Authoritarian Moment orange book cover and Ben Shapiro headshot

The Authoritarian Moment: notes from Ben Shapiro’s 2021 book

Ben Shapiro is combative and media savvy enough that he has quickly become one of the country’s best known stewards of conservatism’s future.

The conservative commentator and Daily Wire founder has staked out some considerably right-wing opinions and built a reputation for college-campus debates, in which he and progressive 20-somethings spar for social media attention. In July 2021, he published The Authoritarian Moment, his argument against the popular narrative that conservatives represent the greatest risk of authoritarianism. The greater risk is from the left, he says.

I read generously, but Shapiro just does not come across like a good-faith actor.

He loses my attention with his dismissal of the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 and his finger-pointing at his political adversaries without even passing self-reflection. As another example, he dismisses all “wokeism” by saying we surely don’t expect women to be as proportional as bricklayers, but like many partisan actors, he takes an extreme position and uses it as a straw man. Representation is argued as a direction, not a destination.

I also find both sides of the “gender ideology” debate to routinely talk past each other. Shapiro is highly critical of transgender communities and gender fluidity, as one of the foremost proponents that gender and sex is the same. It always sounds to me that what conservatives like Shapiro and what trans advocates mean by gender are just fundamentally different things.

In short, I don’t actually think Shapiro is talking to anyone except for his base. The book is fine, and shares a few compelling talking points, but broadly reads as a political book I wouldn’t particularly recommend.

Below find my notes from the book for future reference.

My notes:

  • Emory University’s Thomas Costello’s work arguing left-wing authoritarians have been overlooked. He finds authoritarianism shares a few qualities: “Revolutionary aggression”; “Top down censorship” and “Anti conventionalism”
  • Shapiro is gallingly flippant about the events of January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol.
  • The real culture war isn’t about race or class but about whether freedom of speech outweighs freedom from offense, he argues. That’s the left right divide
  • The left has a three-step strategy, he argues: win emotional argument, renormalize institutions and third “locking all the doors”
  • JS Mill(1806-1873) introduced his harm principle that people should be free to act however they wish unless their actions cause harm to somebody else. Distinguish between harm and offense
  • “If you can be racist without intent, silence becomes the only protection for most Americans.”
  • Author is critical of silence is violence
  • Universities, once bastions of free speech, now are one party states
  • Nassim Nicholas Taleb: renormalization and minority rule. Compares this to a family of 4, in which the daughter only eats organic so rather than make two meals everybody eats organic
  • Physicist Serge Galam’s “physics of public opinion:” only 20% of a population is needed to shape a population
  • Author argues classic liberals enable leftist activists. Liberals must coalition with either leftists or conservatives. (It seems bizarre to me he makes this criticism of the left, without doing the same on the right).
  • Two kinds of unity: “unity through recognition of the fundamental humanity of the other and the unity through purification”
  • FDR’s second bill of rights is described by Jonah Goldberg in “liberal fascism”as a fascist overreach, Harold Cole and Lee Ohaniion argue he’s responsible for extending the Great Depression by 7 years
  • Kimberle W. Crenshaw’s intersectionality gets a criticism
  • Obama himself tethered his coalition even though many blacks were socially conservative
  • Author says the Obama transition from 2008 to 2012 was where identity based coalitions really started
  • Author argues democratic coalition is a slim majority (questionable) and fragile (true)
  • College is “extraordinarily expensive licensing program for societal influence.”
  • Charles Murray in Coming Apart: the new ruling class and the rest
  • “Wokeism “ is intersectionality gone further, that all systems are rooted in oppression
  • Kendi and DiAngelo argue that any outcome between racial groups is a sign of racist policy
  • Claims wokeism and social justice is a new religion with vocabulary and in groups; the language isn’t about convincing but about demonstration for your in group, he argues
  • The 2018 Grievance studies affair: Lindsay, Pluckrose and Boghossian submitted fake papers with woke language and got 4 of 20 published
  • Heather MacDonald and “the diversity bureaucracy”
  • Robert Bellah: expressive individualism
  • After postmodern deconstructionists in the 1960s, author argues, Western universities criticized the west but wouldn’t criticize other parts of the world or risk infringing on those expressive individualism — and this led to a decay
  • Carnegie Foundation: in 1969, 27% professors were conservative, by 1999 just 12%, and is likely below 10% today
  • George Yancey: people discriminate against hiring Republicans
  • Author wants to know: Why were George Floyd protests ok but anti lockdown ones weren’t? (I think the answer is that the criticism wasn’t necessarily about the risk of being near to each other outside)
  • Scientists balancing pandemic and Floyd social justice protests:
  • Ultracrepidarianism is the behavior of giving opinions outside of one’s knowledge, embodied in the famous Latin idiom Sutor, ne ultra crepidam or “Shoemaker, not beyond the shoe”
  • Author wants to know: Why did Kathleen Dooling of the CDC prioritize Covid vaccines for racially diverse healthcare workers overly more susceptible elderly Americans?
  • Author argues AMA and New England Journal of Medicine stances on gender dysphoria were hijacked: gender and sex are same, author argues (again and again)
  • Scientific American or Nature endorsements of Biden; New England Journal, which the author argues drove Americans farther from science
  • Bailey and Phillips for Harvard Business Review: Corporations viewed as conservative lost reputation but not liberal ones. This government capture and customer preference moved corporations politically, he argued
  • Author really didn’t like NASDAQ diversity requirements on boards with a “boot on their neck”
  • Author is highly critical of stakeholder capitalism: Vanguard and Blackrock have used their massive power to pressure companies to change on climate and diversity
  • Expensify CEO endorsed Joe Biden to his staff and 10 million customers
  • Yelp racist behavior banner is Stalinesque, author argues
  • North Carolina bathroom bill cost $3.75 b in lost business
  • Andrew Breitbart: Culture is upstream of politics
  • Why do Netflix and Disney care about Georgia abortion laws but not Chinese wuigar camps (where Mulan was shot?)
  • Author notes that entertainment reflects and shapes our culture. (My note: This reminds me of a truth about news: for the average news consumer it isn’t a fair fight when they read an article; the journalist has the time to be thoughtful and informed so the reader might default to agree with their stance)
  • Author says the left accuses the right of policing conformed culture but he says the left forces conformity across far more platforms than the right
  • Criticizes media for using “mostly peaceful” language about Floyd protests so repeatedly that it becomes propoganda
  • Author wants to know: How much media criticism of George Floyd protests have been similar to j6?
  • Lippman: journalists must become a priestly caste because newspapers were the “Bible of democracy” (his objectivity)
  • “Bias is simply inseparable from journalism “
  • The debate in newsrooms are not between liberals and conservatives but between liberals and the “authoritarian left,” who agree on broad policies but not on whether there should be debate.
  • Barri Weiss: “truth isn’t a process of collective discovery…”
  • Author calls Politfact’s founder Bill Adair highly biased
  • Author criticizes New Ruling Class but also completely operates as if Trump was entirely straightforward conservative who was just misunderstood
  • Free speech not free reach
  • Reject: silence is violence ; dissension is violence ; the Cordiality Principle

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