On this episode of High Noon, Inez Stepman interviews David Azerrad, Assistant Professor and Research Fellow at Hillsdale College’s Van Andel Graduate School of Government.

Azerrad and Stepman discuss how to deal realistically with man’s inherent tribalism, how to balance the increasingly oligarchic power of our credentialed elites, and whether we need more democracy or better elites. They also dive into the role of manly spiritedness in building civilization, and how to revive the American masculine ideal.

High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features 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.


Inez Stepman:

Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. And my guest today is David Azerrad. He’s an assistant professor and research fellow at Hillsdale College’s Van Andel Graduate School of Government in Washington, D.C., which is where we’re recording from.

His research and writing focuses on classical liberalism, conservative political thought, and identity politics. Prior to joining Hillsdale, David was the director of the Kenneth B. Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation, which is where I met him many years ago. I was his intern, and then once called him my mentor, to which he seized upon that for the next 10 years, every time I disagreed with him, which will get to some of my mea culpas for disagreeing with him ever. He’s just ahead of the curve, and he reaches the conclusions that I will reach three years later.

He has also taught previously at American University, University of Dallas. He has very fancy degrees and political thought and philosophy. And I believe he is a particular expert on Locke’s First Treatise, which is not the common one that is usually studied in all of the political theory classes across the academy. So welcome, David, to High Noon.

David Azerrad:

It’s very nice to be here with you, Inez. I presume we’re not going to talk about the First Treaties today.

Inez Stepman:

We can if you’d like, but I actually wanted to start off asking you about something. I think it’s a theme you’ve hit in your writing, which by the way, people can find David’s writing over at the Claremont Institute in their American Mind section, as well as the Claremont Review of Books, also American Greatness, and of great many other places that take his fantastic essays.

But one of the themes that you’ve really hit on over the years, I’d say at least for the last five to seven years, has been the danger, the serious danger of tribalism and of fanning the flames of tribalism. And this is, you say, is because we should take seriously the fact that, as human beings, we are tribal.

I was wondering if you might expand a little bit on the argument that you’ve made there. I think it’s very different from a lot of the arguments we hear about sort of we need to transcend tribalism, or we need to somehow…. That it’s something new that we’re dealing with. That human beings are tribal and not very amenable to always getting along with people who have different creeds, religions, ethnic backgrounds, all kinds of things. If you could just expand on that argument a little bit.

David Azerrad:

Steve Sailer has a great expression. He says, “There’s a war on noticing that is going on in America.” You’re not allowed to notice obvious things, but if you just notice what happens in America, what happens in pretty much every society in human history is that diversity is not just not a strength, it’s a source of conflict. I mean, human beings are not naturally predisposed to get along with people who don’t look like them, who worship different gods, who speak different languages.

It’s a source of conflict in communities, in nations, across nations. That just seems to be hardwired into human beings. Now, that is not to say that it is impossible to get along with people who look different or worship a different god, but then you’re going to need to make a real effort to swim against the tide and to have the culture and the laws push towards some form of assimilation, and integration, and to try as much as possible to not…. Pardon me — I’m going to use D.C. lingo since we’re in D.C. — incentivize, this word I absolutely abhor. Incentivize, withdrawing into your own clan.

Now, human nature, being what it is, I don’t think it’s possible to overcome that. But what we’re doing is insanity at two levels. One is we are experiencing the most rapid demographic change, I think, in recorded human history. Mostly what has happened to the U.S. since the passage of the 1965 Hart-Celler Immigration Act, which really got going in the ’80s.

The numbers are hard to know, but at least 65 million people who have moved to the U.S. since then, this immigration is overwhelmingly from parts of the world where the people are most different than the Native American population: South America, Asia, and Africa. So, that’s one thing and it’s ongoing.

And then the second thing is we’re in the midst of wokeness, identity politics, CRT — we can discuss what best to call this phenomenon — which is, in effect, teaching people not to assimilate, that America is rotten, is evil. I mean, it’s boring at this point even to repeat the indictments, we’ve all heard them countless times. The laws and the mores and the culture incentivize grievances and tribalism, with one important caveat. There is one group that is not allowed to have grievances and not allowed to have a tribe of its own; it’s white people.

I think we’re sitting on this tinderbox. It is absolutely impossible that this continues. I mean, it’s not even working all that well right now. There’s a fair amount of racial tension in America. Look at riotings in prisons between the races. You may say, “Well, look, that’s prison. That’s the worst possible place to judge human beings.” Look at what happens, the number of race rights you get in public high schools. Look at the extent to which Americans, of all races, voluntarily segregate when it comes to Sunday morning, where to go to church, generally where to live.

You just got to ask yourself in the long term what happens. I mean, maybe the white people get sick and tired of being the one group that is denied a positive identity. And then they say, “To hell with that.” We also want to be proud of our identity. We want to favor our own. We want our own carve-outs. And then America becomes some sort of, I guess at best, loose tribal confederation. Or maybe the whites die out or are reduced to an insignificant minority, and I think the other ethnic groups then turn against one another because there’s just no basis to see why all these people who have different ways of life and are really right now united in a political coalition based on a common enemy will magically get along once the common enemy disappears.

It’s actually quite worrisome. The one thing that gives me some hope is the magnitude of the lies is such that there…. I think more and more people are realizing that this is insanity. Plus, we also live in an age, it seems to me, where there is more ready access to dissenting information than in any society in human history. I mean, your podcast is one of countless that are still on air and readily accessible. You criticize the pieties of the regime. You invite guests who have heterodox ideas.

I heard you on Alex Kaschuta’s podcast. I mean, I listen to it on my phone, so I don’t know when you did it, but she has also…. I mean, you can access that through your iPhone. Yes, there’s censorship on YouTube and on Twitter. But let’s be honest: it is still easier to get access to intelligent people who call out the lies of the regime and blaspheme than any other time, I think, any other society in human history. This gives me some encouragement that the more and more people are getting awoken to the lies of wokeness.

Inez Stepman:

Multiple layers of woke. Awaking to wokeness. Glenn Loury says something very, very similar, and he has the speech that he’s reworked in a bunch of different contexts, one at the NatCon convention, one he’s written for, I believe, City Journal. He’s published a sort of variety of…. The core of this speech is the same. It’s titled “The Case for Black Patriotism.”

One of the worries that he lists there is exactly what you just said: what happens…? It’s an impossibility with human nature to allow essentially ethnic tribal favoritism, but then to exclude only one group of people from that favoritism. It seems like, again, extremely… Sometimes, it’s very hard for me to wrap my mind around how the left can be so frivolous with forces that are so deeply ingrained in human nature.

And perhaps this goes back to the big divide between the left and the right, not between Republicans and Democrats or between various camps and disagreements. But to me, the most important divide here is — you kind of alluded to — it’s the constrained view of human nature versus the utopian.

I guess my question would be is: can they truly think that they are going to make this a sort of multiethnic paradise on earth by so strongly demonizing people on the basis of race and expect that they’re never going to develop their own consciousness in terms of pushing back?

To me, that sounds like a disaster. I don’t want to live in a racially-conscious society, at least at the level of government, of laws, of fellow citizenship, but how from this debased position can we ever hope to revive civic bonds between people who are so different? On what basis can we revive them if all the traditional bases for those bonds are denigrated?

David Azerrad:

Look, I don’t know. I gave you the something that makes me optimistic in terms of seeing through the dominant lies of the regime and of the ruling class, but it does not necessarily follow that if that regime collapses, Republican civic friendship will spontaneously arise in its wake. Conservatives love to say, “If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.” But they imply, and then once it stops going on, all will go back to good. No, it could be that, that thing ends, and then who knows what comes next? I just know that the current course is utterly unsustainable.

Another thing that maybe gives me… Well, I guess you had two questions. One is how can they believe this? At this point, they just don’t know any history, because it’s not really being taught in schools, and they’re mostly playing with their phones and not reading serious books and not comfortable being exposed to ideas that make them feel uncomfortable.

And then they still cling to the blank-slate view of human nature, that human beings are just a product of environment, that there’s no kind of hardwiring in us. And maybe in earlier generations, there were more cynical Machiavellians who were playing a short-term game to create a coalition between white elites and minorities to push out the Republican base in middle class.

But you look at the elites today, especially the younger ones. I mean, they seem to just believe the woke creed with kind of simple, a passionate religious conviction, and not ask too many questions. So, I find it perfectly believable that they haven’t thought this through and just have accepted the lies that black people are sacred, white people are evil. That the West culminates in slavery and the Holocaust and that the number one priority is to box in whites. Because if you don’t, it’s the slippery slope to Auschwitz and/or bringing back Jim Crow, to quote our current president.

I don’t find it hard to believe that many believe, either believe that openly or a watered-down version of that. In terms of another thing that maybe gives me some hope is there’s still more common sense in the American people than there are amongst the elites. Depending on how you ask the question, there remains widespread opposition to affirmative action amongst all major ethnic demographic subgroups in America.

Now, the policy is only growing in magnitude. It’s not like it’s disappearing. So, this is the disconnect between the semi-oligarchic regime we live in, where the people still do have a voice in some regard, but some things appear to be on autopilot. I, for one, have very little hopes, A) that the court strikes down the affirmative action at Harvard in the case with the Asians, and even if they do, I doubt that anything will change, because Harvard is so committed to this, but they’ll just find a way around it, in the same way that nine states have banned affirmative action, either through a statute or referenda.

And my understanding is based on what I’ve read from Heather MacDonald, whose work on this is really fantastic, is the universities just circumvent the ban. And the Republicans, or whoever is in charge there doesn’t really have the cojones to go after them and enforce them. That would be interesting. You get a bunch of DeSantis-like governors that start to get serious about this and say, “Okay, we ban affirmative action in our state. Now, let’s really get rid of it. Let’s start suing the universities.” That hasn’t happened yet. The people have still not been fully indoctrinated and still don’t fully buy into this.

We’re probably not going to get kumbaya civic friendship. This is a dated cultural reference, but you like to tell me I’m old. We’re not going to get a United Colors of Benetton ad for America as a nation, but maybe we can get a lowering of the temperature of our national life and allow a bit more freedom of association to let people live how they want and not force them to try to attain statistical parity with all the various permutations of the ethnic, sexual, and gender groups in all realms of life. We could at least deescalate.

That’s another thing, is we’re at permanent DEFCON 1 levels of hysteria. I think people like you and me feel it more because you’re on Twitter. I’m not — I just read stuff on Twitter — but Twitter is kind of a particle accelerator for outrage. I think we’re much more plugged into “this person said this.”

I think the average American has never heard of Ilya Shapiro right now, whereas that’s all that everyone here is talking about. Again, there’s still more, I think, common sense and less hysteria amongst the people, but one shouldn’t take this too far with a soothing boomer pill of, “And therefore, everything is going to be great, and we’re going to go back to perfect Republican self-government and civic friendship.”

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. Two things in response to what you just said. First is the use of the word ruling class, and then the shift to what the average American believes. As a political theorist, as somebody who has read extensively and especially studied the American founding and the philosophy of the various founders, we have a complicated relationship, especially those of us who call ourselves on the right with democracy. With small-d democracy, democratic movements, very much worried about sort of the political power of the mob. And so much of our system is designed at checking the political power of the mob.

It’s not that I don’t think that those warnings are very serious when applied to situations where there is unchecked power of a mob, but I’m wondering how you feel, as a conservative or a man of the right, generally, about democracy these days. Because it seems to me that we have, in fact, a deficit of democracy.

You just pointed out a situation which is very common, where there’s a strong majority over time. So, not a sort of flash mob majority, but over time, for example, the idea of equality under the law and not advancing people into positions or admitting them into universities on the basis of race. Nevertheless, that democratic will is being continually, for decades, flouted by the ruling class and the people who actually hold power, whether that’s in universities or agencies.

How do you work through, as somebody on the right, that tension with worrying about mob justice, about mob rule, and certainly, the sort of cancel culture does not give us…. It gives us, I should say, once again, a reason to fear sort of flash mobs and the decisions of flash mobs. How do you think of democracy these days? Is it a necessary corrective? Or should we be focusing on building a new set of elites to replace the ones who are so corrupt?

It seems to me that one essential element of their corruption is the way that they have completely set themselves against the average American and sort of excluded a lot of the views of the average American from any kind of reasonable or legitimate discourse among the halls of power.

David Azerrad:

Yeah. Okay. There’s a lot to unpack in your question, and we’ll throw instance where at Hillsdale the important qualify that the founders did not believe in democracy, they believed in republicanism. They defined democracy in The Federalist Papers as direct democracies. Say Athens, the Athens that killed Socrates. They define, Madison defines republicanism as a scheme of government, a form of government in which a scheme of representation takes place.

So, the idea was that the people would vote. Ultimately, all power rests with the people, but that they elect representatives who will refine and enlarge the public view. So, you need to represent many different constituents. You need to listen to them, but ultimately, they did not view the people in the legislatures as mindless automata who would just do whatever the people tell them to do. They were expected to refine and enlarge the public view.

What do we have in America today? I think we have a mixed regime. Some of our friends like to say that we live in a tyranny. I just find that laughable. I mean, if we lived in a tyranny, Tucker Carlson would not be on air every night laughing in the face of the tyrants. Donald Trump would not have been elected in 2016.

There’s still plenty of access to dissenting information. There’s still many ways in which the people have their voice heard. Now, that being said, we clearly don’t live in the founders’ republic. We also, alongside these, what remains of the founders’ constitution in terms of some freedom of speech and representative government, we have the oligarchic ruling class, which on the one hand is censoring speech. A lot of it is done in the private sector, and so a fanatical libertarian will say, “Well, who cares? It’s not the government banning. Why don’t you go start your own Twitter?”

I think at this point, we can all see the silliness of these arguments, where GoFundMe and Twitter and Spotify start to constitute the public square and constitute either monopolies or oligopolies. And it’s not that simple to go start your own Twitter as the people who did Gab learned the hard way. So, there’s increasing and mounting restrictions on speech, and it’s only going to get worse.

I don’t know if you saw this, but Michelle Malkin and her husband have been permanently banned from Airbnb. There’s going to be more and more of that. For the time being, though, there’s still, I think, fairly robust free speech in America — although we should be highly worried — but we’re not a tyranny yet.

And then there’s a massive deficit in terms of the extent to which the laws and norms that govern the country were duly enacted by elected representatives. We have the problem of the judiciary — which, you went to law school, you know very well. The judges make law. That’s how we got gay marriage. It’s how we got a rewriting of the ’64 Civil Rights Act to cover gender identity and sexual orientation. We have the problem of the agencies issuing regulations. We have the whole civil rights regime. We have many in government just ignoring certain laws.

It’s mixed. The trendlines are worrisome. And then, paradoxically enough, some of the progressive reforms from early in the 20th century, they’re the ones who gave us the referendums. One of the things that the progressives did not like was representative government. On the one hand, they wanted more expert power, but they also introduced many reforms, in particular at the state level, to move the U.S. towards a more direct democracy.

So, referenda, recalls, ballot initiatives — none of that was part of the founders’ vision. That’s the legacy of progressivism which, paradoxically enough, now that the people are more to the right on many issues than the elites, may actually be helpful. So, this is a case where conservatives or those who take their bearings from the founding should not be dogmatic and say, “Well, the founders oppose this. The progressives gave us referenda, we should oppose all this.”

They may actually be useful tools. I mean, look at your home state of California. The good that has come from the propositions that… Even now, there was just one on the table to repeal the ban on affirmative action. And it was upheld in California today. So, these measures may be useful to give the people some voice, but then you still are going to need real elites.

I’m a populist with a caveat. I’m a populist insofar as I have utter contempt for most of the elites in America. I think they’re incompetent, humorless, and that they really kind of hate America and Americans, and would sell the country down the river to make a dollar without hesitating.

I think they’re really such an unimpressive lot, and I’m not impressed by their credentials because they went to fancy schools, but they don’t know anything. They don’t speak foreign languages. They’re not well-read. They’re not well educated. They’re credentialed, but they’re not well educated.

I’m a populist insofar as I kind of want to fire them all and burn down all the elite institutions. That being said, the caveat is I’m not a populist who thinks that we just need the people and then a god-emperor to lead them. We’re going to need better elites. I don’t see how you can have a country of the size and complexity of America and an economy of our size without better elites.

And here, I will confess rather that I don’t really know what the solution is. How do you get better elites? I think that one should not allow one’s hatred of the current ruling class to blind us to the fact that we’re going to need better elites to channel what remains the reservoirs of good sense and common sense and the American people in a more productive way. I don’t have a turnkey solution to this one. I don’t know, maybe you do.

Inez Stepman:

I don’t have a turnkey solution. I was going to ask you, if the universities are clearly the gateway to not just — I wouldn’t even say as narrowly as the ruling class, I would use Burnham’s term, the managerial class — that credentialing through university is a key part of this, and now that the universities are completely taken over by a particular ideology, it’s an ideological credentialing threshold, right?

I guess, in this context, we have some interesting developments. For example, it was Austin University that was started. Obviously, you worked for Hillsdale, which is another university or college that… I mean, I’m frankly jealous of your students, of the true education and what you were referencing in terms of what’s necessary to build a serious elite in a country. The true classical education that Hillsdale offers its students.

What do we do with the academy? Is it worthwhile to continue to hold whatever footholds we can, given that, for example, I guess let’s make this very concrete — Ilya is a friend, so this is not at all sort of his particular decisions will be his particular decisions, but I mean, in terms of the abstract and what he represents and his firing or tempted firing placed on administrative leave represents —

Is it worth it to keep Ilya’s job and sort of foothold in the academy, given that the people who graduate from Georgetown, who are crying over the fact that they have to tolerate a professor like Ilya Shapiro, those guys are going to go on to staff the DOJ. Is it worth it to try to keep a foothold through jobs like Ilya’s in that academy? Or is that academy completely corrupted and we needed to throw all of our resources into destroying them and building alternatives?

David Azerrad:

I’m torn on this question. On the one hand, there’s great value in having dissidents and contrarians and patriots and based right-wingers obtain elite credentials in order to operate within elite circles to undermine them or advance other ideas.

In America today, a credential from an elite university remains very valuable. That being said, it poses a problem for right-wingers with these diplomas because they’re torn between their allegiance to America and wanting to fit in with the elites.

Some of them have a real — in French, we say, je m’en fous attitude, “I don’t give a crap” attitude. I just have contempt for these people. I want nothing to do with them. I think Tucker exemplify. Do you think Tucker wants to get invited to cocktail parties in Georgetown? No.

Human nature being what it is, many good conservatives who come from these elite universities do want to get invited to the cocktail parties. They do want their kids to go to these good schools. And then also, I should add, they also just want to keep their jobs. And therefore, that is going to seriously constrain their ability to undermine, or to fight the rot in the ruling class.

They’re probably not going to save us. And therefore, yeah, there is value, I think. Increasingly, I’m becoming an accelerationist on this. I would like this university to make these diplomas worthless. If I could press a button, I would say, “You should only admit students of color. Stop admitting white people and graduate everyone, especially the students of color with honors.” So that eventually the …

I mean, what they really have these universities is the prestige and the endowments. So, the prestige, they’re burning through because Princeton, for example, no longer requires Latin or Greek from their classics majors. I’m more and more becoming pedal-to-the-metal that just more wokeness, faster, quicker, please. Utterly discredit yourselves.

Then we still need, though, to build up the parallel institutions, and that’s a problem. So, Hillsdale is fantastic, but part of what constrains our growth is we got to find professors who can teach at Hillsdale. And the pipeline of institutions that are producing PhDs who are sane in the humanities and the social sciences, there’s not a lot of choices out there. You got to find backing. You got to find people willing to send their kids to a school that is not going to be as prestigious as Harvard.

I don’t have a clear answer. Maybe one thing I would do is kind of a three-tier strategy. On the one hand, invest as much as we can in building up parallel, separate institutions. And Hillsdale is as independent as you can get because we don’t accept federal dollars. And therefore, we free ourselves from all of the regulations that come with that.

Second is, I think, the public universities in red states that you always hear about — we have 20 so states that have full control of the legislature and the governor’s mansion — why don’t they start going after these universities hard? I mean, defunding, closing certain departments. And they haven’t done that, one, because they’re intimidated by the professors. The people who serve in state legislatures are good people, but they generally don’t have PhDs and may not be the most articulate people, and they’ll be intimidated by the college president.

And then you have the whole football problem, right? — Roll Tide — and therefore, I don’t want to go after the university because I love football. Well, the university, why are you subsidizing people who are teaching the citizens of your state to hate their country? So, there should be a much more aggressive game there.

And then the private universities, we should be looking maybe for some creative, aggressive ideas. Maybe, for example, make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy. Why is it that this is the one kind of loan? This is a huge privilege that the universities receive. In America, there’s no reason why they should keep on having it.

But again, the short-term prospects are non-encouraging. Now, that said, if anyone asked me, where should I send my kids, I would say Hillsdale, if they can get in. We have a huge increase in the number of applicants because more and more people, again, are realizing that the universities are crazy. Hillsdale is bucking the trend, but there’s only one Hillsdale.

Now, admittedly, there are other, I think, uncorrupted universities out there. There’s the University of Dallas, there’s Patrick Henry College, but they’re small and they’re not as prestigious. Someone is going to need to start building up these institutions, but that’s a costly, difficult, and long-term program.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I guess I have to put in the quibble, given that this is my sort of policy area of expertise. The reason that student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy is, of course, there’s nothing to repo. That you can’t prevent people from just declaring bankruptcy at age 24 when they’re making no money.

I would think that would actually punish the students more than the institutions themselves. My preferred solution would be just to cut Title IV funds, which every institution other than the top 10 biggest-endowed universities are dependent on as their very lifeblood. I should say the top 10 endowed universities and Hillsdale College, which is also not dependent on Title IV funds.

But regardless, I think the larger…. We’ve been framing this question over and over again as a matter of oligarchy, of the ruling class, of all of these terms that, five years ago, I would have run screaming from as terms to describe America.

David Azerrad:

Why would you have run away from that?

Inez Stepman:

Well, because I think I still very much believed that we operated a meritocracy, even though I obviously knew that there’s plenty of institutions that were liberal, on their way to becoming what they are today, which is completely ideological. And also because I think conservatives have, rightfully so, have an allergy to kind of describing the world as though, because there are some people who are successful and some people are not, that there must be something wrong with the structure of society.

And conservatives have invested, especially vis-à-vis, for example, people in European countries or elsewhere, America has always had a wider spread and has been more willing to take on the risks of rough-and-tumble capitalism. Which may mean you succeed, may mean that you fail, and we have less of a social safety net. If you fail, we have fewer encumberments on your wealth if you should succeed.

I think that that’s generally a good thing, but here I have to, I guess, back myself up again and say that David came to this conclusion much quicker than I did, which is that the real threat of actual sort of Venezuelan-style socialism in America is now much lower even than it was three or four years ago.

I wanted to ask you sort of some of these terms draw from some folks who are on the left, including people who would describe themselves as Marxists. Why is it that I, as a conservative, now feel inexorably that the only good way to really communicate and describe the situation in which we live in America today as a ruling class or an oligarchy, why is it that I cannot get away from these terms because they seem so gosh darn correct as to describe our situation today?

David Azerrad:

Your listeners can’t see this, but I have a huge smile on my face right now because that’s exactly how I feel. I was teaching Herbert Marcuse last semester in my class on American progressivism, liberalism in the left. So as people may know, he was one of the founders of the new left in the ’60s. This is the kind of the non-LBJ other ’60s. Not the great society, the student radicals.

I assign the essay, “Repressive Tolerance.” And what I get my students to see is what he’s describing at the time is a game plan for the left to seize control of a country that is hostile to its aims. So, he’s looking at the military-industrial complex. He’s a radical in saying, “How can we take control of all of these institutions?” We’re a beleaguered minority. And what’s amazing is the diagnosis largely holds today, except the categories being flipped, i.e., the long march through the institutions has been successful.

Every institutional sector in America, with the possible exception of the police, but let’s see how long they hold post-saint George Floyd in terms of not caving to the wokies. But every institutional sector and every major institution organization in the country is either sincerely promoting woke garbage or performatively doing so, but not challenging the lies and the woke madness.

It’s the right that now finds itself in the minority position, looking at a country and not feeling at home in its own country. This to me is one of the strangest, and I should say most worrisome, features of contemporary American politics, that in the “normal model,” at least for the past two centuries, you have a right that is conservative, i.e., trying to conserve an established order. And you have a left that is revolutionary, trying to transform the established order.

Normally, the left doesn’t feel at home in a country, and the right does. What we have today in America is the left controls everything, and therefore, understandably so, more and more Americans, especially those on the right, especially those who cling to their guns and their religion who are attached to the traditional American way of life, or what’s left of it, don’t feel at home in their own country.

But then here’s the amazing part. The left controls everything, and they act as if this country is infected with systemic racism, and we’re this close to the Fourth Reich happening. So, this is quite worrisome, because both sides are alienated. Both sides don’t feel at home in the country, and that doesn’t bode well.

I mean, you’re not crazy for adopting this Marxist rhetoric because, look, Marx was wrong about plenty of things, but he raised the question of cui bono, who benefits, who rules on whose behalf? And conservatives, for the longest time, have been too enamored with ideas. With the idea that ideas have consequences — that famous book by Richard Weaver — and that good ideas are somehow self-implementing, and bad ideas are self-defeating. That’s nonsense.

You really got to focus on power, on leveraging it, to advance your interest; your ideas benefit your constituency and punish your enemies. The right is now, especially the younger generation, I think really woken up to this. But kind of the boomers, with the Reagan nostalgia, still have a long way to go, but I am encouraged by the extent to which the younger, let’s say… so I can throw myself in this law, let’s say 45 and under —

Inez Stepman:

Very skillfully placed, that boundary there.

David Azerrad:

— that are aware of the fact that we need to think and act more like the left to adopt some of their tactics, because they were immensely successful, and we were not.

Inez Stepman:

Finally, before I let you go, I’d be amiss not to raise, I think, something again, that for folks who perhaps haven’t read your writing, they’ve probably heard echoes of your writing through Josh Hawley’s speeches on this subject that I’m about to raise, as well as the whales of David French in The Atlantic on the subject of spirited manliness.

You have written in a number of contexts about this, or spoken about in a number of contexts, one of which and the most offensive of which seem to be that you praise Donald Trump for his certain type of manliness.

It seems to me there’s now a debate within the right — because a large part of the left has completely abandoned the ideas of femininity and masculinity and, certainly, the idea that any type of masculinity might actually be something positive in society — but there has been a very interesting back and forth about what kind of masculinity a good society actually shapes and encourages.

And my friend, John Daniel Davidson, who’s been a guest on this podcast in the past, wrote a really great essay, I think, over at The Federalist, trying to draw a line between what I would characterize as machismo and a type of surrender. Where do you fall on some of those debates? What is the masculine spiritedness that you think is essential to reconstituting some kind of actual pushback from the right and the middle of the country against the left? And how do you avoid it becoming a sort of boyish machismo that may be fun, may even be attractive to certain kinds of women, but it actually doesn’t build or accomplish much for society?

David Azerrad:

Yeah. Let me first preface and tell you why I care about this so much. I was born and raised in Canada, and I fell in love with America, not for the reasons that Americans on the right usually give for falling in love with the country. I find that the right has a fairly impoverished account of America as a land of opportunity: that if you work hard, you can get ahead, i.e., you can make more money than your dad.

First of all, you can do that in many countries. You could do that in Canada. You can do that in Belgium and in France. And second, is that really the pinnacle of human accomplishment, to out-earn your parents? There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way, but that’s what you lead with when you’re describing this country?

The reason I loved America, as a kid growing up in Canada, where I had plenty of opportunities and plenty of freedoms — now, admittedly, this was pre-COVID — is that America was a badass country. Americans put a man on the moon. Americans won two world wars. The national epic was the Western, about some guy…. I mean, you know this better than I do. I don’t know if your listeners know this. Well, I guess, the show is called High Noon, so I would think…. Inez once wrote a great piece. I think it was for The Federalist on the 10 must-see Westerns. Am I remembering this correctly?

Inez Stepman:

Yes. That’s correct.

David Azerrad:

Your listeners should read it if they get a chance, which is some badass going out West and imposing law and order in a lawless area. Americans rode Harley’s. Americans were…. Look, it’s in the Declaration of Independence. It’s my favorite line from any founding document. The fifth grievance leveled against the king: he has repeatedly dissolved the houses of assembly, why? For opposing with manly firmness, his encroachments on the rights of the people. His invasions on the rights of the people. I should know it by heart if I’m going to quote it.

It’s easy to proclaim rights. What are you going to do when they’re violated? Americans oppose with manly firmness. To me, it’s the prerequisite for maintaining freedom is to have a population that is spirited.

Now, let’s throw in the usual disclaimer. Of course, there are effeminate men, and of course, there are some masculine women. Harvey Mansfield begins his book on manliness by praising Margaret Thatcher. So, let’s put that as an outlier. On the whole, though, let’s be honest. The expectation will be that the men will be manlier and the women should be more feminine.

And this is why it matters so much to me: one is it’s just my emotional attachment to this country, and second is I think it’s a really underappreciated dimension of what is necessary to preserve freedom. And so, what does manliness mean today? There are different forms of manliness. There’s clearly manliness on the battlefield.

This is not what I’m focused on right now. What I’m focused on right now is the bold and principle defiance of the lies of the age, is saying the truth and then refusing to apologize or to bend the knee when everyone goes hysterical. In this regard, Trump was supremely manly. And the example I gave in a piece I wrote is much more manly than Jim Mattis. Jim Mattis is obviously more manly on the battlefield, but Jim Mattis is a coward and just has completely conventional political opinions when it comes to speaking his mind in the public square.

I like that piece by Davidson, too, because he called out the danger of, let’s call it, frog manliness. The kind of just bodybuilding and picking up chicks with no…. And saying all sorts of outrageous things under the anonymous cover of Twitter. That’s not real and sustainable manliness because there seems to be no real moral character, no real focus on the virtuous dimension of manliness.

I don’t mean to reduce it to saying the truth in this age. It’s the virtue, I think, that is most lacking amongst our elites, especially our elected politicians, especially those who have an R after their names, who are supposedly speaking for the American people. But I don’t want to leave it at that because that would suggest that any troll on Twitter is a supreme embodiment of manliness.

There has to be something beyond that. There has to be a sense of duty to country, to family. But for the time being, though, I will unabashedly defend the proposition that it is manly and necessary, I should add, to call out the lies of the regime. And when people go hysterical — that, by the way, means you’ve touched the nerve — you don’t apologize, and you don’t back down. And that’s the mistake that Joe Rogan made. With all due….

It’s a mistake that many others make. This gesture is not reciprocated. If you apologize for having said that something that is — I won’t even say offensive — that offends these woke fanatics, it’s not like they say, “Oh, well, Inez is actually… Let’s let her….” No. They smell blood, and then they come to crucify you. So, you don’t apologize, you don’t bend the knee. If anything, you pull a line from Trump’s playbook. You repeat it twice as loud, and you magnify what you just said to further irk them. And in so doing, you teach a lesson in courage to your compatriots and your fellow countrymen.

I’ll leave you with my favorite Pat Buchanan quote. I love Pat Buchanan, so there are many quotes to choose from. He says in his memoirs courage is contagious, and there’s real value in seeing someone in the public square take a principled stand against some madness. It teaches a lesson and courage to others and will encourage others to do the same.

Inez Stepman:

David Azerrad, thank you so much for coming on High Noon.

David Azerrad:

Thank you, Inez.