Authoritarianism is all around us. We see it in government, at work, and even in our local communities and schools. What can we do about it?
Ben Shapiro, host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” and editor emeritus of The Daily Wire, is the leading the charge against authoritarianism. His new book “The Authoritarian Moment: How the Left Weaponized America’s Institutions Against Dissent” is already a No. 1 bestseller after debuting last week.
“I think that there’s two types of authoritarianism when we think about it,” Shapiro says, explaining:
One is a sort of political authoritarianism in which the government continues to exert more and more power in the name of ‘doing good.’ And then the other sort of authoritarianism, which is unique to our moment a little bit, is the authoritarianism of the culture. The militarization of private institutions on behalf of one particular point of view, and then universally over time. And that one, I will say, is something kind of new.
Shapiro joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about this authoritarian threat and why we should resist conformity. Listen to the podcast interview or read a lightly edited transcript.
Rob Bluey: I’m excited to welcome a longtime friend to “The Daily Signal Podcast” today. Ben Shapiro is host of “The Ben Shapiro Show,” editor emeritus of The Daily Wire, and here today to talk about his new book “The Authoritarian Moment: How the Left Weaponized America’s Institutions Against Dissent.” Ben, welcome to the show.
Ben Shapiro: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Bluey: Before we begin, I want to thank you for writing such a prescient book. In just the past few days, we’ve seen authoritarianism all around us. You quite possibly picked the best moment to release this particular book, and I truly hope Americans will buy the book and take seriously the threat that we face. Let’s begin. What inspired you to write this book? And frankly, how did you know that this would be the right moment to release it?
Shapiro: In the aftermath of Jan. 6, I think there was a big push from the left to suggest that the great authoritarian danger to the country lay on the right. And Jan. 6 was really ugly. It was really, really bad. And a lot of criminals did criminal stuff. And the left took that as sort of the moment to start pushing its own, I think, much more dangerous forms of authoritarianism at an even new level.
In the aftermath of Jan. 6, obviously you saw, for example, Parler being taken offline by Amazon Web Services, purportedly neutral service provider. And you saw the entire Democratic Party decide, apparently, that every conservative was complicit in Jan. 6. You saw open calls for quashing First Amendment freedoms. You saw open attempt to cudgel corporations into dissociating from conservatives and Republicans.
And it was apparent to me that if we are talking about the true authoritarian threat in the country, it’s not from several hundred idiots and criminals who did something on Jan. 6, the real threat to the country is in the institutional takeover of nearly every major institution.
We’ve seen that played out over the course of the last year in particular in extraordinary ways, ranging from the reaction of institutions to the full-scale riots last summer, up to this week when you see the entire scientific establishment repeating ad nauseam anti-scientific notions about what we ought to do in order to fight the delta variant. I mean, all of this is political. And if you protest it at all, you are declared outside the Overton window.
Bluey: Ben, each day on your show you talk about so many of these current events, but I think the thing that we also need to remember is that throughout history, there are examples of authoritarianism that can really ruin a society. Can you share with us some of those examples that you draw on to point to why it’s such a threat today?
Shapiro: Yeah. I mean, I think that there’s two types of authoritarianism when we think about it. One is a sort of political authoritarianism in which the government continues to exert more and more power in the name of “doing good.” And then the other sort of authoritarianism, which is unique to our moment a little bit, is the authoritarianism of the culture. The militarization of private institutions on behalf of one particular point of view and then universally over time.
And that one, I will say, is something kind of new. We haven’t seen a lot of that in the past. You’ve seen the attempt, particularly in fascist countries, by the government to use corporations as a stand-in for its own policymaking. You saw this, for example, in Germany, where industry works pretty regularly with the Nazi administration in order to effectuate exactly what the Nazis wanted.
But the informal bond that’s been created between the Democratic Party and the government, and the media outlets who do their bidding, and then the corporations who are just cudgeled into doing whatever they want, added something that’s completely new.
It’s really, really frightening because you can see not only that it doesn’t really require a government in order to create this restricted mindset and polarization, but also you can see it leading up to the government. You can see a point where the government is going to simply start effectuating it as policy, a lot of the social authoritarianism that we’re seeing on a day-to-day level.
Bluey: It is alarming and it’s also alarming to see so many Americans who are just willing to fall in line and follow these orders. What is it going to take to get Americans to snap out of this and think critically and speak up against what’s going on?
Shapiro: I think that we’re starting to see it. Thank God. I mean, I think that the reaction that we’ve seen to critical race theory, for example, in the schools, which has been going on for years, but it took a little bit of a revelation, people seeing inside the classrooms, frankly, over the last year or so to drive that reaction. I think you’re seeing that.
I think that when you see the left making more and more radical plays with regard to men not being men and women not being women, and men being women, and all of this, and the idea that you can be thrown out of your job if you fail to acquiesce to this or your child could be moved from your home if you fail to acquiesce to this sort of stuff. In other words, the harder the left pushes, the more they’re going to meet with some resistance.
The key, for the last couple of decades at least, has been incrementalism. In the ’60s, they went too radical too fast, and the reaction was the Reagan years. But since the 1990s, the left has really decided to be pretty incremental in its approach.
They take over institutions, they bully and they cudgel, but what they’re bullying and cudgeling on behalf of is usually some sort of small incremental step. So people in the middle just kind of throw up their hands and go, “OK. Well, is it really that big a deal?” And sooner or later, you’re going to run up against the fact that the left has moved pretty radical.
And now they’ve put the pedal to the metal. I mean, the last year really is, I think, a breaking point for the country. The fact that corporations were basically threatening their own employees if they weren’t posting black squares on Instagram, or the fact that he voted for [Donald] Trump, this was considered rationale enough for you to be disowned by friends and family. Or now the fact that if you have serious questions, data-driven questions, about the approach being taken by, for example, the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], you could be completely deplatformed from social media.
I mean, this sort of stuff is driving the response because I think the left believes they are never going to lose again. I think they’re about to get a swift lesson in justice on that one.
Bluey: You brought up education. And as a parent yourself, what advice do you have for the moms and dads out there who are listening to this show? How should they be preparing their kids to resist authoritarianism?
Shapiro: Well, I mean, if you’re talking about people going to college, then you really do need to have them read up on the opposing points of view they’re likely to encounter in college. You need to sort of inoculate them against a lot of the poisons that they’re likely to experience in college, and that means reading books that take that sort of stuff on and analyzing those books.
And I think there are a lot of good books on economics. For example, I always recommend “Economics in One Lesson” for kids who are about to go to college as sort of a good primer on some of the bad ideas that are pushed out there. Obviously, the writings of Thomas Sowell are good and well-written, and easy enough that kids can read them.
If you’re talking about small kids, then first move should be take your kid out of public school if you can. If you can’t, then you really need to get active at the school board level, or you need to think about homeschooling, because the educational system really has been taken over by a cadre of left-wing extremists. And you can see that in the behavior of the people at the [American Federation of Teachers] and the National Education Association.
Bluey: You mentioned COVID and the CDC, and obviously that’s on the minds of a lot of Americans right now. You have been one of the most outspoken pro-vaccine conservative leaders both on your show and at The Daily Wire, but you’ve also expressed a lot of frustration with how the Biden administration and CDC have been handling this, at least from a messaging and policy perspective. Where do you see this going from here? And how do you think the American people are going to react to some of this new guidance that’s just come out?
Shapiro: I mean, I think they’re out of their damned mind. I think that the CDC and the Biden administration are out of their damned minds in their approach to this.
The fact is that the vaccines are extraordinarily effective when it comes to mitigating hospitalization. When it comes to death, they basically prevent nearly all death from COVID. That’s a miracle. That’s wonderful. Also, adults are adults and you can’t force people to take a vaccine if they are upset about taking a vaccine, but they also have to live with that decision.
And the guidance that you’re getting from the Biden administration is so mangled and befuddling and it makes no sense at all. They’re talking down the efficacy of the vaccine. At the same time, they’re saying, “We’re going to force you to get it.” They’re saying, “Well, if you’re vaccinated, you still might have a breakthrough infection. You still might pass it on to somebody else.”
Which of course leads people who are wary about the vaccines to say, “Well, then you lied to us. You weren’t telling us the truth in the first place. So now you’re expecting me to take this vaccine?” And the Biden administration’s response is, “Well, then maybe we should think about mandates.”
You know what? Here’s the biggest problem. From the very beginning, we had an original goal. The original goal was we have to prevent the overwhelming of the hospital. Right? That was the original goal. And then we did that. And then there was a big debate that broke out, which basically was, we’re going to have to learn to live with a virus on one side and zero COVID on the other.
And we’re going to have to learn to live with the virus, which is obviously a much more scientifically-driven, verifiable, likely scenario than zero COVID, which pretty much from the beginning, as soon as it was widely seated, it was never going to be anything that happened. Zero COVID was not going to happen.
Then the next goal became, “OK. Well, we still have to do lockdowns. We have to do masking in order to get to the point where we have a vaccine.” OK, well, we did that. And then we had to do it until the point where all the adults could have the opportunity to get the vaccine. And particularly adults because kids are not very vulnerable to COVID. Thank God. The grand total number of kids under the age of 18 who have died from COVID is under 350. That’s out of a subpopulation of 75 million human beings.
So if the goal was everybody now has the opportunity to get the vaccine and the vaccines, thank God, are unbelievably good at preventing hospitalization and death, this is the point where you throw up your hands and you say, “We are now done.”
And if you’re unvaccinated and you don’t want to take the vaccine, that’s your prerogative. I may disagree with that analysis, I may think that you’re wrong, but you’re an adult human being. You get to make that decision. You just have to live with the consequences.
But because the left never let go of the zero COVID idea, they now have to keep saying over and over and over that we are going to take any measures necessary to force you or cudgel you, or even force the vaccinated who’ve been taking our advice and doing the masking, we’re going to force all those people to now protect you by putting on a mask even after they’re vaccinated and thus no longer vulnerable to hospitalization or death.
This is utter insanity. There’s no limiting principle. There’s no end to it. I honestly don’t know what would now be considered the end of the pandemic because literally they’re not saying that they’re not too worried about counties that have a case rate of 50 out of a 100,000 population.
Well, here’s the problem with that. No. 1, that’s an incredibly low rate. No. 2, let’s say it goes to 20, OK? And then tomorrow there’s a bit of an uptick. So what? Everybody has to mask-up nationwide over it? I mean, this is all crazy. There’s no limiting principle to any of this.
In fact, I would say that there’s a significantly better moral case that you have to mask-up if you have a cold than if you have to mask-up if you’ve been vaccinated and you have COVID. The reason being, again, because if you have COVID, everybody else has had a chance to insulate themselves against that. If you’ve got a cold, there is no vaccine for a cold. So this is all madness.
Bluey: Do you think that these political leaders who are doing this will pay a price at the ballot box? Or when will that reckoning come?
Shapiro: Yeah, it’s coming. I think it’s coming and it’s coming strong. I think that it’s not going to come into blue states where people seem to have accustomed themselves to authoritarian rule and seem very, very comfortable with giving up their freedom.
Listen, I’m sort of a circumspect guy about this. I’m not somebody who was, “I’m never wearing a mask ever,” or, “Masks are inherently evil.” That was not my take on this. I wasn’t somebody who was saying [Dr. Anthony] Fauci needed to be fired in the first month. It took me a while to get to “Fauci needs to be fired.”
And I think that the fact is that we are now separating as a population into two groups. One group of people, at the very least, wants to see the data before they are told what to do, and they want to see that that’s justified. And then we have another group of people who don’t care what the data says, they just want to be told what to do. And that is extremely disturbing.
I think that if [New York City Mayor] Bill de Blasio and [Gov.] Andrew Cuomo in New York state said, “We’re going to just mask you down literally forever, because we don’t know what variant had happened ever, for the rest of your life.” I mean, there could be a new variant. There could be smallpox tomorrow. This is only the first pandemic. If they said that, I think that 50% of the population of New York would continue masking up until the end of time.
Bluey: Well, Ben, you’ve certainly led by example to push back against the conformity. You moved your family out of the state of California, which I think you might describe as an authoritarian state, at least with authoritarian leaders. What prompted you to make that decision and why have you encouraged others to follow suit?
Shapiro: I think that the state is basically toast. I think that they took the most beautiful state in the country, in terms of natural resources, and they completely wrecked it.
I mean, they decided that ideology was significantly more important than having a workable state. The tax rates there are obviously exorbitant. But they also decided they just won’t go in to police crime anymore. They decided that it was not in their interest to stop the homeless epidemic from overrunning the city. They didn’t care about the safety of taxpayers at all.
Then during the riots, they basically decided to shut down the entire city for a week to allow people the freedom to do what they want and on Melrose Avenue, which largely meant breaking into shops and burning cop cars. And at that point it was like, “OK. Well, if this is a bad place to live now, how bad is this place going to be in five years?”
So my business partner and I had been talking about moving Daily Wire out of California for a couple of years because of tax rates and regulations, and it’s a very unfriendly business climate.
And that really started to accelerate when I took my family to Florida and we visited for three weeks, really not thinking we were going to buy a house here. And within two weeks, we’re like, “OK. Well, got to buy a house here.” And we bought a house. And then we moved the business to Nashville because there was no Jewish community in Nashville for my family needs, but I fly to Nashville pretty frequently.
So I mean, people are fleeing California and they’re fleeing California for a reason. There’s a reason that [Gov.] Gavin Newsom is being recalled. Liberal governance has shown itself over the past several years, particularly, to be an extraordinary failure. I mean, when you’re talking about crime or whether you’re talking about the handling of COVID, I’ve never seen a better object lesson in why blue governance tends to fail.
Bluey: Ben, you acknowledged that there are authoritarian leaders on the right but usually it’s limited to the fringes. Why has the left so embraced authoritarianism with such vigor?
Shapiro: I think the reason is that the left truly believes that people who disagree are unempathetic, cruel, nasty, and inhuman. And that’s a pretty dangerous thing to believe about your political opponents.
I believe that, as you suggested, that people on the left are wrong about a lot of things. They hold a lot of premises that I don’t share, but I don’t think they are evil. I mean, there’s some of them who are overtly evil, but I think that many of them are not.
I think your typical run-of-the-mill Democrat is a person who just disagrees with me about taxes, but generally agrees that the United States is a damned good place to live and was founded on good principles, and that we’re privileged to live here. And we can disagree about the way that we handle the health care system, but that doesn’t go to sort of the root values of what it means to be an American.
I think that people on the left, by and large, don’t think that about people on the right. They tend to think that people on the right are evil, theocratic monsters who spend their days in church plotting how to destroy other people’s lives and who are selfish and nasty and love guns.
I mean, when they’re in the privacy of their own bubbles, they say this sort of stuff pretty openly. I mean, [former President] Barack Obama famously said in 2008 that people who disagreed with him were just economically depressed, bitter clingers who were interested in gods and guns and xenophobia.
I think that that feeling is pretty widespread. And what that means is you really don’t have to take their opinion seriously. In fact, you’re demanded to not take their opinions seriously. Whatever methods are at your disposal to run roughshod over them are totally decent.
So on the one hand, you’ll say that we need a pure majoritarian rule at the federal level because Democrats think they have the majority to get rid of the filibuster, stop all of it. And then on the other hand, Texas is so bad and so red that it’s perfectly good and wonderful that Texas Democrats just absconded from the state completely to deny a quorum.
So on the one hand, the filibuster is bad because the filibuster is in their way. On the other hand, denying a quorum, which is a pure procedural move, and done so illegally. So that’s not anything remotely resembling principle, except for the principle that you ought to lose.
Bluey: Ben, you’ve built a profitable media brand, one of the most popular podcasts. You’ve written many bestselling books, including this one. And yet, rather than welcome the competition, it seems that the left wants to destroy you. NPR is just one of the most recent examples publishing an outrageous attack piece recently. What motivates you to keep going every day?
Shapiro: I think that the fight unfortunately never ends. Both you and I are in the business of, in essence, trying to eliminate our own jobs. At a certain point, I hope that the country would be in such strong position that I would find something else to do for a living. But I think that the fight that we’re in as a country and as a culture is a knife’s-edge fight. And I think every day matters. I never stopped writing. And I think that there are a lot of people on the right who feel like this.
And listen, I’m lucky. I get to say what I want for a living. I get to speak out in a way that a lot of other people don’t. And so to a certain extent, I feel like if I’m given the privilege of doing that, I owe it to a lot of people who aren’t able to say what they actually believe or feel, say it because it gives them a feeling of solidarity. They’re not the only ones out there who feel that way.
I think one of the things the left has done is they’ve very successfully made conservatives feel like they’re alone, like they’re the only people who think like this, and that’s just not true. I think the majority of Americans are moderate to moderate right, and maybe even full-on right on many of these issues. And so denying the left a monopoly of message I think is really important.
Bluey: One more question for you. In addition to buying your book, which we’ll link to in the show notes and transcript, what’s the best way for our listeners to follow your work and support what you’re doing?
Shapiro: Come on over to dailywire.com and get a subscription. We have all sorts of good stuff over there, ranging from my show to Michael Knowles to Matt Walsh and Candace Owens, and a lot of good stuff happening over there. We’ve gotten into the film business, so we started to release entertainment content specifically to pose a threat to the traditional Hollywood model. So go support us over there. You can also follow pretty much everything I’m doing over on Twitter, where I’m far too active for my own mental health.
Bluey: And we love the new show “The Morning Wire.” Congrats on the launch of that podcast and so many of the other things that you’re doing. You really truly are an inspiration to so many people who work in conservative media for all that you’ve done and the great work that you’ve built at The Daily Wire. Ben, thanks so much for being with us today.
Shapiro: Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.
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