Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hello everyone, and welcome to the 140th episode of the Atlas Society asks, my name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. My friends call me Jag. I'm the c e o of the Atlas Society. We are the leading organization introducing young people to the ideas of Iran in fun, creative ways, like graphic novels, animated videos in the spirit of open objectivism, which emphasizes benevolence as a major virtue and a commitment to non dogmatic discussion and debate. Today we are joined by Jonah Goldberg. Before I even begin to introduce our guest, I wanna remind all of you who are watching us on Zoom, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube. Go ahead, use the comment section to type into your questions, and we will get to as many of them as we can. So our guest today, Jonah Goldberg, holds the Cliff Asmus chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.
Speaker 0 00:01:07 Full disclosure, uh, cliff is a longtime trustee of the Out Society. Jonah is editor in chief and co-founder of the dispatch, um, and host of remnant podcast. He's also a syndicated columnist, a longtime editor at National Review and a three times New York, three time New York Times bestselling author of Liberal fascism, the Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to The Politics of Meaning, the Tyranny of Cliches, how liberals cheats in the War of Ideas and Suicide of the West, how the rebirth of tribalism, populism, nationalism, and identity politics is destroying American democracy. Jonah, thank you for joining us.
Speaker 1 00:02:00 It's great to be here and I apologize for the long subtitles
Speaker 0 00:02:04 <laugh>. Um, alright. Well, first, uh, I was very sorry to hear about the passing of your mother l with whom I crossed path after I left the Bush 41 White House. When I look back on that time, um, I remember mentors like John Sullivan at National Review and Bob Terrell, who, or some of the people who gave me some of my early career breaks. So other than your mother, I'm wondering, uh, who was your mother, of course? Uh, a force in politics in her own right and a early news, uh, aggregator. Who are some of the people who you credit as early influences or mentors in your professional journey?
Speaker 1 00:02:51 Sure. Um, and again, thanks for having me. Uh, I actually have to say, you know, uh, my mom was hugely influential on me in terms of, I would say my personality, my sense of humor, um, aspects of my character and, um, all that kind of thing. But intellectually, my dad was a much bigger influence on me. My dad was just sort of classic Jewish intellectual, um, and a journalist and a editor. And, um, and then one of my other big influences was Irving Crystal. Um, and I remember the first time I heard him speak, I was a little policy Nome at the American Enterprise Institute in the early nineties, and it was, I was thunderstruck at how much he sounded like my dad. I thought my dad was this unicorn and no one else talked like him. And then here's Irving Crystal. Um, so I would say Irving is a big one.
Speaker 1 00:03:47 Tom so was one, uh, Paul Johnson, the recently departed Paul Johnson, uh, great historian. His Modern Times is one of the only, at least big history books I've read several times. Um, uh, William F. Buckley, um, you know, certainly was, um, a kind of political public intellectual, uh, hero of mine. But I didn't grow up reading that much of nr. Um, I grew up actually reading more like say the New Republic and those kinds of things. And then when I got politically aware, I kind of started hoovering up things I actually agreed with rather than things I disagreed with. George Will would be another. Um, I probably wouldn't be a pundit were it not for the fact that George will had called me an idiot and I was determined to prove him wrong. <laugh>. Um, and, uh, um, I'm an American shark. I, I, I could go deeper. I, I kind of briefly flirted with St um, in part because again, this is what I get from my mother. I was told I wasn't allowed to read Strauss. So of course I wanted to read Strauss. Uh, I had college professors who told me it was, uh, forbidden knowledge, um, and that it would poison me. And so of course I kind of got really into some of that stuff. But, um, I, I think that's probably the directionally, right. Uh, I might later think, oh gosh, I should have mentioned so-and-so. But
Speaker 0 00:05:05 Well, if I, uh, had a time machine, I would go back to your college and I would absolutely forbid you <laugh> to read I Rand because so many of us were told, oh, that's, that's an evil woman. That's a dangerous woman. Don't, don't read Ayn Rand. She's the devil. And, um, you've said some positive things about Ayn Rand over the years, acknowledging that directionally, uh, that she, that moving towards a more objectivist view of government restricted to the protection of individual rights from the courts military police would at least merit one, maybe two cheers from you. Um, that said, you know, you're not a huge fan. Uh, maybe it's her literature or maybe it's her atheism, but as I've tried to argue in my Wall Street Journal piece, uh, can You Love God? And Iran, many religious conservatives such as Randy Wallace and Andy Pite rans books as, uh, a semi seminal influence. So our people like them diluted as by, you know, objectives, critics of that piece said, oh, you can't read, you know, an Iran novel without getting the atheism. I completely disagree with that. Um, so, uh, yeah, or are there maybe other aspects of Rand's works for celebration of individualism and capitalism that might account for her appeal to believers and non-believers alike?
Speaker 1 00:06:40 Yeah, so I mean, let's just do a le level setting on some of this stuff. Um, um, I've gotten into my spats with Randy ands, I got into some spats with libertarians. Um, in the past, my views have changed a bit since some of those spats and some of those spats were, um, I think a disservice to all parties because, you know, I got into some stupid fights with a, a really weird subset of Vanian, Lou Rockwell type libertarians, and I painted with two broader brush because I, I didn't appreciate fully how many other kinds of libertarians there were who disagreed with all that kind of stuff. Similarly, uh, some of my spats in the past with, uh, some Randy have been a product of the Randy who attacked me. Um, and, you know, we often, you know, dig in, um, depending on who's, uh, going after us.
Speaker 1 00:07:33 So I al I, I think I've always said that I thought Whitaker chambers was unfair in the whole national Review. Um, in his famous piece, uh, you know, saying to the gas chamber go and all that, I thought that was overstated to be sure. Um, and where I think I f where I think my views overlapped considerably with, with, with, um, most ranan is that a big chunk of, I, I don't want to use the sort of George will phrase, Randy, I properly understood or anything like that. But like a big chunk of what Ran does is make an argument from an interesting angle for a lot of the arguments for classical liberalism. Um, and to the extent those are her arguments in favor of free trade, um, in, in favor of, uh, uh, markets, um, in favor of using reason in public debates, um, and not going to appeals to various logical fallacies, um, or gut emotions.
Speaker 1 00:08:43 Um, I'm in favor of, uh, I'm very sympathetic for it. I'm not sure you have to get to believe those things. I'm not sure you have to get them from Rand. But, um, I have no problem with people who got those things from Rand and make those kinds of arguments because, um, I, I think those are the correct arguments on this religion part of it. You know, the, the, this stems as you know, from, you know, w when William F. Buckley famously read out, that's the way they, historians always put it, the Ians his argument was that you didn't have to be religious to be part of the conservative movement as he conceived of it, but you needed to at least have respect for religion and notions of the transcendent and that kind of thing. And he felt, um, I gather, you would argue wrongly, um, that Rand did not have that.
Speaker 1 00:09:30 And I think, you know, sort of as a analog to the, what I said earlier about how we dig in when we get into fights, I think a lot of his fights with Anne Rand had to, Ayn Rand had to do with his fights with Ayn Rand, like they, you know, went after each other. And people lock into positions when they get into those kinds of personal spats. And, um, I tend to agree with William F. Buckley about that point. Um, it's very difficult to be a defender of western civilization, a defender of Anglo-American conservatism while subscribing to the sort of Jacobin view of, uh, uh, you know, the, we should strangle the last king with the entrails of the last priest kind of anti-religion. But I gather that's not that your point of view. And what I think is, what, what I really liked about your piece is that I have long argued, you know, uh, that that perhaps the defining feature of what it means to be a conservative in the Anglo-American tradition is a certain level of comfort with contradiction is to understand that not all good things go together.
Speaker 1 00:10:39 That, um, that at the point, uh, at the testing point of a lot of principles, they run up against other really valuable principles. And so, I like the way you began in your piece, you know, sort of confronting Rand's claim that there are no contradictions. And where I would just simply fundamentally disagree as a matter of metaphysics, is that it's contradictions all the way down. Um, and being comfortable with that, of acknowledging it, of acknowledging that, um, a lot of our dogmatic priors, um, are actually in conflict with other dogmatic priors, you know, I mean, uh, freedom versus order, liberty versus virtue Liberty's good, virtue's good. But at some point you have to lean on one side or the other, um, at a, at when they are in conflict and they can often be in conflict. Um, and so I have nothing but respect for people who get a lot out of Rand, including our mutual friend Cliff Asne, who at the same time, um, don't necessarily agree with her on everything. Cause there's nobody I absolutely agree with on anything.
Speaker 0 00:11:45 Right? And I think that is why we at the Atlas Society, uh, believe that it's important to be open. It's important to be, uh, not just tolerant, but kind of entrepreneurial. That if you want to persuade, then one part of that is not to say, I have all the answers, I have the truth, you don't, and I'm going to impose it on you. And if you don't agree with me, then it's not just an error of knowledge because I've told you it's, it's a moral flaw. Right? And I think if anything, um, you know, obviously I think that there's been a lot of, uh, firepower directed at Iran because of the unique thing that she brings to the libertarian conservative, classical liberal party, which is her moral defense of capitalism. Um, but I think that also <laugh>, I that kind of approach by certain quarters of the objectives movement has really been an act of self sabotage.
Speaker 0 00:12:49 And that's part of what we wanna try to bring a different kind of perspective at the society. And we could talk about this all day, <laugh>. And I do acknowledge Ayn Rand definitely, uh, did not pull punches in her criticism of, um, of conservatives. And, and so, you know, that that could have also been part of the dynamic. But I w I don't wanna lose sight of your two books. Uh, the two that I've, I've read, I'll get to the other one. Um, and I thought it was very interesting that at the very beginning of suicide of the West, uh, you said that you're not an atheist, but you found it useful to play one for the argument that you make in the book to guide re the reader through a way of thinking about the world. So God got Mya to antenna up. Could you elaborate a bit on that?
Speaker 1 00:13:44 Sure. Yeah. So the fir the first sentence of the book is, there is no God in this book. And spoil alert God does kind of sneak in towards the end, but it's not like a fundamentally religious argument. But, you know, uh, but the reason, so the reason why I wrote Suicide of the West, and the reason why I started it that way is that, as you can tell from the first two books, and nevermind the first two books, but also just my career over the last quarter century, I think I have paid my dues, uh, owning the libs and drinking liberal tears and, um, doing the sort of, uh, uh, red meat thing. I don't think I was ever unthinking about it, but I, I did my share about it, of it. And, um, and I'll defend, you know, 90% of the positions that I took on, on all those kinds of things.
Speaker 1 00:14:32 But I got tired of it. And that part, I got tired of it because that's what so much of conservatism or right wing, you know, sort of infotainment universe had become. And I think it was a, um, it was ruining conservatism. And one of the things I wanted to do, it's also one of the, of the reasons why I founded, co-founded the dispatch, is I actually wanted to model the behavior that I thought was increasingly lacking on the right. And the whole point of politics, going back to Aristotle, is to persuade people, is to persuade people that they should join your coalition. Cuz your coalition will actually serve their interests, however defined better than the coalition that they're in. And, uh, the reason why I started with there's no God in this book, is that if my intended audience is your typical, at least somewhat open-minded left of center or progressive person or a conservative who wants arguments to be able to engage with those kinds of people, starting with an appeal to authority is the wrong way to go.
Speaker 1 00:15:35 Right? Um, that's a logical fallacy. You can say the universe is this way because God says so only to people who already believe in God, right? So, of like two brothers, if I say to, if one brother says to the other brother, you can't do that, he says, who says? He says, dad says so. And you, since you both agree on dad's authority, it, it, it, it applies. But you can't say that to a stranger. If you say to some stranger, you can't walk across my lawn. You say, who says, so my dad says, so I gives a right to ask about your dad, right? Similar, similar with appeals to sort of the authority of God. And so what I was trying to do was make an argument that on liberal terms or progressive terms, if you ask a progressive, what is government actually for?
Speaker 1 00:16:18 What do they think it's for? What is politics supposed to be doing? Um, they'll give you a bunch of different answers. Uh, I improving literacy, uh, uh, fighting incoming inequality, um, alleviating poverty, alleviating disease, public health. You can go down a long list of things, right? And my argument is that liberal, democratic capitalism, whatever label we wanna put on it, free market economics plus the rule of law and, and constitutionalism, that whole bundle is not just the best system for providing that at scale over a long term. It's the only system. And, um, the, uh, you know, the question you always hear, which I've always said, you have to be too stupid to be a spell checker at an m and m factory to think is a brilliant question, is why is there poverty? We know why there is poverty. Poverty is natural. Poverty is the natural human condition.
Speaker 1 00:17:14 And for hundreds of thousands of years, the average human being everywhere in the world lived in poverty, in including a lot of the people that we would today, that at the time were considered rich, would be considered living in objective terms, in, in poverty. You know, I would in a lot of material ways, you would rather be, um, making $150,000 today or a hundred thousand dollars today than making a million dollars 200 years ago. Um, in the Count Monte Christo, there's this great scene where, uh, which I believe is where the word millionaire is introduced into the, into the language where the count is throwing a dinner party and he wants to prove, he wants to demonstrate, he wants to flaunt how Richie is. And the way he does it is by serving two kinds of fish. And that is like wildly opulent, right? And so my view is that the only smart question, the only important question is why is there wealth? And there's really so far only one answer. And it has to do with this, this bundle of ideas that escaped about 300 years ago from England and from Holland. Um, I focus more on England, but if there are any Dutch jingoist out there, I wanna acknowledge that there's an argument for Holland. Um, and then it's spread out. And, um, we've seen human poverty, um, steadily decrease even as population has steadily increased from the last 300 years.
Speaker 0 00:18:39 Yeah, well, I, I liked that way of opening the book because I thought, no way, it's kind of what Iran does in presenting her ideas, even though she's not playing an atheist, you actually is one. But, um, in starting with a metaphysics of the real world and an epistemology of reason, uh, it's really a, a way of grounding, um, an argument that is seeking to persuade without appeals to authority. So, uh, speaking of persuasion in suicide of the West, you write that over the last few years on the right and the left persuading your opponents is out of fashion, replaced by the mandate to rile up your opponents. Um, and you say you're weary of that, particularly when it comes to your on own side. And you were very outspoken, uh, pretty much from the get-go in, um, pointing out things that, uh, you, you thought were dangerous or, um, wrong with, with Donald Trump. Is it, was it partially that that was so much of a focus of his public persona, which was riling people up?
Speaker 1 00:19:55 Well, I mean, yes. I mean, I just, just, but to get the, um, the sequence right, I started writing the book long before anyone thought Donald Trump would run for president. And you know, people, people who didn't read the book ri would often ask me on the book tour, you know, why'd you write, you know, a book about Donald Trump? And Donald Trump doesn't show up until the last 20 pages, and the book starts 250,000 years ago. So, you know, take it for what you will. But, um, yeah, I think Donald Trump's a big part of Donald Trump's initial appeal was this whole idea of fighting, right? That it didn't, the winning didn't necessarily matter. It was the fighting that needed to matter. And, um, it was also based on the false premise. But the right always loses that conservatives have lost everything. They always lose every battle.
Speaker 1 00:20:44 And one of the funny things about that belief, which is still very prevalent out there, um, other than it not being true, is it's almost precisely what the left believes <laugh>. And if you're in a culture war where both sides are convinced they never win, someone's gotta be wrong about something. Right? And, um, uh, and just a huge part of, and, and, and there are lots of reasons for it. Social media plays a part in it. Um, um, uh, the, the breakdown of the old sort of legacy media and the ability where media outlets used to be able to broadcast. Now everybody's in the narrow casting business. I mean, there's lots of reasons for it, but, um, uh, I can come at this from so different ways. We live in a populist moment, right? Populism, um, has been gaining scheme for a long time. And when I used to write about how populism was bad, uh, nobody said boo about it.
Speaker 1 00:21:46 And then when Donald Trump came along and I was consistent about saying populism is bad, everyone thought I was some sort of rhino squish trader or whatever. But, um, the problem with populism is that popula people confuse populism and democracy all the time. Democracy is about disagreement. Democracy is about debate. Democracy is about, um, uh, making arguments in the public square and being held accountable to, um, uh, voters at an election time, right? It's a mechanism, it's a technology as much as anything else. Populism is basically the po politics of crowds and passion and the mob. It is politics that says that is inherently anti-intellectual. You know, my favorite quote, um, on this, which I use all the time, is from William Jennings, Brian, where he says, the people of Nebraska are for free silver, therefore I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later mm-hmm. <affirmative>.
Speaker 1 00:22:37 Um, and, uh, and so much of conservatism, uh, what we call conservatism or we call the right had been just sort of turned into sort of institutionalized populism. Um, and I have a lot of the left who's been turned into institu institutionalized populism. You know, Bernie Sanders is as much of a, a demagogic populist as Donald Trump is. Um, he doesn't seem like it, cuz seems like an old man at a deli returning soup. But, um, uh, and I think one of the reasons I politics is so screwed up is we are at the, we, there's a really interesting finding in, in social science that financial crises, the European Journal of Politics, I think did the big piece on this few years ago, um, financial crises in particular that cause recessions, um, have very long populist details because you feel like the people in power have screwed me outta my home, my livelihood, whatever. You see real double drops in your wealth and you want someone to blame. And so I think we are still in the moment, we are still in many ways in the political shadow of the financial crisis of 2007, 2008, whether it was Occupy Wall, wall Street, the tea parties, or the Bernie bro movement or, or the MAGA stuff. It is all, um, part of the sort of populist fallout of, of that moment. And it's now, it's taken on a life of its own. But that's, I think, where a lot of it comes from.
Speaker 0 00:24:05 So you really would then pin it to that. And rather than, um, what, you know, others have, including Eric Kaufman in his book White Shift, connecting it particularly more in Europe with European modern populist movements, and also the kind of Trump populist movement to immigration and people feeling that it's going to fast and it's not being regulated, and, uh, that they're not being heard. In fact, they raise a question about it, they're being called racist.
Speaker 1 00:24:40 You know, I, I think that's a big, I mean, I, I think that's a big driver of it. You know, it's like one of these perfect, I hate the perfect storm analogy, but you have different fronts, you know, low pressure, high pressure coming together. Um, you know, at National Review, you know, where I was for 20 years, our position stated over and over again is that if responsible politicians don't start, uh, dealing with the immigration problem, irresponsible politicians are gonna come in and do it for them. And I think Donald Trump was the proof of that prophecy. Um, right. My, my standard position on immigration, you know, longtime listeners on my podcast know this, I've been saying this for years, is, you know, when people ask me what my preferred immigration policy is, my answer is to have one <laugh> because by the, the bipartisan consensus that we've had around immigration for the last two decades is basically official chaos.
Speaker 1 00:25:28 And the chaos has gotten worse and worse. And, um, I personally am open to a pretty generous open immigration policy, but whatever the number, if we want a 2 million immigrants a year, um, it has to be 2 million, not 2,000,001 not 3 million, not 4 million, because then you're just, you're just actually not having a policy. And that feeling of being outta control when, uh, combined with other social forces, like personally, I think immigration gets an irrational amount of blame for a lot of other social factors. It's sort of a stand-in, you know, more people lose jobs from robots and or automation than they lose from immigration or, or outsource it. Um, and, uh, but it's easy to blame an immigrant. It's harder to blame, you know, a machine. And although the leites managed and, um, uh, and so I think Donald Trump, you know, the, the, you could say that Donald Trump's thing about the wall and the Muslim ban and all of that stuff, um, was overblown or, or demagogic or irresponsible.
Speaker 1 00:26:37 The, the, you have to get into the specifics for me to say whether it was or wasn't and all that kind of stuff. But in, in broad brush strokes, I think it's reasonable to say that some of his rhetoric was just grotesque about immigration. But what he was signaling to a lot of voters was that he was actually serious about it was because he was willing to say it in blunt un, you know, uh, un PC terms that broke through rather than trying to be all things to all people and talking about comprehensive immigration reform and all that kind of stuff. And I, I think that, that, that lesson has still been lost on Democrats who just simply don't wanna recognize that whether American voters are irrational about it or not, I don't think they are. But whether they're irrational about it or not, they don't like the idea that they don't have control of their borders. They don't like the idea of millions of people jumping ahead of the line of the people who are doing it the right way, and they just wanna see it taken care of. And, um, so I think I, I certainly think immigration was one of the major issues both on the merits, but also on the symbolism of it.
Speaker 0 00:27:41 Now, I want to acknowledge that, uh, we've got a ton of questions that are coming in, and I am going to get to them, everyone, I promise. But this is one of these occasions when I really, um, got a lot out of these two books. And so we're going to put those links in the chat across the plot platforms. Uh, and you know, I, I appreciated the, the history, the economics, but also just the literary style. And, and one of the things that you used as a guiding metaphor in suicide of the West was the concept of corruption. Not necessarily in the political sense of bribery or nepotism, but in the sense of natural entropy and how it undermines, uh, order and integrity, uh, if left unchecked. So I would love if you would talk to us about why you chose that concept and how it applies to the institutions that led to modern flourishing.
Speaker 1 00:28:43 Sure. Um, so yeah, when I, when I talk about corruption, I, I, as, as you, as you note, it's, I don't necessarily mean like what we associate with mayors of Chicago, although that's perfectly fine to call that corruption. Um, if you go and you look in the Oxford English dictionary, if you read tosser or Shakespeare or the Bible, corruption actually means decay eutification rot, right? It's the second law of thermal dynamics. Um, and you know, the Roman Roman poet, I think it was Horace says, you know, you can chase nature out with a pitchfork, but it'll always come rushing back in. And the idea here is that, um, you know, when I was, when I said that this explosion of human flourishing, which begins 300 years ago, one of the things, one of the lessons of that is that almost all of the things that we like about modern liberal, democratic capitalism, the rule of law, democracy, human rights, all of these kinds of things, they're not natural.
Speaker 1 00:29:48 If they were natural, they would've showed up in the, in the evolutionary record a little earlier than, you know, eight generations ago, 10 generations ago. And, um, um, you know, if you, if you take a jar of ants and you dump it on, on, on a pristine planet or island or whatever, the ants will immediately start doing things in their, in their nature, digging holes, anoint a queen. You know, whatever ants do, if you took a bunch of human beings and you put 'em on an island, they wouldn't set up a debating society. They would go, Lord of the flies, because we are wired to be semi hairless apes who forage and fire fight for food. And so the, the entire edifice of the things that we love about capitalism and democracy is unnatural. It took work, it took arguments. It took, you know, the wars of religion to convince Europe to adopt the post westphalian, um, understanding that we're no longer gonna test people, we're no longer gonna put questions of conscience and faith to the sword.
Speaker 1 00:30:47 And, um, and so the, once you realize that, you also realize that it's fragile and that you actually have to maintain it. And so, like anyone who's ever had a boat or knew anyone who has a boat, knows that if you don't maintain it, if you don't up you, you don't clean it, uh, you know, whatever, nature's gonna take it back. You put a car in a field and leave it alone, and over some period of time, entropy will reclaim it and it'll just basically become soil again. Right? Same thing goes with the, the technology of, of human liberty that we, we've, we should be grateful to have inherited. And the thing that corrupts it is human nature, because human nature is natural, it is nature. And, um, this is something that gets lost on so many people. You know, like my dad always used to say to me that the single most corrupting thing in business, um, isn't money.
Speaker 1 00:31:38 It's friendship. And the way you put it is, like, he says, look, if, if, if a total stranger called you up and said, well, you give my kid this job that you're listing, um, I'll give you $10,000. You know, my dad would say, screw you. Who are you? I'm, you know, I'm not taking a bribe, you know? But if his oldest friend called him and said, Hey, you know, my kids had a rough time, this job would save his life, it would mean the world to him. My dad would say, I'm not saying I'd say yes, but I'd certainly think about it a lot more, right? Um, there's never been a society anywhere in human history where, um, uh, we have not given pref, human beings don't give preference to, to kin and to friends. It's just wired into us. It's how we operate. The Afghan system of procurement and, and political economy that we all think is corrupt is actually the natural kind, right?
Speaker 1 00:32:31 Where you, your tribe rewards its own tribe and then an an allied tribe, but you don't help the enemy tribe, even if they're the lower lowest or best bidder and that kind of thing. And so much of our politics today, um, tracks that kind of corruption, that kind of giving into human nature. That's what populism is. It's giving into human nature. It's, you know, mobs are natural. What's unnatural is like Calvin Coolidge's idea that one person with the law on their side is a majority, right? The indispensable political unit in the American political tradition is the guy who stands up to the mob and says, you're not gonna lynch this guy. It's not the mob, but what populism says, no, no, no. The real Americans we're the mob and we we're the real majority. And what we say goes, and those other people are illegitimate. And that's what I'm getting at about tribalism, identity politics. It's all forms of human nature. Corrupting the political system. I mean, we just heard Joe Biden last week talking about by American, which was a, a big Trump idea, um, by American is, is a form. It's, it's crony capitalism. It's picking winners and losers. Um, you were deliberately saying that we're gonna pay, we're gonna spend your money poorly on purpose when you talk about by American. Um, and, uh, and that's sort of what I'm pushing back against when I talk about corruption.
Speaker 0 00:33:53 All right. Uh, this, I could have interviewed you for two hours, but we've got,
Speaker 1 00:33:58 I'm sorry, my answers are long. I had do apologize.
Speaker 0 00:34:00 No, no, not at all. Um, alright. Uh, I'm gonna jump back into my questions for the book, the books, but I wanted to get to a couple of them. Um, on Zoom, Ted Holman asks, did you have a specific reason for using liberal fascism rather than progressive fascism? And I think I know what you're going to say.
Speaker 1 00:34:20 I did.
Speaker 0 00:34:21 This book was, uh, written.
Speaker 1 00:34:24 Yes. I go, I, I get, I got a lot of trouble for this. An enormous number of people violate the rule of don't judge a book by its cover or it's title mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, but the actual term is explained on page two, I believe. And then in in depth later, the liberal and liberal, the phrase liberal fascism was actually a term coined by HG Wells in 1932 when he gave a speech to the young liberals conference in at Oxford, I think. And, uh, Wells was, people forget now they think of him as just the sci-fi writer. He was easily one of the most important public intellectuals in the western world in the, uh, through the 1930s. Huge influence on everyone from F d R to John Dewey. And he argued for, uh, liberals, progressives, however label you wanna put on it to be like the fascist. He also called for enlightened Nazism, which I decided not to call the book. Um, and, uh, and yeah, the title is a bit sardonic. It's a little, the whole point of the book, which I f like, I mean, I failed utterly. And one of the main reasons I wrote that book, which was to get people to stop using and a, using the word fascist instead, I helped it become bipartisan, um, <laugh>. But, uh, um, that's what I, that's that, that was the inspiration for it.
Speaker 0 00:35:43 Yes. Well, uh, it, it is interesting, of course, if you are, um, on the Republican side, you're no stranger to having been called, uh, some shade of fascist. And I remember I was working with the former chief of staff to Obama outside of politics. This was in private, um, investment fund. And he must have heard that I was Republican. When he met me. He said, oh, here's the leader of the youth Hitler Brigade mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I was just horrified. Um, a and not just because I'm Jewish, but because, you know, he's somebody who didn't even know me. Uh, and I was talking about that. One of our recent guests was Michael Baren Baum, who is kind of the creative force behind the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. And, uh, when I asked him like, what are, you know, his biggest fears about the Holocaust? Is it denial or is it forgetting? And he said it was trivialization and vulgarization. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And that's what he sees as his biggest concern and how it comes from both the left and the right. I'd say probably more from the left, but maybe that's just my perspective. What
Speaker 1 00:37:01 Are your thoughts? Yeah, I mean, I, I I I, I see it from so many places and I, you know, my, cuz I spent so much time in the trenches arguing about and thinking about fascism that I just, it's difficult for me to score that anymore cuz it's just so preponderant. But I will say, uh, since this is the Atlas Society, people should go back and read Ayn Rand's essay, the Fascist New Frontier. Right. Um, we're here where she Yeah, about JFK's, um, that's not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country and all that. It was an interesting essay.
Speaker 0 00:37:31 Yeah. Well, and speaking of Ayn Rand in the fountain head, one of my favorite lines was thousands of years ago, the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake, he'd taught his brothers, uh, to light, but he lifted them, he left them with, with a gift. He lifted, uh, darkness from the Earth. And I was really struck in your writing about the birth of capitalism and suicide of the West, in which you, after kind of documenting this long elon's long natural state of poverty and, and darkness, that things started to change. And you said it was about a shift in ideas, shift in thinking, particularly around innovations. I wonder if you tell us a little
Speaker 1 00:38:24 Bit about that. Yeah, and I, and I'm, and in full credit, I'm indebted to Dearer McCloskey on this point, um, this is sort of her central insight is that, you know, for much of western history, innovation was like in the west was, was like literally a sin. The sin of cita questioning the established order. Um, but really it was treated as a sin almost everywhere, right? And, uh, in, in medieval Europe where you had prices fixed by guilds and for literally centuries in some places, um, the idea of building a better mouse trap or introducing a new product was seen as this transgressive dangerous thing. Um, you know, the Chinese were way ahead, um, of the west. And so it was the Arab world for a long time on all sorts of technologies. The problem is, um, in, in, um, the book Why Nations Fail gets at some of this too.
Speaker 1 00:39:19 Um, the problem is, is that, uh, the second those technologies started to threaten the established order, the powers that be, the powers that Bees said, cut it out, right? So the Chinese didn't send their ocean going fleets out anymore. They got rid of the st you know, the steel mills that they had early, um, printing presses were really constrained. And the, the part of the reason, I mean, there are lots of reasons for lots of things. Um, I'm against all mono causal explanations for anything. But, um, a huge part of why this, this, what I call a miracle took off in England is that for reasons that are very difficult to sort of identify, um, attitudes towards innovation changed, and all of a sudden you could be rewarded in the marketplace and not punished in the political marketplace. Were coming up with a better mouse trap.
Speaker 1 00:40:16 And, um, and then once that became apparent, other nations started changing their attitudes about innovation just as a matter of state competition. And we got this virtuous cycle. Um, because a lot of, you know, a lot of the way the market works is by letting other people invest in some technology. And if it works, then they adapt it, right? And that's sort of how political economy often works as well. And, um, the Western, largely English and Dutch openness to the idea of innovation that the fruits of your labor belong to you, um, and that you should benefit from these things, um, that probably more than anything else in some, that was probably the necessary precondition for this flourishing to last. Right? I mean, we had situations like the Republic of Venice and for a while, Republic of Venice could have been the place that we all talked about as the birthplace of capitalism. But then the aristocracy, um, sort of the logic of aristocracy closed ranks, they closed the golden book and said, no, no, no more entrepreneurs can enter the golden book. And the society stagnated and decayed it corrupted by giving back into this human nature thing of, of sort of tribalism and, and sort of identity politics. In my view, aristocracy or nobility is one of the oldest and most enduring forms of identity politics.
Speaker 0 00:41:38 Interesting. Um, you described fatalism as quote, the real driving, the real force driving the suicide of the West, and you continue saying, quote, folding your hands in your lap and saying, let history take the wheel is the fastest route to self-destruction. And that really resonated with me, particularly in some of my dealings with some of the donors to the Atlas Society who find themselves in fairness, so discouraged, sort of what you were talking about before, this idea of we never win, we're going to lose. Uh, and so they just kind of, whether they fold their hands or they throw them up, they say, what's the use? So could you go into that a little bit? Why is this kind of fatalism so pernicious?
Speaker 1 00:42:24 Sure, and I, I, I should give, so subsequent to the book coming out, um, my friend and colleague, actually my friend and boss, uh, Yuval Levine at ai, um, he makes a great argument about how he des dislikes the term optimism because optimism is a kind of fatalism. It's just basically I will sit on the sidelines and I think things will get better out there without any agency from me. Um, he prefers the word hope. Um, um, uh, I think it's debatable about whether that's the best word, but I think the concept is right, is that, um, the best way to actually see the future improve is to be engaged in the process of making the future better. Um, and that doesn't mean everyone has to become an activist, but this is one of the asymmetrical advantages that the left has, is that for large swaths of the left, um, politics and activism is a substitute for religion, and it is a lifestyle choice more than it is sort of a, um, a vocation or something like that.
Speaker 1 00:43:31 And, um, and that makes them much more engaged in political fights than your average conservative, your average conservatives traditionally, um, has a much more normal orientation towards life. And I don't mean that in a positive or negative sense, I just mean it as descriptive sense insofar as their first charity, their first cause that is larger than themselves is their family. And then after their family, it's their community. It's the stuff lost the home, it's the businesses that they work for and all that. And it's gets very much at Tom so's notion of a constrained versus unconstrained vision. The left has a very unconstrained vision and thinks no institutions are safe from its gaze and from its, you know, its, uh, istic, you know, drives and whatnot. And, um, and I think one of the things that conservatives, particularly in the donor world, um, you know, need to keep in mind is that, um, the next election is not gonna be the last election.
Speaker 1 00:44:35 And that the short term horizon, which is really encouraged by a lot of irresponsible, uh, sort of media personalities, um, that says if we lose the next election, America is over. I thought the Flight 93 election essay by, uh, Michael Anton was grotesque, um, and, and really, uh, had horrible consequences for the conservative movement and for conservatism generally and the country generally. Um, and what I wish is that more people kept an eye on the long game, which is that in a democracy, in a free society, um, arguments are all we've really got. And if you equip the society with the right arguments, which is a longtime horizon kind of effort, um, a lot of the other things will click into place. Um, and a lot of the things that aren't gonna be fixed necessarily by arguments alone aren't gonna be fixed by the next election either, right?
Speaker 1 00:45:31 I mean, I think a lot of our problems in our society are downstream from the problems with the family and from local communities. Um, and the next president of the United States, whoever it is, isn't gonna fix a lot of those things. But if you could get people right with the facts and right with the right way to think about these things, it would make it easier for politicians to fix these things. And I think donors, a lot of people in the donor community, they just wanna be in the mix, right? They, they think it's, they're, they're buying entree into, um, um, sort of a political club, um, which I don't begrudge them. They're free to do it. And, you know, and I, and they're an important part of the political process, but it's, it's, it's necessary but not sufficient. And there are institutions and organizations like the Atlas Society, like ai, which are involved in the long-term arguments about that give people hope and how to make a constructive long-term change for the betterment of society that don't get enough attention.
Speaker 0 00:46:32 Well, since you brought up the next election as well as the long-term gain, I'm gonna squeeze in a couple of questions here. You can take either or both. One is from YouTube, uh, I like numbers, is his handle asking Jonah, how do you see the 2024 g o p primary playing out? Will the winner b Trump DeSantis battle versus Nikki Haley or Scott, uh, or Tim Scott establishment? So that's one question broadly mm-hmm. <affirmative> speaking is, you know, thoughts on the next election. And then another one is also from YouTube. Uh, guardian gamer asks, do you think America's going to be more authoritarian or not in the next 10 years? Maybe that's not even long term long range enough for you.
Speaker 1 00:47:23 Yeah. So, um, so I'll, I'll do the first one very quickly. Um, at this stage in the cycle, I'm always skeptical about anybody making predictions about who or or claim straight line projections based on who the front runner is in 2015, basically this time, you know, 2015, um, that's a year from now in the analogous period. But you know, Scott Walter in the summer of Scott Walker in the summer of 2015, was ahead by double digit, by two to one in Iowa and ahead in New Hampshire. By, in July and by September he dropped out of the race. And people forget that Scott Walker was really in the sweet spot of where the right was back then. He was like the tea party guy, he took on the left, he won three efforts that, you know, one is his governorship three times in four years. I mean, um, and then he just sort of fizzled.
Speaker 1 00:48:16 I'm not saying DeSantis is gonna fizzle, I'm just saying I right now, if I had to bet, I would bet on the field. Um, I don't think Trump is a lock to do it. I think Trump is his own worst enemy in terms of the, the, the issues that he talked about. You know, I was saying earlier he talked about immigration. He now basically talks about himself and how people are mean to him and how, um, they're disloyal and how the election was stolen. And I just don't think that that's a majority galvanizing thing. I think he's the one candidate with the best shot of losing to Joe Biden of the, of the major names that we're talking about in terms of whether we become authoritarian in the next, more authoritarian in the next 10 years. It kind of really depends on what we mean by authoritarian, you know, um, in some ways absolutely.
Speaker 1 00:48:59 In other ways, no, because these things always ebb and flow in different areas where we get really worked up about some issues and we tighten the, the, the leash on some forms of freedom and we loosen him on others. Um, I think the social media space is gonna get tighter. I think it should get tighter. I think that, um, I'm not a fan of Josh Holly, but I think he's absolutely right about coming up with an age limit, you know, like an age requirement for some forms of social media. Um, and, uh, and it's not his idea, it's like other people's had this, but he just proposed it. Um, uh, and, uh, I'm more worried about, I'm less worried about authoritarianism from above and more worried about sort of, um, soft totalitarianism or communitarianism enforce communitarianism from below. I mean, the way institutions are policing their own members now is far more pernicious, even though they have every legal right to do it, um, than anything that's coming out of the government right now.
Speaker 0 00:50:00 Interesting. All right, we've got about nine, 10 more minutes, so I'm just gonna return back to, uh, a few questions that I have to close up about your books. And, uh, one of them is a, a big theme of ours here at the society is that of gratitude, uh, as a rationally self-interested virtue that helps protect against the vices of envy and victimhood. So I was intrigued to find it is also, I'd say a major theme in your book in which you argue that quote, the crisis that besets our civilization is fundamentally psychological. Specifically we are shot through with gratitude. You mentioned fatalism as a contributing factor to gratitude. So maybe what are some of the others?
Speaker 1 00:50:51 Yeah, so this is someplace where I think rans are on the right side of things, right? Is, uh, you know, one thing Ayn Rand cannot be accused of is sort of encouraging a cult of victimization and grievance, right? You know, you, you are the owner of yourself and, um, um, and you shouldn't be plagued by guilt and self-doubt and, and, and, and notions of entitlement you should go out, go forth, and do and make. And I agree with that more broadly. Um, we, we teach people to be pissed off at the world. We teach people, I mean, I, I mean teach people, I mean literally from K through 12 through college, the educational dogma of a lot of our lead institutions is to say that the world owes you something that you are a victim. That if you don't have, so if, if you can't claim some kind of victim status, you're not a fully realized authentic person.
Speaker 1 00:51:51 Um, and you know, the Howard Zen version of history is just a history of, of victims, um, at the hands of the oppressive American government and, um, that we did no great things that aren't drenched in blood. And, um, the entire sort of entitlement culture philosophy that we have is the opposite of gratitude. Um, I'm not a big John Raws fan, the legal philo, the political philosopher, but you know, he does this thought experiment about the veil of ignorance. And he says, you know, imagine you were a disembodied soul or being need to be born, and you don't know whether you're gonna be born, um, rich or poor, uh, black or white, gay or straight, or any of these kinds of things. And the, the po point of his thought experiment is to se see how you anxiety the flourish. And I think it's very useful thought experiments, even though I think what he does with it and his motives for it are wrong, but it is just ludicrous to think that you wouldn't want to be born sometime around now in this country, um, or possibly Canada, you know, whatever. But like, uh, we have no gratitude for the fact that
Speaker 1 00:53:13 We are freer, we are richer, we are, um, more capable of designing how we are gonna pursue happiness on our own personal terms than at almost any point in human history. And instead, all we do is bitch and moan and complain about how terrible things are now, um, in part because we are me, we measure the present against some unattainable, abstract utopian standard of the future, rather than measuring the present against the real world, empirically proven standards of the past. And so I have no problem teaching about it. Slavery, I have no problem teaching about all the bad things that have happened in American history and in part so that you can demonstrate to people how much better things have gotten. But we don't teach people to be, um, appreciative of everything. We teach people to be perpetually angry and, and aggrieved. And I think you get the politics that come with that kind of, of worldview.
Speaker 0 00:54:11 All right. Um, so I wanna talk about, talked a bit about populism. I wanna also talk about nationalism. It's a hot topic, uh, in conservative circles right now. So you've argued that nationalism taken to its logical extreme must become stateism or some form of socialism, quote, everywhere nationalism has free reign, it becomes some kind of socialism. And every time socialism is set loose in an actual nation, it becomes nationalism. Given that, are you concerned with the so-called benign nationalism that's being promoted by some on the right?
Speaker 1 00:54:55 Yeah. So I mean, the actual phrase benign nationalism comes from my friends and they are dear friends, uh, rich Lowry and Remesh Panu, and the benign na and the phrase benign nationalism. The benign is doing an enormous amount of work, right? Because it's basically saying they're in favor of good nationalism. Well, I'm in favor of good nationalism too, if it's constrained and limited by what we define as good. I've never said that. My, my argument about nationalism has always been that the poison is determined by the dose, and a little nationalism is good. It gives people a sense, basically patriotism, it gives people a sense of belonging, um, to a community, a sense of, of of being otherly other directed and that kind of thing. But if you let it run rampant, right? If it doesn't have any limiting principles, then it becomes something truly toxic.
Speaker 1 00:55:46 And I, and again, this is one of these things I've been saying for 20 years, and it used to make me, you know, like an interesting after dinner speaker for conservative events, and now it makes me some sort of rhino squish crackpot. But you could take the speeches by Fidel Castro and replace the word nation, or the word socialist with the word nationalist, and the word nationalist with the word socialist, and it wouldn't change the meanings of any of the sentences. Um, you know, nationalized healthcare is socialized medicine, nationalizing the means of production is socializing the means of production. And, um, you know, in countries where they went all in on the socialism very quickly, it becomes like Stalin's Russia, because the thing that binds them to, you know, socialism in one state is the nationalism. So I, I just think as an organizing political principle, it's really dangerous and really flawed, and where, you know, uh, where, and which is why I think it makes sense to maintain a distinction between patriotism and nationalism, because patriotism is actually the way I use it, at least there are arguments about the etymology stuff.
Speaker 1 00:56:49 The way I use it at least, is that it's a commitment to the actual traditions, customs norms, rules and laws that define the American experiment. And the American experiment has those doses of nationalism in it, but that nationalism is always constrained by the constitution, by the rule of law, by democracy. Um, the problem with nationalism is that it has in and of itself no limiting principle. And so it basically just says that ultimately the fundamental will of the people, the voz, gamine shaft, whatever, should determine, should settle all arguments. Well, if that's the case, then it's going to lead to the federal government being really, really powerful because the federal government is the only one of our governments that nominally speaks for the entire nation. And, um, and I just don't trust anybody to be the, the oracle of the true will of the people, because again, the people disagree with each other, which is what they're supposed to do in a democracy.
Speaker 0 00:57:49 All right. Well, uh, I think we're just about run out of time. I don't know if you have any other final thoughts, questions you wish I would've asked, or maybe just share what you're working on now and what we can expect next.
Speaker 1 00:58:06 No, I mean, uh, the dispatch takes a huge amount of my time. Um, and, uh, I'm, uh, leaving on vacation soon cuz I'm pretty burnt out. But, uh, this was a, this was a real pleasure and, and, and thank you for having me. This was a lot of fun.
Speaker 0 00:58:20 Well, thank you Jonah and thank all of you for joining us today. And apologies to the many people that I couldn't a ask your questions cuz again, I just had so many of my own. If you enjoyed this program and the other work by the Atlas Society, please consider making a tax deductible donation to [email protected]
And please be sure to tune in next week where I'll be joined by Esther wo Jaki, author of How to Raise Successful People and Mother of three Daughters, including the c e o of YouTube, co-founder of 23 and me and an award winning anthropologist. That should be fascinating. So we'll see you then. Thanks everyone.