This week on High Noon, Inez speaks with Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, in some quarters better known by his initials, PEG. Gobry and Stepman discuss how free markets can be used as a tool for higher goods rather than an end in themselves, and whether atomization, aimlessness, and falling fertility rates are inevitable consequences of modernity or phenomena with a more proximate cause. They also chat about differences between his native France and the United States, the home team gets in a little French ribbing.

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.


TRANSCRIPT

Inez Stepman:

Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. I’m really pleased this time to have on Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry. He writes about religion, culture, politics, economics, business, and technology. He is a fellow over at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. But you’ve seen his work in Forbes, The Week, even The Atlantic; they used to let you write your heresies in The Atlantic. I know they’ve gone considerably-

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

They’ve changed a lot.

Inez Stepman:

I don’t want to say left.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Let’s just put it that way. They’ve changed a lot.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I don’t even want to say they’ve gone more left because they were always left, but they’ve gotten more intolerant as of late. But you’ve seen his writing around, and then you’ve also seen him on Twitter as PEG, pegobry on Twitter. He has a very active and interesting Twitter account. So welcome, Pascal, to High Noon.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s exciting.

Inez Stepman:

One of the things I really wanted to ask you…. So one of the things I should have said in your bio is that you live in France.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

That’s correct.

Inez Stepman:

So you are a Frenchman.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Yes.

Inez Stepman:

I wanted to ask, because one of the most interesting things about your work to me has been some of your comparisons between the various political systems and then economics of France and America. And one of the things I found really interesting is you come out somewhere in the middle, right? Where you have some critiques of potentially like sort of conservative view or maybe you would call it a libertarian view in America that focuses on GDP growth above all, that focuses on perhaps some aspects — or places economic growth above family formation and some other goods that you are concerned about as a conservative.

But on the other hand, you’ve written critiques of, for example, the French socialist healthcare system, you’ve written critiques of aspects of the French economy that you think are too socialist, so you seem like very sort of measured and in the middle on this common good economics question. I mean, could you give us a 10,000-foot view of what you think the goods that the economic world should pursue? What would be a good economic policy on the 10- or 30,000-foot level that has some free-market aspects but focuses on things that aren’t just GDP growth.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

I thought you were going to say 10,000 words. I was like, yes, I can speak for an hour uninterrupted. No, that’s a really good topic. I mean, part of the problem is that people think there’s like a one-dimensional spectrum where it’s like you either have more government and less markets, or more markets and less government, and the only thing you can do is move that switch that’s lighter, and I don’t think that’s how it works. There are places where France is more free-market than America; there are places where America is more socialist than France. One of my favorite statistics to quote is that government spending on health care as a percentage of GDP is higher in the U.S. than in France. And so for those of us who remember the Obamacare debate, when everybody on the left was talking about how France is this socialist healthcare paradise, America’s healthcare system is more socialist than France.

So if you’re going to compare and say, well, if America were to imitate France more, that would mean becoming more free market. If you’re on Medicare, your health care is “more socialized” than the average French person’s health care. Because France, it’s a mix of government and private insurance. You basically have both. So that’s ones that I love to quote because most people in the U.S. have no idea that, you know, they think of French health care, they think socialism. They think of American health care, they think free market. And actually, I mean, it’s not the opposite, but…so that’s just one example. I mean, the 10,000-foot view, I would just say my hero Tucker Carlson got in a lot of trouble when he said the following sentence: “The free market is a tool.” I don’t understand how anybody can disagree with that assessment.

Like the market, economics, like the economic world is not an end. It’s a means for human flourishing, which is the end we want to accomplish as a society. One of the means for us to have human flourishing as a society is economic prosperity, market exchange, private business, all of which are very good, but it’s not an end in itself. It’s a means to accomplish human flourishing. Part of human flourishing means that people live, that they have jobs, that there’s economic activity and so on, but that’s not the only dimension of human flourishing. And so my 10,000-foot view of the matter is that I think that politics is primary over economics. I think that the job of government is to ensure that most of the people in society have a flourishing life. And most of the time, that involves getting out of the way, maybe; but not always, not every time. That’s just the way I see it. I would note that that’s the way almost every government in the history of humanity has worked; even the government of the United States in the 19th century was not a libertarian utopia. If you look at how the railways were built in the U.S. in the 19th century, it was private sector entrepreneurs, sure, with government-backed loans, so it was already “socialist.”

The other 10,000-foot view thing I would say is that I hate the word capitalism because how do you define capitalism? If you define private ownership of goods and services and market exchange, then literally every society in the history of the planet has been “capitalist” except for Stalinist Russia and Maoist China and North Korea. It’s a Cold War word. It’s like a word that was only relevant between 1945 and 1989. Because other than that, apart from communism, every society has had private ownership of capital and market exchange. So clearly, private ownership and market exchange are part of human nature; it’s what humans do. It’s like in prison, people start using cigarettes as currency. It’s just part of humans living in society; they will exchange things for money, and they will build things and consider this their private property. So anytime somebody says, oh, capitalism is great, or oh, capitalism is bad. I mean, humans will be capitalist anyway. The question is, what kind of capitalism? What particular system do you have? I think that the debate of whether it’s capitalism good versus capitalism bad, I think that’s a red herring. I don’t know. I think I’ve gone on for like a very long time.

Inez Stepman:

That’s what podcasts are for. It seems like what one of the things you’re saying here is there isn’t really, because people set up capitalist exchanges, the question is what vessel is created by society that might be partially government or might be partially not governmental? But what vessel is shaping the direction of those exchanges, right? That these exchanges don’t happen in a vacuum, that there’s not like some abstract whiteboard behind where everybody starts at zero and like we build the system in this purely free-market way. In fact, these exchanges are happening in a variety of systems, and the shape of capitalism in a country fits, ends up filling or fitting certain contours, whether intentional or unintentional, I’m guessing. There are probably plenty of those contours that are unintentional.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Right. Yeah. I mean, the other thing is capitalism rests on the bedrock of culture. I just want to tell two stories that I think are super revealing. One of them, I believe — I don’t want to rip this up — I believe it was originally told by Megan McArdle on her blog. But this may be wrong, and I’m probably going to get the details wrong. But I think it was her or a friend of hers who went to Russia in the ’90s to report or whatever, or to work. And this person shows up to his hotel, has a reservation, and shows up to the front desk and says, “I have a reservation. My name is so and so,” and the hotel guy says, “Oh yeah, we canceled your reservation.” “What do you mean you canceled my reservation?” “Somebody offered to pay more for the room.”

And so here’s this guy in 1990s Russia with nowhere to stay at night because somebody… You know, the guy was outraged, like “That’s not how it works. Like, if I have a reservation, I have a reservation.” The guy was like, “What? Russia is capitalist now. Somebody offered to pay more for your room, so we gave it to him.” Like you can say, well, once you have a capitalist system, over time, hotels recognize that it’s terrible for their brand if they screw people like that, and so on and so forth. But realistically, what happens is that capitalism works on a bedrock of culture, where people have a cultural…. They’re sort of brought into certain habits of fair dealing and so on and so forth. Capitalism in Afghanistan is not the same thing as capitalism in New Zealand, you know what I mean? The second story I like to use, which is a true story because it happened to me, so I know that one a lot better, was when I went to Switzerland. Because part of my family is Swiss, and Switzerland, it’s like the closest thing to libertarian utopia.

And so I went to visit with friends who have a house there in the countryside, absolutely magnificent. It’s in this village. One of the things I found out when I went there is that there’s a private road. Because it goes up, and essentially farmers went to the city and said, “Could you build a road up there so we can reach our fields?” And the city said, “No, that’s too expensive.” Which already, if you’re French, you’re like in science fiction land. What do you mean?

Inez Stepman:

There wasn’t a strike on the road.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

And so the farmers said, “Well, okay, fine. We’ll just build the road.” And they did. They pulled together a bunch of money and they built the road. I love this story because it’s like the anti-libertarian story. It’s like, who’s going to build the roads? It’s like, you can build private roads. I saw one. I was on one. I touched it with my feet. And so private roads exist, and there’s a toll, and you have to pay the toll because it’s a private road. But here’s the interesting part of the story: when I went there with my friends, so we had to use this road and there wasn’t the toll, the toll booth. And so my friend who is my relative who’s driving stopped the car and spent 10 minutes looking for the little box where you put your money because it’s not a toll with a barrier. It’s like a little box on the side of the road and people put in their money. And it had sort of fallen because of the wind into the ground. And so he spent 10 minutes looking for it.

I usually, I think of myself as an honest citizen, but after five minutes of sitting at the side of this road in the countryside, I was going like, “Look, we looked for it. It’s not there. Let’s just go.” But he was like, “No, you have to pay.” We went in. And so he spent 10 minutes looking for this thing, and once he found it, he put his money in. The point of the story is the private road can only work in a place like Switzerland where people are culturally ingrained so that they’re going to spend 10 minutes looking for the thing where they have to pay. Right?

You could not build that road in France, not just because it would be illegal, but because if you actually wanted to make it operate, you would have to have a barrier, and you would have to have a person in a toll booth getting paid because nobody’s going to put the money in the box in their own initiative in France, no way. But in Switzerland, they will. In Switzerland, nobody, there’s no camera, there’s nothing. They just follow the rule out of their own accord because that’s the way they were brought up. That’s the culture in Switzerland. And so the point is, whatever we call the free-market capitalism and so on and so forth, it only exists on a bedrock of strong cultural values. I guess what I want to say is that this theory that you just need to remove government and the free market will magically sort of fill the gap and create amazing things. Like, yes, sometimes that’s true — and sometimes you get 1990s Russia. It really depends.

Inez Stepman:

I mean, I guess the rejoinder there from, I don’t even want to say libertarians, but free-marketeers. But usually there’s a second half to that equation, which is property rights protected. Even libertarians will say that it’s necessary to have a government that protects property rights. I don’t know if that covers necessarily your room reservation, because depends on whether you gain a property right.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

That’s a very interesting [inaudible 00:16:02] question. You have a property right or room reservation.

Inez Stepman:

I mean, I would say that even the most libertarian, unless they’re like anarchist, most libertarians would also acknowledge that you need the government to protect property rights, they would say, but that’s it. Right? You’ve advocated for more interventionistic policies, and correct me if I’m wrong, like to actively try to, for example, build up the family, to raise fertility rates, those kinds of policies. That seems to me to require an additional argument on top of what you’re giving about 1990s Russia. Because fundamentally, it’s a kleptocracy. At least nobody serious thinks about like Ethiopia or places where there’s truly no actual enforcement of government and there’s no monopoly on violence that are the basics and there’s no enforcement of basic property rights. Those may be “capitalist,” but I think that’s more of a socialist rejoinder than anything.

Oh, like if you want to live in free markets, go to Ethiopia. I mean, would acknowledge that the government comes in and enforces property rights, sets rules of the road, enforces certain statutes against fraud, right. These are really basic, even common law constructions. You’re right, they’re cultural to the extent that the common law developed in a particular place and spread from the anglosphere to America. So I’m not disagreeing with you, but it seems to me that you need to add something additional to get from a minimal enforcement of property rights to, okay, we actually need to use the free market as a tool towards particular ends that we think are important.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Yeah. I mean, to the point about Russia, the thing is that the people in the early ’90s who talked to the Russian government into enacting those policies. They thought this, they thought that the night-watchman state would work. Today of course, you would say, oh, you know, there’s no government at all. It’s anarchy. That’s not the same thing as capitalism because capitalism implies the rule of law, blah, blah, blah. It’s true. But that’s not what people thought at the time; people at the time thought, well, we just need to get government out of the way, and it will magically turn into Hong Kong, and it didn’t. That’s just what I would say there. With regard to pro-family policy, I mean, I would say a couple things. There’s a theoretical principle thing, and then there’s a practical thing.

The theoretical thing is that — I don’t really know how to put this. I’ve lost my libertarian-to-human-being dictionary. Sorry. At some point, if human thriving…. If the only version that of human thriving that you’re able to conceive of is the totally liberated human being and that the only thing that you require of him of life is that the government does not infringe upon his rights, full stop, I don’t really know what to say to you. If you don’t think of supporting families as like a good in itself, as like an intrinsically valuable thing, as valuable as national security. You know, why is there the Pentagon? Why have the military? Well, because without it, you don’t have anything else. Because if you don’t have the military, then other people will come and take your country, and you won’t have a country.

Well, why support families? Because if you don’t have families that are able to have a prosperous life, and if people don’t have children, then what’s the point of being a country? Like literally, I’m not saying everybody should have a family, but it’s pretty demonstrably the case that that’s what most people want out of life primarily. And so if they’re not having it, and you have this ideology that says, well, we can’t do anything about it because freedom, then I think your ideology is bad.

The practical point is that birth rates are collapsing all over the world. And so what was once a theoretical argument is becoming like an existential threat like literally. If people stop having children, certainly Europe and America will go extinct, potentially all of humanity will go extinct. Because apart from Sub-Saharan Africa, there is the entire world. Apart from Sub-Saharan Africa and Israel, the entire world is below-replacement fertility. The Middle East, Asia, Russia, Europe, North America, South America. And Sub-Saharan Africa is on the same trajectory as everybody else. They’re just behind. The curve is the same, so just have to assume that at some point they will also be at like 1.1 children per woman. So what is going on?

Inez Stepman:

That was the question I wanted to ask you.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

[inaudible 00:22:39] America or Canada or whatever, you’re looking at potentially the end of your nation within the lifetime of your grandchildren. That’s not a theoretical argument, that’s a survival argument. We need to figure out some way for people to make more kids. We need to figure that out soon because otherwise, everything was built. Sorry to sound like a crazy person, but what’s the point of having an Eiffel Tower? What’s the point of having the Statue of Liberty if a hundred years from now it’s just going to be ruins around it with like feral animals? Maybe not a hundred years from now, maybe 150, but that’s, I mean.

Inez Stepman:

I have two questions back to this.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

There are no human beings anymore, and then that’s it.

Inez Stepman:

No, no. I agree about the larger point. I guess I have two questions back: one, I didn’t realize how uniform that collapse in fertility was. So that warrants some kind of broader explanation beyond perhaps some narrow economic or perhaps it’s like macroeconomic explanation. And then the second aspect of this is to what extent this is, whatever that macro explanation is, because it’s interesting. I definitely tend more towards the cultural explanations, but this is a big rejoinder to how I’ve been thinking about it. Because I’ve been thinking about it more as atomization and the rise of, actually that we got — to the extent economics plays into this — we got to a certain level of decadence and prosperity that we started to have this existential crisis. But I mean, that really, and maybe that still is the explanation, but if it is, it’s not just a crisis of the less then. It’s a broader human crisis about what the purpose is, to your point, about what the purpose is about having an Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty? What the purpose of our existence as a species is? And whether or not we can actually muster the will to defend it.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Yeah. I mean, it is very real, the decline of fertility. I mean, the figures are undeniable, and it’s very revealing that most people even on the right don’t know about it. At any time before 1965, 1975, it would’ve been considered like a national emergency. It would be the first thing on top of newspapers, in terms of existential threats like what the left thinks climate change is, this is actually it. Or at least, conceivably. Certainly, we should be talking about it a lot more. And in terms of what’s causing it. I mean, you know, you can go to some crazy corners of the internet. They have theories. There definitely seems to be a cultural aspect of it. I mean, women’s fertility starts declining at around 25, which nobody tells young women.

And so most young women think that if they start trying to have children at age 30 or 35, it’ll be like this, and it turns out it’s not. So that’s definitely cultural. Or they can’t find a partner or get married before that age because of all of the post sexual revolution stuff. But there are also biological things like the decline of sperm counts in men, the decline of testosterone levels in men. You can go on and on, the xenoestrogens in the water and stuff like that, which is real, by the way. I thought it was crazy, but you can Google the EPA reports. It’s absolutely completely officially true that there’s estrogen in the water we drink. And it is actually turning the frogs gay. Well, it’s not turning them gay. It’s turning them hermaphrodite. This is actually true. It’s creating hermaphrodite frog and other small pond animals because of the estrogen in the water. It’s actually true.

So it seems to be some sort of combination of cultural and biological and with maybe some sort of chicken and egg thing. Because of course, the fewer children people have, the less friendly to children society is, right? From small things to how tolerant people are of children at restaurants and things like that, to big things like what’s the constituency for pro-family policy. Obviously, if most people have zero to 1.1 children, the politics of pro-family policy or pro-natalist policy are different from a country where lots and lots of people have three or four children.

Inez Stepman:

It’s interesting. Actually, one of the things that I remember liking about France — I’ve been a few times, but one of the times was invited by a Catholic education group because I worked in education policy for the last 10 years, to present basically on American education reforms and stuff like at one of those very neoliberal sort of exchanges across the Atlantic. But one of the things that really struck me was we would go to chic restaurants in Paris. Most of the people involved in this were let’s say from 25 through like 40. We would go to chic restaurants, and you would see people eating with their families. Like it’s not as culturally segregated as the U.S. where I feel like, if you’re going to a nice restaurant, people just do not bring their kids even if they have their kids. They just don’t bring their kids because that’s not considered an appropriate forum for children. And on the flip side, none of those kids were running around like smearing stuff on the walls either. But it struck me, actually, as something very healthy about France. Actually, this is another thing I wanted to ask you about, given your background. It seems to me like that was one thing that I thought was very healthy about French culture that actually people were still taking, there wasn’t this sharp divide between child rearing and the rest of life.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Yeah, that sounds right.

Inez Stepman:

But the second thing that I wanted to ask you about French culture is why do you think the French, because it seems to me that there’s still some vitality left in French culture in a way that oftentimes in many European countries, at least that I’ve visited, there isn’t. There is that sense that the French still like themselves. Now whether everyone else likes them or not, maybe a different question. But at least the French still like themselves and they seem to be less captured by this kind of crisis of Western self-confidence where Americans are always concerned with the worst sins of America. The UK is the same way. Germany, perhaps for better reason or more recent reasons, is consumed with their own failures. Right. And it seems like the French are at least somewhat exempt from that, that actually they seem still quite confident that they have a good culture and they deserve to exist. Which seems so basic, but it seems like, in a lot of the West, that’s not the case anymore.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Yeah. I mean, relatively speaking, that’s true. I mean, a lot of the same pathologies that are everywhere in the West and in Europe are in France. But relatively speaking, it’s true. As to why that, I mean, I remember, just take one example. I took my daughter shopping for comics, and we went to a comic bookstore yesterday or before, last weekend. I noticed that there’s huge wing of history comic books. And so you have comic books about Napoleon, you have comic books about Dougal, you have comic books about medieval knights and stuff like that. When I went to the children’s books sections of bookstores in the U.S., it’s all anti-racist baby. It’s not George Washington comic book. Right?

It is true to a certain extent. If you want to ask me why, I don’t know, we’re amazing. No, I honestly don’t have a strong theory of why the French are more culturally confident than most other countries. I mean, it really does seem to be in our blood. I mean, that was the stereotype about the French 300 years ago and it’s still the stereotype about the French that we’re just in love with our own culture, and with good reason for it, to be honest. So I guess that’s just the way we are.

I mean, what I sort of wonder about is, is it actually real, or is it just that we’re on a time delay versus the rest of the world? And I don’t know. I don’t know. A big part of it — I do have one thing to point out — a big part of it is that, but it’s sort of a chicken and the egg thing, but our elites are better educated. Because you still have to, if you want to get a degree, you still have to study humanities and classics and things like that in most cases. And so it helps that elites are more culturally literate here in terms of having read old books and things like that. And so they have more of an understanding of what it is that they’re losing and that’s just no longer the case in the U.S. In the U.S., if you want to get into Harvard, you’ve got to have great grades, great SAT scores, but nobody cares if you’ve read Dante. Probably you have to read Shakespeare, I guess, to get good grades in English. No?

Inez Stepman:

No, not really. The entire core…. Well, part of it, it’s just very difficult to compare because of course the famous phrase, when I was over there dealing with the ed stuff, was the minister of education should be able to look at his clock and know what every French second grader is learning. Your system is very, very centralized in a way that the United States I think fortunately is not. I think it works in France, but U.S. is many times bigger and many times more separated and attenuated, but that’s part of it. Right. You can fight over the curriculum because the curriculum is centralized. But that also leads to downsides like homeschooling basically being borderline illegal in France. Somebody will come to your door and check that you are teaching the appropriate view on the French Revolution to your child.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Well, I mean, it used to be legal. It was banned by Macron a couple of years ago, which I’m still furious about.

Inez Stepman:

I guess one of the things I wanted to ask you about is also because you have this view of the free market as a tool, but as a useful one, right? It seems like in some ways, the two halves of what you’re talking about with the fertility rate crisis and this confidence, and you’re very prolific on the sexual revolution as well on Twitter. I have some insights there. But it seems like the focus on economics — and this has always been my objection. It’s not that I object practically to, for example, taking a look at child tax credits or looking at how we can construct an economy that also maybe tamps down on some of the atomizing and individualizing tendencies over time of capital-L Liberalism. But at the same time, it does seem to me that there’s some non-materialist aspect to this at all. Right? There’s the inevitability of it that bothers me of this argument that like, okay, we had the Middle Ages and the high point of the Catholic church, and that philosophy, let’s say, of my friend Sohrab or Patrick Deneen or Adrian Vermeule. And then we had the Protestant Reformation, enlightenment, rationalism, and liberalism, and inevitably from John Locke.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

And it’s been downhill since the 13th century, all downhill.

Inez Stepman:

That strikes me as so didactic and almost Marxist, in its view not in its economics, actually, but in its view that there’s all the sort of ups and downs and the changeability of culture and civilizations and history and human beings is condensed to this materialist line that just goes. There’s an endpoint to history. They just think it’s not the social justice endpoint. They think the end point to the entire enlightenment is the atomization of the individual. I’m much more skeptical of that straight-line thing. It seems to me that there’s a lot that came out of the 1960s, for example, that didn’t have to inevitably develop in the West but did.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Right. Yeah. I mean, that’s also my argument with Deneen who I obviously respect. The Catholic integralist world is sort of small. I don’t know if I would describe myself as an integralist. I’m sort of one foot in, one foot out. It’s easy to mock. I mean, obviously I’m French, so I don’t believe it’s all been downhill since the 13th century, but it’s all been downhill since the 17th century. I mean, if you ask me what I think, I think that you had this sort of amazing arc of Western civilization for a thousand years, from the time of Charlemagne to World War I, let’s say. That’s a thousand years.

Inez Stepman:

Two very French points, by the way to pick, both on either end. Right?

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Well, I mean, we really are the most important country in the world, culturally, anyway. You had like important moments throughout the arc. I do think that you can learn a lot from the Middle Ages, even today. I do think that. I do think that Thomas Aquinas is still relevant as a political philosopher, absolutely. I think that you can learn about medieval guilds on how do you have a society where people have an economic safety net but it’s not big government programs. I think that’s absolutely relevant. But also, was it like the unsurpassable golden age and that the goal of life is to return to 1215, no, that doesn’t really make sense.

I think you can learn from that. I think you can learn from the Renaissance. I think you can learn from the early modern era. I think you can learn from the era of fastest technological growth was the late 19th century. I definitely think there’s a lot to learn from that, even though it was an era that was already pretty liberal by my standards. The late 19th century was way too progressive for me, but I still think you can learn from it. And of course, I’m somewhat joking. But I don’t know if that answers your question, but anyway, no, I don’t believe that the 13th century was the golden age. Everything, absolutely everything has been downhill from there. No, I don’t believe that.

Inez Stepman:

No, no, I guess that’s not really… I meant, the more serious argument they’re making — and maybe I was being a little bit tongue in cheek about it — but the more serious argument they’re making is that there is no way to have a liberal system that doesn’t end in this kind of atomization that I think at this point the left and the right, or at least certain parts of the left recognize as if not the problem of modernity, at least in the top three. It’s sort of partially a political problem, partially a theological problem. Right. I guess I’m objecting to the inevitability of liberalism going that way.

Especially, I guess, the sexual revolution to me seems a more relevant turning point than, for example, Thomas Jefferson, right. We had, in this country, we had 150 years or more where we didn’t really have this progressive view of human sexuality, and we were able to have a kind of political liberty and an enlightenment structure. That’s not to say, obviously, that there weren’t major problems, but every country faces, every generation has some kind of political crisis, but that wasn’t ours. Right. I don’t think you could fairly say that during the time of the founding or even well into the 19th century, the crisis of America was that we were atomized. In fact, the opposite — starting with the great French observer, right, Alexis de Tocqueville — we had a very, very robust civic society, very, very strong families. I mean, the founding period, it’s amazing how many kids they had.

And because America was incredibly prosperous relative to the time, and people could afford all of a sudden to have 10 or 12 or 15 kids and they did. It doesn’t seem to me that those things have to go together, that this kind of political liberty or the enlightenment structure surrounding individual rights, so natural rights, this entire edifice of the enlightenment or even, for that matter, democracy, small-r republicanism, all of those developments. It seems to me we had all of those things and not this problem of atomization. And that this atomization really accelerated and became a massive problem only actually in the 1960s or ’70s. So it seems to me that that calls out for a different explanation than, well, Thomas Jefferson said, “All men are created equal,” and therefore now we believe that there’s no distribution of talents among men. Right. This doesn’t ring true to me as a matter of history.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Yeah. Well, I mean, all men are created equal was not a smart thing. Pursuit of happiness was even worse.

Inez Stepman:

[inaudible 00:44:09].

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

I know some people who will say, oh, by happiness, he meant virtue like Aristotle. No, he didn’t. I mean, I agree with everything you’ve just said, or at least I remember a time when I would’ve said the same thing. And it’s not that I disagree, it’s that it’s sort of become moot. Basically, if you go back to, let’s say 2005 or whatever, ascendant, religious, first things, fusionist, conservatism. Even then, everybody would have agreed that liberalism can have this atomizing effect and this be this asset that destroys society. The disagreement would be is it going to? We know this can happen; if you’re religious at all and a conservative at all, you have to as least agree that it’s a possibility.

Well, now it’s 2022, it turns out it did happen. So like whether or not it was inevitable, or whether there was a different path we might have fraught is a very interesting theoretical question, is a very interesting question for novelists. But it’s sort of not very relevant, I think, to current reality because now we are on the other side. I forget the statistic. Like one third of Americans say they don’t have anyone they’re not related to that they can talk to about problems in their life. The atomization is like 100%. I mean, one account I follow — I really like to hurt myself — is it’s, I forget what it’s called, but it’s like a media company that’s about dating and it’s for zoomers.

And so every time I look at it, I feel like A, I’m super old, and B, I sort of pray to God to just wipe out humanity and start over because it’s done. The way young people — I mean, the atomization, we’re in it, everything, all of the indicators are all the way to the red. We live in a regime that, basically, its reigning ideology is like race hates against white people, so every dimension of life, sex, friendship, race, everything, it’s like everything is in the red. We’re no longer having to deal with the problem of, how do we avoid atomization? It’s like, what do we do now that the neutron bomb has gone off? Like the virus is out of the lab, the nuke blew up, whatever your metaphor is. We’re in the post-apocalyptic universe. So now we have to figure out how to rebuild civilization. All right. It’s like, we no longer have to secure the nuclear plant. Everything has been showered with uranium. The nuclear plant blew up and everything is radioactive and it’s Mad Max world out there. So the important question is how do we rebuild? Sorry for ranting a little bit.

Inez Stepman:

No, no, no. I don’t mind.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

I mean, if you want to be purely theoretical, it’s an interesting theoretical question, but I think it’s just purely theoretical at this point. Because we’re so far over on the other side. I mean, we’ve gone down to arguing whether it’s okay for pedophiles to handle Celtic education. That’s where we are as a society.

Inez Stepman:

No, I don’t disagree at all that that’s the world is [inaudible 00:49:03].

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

And one day, for no reason at all, people voted Adolf Hitler into power.

Inez Stepman:

I guess, obviously, the origins are relevant exactly because I think we need to address the question that you’re bringing up which is, what do we do about it, right? Perhaps understanding where it comes from helps, perhaps it doesn’t. What’s your answer to that question, then? I mean, how do we start to rebuild, essentially, civilizational connections between human beings who are at this point more atomized probably than human beings have ever been in history.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Oh God.

Inez Stepman:

Light question to wrap up the hour.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Yeah. That’s like the 10-trillion-dollar question. Maybe some of the potential answers could get people canceled. You have to tread lightly. I think — obviously, I can’t give you my whole program or answer, but one thing I will say is that I think that one thing which is a necessary condition, not sufficient but necessary, is for conservatives to believe that they have a right to rule it. For conservatives to believe that they are better people than the groomers on the other side — which they really are, by the way — and then therefore they have a right, a moral right, a divine right, a moral right in any case to run the government for the benefit of the entire country in much the same way that a parent has a complete right to tell their child not to run into traffic and to assert that they, you know what I mean? Like the best people — meaning best both in terms of competence, and we could improve there, but we’re still doing pretty well compared to the guys on the other side. The best people in terms of competence, in terms of morality, have the right — certainly in a democracy where you can get elected — and so if you’ve been elected, you have the right to run the country for the benefit of everyone, right? Not for the benefit of you and your friends exclusively, but for the benefit of everyone. Once you’ve been elected to the government, and if you are the better person than the other guys who might have been elected, you have the right to run the government. You have the right to use the government. And the reason why I say this is because I feel like many of my friends on the right don’t believe that they have this right. They don’t believe that they have the right. They believe that the reason why we elect our people is so that they do nothing while the other guys… You know, it’s because it’s less bad than the other guys, but their job is to do nothing. Again, I understand thinking that if you’ve got the levels of social engagement and church attendance and whatever of like 1952. Government that governs least governs best in the Mad Max universe is not a reasonable proposition, it’s not.

It’s not practical and it’s not moral. It’s like a doctor, sometimes the doctor…. First, do no harm. Okay. But sometimes, you just need to put your hands in the wound and apply pressure. A doctor who looks at a patient and watches him bleed out because he says, “first, do no harm” is not a good doctor.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I think that’s a really reasonable analogy, actually. I think I largely agree with you that, of course, there are things that need to be handled by politics and in the broader sense. In American government, that means working through a democratic system. Actually, people in America, I think actually people on the right in America, are overly spurgy about this distinction between republics and democracies. Of course they exist, those distinctions, but actually our founders to a certain extent use those interchangeably in their writings. Understanding that there’s a democratic, small-d democratic element to our republic. Right. So I guess I agree with you there. I do. I have noticed very much there’s such a different sensibility in American politics than in the old world. I think that’s underacknowledged, actually, by both sides of the Atlantic.

I remember thinking about speaking with my French friends exactly about, for example, how they saw their own revolution versus they assumed that we saw our revolution very similarly, whereas in America it’s 99% of people who think that our revolution was a good thing. In France, it’s very much still a dividing line in politics. But when you get to this level of regime shattering questions, I think that there isn’t really a do-no-harm. There isn’t a neutral aspect to what you’re saying about certain levels of 1950 or even 1960s, early 1960s. Fundamentally, civil society in America was healthy until really, I mean really into the ’60s and especially into the ’70s. So now we find ourselves at the end event that at least 50-year road with very few good options to stop the bleeding. And on that note, Pascal, thank you so much for coming on here.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

On that optimistic note.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. That’s the signature of this podcast. But yes, you can follow Pascal’s work not only in the places that I mentioned at the top of the hour, but also @pegobry, PEGobry on Twitter. And so you can follow his views. We ran out of time. I wanted to talk to you about some of your sexual revolution views as well because those are really interesting, and so folks should follow.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Thank God. Thank God we didn’t have to talk about that.

Inez Stepman:

Follow. But thank you so much for coming on.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Again, even more canceled.

Inez Stepman:

There’s no cancellation here at this podcast. I just wanted to remind the listeners before I wrap up that we have, at Independent Women’s Forum, we have two other podcasts. We have She Thinks, which is more of a policy, sort of news-of-the-day update run by my friend, Beverly Hallberg. She’s great. You should check out She Thinks, as well as At the Bar, which is something that I run with my colleague, Jennifer Braceras, and we talk about issues in law and culture. So we talk about either the latest Supreme Court decisions and what those mean for policy and, frankly, for life in America, but also just cultural developments. We’ve been over the last few episodes have discussed, for example, the massive Title IX regulations that are redefining the word sex. Those are the kind of topics that over At the Bar that we talk through.

If you are interested in either one of those, you can find those podcasts as well on all of those normal podcast places that I’m about to read out, and I do every episode, so thank you so much for joining another episode of High Noon, which is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send me comments or questions at my email, [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button or leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcast, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. With that, be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.