Andrew Klavan, novelist, screenwriter, satirist, political commentator, and host of The Daily Wire’s Andrew Klavan Show, was this week’s High Noon guest. He is also the author of, most recently, The Truth and Beauty: How the Lives and Works of England’s Greatest Poets Point the Way to a Deeper Understanding of the Words of Jesus.
Stepman and Klavan discussed his conversion from Jewish agnostic to Christian, the crisis of meaning that pushed him there, and the questions that both drive human suffering and make us human to begin with. What do traditional religion and great art both have to say about remaining human in a world where digital existence might be a viable option?
This episode also delves into the real contributions of femininity to civilization, what makes for good or bad art, and whether the right can move beyond the material and produce the kind of worthy works that say something true about human nature and the soul.
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.
Welcome to High Noon, where we discuss controversial subjects with interesting people. And I’m really, really happy to have Andrew Klavan on this week. He’s a novelist, screenwriter, he’s a satirist, a political commentator. You may know him as the host of the Andrew Klavan Show over at Daily Wire, or you may know him as the author of many books, but most recently for release, I believe, tomorrow is The Truth and Beauty: How the Lives and Works of England’s Greatest Poets Point the Way to a Deeper Understanding of the Words of Jesus. So thank you so much, Andrew, for coming on High Noon.
It’s great to be here.
I really think like the central thesis of this book is that some of history’s greatest poets and writers grappled with a lot of the same questions that I think largely a lot of us in the West are now grappling with, which are questions of meaning, questions of what God wants from us or questions of like, what the correct moral life is, how do we know?. It seems to me these are questions that not only were not, and I’m going to ask you in a minute how you got to where you are religiously because I think that’s itself a very interesting question, but these are not questions that we seem as a society more broadly able to answer today. In fact, it’s worse, one step worse than that. It seems to me that these questions aren’t even acknowledged as questions anymore or serious.
Oh yeah. I mean, I think the poets I’m writing about are mainly the romantic poets who lived in an age, which was incredibly similar to this one. And I think for very much the same reasons, key among them was the falling away of belief, the rise of science, which really got started in a big way during the Romantic Period, which is the late 18th century and the early 19th century, just undermined the sense that things happen the way they happen in the Bible. It’s not that science actually disproves religion in any meaningful way. It’s just that it does give the aura, the feeling that things just don’t happen the way the Bible stories say they do. And so this undermined belief. And when you lose belief, you lose a lot of things with it, which is really what the book is about, you lose a sense of your inner world and what the meaning of your inner world is. And once you lose that, it becomes very hard, not only the search for meaning, but to understand that meaning matters.
And I think that what you’re saying is exactly right. We are in a position right now where if you notice, when people talk about the inner life, what’s sometimes called the subjective life, that it goes in two extremes, either they think the inner life means nothing. So that for instance, you can say, well, I think one thing is right and you think something else is right. And there’s no way to tell the difference. You have a culture where women have to dress in burkas, I have a culture where women are free to make their own choices. How can we tell which one of those is better than the other? Maybe you take a vote, but it doesn’t really, there’s no objective morality. So your subjective life refers to nothing.
On the other hand, you have an idea that the subjective life is absolutely sovereign. And frequently these two conflicting ideas are held by the same person. So that if I suddenly say to you, well, Inez, I suddenly feel like a woman. Now I’m a woman. Now you have to change the pronouns by which you refer to me. You have to let me play in women’s sports. You have to refer to me as a woman because my inner life informs me that I’m a woman. So we have these two ideas that the inner life is meaningless on the one hand and it’s sovereign on the other hand. And both of those are untrue. And you have to, until you understand, until you can come together and find some way to proceed through your inner life with your inner life, you have no way of searching for meaning and people, I think, just give up.
The companion essay that you put out with this book over at the American Mind, you write something that I think is both very well stated, which I would expect from a novelist, well written, but also a really important idea. You say the alacrity with which people retreated into cyber life at the threat of a nasty flu and the reluctance with which they are reemerging does not auger any very popular attachment to the psychic battlefield of love and death that is RL, real life.
You say in that essay that people may actually have a preference for dystopia and you point to various dystopian novels, you point among them I think most importantly, “Brave New World.” And you point out that actually in most these dystopian novels, we the readers are positioned as the single person who is horrified, right? We might have somebody on the fringes of society that we’re following as a main character, but most people in most of these dystopian novels don’t feel like they are living in a hell or a dystopia. They feel like they’re living in, actually it was something you didn’t cite in this essay, but it reminded me of “The Great Divorce” by C. S. Lewis, where the people in hell cannot tolerate being outside of it, how do we save ourselves from this? Because it seems to me that it’s very, very difficult to resuscitate.
And speaking personally and for society, it’s very, very difficult to resuscitate faith once it’s fallen away as a default in life and human civilization, it’s very, very difficult to punch your way or rationalize your way through. And it’s very, very difficult to speak faith out of nothing in the individual and in society. I mean, is there any way that we can punch through to the other side of this crisis? Or are we inevitably just going to end up on the metaverse because as you say, the psychic battlefield of love and death is, actually, doesn’t seem to hold that much appeal broadly for so many people?
Well, right. That’s I mean, I believe that there are, I think all Christians believe that, maybe they haven’t thought of it in this particular way, that there is not an end of the world. There are two ends of the world. There’s one end for the saved and one for the salvation impaired, there’s one for the people who opt out of dystopia and the other for the people who are perfectly happy to enter dystopia with its drugs and its materialist pleasures and its inhuman humanity, a humanity that can possibly do more and live longer, but cannot become itself and cannot grow to fruition as itself.
So yeah, part of finding faith and part of finding your humanity is opting out of the general culture, which is always going to tend, as the Bible tells us, it’s always going to tend toward the material and toward destruction. And I think that the reason, I’m really happy you asked this question, you’re the first person. I’ve done a lot of interviews, you’re the first person who’s asked me this question, because this is what these poets were facing, this was exactly what these poets were facing.
If for instance, and this is an example I used in the book, if for instance, you find that in the old days, they rang a bell to chase lightning away. And it resulted in the guy who climbed up into the bell tower and rang the bell getting killed by the lightning because he was up in a high place with metal and then you find, oh, by science, I can put a lightning rod on there and avoid the lightning. What use is there to go back to the spiritual thought that brought you to ring the bell in the first place? It seems that entire spiritual approach to life has been undermined.
And what these poets, especially William Wordsworth because he was the first one on the train, what they started to do is reconstruct the inner life in which these things matter. This is the question that is always disappearing. If you do not know what your inner life is about, if you do not put yourself, your own development as a human being before any other purpose, you can’t get back to faith.
Almost the minute you do put yourself as a purpose, you just see yourself as a point and purpose of your life, you start to find, oh, I’m not in here alone with my thoughts and I’m not solely governed by arrows, I’m not solely governed by chemicals, I’m not just a matter of little material interactions going on in my body. In fact, I’m connected to something bigger than myself. The life in me is part of a life outside. Once you get on that train, it’s almost inevitable that you will start to see that there is a connection to something outside of yourself, that the world is actually much bigger and your world is actually much bigger than it was. And then you start to make your way back to faith.
Listen, I was almost 50 before I was baptized, I was 45 before I gave up on agnosticism, which was really atheism. It took me a long time to think my way out of the default settings of the time. And in doing that, literature was a great help, I think, because as C. S. Lewis said of William Wordsworth, if you start with him, you will end up with faith. And that happened actually Wordsworth himself, he ended up a believer.
And so it really is a question of the inner life. I’m not the first person to say this, but I think when you start to look at the gospels a little differently than we are trained to look at, I think most people look at the gospels as a set of things that you shouldn’t do. And then if you don’t do them, you get to yell at somebody else who’s doing them and you get to talk about how evil this is or how evil that is. I don’t think that’s what it’s about at all. I think when Jesus said, judge not, he was literally serious that you should put judgment away, that you should love your enemies.
Once you start to do that, your mind is clear for a new experience of life and experience of seeing life the way God sees it as this important journey. I mean you are part of creation. Your experience is a new thing. There has never been an Inez walking down the street. That experience that you’re having is fresh, new, different. It has never been had before. It’ll never be had again. Everything that happens to you once you see it from the inside is an act of creation and part of the creation.
And so this is a revolutionary way of looking at the world, except it’s over 2000 years old. I mean, it is what Jesus was trying to say after you get past the, don’t cheat on your wife, don’t kill people, honor your father and your mother, all of which is important, but once you get past that, there’s actually something he wants you to do. And I think that that’s what I’m trying to get back at. And I think that’s what these poets were trying to get back to from a place of utter destruction.
Well, I guess this is a good time for me to ask how you went from secular Judaism to converting to Christianity because that is not a popular path, right? Jews don’t convert, right? Even those of us, I don’t even really count because I’m like the wrong half, right? So I’m the patrilineal secular Jew. I mean, it seems like you don’t often see Jews converting to Christianity, even if they fall away from the practice of Judaism, that Judaism is so orthopraxic and it’s so much about practice and not as much about faith, although of course faith is important too, but not to the extent that it is in Protestant Christianity, for example. How did you get there? Because you started out, it seems to me in a very, very different place and you say you only you were baptized in your 40s. So how did you get there? Did Jesus float down to you on a cloud and say you’re wrong?
No. And I frequently ask him why he didn’t do that because that would’ve convinced me instantaneously. But no, you’re absolutely right. I was as far away as you can get. I sometimes say that cradle Christians are born at their destination, but I was like thrown out in the desert with like a piece of string and a paper clip and had to make my way, not only was I a Jew, I was a secular Jew. Not only was I a secular Jew, I was, for lack of a better word, an intellectual or creative, whatever you want to call it, living in coastal cities where non-belief was the default. So I was about as far away as you could get without actually being like a criminal, but I was as far away from belief as you can get.
And it started, I mean, for me, it started with literature when I began to realize when I wanted to be a writer and I was studying literature, I began to realize that all of the things that I found beautiful, all of the things that I found true, all of the stories that I loved had some connection to the gospels. And since I had never read the gospels and we didn’t even have a New Testament in my house, why would we? Had to go out and get one when I was 15 years old simply to study it as a one to be writer, what are all my favorite writers writing about? What do they mean when they refer to this thing? What do they mean when a character dies with his arms flung wide and you get the sense that his death has been some kind of redeeming act as happens in literature again and again?
And I started to read it and that was just the beginning of a journey where I started to realize that if these things that I knew to be true were true, if there was a moral framework for the world, if Dostoevsky was right and you can’t just operate out of morality without falling into a web of destruction, then there had to be at least a God of some kind. The reason I couldn’t believe in that right away is because I was miserable. I had a difficult upbringing, I was descending into madness basically. And in my late 20s, I actually just went nuts, I went insane. And so I thought to myself then with the stubbornness that is the center of my personality, I thought, well, if I reach out to God now, even though I logically believe there must be some kind of God, if I reached out to him now, it would just be a crutch and I would never be able to believe.
So in my misery when I actually needed God and when God was calling out to me in a 1000 different ways, I couldn’t answer that call because I would’ve felt that it was just an act of weakness by what I now consider to be a miracle. I found a genius psychiatrist who actually cured me. There’s an old Onion headline, psychiatrist cures patient, which I always, that was a great headline. I’m that guy. I am the guy who found the right guy who somehow understood me and brought me back to a point of actual happiness so that I actually became a joyful constructive person.
And at that point, I started to think, well, wait, all of the things that I thought while I was miserable remain true logically now and so maybe I have to start believing in this God that I have constructed from scratch and start to think about that. And I started to pray. And the prayer transformed my life and it transformed my life in ways that I could not have done alone indicating to me that I actually was praying to someone. And after five years of prayer when I was now close to 50, I realized that my life had utterly been transformed. And I mean, it was truly, truly dramatic, the kind of happier person I’d become, the kind of more creative person, the more realistic person I’d become. And I just, I said to God at that point, well, you’re God and I’m just some schmo, how can I repay you? What can I do in response to this?
And while it wasn’t a voice in my head, probably fortunately, I did have this immediate sense that I should be baptized. And my reaction to this was to say out loud in the middle of my prayer, you got to be kidding me, why would I do that? But for the first time, I went back to the Bible, which had always been a source of literature to me and read it as if it might be true. And having done that, I thought, look, oh yes, this is the God that I’m praying to, this is the idea that I’m trying to pursue. And at that point, I thought I have to be baptized as a matter of integrity because obviously if I’m believing in these things, it would be cowardice not to come out and say it.
And all I can tell you about that is within three weeks of my baptism, my wife, who to her suffering probably knows me better than anyone, but after really three weeks after being baptized, she turned to me and she said, “You’re an entirely different person. You’ve become serene in a way I’ve never seen you become serene. You become calm and just happy in a whole new way.” And so it was obviously a good move, my fear about being baptized. And I think this is every secular Jew’s fear or every secular person’s fear is that I would become an unrealistic nutbag, that I would become one of these guys who walked around talking about how blessed I was and that everything was perfect because God loved me and things that I just find was absurd.
But in fact, it made me far more realistic than I had ever been before, far more understanding of other human beings. It refreshed my art, which I had been very fearful of. I’d been very fearful that my hard-boiled crime story art would suddenly turn into this happy talk Jesus stuff where a child loses her bunny, but Jesus brings it back again, stuff I can’t even look at let alone read, but in fact it became more realistic, it became deeper, it became richer, it became more varied. And so that all indicated to me that I had made the right decision and it has continued like that ever since.
It’s another way in which you’re unusual other than being a secular Jew who moved to Christianity is that you are a man of the right and an artist, by which I mean, not just that you write books because many conservatives write books, but we tend to write books that are nonfiction, right? And this book is a work of nonfiction, but you’ve also written a lot of novels, you are a screenwriter. And as you just said, one of the things you are afraid of is that your art would be in some way not up to the standard that you would expect for yourself. What is the relationship between the artistic impulse and conservatism? Because I’ve heard everything all over the map, I’ve heard that conservatives are just more sort of hard-boiled and they prefer to go into business or other endeavors that they’re more interested in making money.
I’ve also heard that the theory that never until now never really seemed to me to be true, it seemed lame. Like I remember coming up 10 years ago in Washington, DC, as an intern where I would go to these events, they’d be like, well, art is going to swing to the right, because we’re the rebels now and they have the culture. So the rebellion of the artistic community is going to be on the right. I never truly saw that happening. And actually I felt a lot about a lot of “conservative art”, how you just described how you feel about the story of Jesus bringing back the bunny, I just didn’t think they had a lot of artistic merit to the project and it was didactic and politics first.
I mean, what do you think is the relationship between the right and art in general at a time where that premise, that lame premise actually does seem to be somewhat true that this kind of unthinking version of the left, the wokeness has really penetrated so deeply into our culture and all of the mainstream expressions of art that they’re losing their artistic merit? It really does just seem like being lectured by the party.
Yeah. Well, for my students, I’ve had a long time to think about this, because I lived in England for many years. When I came back, I left a liberal and came back not realizing I had become a conservative. And one of the things I saw was that the culture had been so corrupted in my absence. You know how when you’re away from something, you can see the change more easily. But after 9/11, which happened right after I came back, I mean, months after I came back, I saw that people couldn’t even muster up, our elites couldn’t even muster up the idea that, oh, it was wrong of these people to slaughter people in the name of their backward religion. And maybe we were right and maybe the things that had built us to become who we are, including Christianity, maybe those things were right. We didn’t even have that in us anymore. People were saying, “Why do they hate us?” I was thinking, they should hate us. They’re terrible people. And we are the good guys. It would only be right for them to hate us.
And so I began speaking to conservative groups about having abandoned the culture, saying we lost it at the movies, we lost our country at the movies. And this is 20 years ago and they looked at me like I was out of my mind. The only friend I made on this because of this was Andrew Breitbart, who shared my idea that this was an important thing. And we became friends through that mutual effort to bring the right around to see the culture. And now we do see, in fact, 20 years later that they actually are beginning to engage with culture at the Daily Wire where I have my podcast, they’re making movies, they’re publishing books, they’re doing all the things that I wanted to see done. And it’s very gratifying to see that happen.
So is it possible? Is it possible that the right will speak with a good artistic voice instead of a crummy artistic voice? And first, let me say yes. I mean, some of the greatest artists, I mean, one of the greatest artists alive, Tom Stoppard, although he is very old, was a Maggie Thatcher supporter and suffered and was canceled for it and had to work very hard to overcome it. Cormac McCarthy, I think keeps a low profile politically, but he’s clearly a conservative. William Shakespeare has done pretty well. And he was obviously had a conservative point of view.
But I think that there are two things happening. There are two things that have prevented conservatives. One we’ve been blacklisted. I know this for a fact. I mean, I worked in Hollywood. When I started talking about my politics, my phone stopped ringing instantaneously, my income went from seven figures to nothing overnight just the minute I started talking about this. So when you blacklist people, when you close the door to people, they go away, they go elsewhere. I compare it to when they first started thinking about maybe some managers in baseball should be black. In athletics, blacks have a big presence. Maybe there should be managerial presence for blacks. And they opened the door. No one was there. And the first thing people started to say, “Well, maybe blacks can’t be managers.” Well, no, it’s just, if you close the door on people for 50 years, they’re going to wander off somewhere else. And when you open the door, no one’s going to be out there. So that’s part of what has happened.
But there is another strain to this and that is my friend, Ben Shapiro, likes to say, facts don’t care about your feelings. And of course, he’s right in what he’s trying to say, but that also that insistence on the facts and that insistence that feelings are somehow second rate, when in fact your inner life, the inner experience of being human is what life is all about. That sometimes I think distracts conservatives from the things that art requires.
So for instance, art does not require, conservative art does not look like conservative life. I live a conservative life. I’m a family man, I’m a faithful, devoted husband. Nobody wants to read about that. We want to read about Macbeth slaughtering his way to the throne of Scotland. We want to read about people having affairs. We want to read about people doing the things that people do because that is exciting and interesting and it takes you into the mind of man. So conservatives have a tendency to want their art to speak to them what they already believe. And that of course is incredibly destructive to art. As you point out, it’s incredibly destructive to the woke left, because they want the same things, they want their art to tell them what they already believe.
And the other part of this, I think, which is more to the point is that when you abandon, as we were saying before, when you abandon your commitment to the inner life, you’re left with nothing but the kind of garbage that Ayn Rand produces, one of the worst novelists who ever lived, I cannot believe that the Right is still promoting lectures about how blowing up an orphanage is a moral act, a complete moral idiocy. The woman was a moral idiot and a terrible novelist. Her books are repetitive, they’re over long, they’re very dull and they have nothing to do with the things on which our country is based. Our founding fathers and those who preceded them, they weren’t watching Doris Day movies to learn about humanity and they weren’t reading books like Ayn Rand. They were reading deep books like Greek tragedy and Shakespeare that took them inside the world of human beings, inside the heart of people, which is what all of this stuff is about. Why should people be free? What is the pursuit of happiness?
Republicans have gotten to the point where they talk about the pursuit of happiness as if it were building a business, having a family, getting a nice car. Oh no, that’s actually not the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness has to do with the Greek word, eudaimonia, the kind of fulfillment and joy and getting your spirits in the right place that can only happen by a commitment to the inner life.
So there is this strain of conservative thought that has become just as materialist as leftism. And that is a strain that is sapping the right of its power to make art. Artists were not always left wing. This turn around starts in the Romantic Era, which is what The Truth and Beauty is about. William Wordsworth went from being a radical. When the French Revolution started, he was there. He went to France to be a small part of the French Revolution. Then saw that it failed and became a conservative. Well, it was the beginning of cancel culture. He was ripped to pieces for his conservatism. I mean, there are literally famous poems by famous poets written about what a bad guy, William Wordsworth, is for becoming a conservative. So he was cancel-cultured over the course of a century. I mean, those poems are still in anthologies ripping him for that. And yet, he was the one honest man who saw that the revolution had failed, that radicalism had failed, that Edmund Burke had got it right and he changed to being a conservative.
So that moment is a change from when artists served the people to when artists conceived of themselves as informing the people, enlightening the people that they were the people who were going to bring you their great vision. And that’s how we finally end up with Will Smith, after smacking a guy in the face giving an Oscar speech where he says, “I’m a river to my people.” To which friend Lewis replied, “You’re an actor. You’re an actor. Speak the speech trippingly off the tongue, that’s your job.” So that change in artists from being these entertainers who might enlighten you through the power of their muse to being the great prophets and rivers to the people is what keeps the right from understanding what their job is, that you can do the job of an artist without preaching, you can do the job of an artist without spouting nonsense and political nonsense.
Antonin Scalia said, what does a Christian judge look like? And he said, “He looks like a great judge.” Well, my answer to what does a conservative novelist or a conservative artist look like? He looks like a great artist. He is not preaching his morality, he is not preaching God, he’s not preaching conservatism. He is simply describing life as it is in the faith, that life as it is will lead you to God and to conservatism, the truth will lead you to God and to conservatism. Even when you see works of art by leftists, if they’re any good, they actually are conducive to conservatism because true art, because conservatism is just realism and that’s what true art gives you.
So the answer to your question, I’m sorry to go on so long, the answer to your question is twofold. We have been blacklisted, but we have also hooked our wagon to a false star, which is the star of materialism. And as long as we’re concentrating on money and things that work as opposed to things that fulfill, we won’t be able to create great art, but that could change as well.
Yeah, actually, maybe Ayn Rand is a good point of digging down into this further because I didn’t dislike her novels as much as apparently you did, but I didn’t love them. And one of the critiques that I had was actually the only, as far as I’m concerned, the only interesting character that Ayn Rand has ever really written is Hank Rearden in “Atlas Shrugged” and not coincidentally, he’s the only character who doesn’t truly fit into her philosophy because he is very human. And that’s what makes him like a good character is that actually he does show weakness multiple times throughout the book. He’s not that like stone Atlas, right? And ultimately that’s why he’s jettisoned in the most unrealistic way possible, where he basically says, oh yes, your new lover is a better man than me. I mean, this is completely unrealistic when it comes to human nature.
But I think it’s actually a good example of what you’re talking about, where if she were to write, like she did write that character well until she couldn’t, because it conflicted with the message she wanted to preach. And then the character had to become less human, less realistic, less truthful in order to not conflict with that message. So maybe that’s how I would understand what you just said, which is an interesting concept that if you write about the truth of human nature and the truth of the human inner experience in an authentic way that doesn’t get bounced around by some sort of commitment to preach a message that ultimately that exposition of human nature will trend towards reality, truth and therefore conservatism. Is that what you’re saying?
Yeah. And the conflict between the one and the many, the one in the community is a real conflict. It’s not a one sided thing. When I lived in England, they would always abrade themselves, the English loved to attack themselves. And one of the things they would attack themselves for, they would say in America, when you make a million dollars, you start to think about how to make your second million dollars, where if we make a million pounds, we retire and start to keep bees. And they would admire America for that. And I would say, well, both of those things are actually legitimate approaches to life. You may still have other things that you want to build and other millions that you want to make, but you may not, you may actually have a more fulfilling life staying home and doing something else. And that too is life. You are not always responsible to the best outward results. You are frequently responsible and always, I would say, responsible to the best inward results. And sometimes that helps the outer world.
One of the ways our churches, I think, have gone astray is that they’re trying to make the world a better place. And one of the things you’ll notice if you go to the Gospels is Jesus never said the world was going to be a better place. He never said you were going to make the world a better place. He said, “Give your money to the poor, but the poor you always have with you, follow me and you’ll get crucified. The world will hate you, because it hated me.” He never said make the world a better place.
And so I do believe that if we actually connected our inner lives to the spirit that created them, I do believe that the world, if a lot of us did that, I think the world would become a better place. But I’m not holding my breath. And I think that that means that your responsibility is first to that spirit that you were given. And I mean, I think that the whole problem with Ayn Rand is her absolute rank materialism judges people on their constructs, on the things that they build, that thing you mentioned where Rearden says your lover is a better lover than me. I mean, you notice that men in Ayn Rand are always raping women. There’s no other word for it. And the women are always just absolutely loving it. And I think that her view of human nature is fascist. I mean, she’s a fascist. And I think that her view is empty, it’s unappealing. And I think the more we lean into it, the more we lose any possibility of converting those who are looking at the woke left and thinking, this is nonsense.
I mean, look, the important thing is left-wingers and right-wingers are not any better than one another as people, right? I believe that the right’s general philosophy as represented by the declaration and the constitution is a better philosophy, a more useful philosophy, more conducive to human thriving as they say. But I understand that if the right had the cultural power the left has, we’d be making a lot of the same mistakes as they are. I would just like to see that happen so we can correct the curve a little bit.
But yeah, this is the whole thing, Inez. If we don’t understand, if we don’t understand that our spirits are what the world is about, that we are spirits and not just animals, I don’t understand how we can build anything, but a zoo. If we are animals, how can we build anything but a kind of mechanical zoo? It really is that conflict that’s represented in science fiction. And in the book, I talk about Mary Shelley, because she invented science fiction with Frankenstein, it’s represented science fiction by that conflict between machines and men, whether you’re talking about Terminator or the Matrix, there’s always this kind of threat that machinery itself will do the job of living better than we can do it. And of course a machine can live better than we can live, except it can’t live at all because it has no inner life.
And that’s the important thing. We don’t put that first if we don’t understand, again, if we don’t understand that Inez walking down the street is an act of creation, her experience is an act of creation, her perceptions are an act of creation, if we don’t understand that act of creation is what she is here to do and it is the representative of her creator continuing his work through her, if we don’t understand that, then we don’t know how to live, we don’t know how to live.
And I look at people, before the shutdowns and COVID and everything, I was making a lot of speeches at colleges and I used to get up toward the end and I would say to people, I’m an older guy when I look at you, especially women, especially women who I think are at the center of this for a lot of reasons we haven’t discussed yet, but I think women are at the center of it. I said a lot of the young women I see are miserable. And I said, if I’m wrong, please, when I’m finished with my speech, get up and tell me I’m wrong and explain to me what I’m missing.
Not once did any woman stand up and tell me I was wrong, the opposite, they lined up to tell me how miserable they were. And I think that is indicative of the fact that women who are more connected to people than men are have been taught and told that that is a weakness in them, that their love of children is a weakness in them that their role as creators of not just a physical life, but of moral and spiritual life is a secondary role. That is part of this march of materialism toward a sort of Matrix-like world where we’re nothing but batteries feeding machines. That’s the world that we have to opt out of if we want to live. And when I say live, I mean truly live.
You’re actually leading where I wanted to go next, because I wanted to ask you if the devaluing of this inner life that the poets that you wrote about in this book felt so strongly important. Is it connected to the devaluing of femininity? Because it seems to me that a lot of what you just said is true, that women are more fulfilled than I can give you the brain science to back this up, but I shouldn’t have to, it should be just obvious when you look around that women tend to find fulfillment in interpersonal relationships more so than men, which is not to say that men don’t value interpersonal relationships, but men also get a great amount of fulfillment from building what you would call the material, right? Like to point to something and say, I’ve built that seems to fulfill men more than women, which is not to, again, this is not like a didactic preaching thing. And this just seems to be an observation. There are exceptions on both sides.
But if the inner life is less important than the material or on the flip side, as you started out talking about it, it’s everything, but essentially on a whim. It seems like we’ve collapsed femininity into something that is sort of childish and saccharin in a way that makes it very, very unappealing. Like even to somebody like me who is, I call myself an antifeminist, a lot of times I have people say, well, actually conservatives come to me and they talk about like essentially the ’50s or this kind of, I think you referenced Doris Day, right? This is like Doris Day style femininity that they want to champion. And that also seems to me to be in some way unappealing or flat.
I think there’s probably a reason that we launched feminism and all of its modern destructions out of the 1950s that it didn’t come about by accident, that actually this vision of femininity is constricting in a more fundamental way to women as human beings and not as I think we just got it wrong. It’s not about the difference of sex differences and the fact that men and women live different lives, but it’s that women do have this inner life and they do have important questions and thoughts and to collapse femininity into a Doris Day sort of saccharin childish image has always seemed to me almost like just the flip side of trying to make women more masculine. We’ve collapsed masculinity as well into something that’s flat and unappealing.
Yeah. Well, this is one of the, I think, one of the most important chapters in The Truth and Beauty is about Mary Shelley. And when you say talk about feminism, her mother was the protofeminist, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote the “Justification of the Rights of Women.” And she was coming up right at this moment when the Industrial Revolution was taking hold. If you go back, I mean, just playing off what you just said about the reduction of femininity, the reduction of to a childlike quality, you go back and read Proverbs 31.
This is the thing that evangelicals are always talking about, oh, I want a Proverbs 31 woman, I want a Proverbs 31 woman. And it starts, who can describe a virtuous woman whose price is worth more than rubies, you go back and look at it, she’s not a Doris Day character. She’s a business woman, she is a complete person, she’s trading land, she’s growing an orchard, she’s feeding her family, she’s doing all these things, all of which was taken away from her by the Industrial Revolution. All the home industries were destroyed by the Industrial Revolution. And they used to call women distaff because of distaff was a thing you use for making clothes. Well, making clothes was a major, major industry and life is very hard when you don’t have clothes, especially out in the weather. So making clothes was a huge deal.
Especially for women for all kinds of reasons.
Yeah. Especially for women. Yes, exactly. Exactly. So the distaff was like an important business to be a part of running a home was a major thing. The factories not only took those jobs away, it also took the children away off to factories in the city from which they didn’t return, which made them less valuable than they had been because they used to run the farm after you became too old and they used to become, they were called the poor men’s wealth, children were called the poor men’s wealth. So here were women who were producing the poor men’s wealth. And now suddenly that wealth was worth much less. The reaction to that was to spiritualize women’s task. So suddenly in the Victorian era, you get what was called the Angel in the House, which was like almost like fantasy character. I quote some of the poetry that’s written about her is so bad, but it’s like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Rules the World was one of them. And yet there still was the need for this spiritual role of motherhood, but their role as a socially important person had been stripped away.
So Mary Shelley is this 18, 19 year old girl who’s run off with a poet who believes in free love and believes that marriage is trash as her mother believed, as her father, a famous philosopher, also believed, she’s hanging out with Byron, who’s sleeping with everything, male and female that he can get his hands on. And she has children out of wedlock and they die. And Shelley’s wife that he abandoned for her kills herself. And she’s sitting there and she adored Shelley. I mean, as she adored her father, she adored Shelley. She’s a very feminine lady. She’s looking for somebody, she’s looking for a man in her life. And unfortunately she picks Shelley.
And she comes up with this horror story about a man who creates a living human being, Frankenstein. And a lot of people say, and including Mary, she says this herself, that it’s a story about what happens when man tries to usurp the role of God by creating life. But men and women create life all the time. So he’s not usurping the role of God. He’s usurping the role of women. He’s creating a motherless creature. And the motherlessness of this creature underlies the entire book. You can pick out the passages where his motherlessness is what is turning this creature into a monster.
And ultimately, what does he come to Frankenstein and say? He says, build me a woman, build me an Eve so that I can be a human being too. And this idea, many of the romantic poets lost their mothers young. Keats is said to have crawled under a table when he heard that his mother had died, Wordsworth’s whole life fell apart when his parents died. And Wordsworth writes this incredibly beautiful and prescient passage in his autobiographical poem, The Prelude, in which he says that in the interaction between an infant and his mother, and they thought about infants and their mothers all the time, they are very obsessed with this. He said, this is where the child becomes a human being, in the love that he takes from her, the world becomes animate to him with love. He begins to understand the world as a loving thing and he becomes creative through this interaction.
This turns out, I don’t want to say this has been scientifically proven and therefore it’s true. It was true when Wordsworth said. It’s now got a scientific analog that we know the children are born with these things called neurons in their brain and the interaction between the mother’s eyes and the child’s eyes brings these neurons to life and gives the child individuality, which he doesn’t have when he’s born. When he’s born, he’s almost just in his own self, he’s almost just a part of the mother. So now we understand that motherhood is actually not just the role of turning matter into life. It’s actually the role of turning life into humanity. And so it is essential.
And one of the hopeful things that is on offer right now is that computers and this internet age have brought the possibility of home industries back. So that the thing that was taken away by technology may be restored by technology and women can live that full life that they lived before. There’s a wonderful story about the explorer named Mungo, who went to Africa, one of the first Europeans to go into Africa. And he just had a terrible time. He was beaten, he was robbed, he was stripped of everything. And he was discovered almost dead by these women. And they took him into their home and took care of him. And they would all weave clothes together and they would sing songs. They would make up songs. And he realized that the songs they were singing was the poor white man, no mother has he, no one to make his food, no one to give him clothes.
And they understood that they were essential, they weren’t just these Doris Day kind of flibbertigibbets who cried easily. They were actually the backbone of their civilization. They understood that what was missing in this poor white who had turned up on their doorstep was women, was there was no one to take care of him.
And so while I sympathize with the feminism, the reasons for feminism, I think that it has lost its purpose. What happens to all leftists, all materialists, actually, all materialist philosophy starts out attacking something and ends up adopting it. So they started out by saying, well, women are important too and ended up by saying, well, women should be men and then they’ll be important. If women act like men, they’ll be important. If women can fight like men, if they can screw like men, if they can have careers like men, then, then, then, then they will be important, not if we build a world in which women can have full lives as women, which would be a totally different thing.
So that’s where the thing goes wrong. Yes, there was a problem, yes, the problem needed to be fixed, yes, we want women to have full rights to choose the path that they take, but that doesn’t mean they’re choosing right when they choose feminism. I think they’re not. I think they’ve made themselves miserable. And so this is a moment in time when the Industrial Revolution had essentially destroyed and lowered the worth of women as women.
Moving to this time when actually technology has restored the possibility of that complete life that women had before and it’s just going to be a question of whether women choose to say, you know what? We’re not sword fighters, we’re not military people, and as you say, of course. One of the things I was talking about this recently that the left has done is they’ve made it impossible for us to generalize, they’ve taught us the generalization is a personal insult. So if I say, well, men are stronger than women, I’m going to get a letter from somebody saying, well, my sister-in-law could beat that crap. And you go like, yes, but still the generalization holds true. If I say human beings are two-legged creatures, somebody writes to me and says, “Well, my son only has one leg, is he not a human being?” Yes, he is. But human beings are two-legged creatures.
And so the things that I’m saying of course are generalizations, but they’re important generalizations because the mother, father bind, the mother, father, family is what a free society rests on. It can rest on nothing else. It is where the humanity of people come from, it is where their inner lives become creative, it is where they learn the discipline that you need to be free. And the left, because they don’t want us to be free, has done everything they can to destroy that discipline.
We really live under a tyranny of exceptions in many ways.
And it really does cripple our thinking. I find even, and I like consciously trying to train it out of my thinking, but we even cripple internally, it cripples us how we, because I think our brains are pattern recognition machines, it’s literally what we do best in terms of thought is recognizing and generalizing from the particular patterns into something more generally applicable. And it’s almost like we’re training ourselves not to do that and to be tyrannized by the fact that somewhere on the tail end, there is someone who this doesn’t apply to. And of course the purpose of a free society is in part to allow the exceptions to exist and not to coerce the exceptions into the general rule.
But it seems like we’re almost living in the reverse where we’re incapable of putting forward any general rule or any general observation for the betterment of society that it’s generally good for people to live in a particular way. We’re incapable of saying that because there are exceptions. And in doing so, we create demand for exceptions, right? And I think that’s very much what you’re talking about with women being miserable. We create a demand for the like ass-kicking woman that is held up in Hollywood as the only standard. But the reality is most women, I’m not saying there are no women like that, but most women aren’t happy living that way.
And the right falls for it every single time, by the way, the right says, well, our women can kick ass better than your women. It’s like, it is absurd. It starts, I think, with Nietzsche, his idea that’s society is not a good place until every possible exception is accommodated. But if you go back to the great Plato, Aristotle divide that marks almost all of Western thought, it’s a divide over the uses and possibilities of form, the things that make things collectible that what makes a chair a chair and not a desk. Why can I say that that is what it is? It’s you can’t have science without that, you can’t have medicine unless doctors can generalize about symptoms and say, they fall into this category, which we will now name a disease. You can’t do anything. You can’t move without form.
And funnily enough, almost paradoxically enough, tolerance of difference depends on a strong central core. And if you have a society of families, of mom and dad families, and somebody comes along and he’s gay, you can live with that. But if what you’re going to do is celebrate every various form of sexuality that might flicker through the mind of a seven year old, you are going to find that you don’t have the core that will support the tolerance that you want.
Yeah. And famously as Paglia wrote, it also destroys the exception to make it. It destroys for, specifically, she wrote about like the erotic, right? It destroys erotic to make it mainstream. She famously loved Madonna, but she thought that MTV was right to ban her. She wrote that great column. And then I think in the New York Times, back when the New York Times published things that were interesting, but essentially saying, this is a fantastic piece of pornography. It shouldn’t be on MTV. We have totally lost the ability to make those kinds of distinctions.
But Andrew Klavan, thank you so much for coming on High Noon. I know you must have plenty of wisdom, not only that because of what you’ve shared with us today, but because if somebody can be judged by the way that their kids turned out, that that kid that isn’t actually your kid on social media, he’s pretty great too, Spencer. He’s a remarkable man too.
Thank you so much.
You must have done a lot of things wise and right in your life.
Well, thank you so much for coming on and sharing this hour with us on High Noon 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, iwf.org, YouTube or wherever else you get your podcast. Be brave. We’ll see you next time on High Noon.