In this episode of High Noon with Inez Stepman, Inez interviews Ben Shapiro, host of the popular podcast and radio program “The Ben Shapiro Show,” Editor Emeritus of Daily Wire, and author of numerous books, including The Authoritarian Moment: How the Left Weaponized America’s Institutions Against Dissent.
Inez and Ben discuss how the authoritarian left has garnered the institutional backing their counterparts on the far right could never dream of, and how that fact stands as a rebuttal to some liberal left types who try to argue that the dangers are equivalent. Shapiro also defends capitalism against critiques from the new right, including that in its exaltation of the individual, capitalism itself creates forces that tear apart family and community.
High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. Inviting interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.
Welcome to High Noon, where we discuss controversial subjects with interesting people. My guest this week really needs no introduction, particularly to the millennial and gen Z audiences for whom he’s been really the introduction to the conservative ideas they’re unlikely to encounter in their classrooms. I’m thrilled to be joined this week by Ben Shapiro, editor emeritus to Daily Wire, host of the popular podcast and radio program now, The Ben Shapiro Show, and, of course, author of numerous books, including the one we’ll discuss today, The Authoritarian Moment: How the Left Weaponized America’s Institutions Against Dissent. Welcome, Ben, to High Noon. It’s a pleasure to have you here.
Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.
In this book, you urge people to consider what I think is a somewhat unusual question, at least for traditional conservatives to conservatives or conservative analysis, which is the importance of power and particularly institutional power. Can you explain how you identify in this book or define left-wing authoritarianism versus right-wing authoritarianism? And why one concerns you more than the other? Because you acknowledge that both exist.
For sure both exist. I think, first of all, we have to define sort of what kind of authoritarianism I’m talking about. Authoritarianism, typically when people think of it, they tend to think of governmental authoritarianism, the government telling you what to do in every area of your life. And so left-wingers tend to think of right-wing theocrats and right-wingers tend to think of left-wingers on economics for example. What I’m really talking about in this book is social authoritarianism so that kind of phenomenon started to be examined by, honestly, some Marxist-leaning thinkers like Theodor Adorno back in the 1940s and 1950s, they came up with this idea that there was an authoritarian mindset and this authoritarian mindset was characterized by several factors, including things like adherence to top-down authority, aggressiveness in pursuit of fulfilling the vision of those top-down authorities and this sort of stuff they said was likely to lead to an authoritarian upsurge, even in terms of government.
And there’s no question there are people who do that on the right. There are people who listen to the people at the top of the hierarchy and then they say, “That person must absolutely be right. I’m going to repeat what they say. I’m going to become sort of a foot soldier for that.” That certainly exists. But right now in America, what people are more worried about than this from people on the right is authoritarianism from the left. There is for a long time in the social sciences, there was an idea there was no such thing as left-wing authoritarianism. That was largely because the people who were actually measuring this sort of stuff were left wing and so they would sort of define it away. But left-wing authoritarianism does exist. There’ve been all sorts of studies done that suggest actually that people on the left can be just as much, if not more, off our authoritarian than people on the right.
And it’s characterized by again, a few different factors. One is a belief in top-down censorship, our ideas are right, and your ideas must be shut up. A belief in revolutionary aggression, the idea that the systems of power must themselves be overthrown on behalf of whatever left-wingers sort of think of as the victimized group today. And a belief in unearned, moral superiority: we are better people than you and you are worse and therefore we can do whatever we want to you. And when you look at how Americans think about their lives on a daily basis—again, putting aside government, because government is not the chief institution we interface with on a daily basis—when you see how people are thinking about their places of work, their places of worship, their social groups, their peer groups, the media they interface with every day, those institutions are dominated by people who adhere to sort of the tenets and aspects of left-wing authoritarianism. People who believe in revolutionary aggression.
You saw this last year with the poo-pooing of the Black Lives Matter involved riots, the belief in top-down censorship, what you see on college campuses, you see it from your corporate bosses, you see it on social media on a regular basis. And of course the belief in unearned moral superiority that their way is the only moral way. It is not as though there’s a wide variety of moral possibilities. It’s not as though you can have a good-faith discussion. If you disagree with them, you are innately a lesser human being, and this lies at the root of so much that you see in terms of political argumentation, by polling data. There’s a reason why a majority of every single political group in the United States, with the exception of people who consider themselves hard left, feel uneasy talking openly about what they actually believe. That’s pretty dangerous for the country and is likely to continue to polarize us further and split apart the country as institutions of power are seized by folks who are authoritarian in sort of their mindset and used in order to cram down these particular points of view.
Yeah, I like that you’ve kind of called out what is often or too often sort of pseudo-social science with regard to these index. You see that a lot in the media as well, on a lot of think tanks, put out of these, I’ve written as myself a think tanker, I’ve written a few of these indices so I’m well aware they can be manipulated to show basically whatever outcome that their designers want them to. But you really have that more traditional conservative view, which is to say inside of all of us, left or right, exists the possibility for tyranny. But a lot of this book seems almost structured in a way to argue to the liberal left.
Here I’m thinking about folks like Andrew Sullivan or Sam Harris before the election, they see the danger from the left. They see the danger from what we might call the wokes, even though I hate that word, but there’s not really a better one. They agree that this is a problem and that there is an authoritarian strain on the left but somehow they say, “No. Well, the Trumpist right it’s also authoritarianism and somehow that’s the more dangerous one.” And I think that’s really what you’re trying to refute here, isn’t it? You’re kind of trying to say, “No, even if you acknowledge that there’s danger on the right, here’s why the authoritarian left is more dangerous and you should take it probably as the primary problem in American politics.”
That’s exactly right. I think that in the end, when it comes down to a binary vote between two sides, you’re going to have to decide which is the greater threat that we face. I think that what January 6th did was it allowed Democrats for the first time a really plausible argument about authoritarianism or at least a mildly plausible argument about authoritarianism. Because for four years, all we heard is that Trump was a fascist. And then you’d look at his policy and you’d say, “This doesn’t look particularly fascist to me.” Lower taxes, less regulation. He seems not to be particularly socially conservative even. What exactly is the fascist aspect of the Trump administration, other than he tends to use kind of strongman rhetoric on Twitter? And the left had nothing. It would just be, he’s using strong rhetoric on Twitter or we think he’s a Putin tool and then they’d provide no evidence.
And then January 6th happened, they said, “Ah this, this here is the risk of authoritarianism.” And so you’ve seen that blown entirely out of proportion. Not that January 6th wasn’t horrible and not that the people who were doing what they were doing and violating the law weren’t doing something bad and punishable by criminal law. But this idea that this is a true threat to democracy and then, if Republicans are ever let in power again, then they will threaten the democracy as it stands itself. The entire system will be perverted against the freedoms of the people and we were this close on January 6th. That’s just a lie. It’s not true. It’s clearly untrue. It was a bunch of idiots who ran into the Capitol building committing criminal acts, were immediately thrown out within three hours. The government went on as before. They had no institutional support at any level of the government.
The election was certified by a bunch of Republican secretaries of state in the states, certified by the legislatures in those states, and then certified by a Republican House and a Republican Senate led by the vice president of the United States, who was a Republican. This notion that we were on the verge of an authoritarian takeover was absolutely absurd. What scares me a lot more is what happens in the aftermath to January 6th, which was actual action by people with institutional power to quash, for example, free speech. There were people on the Democratic side of the aisle who were using language talking about how free speech itself was a threat. Maybe we need to curb it. Maybe we need to curb social media. And then you saw Amazon Web Services, which is a neutral service provider just knock Parler off its service entirely on the basis that the service had been used to organize some of the events of January 6th, despite the fact that both Twitter and Facebook were used more by the people involved in January 6th than Parler ever was.
You started to see open talk on the left about how when free speech runs up against the needs of a society, perhaps free speech needs to be put in the background. And even if you’re not talking about doing that at a governmental level, obviously you’ve seen over the course of the last couple of years particularly, this upsurge in institutional support for really radical action. And when you saw January 6th, there wasn’t a single corporation anywhere in America who even granted a smidgen of legitimacy to any of the January 6th rioters and not even the protesters who weren’t doing anything illegal. But that entire program, there was no institutional support for it.
When Black Lives Matter was making the statistically errant argument that Black Americans are being disproportionately murdered by the police, the entire institutional infrastructure of the United States mobilized in their support. The scientific infrastructure of the United States in the middle of a pandemic said that you were at no risk essentially of COVID if you went out and you protested by the millions in the streets, yelling and spitting on each other. You had the entire framework of corporate America and media America cheering on Black Lives Matter. You had to being crammed down by Amazon and Netflix. You literally could not escape any of this. Well, that speaks to an institutional culture that reflects one side of the political aisle and is willing to use its power in order to cram that down on everybody else.
Yeah. And you really do highlight that you don’t need the government to do this, to effectuate censorship you don’t need the government. And frankly, even in authoritarian countries that do have the state power, oftentimes they find it’s more effective and easier to use other forms that seem very familiar to us. The later Soviet Union, as opposed to under Stalin, you had exactly the sort of thing we’re seeing in some ways now where you were going to lose your job if you spoke against the party, you were going to lose all your sort of social connections. You were going to be quote unquote unperson. They really didn’t use the gulags as much in the later part of the Soviet Union because they didn’t. People kind of figured out the game and they figured out what they could and could not say publicly.
And even though I’m very glad, I’m not making the comparison, I’m very glad there are no physical gulags in America, it does seem and you’re pointing out in this book that you can effectuate just as much, not only censorship of what you say but even sort of censorship of how people think, and they start to change. They start to self-censor in response to some of this, what you call authoritarian leftism.
The point that I’m making and you’re exactly right on, is that law tends to follow culture, and that’s true in every respect. If a culture does not value free speech, the law will eventually follow that. It doesn’t have to be that the threat comes from the law. It can be that you have an entire society of people capable of silencing one another without formally touching the law. And then later on, 20 years down the road, you get a piece of hate speech legislation and there’s no cultural immune system to fight that off. And you’re seeing that happen right now on college campuses where a majority of students, a broad majority of students say they’ll report a professor if the professor says something that they don’t like by pulling data. That’s scary stuff.
Once you lose the culture of free speech, the legal right of free speech is still there. But number one, it is hard to effectuate it. And number two, eventually the legal right does go away. And then this happens throughout society. You see there’s a social change, eventually the law follows the social change. That seems to be the pattern here. And so, if we don’t curb our own tendencies toward authoritarianism on all sides of the aisle, and if we don’t create a cohesive front and a coherent front against that, then the people who are in favor of quashing those rights are going to win. And eventually they’ll formalize that, but the formalization is the last step in the process, not the first step.
I think there are probably few strong counterexamples to the idea of culture always leading the law. I’m thinking here about the civil rights act or even about Obergefell. Which I can never pronounce but about the courts pushing gay marriage first before any of the polls have caught up. But I take your point more generally that you can’t sustain parchment barriers unless you have the culture underneath it. Why do you think the institutions in America fell so quickly to this particular brand of authoritarian leftism or wokeism? Because we have had Marxists in this country for a long time. Steinbeck once derisively described us as a country of temporarily embarrassed millionaires. Why has this particular strain of leftism seemed to have easily taken root in a powerful way in our institutions while traditional Marxism largely has kind of not found a fertile home in our institutions?
Well Marxism sort of disproved itself in America because, as de Tocqueville pointed out, there was broad ownership of property in the United States, people had an enormous amount of class mobility compared to Europe. And so the argument that there were these very segmented and rigorous classes into which you fit and you really could not move from one to the other. And that was the case in a lot of Europe but just was not the case in the United States. Marxism really was not finding fertile ground in the United States. Race, however, is a different thing. And race is a different thing because, again, the fact is that the United States’ history with race is egregious. The United States history with race all the way up till the civil rights movement and in some areas beyond is really, really bad. And so what you saw was a liberal left, many of whom agreed with the purposes of the civil rights movement being told if they were white and in positions of power that they had benefited from that system, which was true. And then they were told that they had no moral authority whatsoever anymore.
This is something Shelby Steele talks about in his book, White Guilt, is that there is a huge amount of institutional power that was vested in people who believed in sort of traditional liberal universal rights. And then those people were told, “You believe in all those rights and yet racism still flourished in this country. You’re a beneficiary of that and so you really lost all moral authority.” And one of the ways that a lot of, I think, white liberal elites regain that moral authority as Shelby Steele talks about is by acquiescing here and saying, “Only we can do the work. We’ll do the work for you. It’s up to us to fix the system. All we have to do is what you say.” And there was no immune system to this. There was no ability to stand up on their hind legs and say, “No, hold on a second. Racism is bad. Racism is also universal. United States is working on alleviating its racism and none of that undermines the core fundamental individual rights that we all hold, which in fact are an excellent tool for undermining racism.”
Because liberalism is so self-critical of the United States and because many of them from a sort of left-wing economic perspective have disdained a lot of individual rights, they really didn’t have the ability to fight this off in the sixties. And when it cropped up a tad, I think again, in the, in the 2010s, the immune system was completely gone. I think I really do blame the Obama administration for a lot of the sort of modern move here because if you look at the polls on race relations in the United States, a majority of Blacks and whites thought race relations were really good going into the Obama administration, particularly at the very beginning of the Obama administration, there was sort of this national hope.
It’s probably the reason that he was elected, being a one-term Senator with no actual governing record that he was going to signify sort of the capstone of America moving beyond race. And this is how he campaigned in 2008. He campaigned as there’s no white, there’s no Black. There’s just Americans. There’s no red states. There’s no blue states, we’re all Americans. And then he started to govern pretty much from the hard left. And when he started to feel blowback, he immediately shifted modes into the reason I’m getting blowback is not because my policies are left-wing, it’s because of my race. You can read this in his memoirs. He talks pretty openly about this, about how he saw the Tea Party as a racist movement. Michelle saw the Tea Party as a racist movement and you started to see elements of this creep into his campaign. You started to see him segment the American population in an attempt to reach out to them vote-wise.
He lost overall votes because he was not broadcasting anymore, he was narrowcasting. He was seeking specific agglomerations of people to kind of put together into a new governing majority. And when that worked in 2012, I think the Democratic party said, “Okay, we have the ascendent coalition here. All we have to do is keep ripping on the supposed white system and we will put together this coalition of Blacks and Latinos and or Latinx people and Asians and women and white upper-class liberals and we’ll put those all together and that is the new governing coalition from here on out. And it’s going to overcome all the institutions of power. There’s this sort of revolutionary aggression idea here. We’re going to overcome those institutions of power and we’re going to do so by holding the reins of power, which had always been a bit of a conflict inside the sort of the Democratic halls of power, which is that, on the one hand, Democrats tend to believe that government can solve all the problems.
On the other hand, Democrats believe that all the systems of government are inherently corrupt and bad. How do you square that circle? You say, “I’m going to use the system to change the system. And I am going to do that by putting together this coalition of dispossessed in order to do so.” That was sort of Obama’s second term. This is how you got Ferguson. You started to see the earliest iterations of this in Obama’s language with regard to, for example, Trayvon Martin, where he said that Trayvon Martin could have been his son. This sort of racially polarizing rhetoric really started to crop up in the second half of the Obama administration’s first term, after he lost Congress.
And you started to see the media reflect all of this and it quickly spiraled out of control to the point where there was a reverse polarization that happened in response where a lot of white Americans said, “Hold on a second. Everybody else is saying we’re the bad guys here. Well, what if we’re not the bad guys?” And so now you have a very reactionary politics where everybody’s bouncing off of each other and just reacting to whatever the other guy is saying.
Yeah, especially a racialized politics of that type in America seems to me to be incredibly dangerous, perhaps exactly because we don’t have the utopian view. We’re not measuring from a racial utopia that has never happened in human history but looking back at human history and saying, “Actually, America for a racially diverse country, one has come an enormous way. And two, it’s an ambitious project.” E pluribus unum is an ambitious project. And so, I don’t know, I really worry about this kind of how our politics has become racialized. But while we were speaking about sort of the old form of Marxism, there have been some elements of Marxism or at least Marxist critique that have found resonance on parts of the right as well, which has been basically that capitalism, even though it has brought us incredible wealth, I don’t think most people, at least most people on the right certainly don’t dispute how much prosperity capitalism has brought us. Some people worry about how that strained our communal bonds or whether those kinds of bonds can endure.
Do you kind of acknowledge that critique? Let’s say Houellebecq or some of these authors, do you acknowledge that this is sort of a downside of maybe a system with a lot of upsides? Or do you think that that connection between the wealth created by capitalism and what people increasingly feel is sort of atomized modern life, do you think that’s a necessary connection? Or do you think that it’s simply happened together and that actually the real source of our atomization lies outside of economics?
I think the real source of atomization lies in the destruction of religion. I think it has very little to do with economics. And the reason I can say that is because atomization has happened far more rapidly with regard to, for example, communist countries that deeply oppose property rights than it has happened in the West. The Soviet Union essentially destroyed the family and it was an explicit goal to destroy the family. And oddly enough, it was Marx who was talking about the necessity to destroy the family in order to achieve class consciousness. I think one of the problems is that because libertarians and people who are economically oriented tend to engage in a word I use a lot in the book, ultracrepidarianism. They tend to engage in this belief that everything outside their field is still inside their field.
There’s this idea that family is an economic unit and only an economic unit and thus economic forces are what define the family. That of course is not true. I guess what I would say is that economics needs to be confined to the realm of economics and religion needs to be confined to the realm of the spiritual. And if you’re seeking to solve spiritual ills by changing material circumstances on the ground, I think you’re going to have a really hard time with that. I think that you’re trying to essentially use a hammer on a screw. I don’t think that that’s the correct tactic. The notion that the government is somehow going to reinforce family by fighting capitalism, as opposed to by reinforcing all of the social institutions that were necessary in order for family to thrive, is very bizarre to me.
For example, if the idea is that a greater welfare state, which is going to make families more secure, so you’ll see more family formation, I just don’t see a lot of evidence of that anywhere. The social welfare state has been one of the worst things that’s ever happened to family. The social welfare state has essentially replaced the necessity of a father with the state itself. And if the idea is that capitalism doesn’t inculcate responsibility in fathers, that’s true but neither does socialism or any of the other alternatives that have been provided. What inculcates responsibility in fathers is a sentiment that it is immoral for you to leave your family and just go off and do your own thing. This is why on the other side of the aisle, when the objectivist philosophy, sort of the Ayn Rand’s view of economics intrudes into personal life, this is where I say, “I’m off the boat.”
I like Ayn Rand a lot when it comes to how economies work and what your individual creative rights ought to look like and then when it gets to how families work, I think she’s totally off base and totally wrong. I don’t buy the forced linkage between economics and the destruction of family life. I think that it doesn’t fit the model particularly. There are too many countries where private property rights had been completely abrogated by the state and the family is completely destroyed. And to say that it is capitalism itself that’s destroyed the family or that if we lived in worse material conditions or that even arguments like we need more subsidies for families so families will have more kids. I have three kids. Hopefully I will have more.
No one has kids these days because they’re an economic asset. Kids stopped being an economic asset when life expectancy went up and when kids were no longer allowed to work for you at the store. Kids have not been an economic asset for probably over a century at this point. They’re an economic detriment. That does not mean that…. The notion that you’re going to have kids because you give a small tax break to somebody or because you give them some sort of child tax credit and now they’re going to have kids, I don’t know anybody who’s seriously, maybe this is anecdotal, I don’t know a single human being who’s made a decision to have a kid because a child tax credit was on the table. I know a lot of people who have kids because they have a religious obligation to have kids because they believe it is a moral thing to have kids and that is why religious communities are having way more kids in a capitalist country than secular people are.
Yeah. And certainly nobody thinks of Sweden as a bastion of family values. For example, even though they do have a very, very generous family-oriented welfare state. But before I let you go, I do want to touch on because in this battle between sort of economic policy and the cultural war and how to go about fighting the cultural war, whether we have to do it the cultural way or whether there are things that laws are or state action that might be able to help. You’ve really walked the walk on the cultural side of this. You and the Daily Wire have recently decided to get into the movie-producing business. Why did you make the decision to enter? And you have an entire chapter on Hollywood in your book but why did you make the decision to enter essentially the Hollywood game? And then what are the challenges that you’ve confronted entering that space as a kind of hostile actor in a way to the overall culture in that space?
There are a couple reasons we entered. One is that we believe that a huge number of vastly more Americans view Hollywood content than view political content. The biggest shows on Fox may get four million viewers a night. That’s a really, really big number but obviously every mainstream TV show is going to get a multiple of that. The biggest movies will get multiple of multiples. People are just more culturally fluent than they are politically fluent. And so leaving that part of the game completely off the table has been a mistake made by conservatives for decades at this point. You understand why, which is it’s a very risky game. Hollywood accounting is a real thing. And so when conservatives who tend to be business-oriented and profit-oriented, when they look at Hollywood, they say, “This is a really bad deal. Why exactly would we engage in this game when I could go invest in an oil well somewhere?”
And the answer is well because it’s ideological too. For a long time, my business partner and I have been talking about how do we actually engage in this? And how do we do so in a profitable way? Because we don’t run a 501(c)(3). We run an LLC. And the left in the past few years has so radically moved away from the middle of the country that it’s opened this vast gap for anybody to fill. And so we make small movies right now. Hopefully those movies will get larger in terms of the budgets that are available. And simply by offering an alternative, we’re offering something that nobody else is offering. On a market level, it’s smart. But beyond being smart on a market level, it’s also making a cultural difference. The obstacles we’ve encountered, wow.
Beyond the obvious budgetary constraints that Warner Brothers can toss a $100 million in a movie and we’re not going to do that. Beyond that obvious sort of stuff, getting people to work with you is the biggest one. There are writers who just won’t work with you because you’re a quote unquote right-wing company. They are actors who will not work with you under any circumstances. There are people who get angry if you want to work with them. You might want to purchase a script and the writer of the script might say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I’m a Democrat.” Or I’m afraid this is more common, “I’m afraid that my Democratic friends will shun me and be angry at me if I work with you, I’m afraid I’ll never work in Hollywood again if we work together.” And so overcoming that sort of hesitancy is really difficult for a lot of people until you establish some form of market credibility. And also until people start to see that you can actually do a movie with Daily Wire produced by Daily Wire and then you can still work in Hollywood at the same time.
For a lot of actors who are up and comers and who are hoping to keep their doors open, they’re afraid that if they come work with us, then they are going to have doors shut in their face everywhere else. Now, the good news is there are a lot of actors out there who are being underutilized. The other good news is that entire Hollywood business has radically shifted so the possibility of making millions and millions and millions of dollars as an actor in Hollywood has decreased pretty steeply. The price of talent has gone down pretty markedly, thanks to streaming and thanks to the wide plethora of channels through which you can get entertainment content.
There’s a lot of competition out there. That’s very good for us but it does create pretty significant challenges for us in terms of being able to produce film. That hasn’t stopped us. We put out earlier this year. We have two that are in production that we’re going to release early next year. We are going to be producing children’s content. We have a big slate that’s coming up and we’re going to be excited to announce a lot of that stuff but certainly we have a lot more institutional obstacles than anybody in Hollywood does.
Yeah. And on the flip side of that, you’ve been able to be a landing place for people who have been ousted, who have been called out for having in many cases, not even conservative views but just heterodox views on this or that. I got to think that the pipeline of those people, of the canceled, is also building up over time as the left gets more and more cancel happy, more and more talented people in all, not just in Hollywood, but in all institutions, more and more talented people are going to find themselves on the bad conservative side of the cancel line, which is bringing talent to, I think, all of our endeavors.
Well Ben, thank you so much for joining High Noon. It was a real pleasure to have you and, of course, our listeners can find all of your products, especially your show, your podcast and now on terrestrial radio as well. And they can check out the Daily Wire and all of the movies that you produce and check you out on Twitter, which I’m sure many of them do. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Really appreciate it. Thank you.
And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcasts, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.