Beating Left-wing Authoritarianism

Ben Shapiro’s new bestseller, The Authoritarian Moment, is about the death of authentic liberalism and the rise of left-wing authoritarianism.

He writes:

I grew up in an America that made room for different points of view that could tolerate political differences. I grew up where we could attend ball games together without worrying about who voted for whom, where we could attend different schools and recognize our differences without trying to beat each other into submission… Most of all, I grew up in an America where we could all participate in a search for truth, without fear that the mere searching would end in our societal excommunication.

That America is rapidly disappearing.

How did arrive at this moment? The roots go back a long way, but Shapiro lays much of the blame on Barack Obama and particularly his 2012 re-election campaign. As Shapiro tells it, Obama ran in 2008 (at least superficially) on a message of healing and bipartisanship. The public, not cognizant of his Alinskyite past, bought it. But by 2012, that act was no longer tenable. So he shifted gears and ran a very different campaign, cobbling together an intersectional coalition of identities.

“This strategy,” writes Shapiro, “pitted Americans against Americans, race against race, sex against sex. Obama domesticated the destructive impulses of authoritarian leftism in pursuit of power.”

The strategy worked, barely. Obama became the first president in more than a half-century to win re-election with fewer popular and electoral votes than he won initially. By uniting the “utopian impulse” of progressivism (the idea that the world’s problems can be fixed by expanding the power of the State) with the “revolutionary impulse” of identity politics, the 2012 campaign proved to be transformational.        

The effect was a top-down revolution, “using the system to tear down the system.” Both strains of leftism were decades in the making, as Shapiro documents, and both originated in academia and metastasized to the rest of society. It led to the emergence of a ruling class hostile to the historic American nation and opposed to the values of many if not most average Americans.

To be sure, Shapiro’s insight is hardly original. More than a decade ago, Angelo Codevilla, professor of International Relations at Boston University, penned an insightful essay on “America’s Ruling Class” in the American Spectator.

Codevilla concluded that:

“Today’s ruling class… was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters -- speaking the ‘in’ language -- serves as a badge of identity.”

The result has been what Shapiro calls the “renormalization” of America: the takeover of one institution after another by the progressive Left -- academia, corporations, media, big tech -- and the Left’s silencing of dissent by intimidating its opponents into inaction or browbeating them into compliance.

In the last chapter, Shapiro offers three options for taking back American institutions.

First, he urges legal action. “If companies force employees to attend training sessions segregated by race, or in which white employees are taught of their inherent privilege, white employees ought to seek legal redress.” Shapiro is on solid ground here. We need the creation of nonprofit legal organizations to pursue hostile work environment claims against such employers.

Second, Shapiro advocates the formal expansion of anti-discrimination law to include discrimination on the basis of political views. He concedes this option is “ugly” particularly since conservatives champion freedom of association, but concludes that it’s justified because of the monopoly of power exercised by the authoritarian Left. Since it requires legislation, it is also a strategy that is most likely to succeed in the places it is least needed.

Third, and most provocatively, Shapiro urges us to “build alternative institutions.” In shutting the doors of our most powerful institutions, Shapiro writes, the authoritarian Left has left those of us outside with one option: build it ourselves. “We might patronize different coffee brands, wear different shoes, subscribe to different streaming services,” he writes. “Our points of commonality might disappear.”

Shapiro recognizes the implications of this outcome: it could result in an America irreparably divided by politics. (That Ben Shapiro, a “respectable,” and extremely mainstream conservative, nonetheless offers this as an option tells you that we are at a pivotal moment in history.)

Though each of these options could have been fleshed out more, they provide the beginnings of a roadmap for conservatives.

The authoritarian moment has arrived, the result of a decades-long evisceration of core American institutions. It will end, says Shapiro, when the silent majority stands up and refuses to be silent any longer.

Image: Broadside Books

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