeed, a free-market globalist in economics, Shapiro is against the economic protectionism that President Trump advocates. He is allergic to American nationalism—an obviously racist thing to him—but all for Israeli nationalism. “Israel,” Shapiro believes, should “transfer the Palestinians and the Israeli-Arabs from Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Israel proper.” Meanwhile, Americans are supposed to labor to bring about a multicultural utopia, everyone doing his best to avoid that incessant bogeyman, “racism.”

Few words in our era of perverse and hysterical moral psychology produce as much confusion as “nationalism.” The notion serves as a reminder that language is inherently overdetermined, ambiguous, and slippery. Despite its historical associations with imperialism and jingoism, nationalism can be used to signify nothing other than a people’s national interests, as people themselves understand them, and of course those interests are not necessarily racist. Still, regardless of one’s intention, other people’s perceptions may be quite unlike what one has in mind. I may intend nothing morally objectionable by nationalism, but others may nevertheless perceive the notion in a very different light. Anyway, without shared national interests, there are no actual nations: only networks of interests, many of them quite parlous, given the destabilizing effects of global capitalism.

I make these distinctions because I value truth and clarity. Such discrimination is not warranted in Shapiro’s case, because if he really believed nationalism is wrong, he’d be against Israeli nationalism. As it is, Shapiro is inconsistent, and quite a hypocrite.

No surprise, that. We live in age of celebrated hypocrites and frauds. By giving the credulous public the comforting lies it desires, such persons are able to get a good living and gratify their vanity. In a recent essay for The Unz Review, “Tommy Robinson and the Enduring Tragedy of Politics,” I show how the neocon Dominic Green simplifies the contexts of the controversies in which Tommy Robinson has been embroiled. Like Shapiro, Green moralizes on the cheap, that being so much easier than honest examination of hard issues. So it is ever with the neocons.

It is fitting that Shapiro should be a member of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web. He is joined in it by various pretenders, none greater, perhaps, than Claire Lehmann, founder and editor of the movement’s flagship journal, Quillette. According to the pre-fame Lehmann, people are “inherently tribal,” but thankfully, “nationalism is the antidote to racism” because “it brings people together” and “encourages them to cooperate.” (With characteristic shallowness—or perhaps disingenuousness—Lehmann doesn’t mention that such nationalist cooperation is frequently and inevitably a matter of competition and conflict with other nations.) Famous Lehmann, having many good liberal humanists to appease, cannot allow that much, but has a different story. Suddenly all white nationalists and the identity-politics Left are two sides of the same identitarian coin. Now there’s no need for a nuanced look at nationalism, an endeavor that would be contrary to the fashionable and lucrative morality play of “good people.” Better to accept the Leftist white masochism of which she pretends to be a committed critic.

Intellectual conformity is always in demand, so ambitious and unprincipled young minds could do worse than to model themselves on frauds like Continetti and Kristol, Shapiro, Green, and Lehmann.

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