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Going to read “The Right Side of History”. This will be some mixture of enlightening, been there done that, and hate-read dunkathon. Let’s see.

No idea what Shapiro’s background is outside trolling libs, but I maybe he’s sort of Straussian? The ‘Jerusalem plus Athens’ thing.
So the thesis is ‘things have never been better, but we’re fucking it up now.’ Pinker + angst.
‘We’ in the book is Americans, natch.
And the decline he’s worrying about is American specifically. Drug overdoses, marriage rates, plus some swipes at new age and social justice attitudes.
Trendy answer for decline: income inequality! But we are clearly not swayed be intellectual fashions, not we.
He critiques income inequality as an explanation by citing a bunch of generic growth facts that have nothing to do with inequality.
Ooh, he’s name-checking Ta Nehisi-Coats and calling him passionate. But you know it’s not going to be race.
Of course it isn’t race, Shapiro says, because racism hasn’t gotten any worse. In fact, modern America is more equal than any other society in human history!

*chokes to death on own tongue*
His evidence for THAT blazing take is that disapproval of mixed race marriages is WAY down from 1958.
Goddamn it, Shapiro, there are other countries than America. Is it possible that any of them are more racially equal then America? We’ll never know, because if it’s not America, thus far @benshapiro is not interested.
Hey, between 2013 and 2016, the number of Americans who thought race relations are good declined by 20%. What could’ve happened?
He dismisses technology as a cause and here the argument seems solid: polarization is increasing most for demographic groups least likely to use the internet. Oldies.
I wonder if there’s something could explain why old folks in America are becoming more politically polarized. Maybe it rhymes with ‘box blues’.
And his explanation is gonna be that we are polarized because we are destroying the foundations on which our civilization is built. Hey, maybe! Although I have a feeling he might run into trouble if you think about whether the argument applies to any other country than US...
Here comes the being heckled by mean SJW’s story.
TBF, sounds like something did change hugely for Shapiro’s experience of the culture in 2016. I feel like Occam’s razor suggests the cause of this has a gross fake tan and misspells ‘hamburger’.
But maybe it’s that the foundations of western civ were collapsing. Lets find out!
I will ride with @benshapiro on the ‘old ideas are important’ ox-cart.
Blargh. So Jerusalem’s contribution is going to be ‘God created every human in His image’. Not sure I’m 💯 with you, Ben.
Jerusalem and Athens this, that and the other. Science, freedom, reason, human rights. Defeated Nazis and Communists!

It’s already pretty clear where I’m going to have issues — the details should be fun. First, How much credit is Jerusalem going to deserve? Second, are we going to be ignoring other intellectual sources than J&A? Third, are we gonna ignore how J&A inspired stuff we don’t like?
So J&A are rhetorically opposed to moral subjectivism, individualistic hedonism, the rule of passion, age-old tribalism, and moral subjectivism again. Got it.
I’m curious how capitalism in Shapiro’s mind is a legacy of J&A, cuz he’s crediting it with ‘the prosperity the world built.’
Things that are poor substitutes for J&A: “intersectionality, or scientific materialism, or progressive politics, or authoritarian governance, or nationalistic solidarity’.

Yeah, this is 💯gonna be J&A=stuff @benshapiro likes.
Stacking socialist programs on top of capitalist infrastructures isnt going to immediately collapse the West. Phew! But doing so apparently involves abandoning the values of the past. Man, it is going to be LIT when he explains the intellectual origins of Marxism.
I like the image of the West running on ‘philosophical fumes’. My mental picture is someone huffing glue, but the glue is Plato.
Uh oh, ‘immigrants unfamiliar with Western values’ are being imported because of declining western birth rates. You KNOW that’s trouble.
Ooh, there is tension between J&A! We built a bridge between them and can’t let it collapse!
Apparently Shapiro will be simplifying some issues for the sake of brevity as we go along. Important to hit your page count.
Shapiro says ‘you should pursue further the specific issues that interest you, with people more expert than I’.

Don’t worry man, I’m already here. This is my jam.
Chapter 1.
I’m a philosopher of science and I study intellectual history. I don’t care about your personal anecdotes, Ben. Gah. Give me some of that sweet sweet history of western civ, not a story about your wife and kids.
He’s making a pretty good case for Jewish sabbath being awesome, though. I get that.
Politics can’t get you happiness: check. More and more Americans get their happiness from politics, evidenced by... people argue online about politics a lot.
He’s making a point of telling matching anecdotes about democratic and republican politicians.
One reason 3/4 of Americans are not confident life will be better for their children might be this crazy climate change thing.
Time to pick up my daughter from school.
Hey, a recipe for happiness: 4 ingredients. Individual and communal moral purposes, and individual and communal capacities to pursue that purpose. Maybe?
The beginning of Western Civilization is Genesis 1:26, that god created man in his image. Bold claim, Shapiro. Not looking promising that we’ll get much argument for it.
I wonder if Shapiro thinks nobody was really happy before Judaism. It kinda seems like he must. We need individual purpose to be happy, individual purpose is NOT just atomistic individualism, it is built upon this idea of the divine image that ORIGINATES with Genesis
Oh boy, he’s complaining about Intersectionality again. This should be awesome to read every 15 pages.
And essential oils, too. Did he just cut and paste this from the intro?
Shapiro’s very fond of bold ‘we must’ statements, backed up by... I guess the self evident truth of his opinions? Apparently we can’t be happy if we think we are just material agglomerations of matter changing with every moment.

Well, shit.
OMG, we just arrived at the first really egregious faceplant. Shapiro tries to argue that scientific materialists are not REALLY reasonable because if we are all just meat puppets then why appeal to arguments? REASON IS JUST AN ILLUSION IN A DETERMINISTIC UNIVERSE GUYS
This is like the inverse of Sam Harris being like ‘TRINITY LOL 3 or 1 make up your mind cretin’.
Wow, the intellectual bankruptcy of deterministic materialism proved in six sentences. That’s efficiency! He’s on to new topics.
Weird sideswipe at Darwinian evolution, it “leaves no room for the true; ... only... the evolutionary beneficial.” Oh, Ben, you’re standing on a beach next to a vast ocean, tossing in pebbles.
Ben does remember about evidence when he has some social science factoids to share. Better than nothing I guess. Being socially isolated is bad folks: it’s science
Quotes John Adams that the constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. Sounds like Trouble’s a-brewing.
Delicate balance between strong social institutions and over-strong. Francis Fukuyama made this point very well using detailed historical analysis from a similar political perspective as Ben. Ben just asserts it. Trust him, guys, he knows about this stuff.
“Happiness, then, comprises four elements:”....that gives the HIGHLY misleading impression we have just read an argument establishing that as a conclusion. What we actually read were a series of riffs on various people saying those 4 things are important and stuff.
Wow. He is all in on ‘happiness is impossible without those 4 elements.
But of course, those 4 are themselves built on just 2 sources: Divine meaning and reason.
“There can be no individual or communal moral purpose without a foundation of Divine meaning.”

No argument, @benshapiro ? Nothing? Not in this chapter, anyway. Maybe in chapter 2!
Ah, and here it is: “the greatest culture and civilization in world history — the West”

Sorry #China we did the math. Not here in the book though. Science!
Too bad nobody in history was happy before Judeo-Christian civilization came along. Bible rules, Buddha drools.

“The Light that allegedly shone at Sinai incontestably illuminated the world.”

Dude, nobody alleged anything about the Light. The Light is not subject to criminal proceedings and our lawyers have not instructed us to minimize our risk of legal action.
It’s such a funny cover too. Like, at this point, Shapiro is distancing himself from believing scripture is true? Is he trying to say that it only matters that we believe the Light shone? Is it irrelevant? The logic of his argument is probably that it IS irrelevant, actually.
Hey, Shapiro, did you know that there are people who believe that utilitarian reasons ARE moral reasons? In the Western tradition it’s a pretty, uh, influential theory. So holding up morality and utility as opposed without an argument is... pretty ignorant?
“Finally Judaism claimed that God had endowed man with choice.”

Everyone knows that this was original to Judaism. #first
Man, Shapiro is dunking all over these unnamed western leaders who portray themselves as defenders of western values but REALLY ARENT
Shapiro explaining polytheism is HILARIOUS. It’s actually kind of interesting, you guys, and people weren’t actually idiots for believing in many gods, as you might have thought.
Ooh, paganism is more cynical and pessimistic. It also, interestingly, is tooted in a “hardheaded belief in that which we can see”. Paganism is. Gee, I wonder if atheistic materialists will turn out to be MODERN PAGANS.
Rooted, damnit
Judaism vs. Paganism: throwdown.
Shapiro has done ok so far when he is talking about social science or being ranty. He’s starting to try to do some history now, though, and it is grim.
Set aside the total blindness to eastern thought; even what he says about Judaism is wrong. It’s his Judaism projected back into the distant past, onto a very different culture and religion.
He quotes the commandment “Thou shall have no other gods before me” as evidence of Jewish monotheism. There is considerable evidence that this was not originally a statement if monotheism: it was a statement of exclusivity. Jews were not allowed to worship the other local gods.
God was jealous: he required Jews to serve him and him only. And historically, many Jews disobeyed this. The whole history of Judea and Israel as related in scripture is full of the temptation of foreign gods and the wicked kings who worshipped them. It is a prescriptive story...
That reflects the historical reality that many Jews in the first millenium BCE did not see their relationship with Yahweh as exclusive. The commandment to forsake other gods may have emerged gradually, or abruptly under a reforming king (Josiah is a common suggestion).
And it is commonly argued that strict monotheism emerged only in the second temple period. If this is correct, Jewish monotheism may well have been influenced by Zoroastrian dualism, via the Persian servitude of the exiles.
But you’re not going to hear about any of that in THIS history of Western Civilization.
Ditto Judaism being antimaterialistic. The absolutely standard view is that ancient Judaism was a notably materialistic worldview that conceived of human beings as material bodies. This was influenced early christianity, which did NOT involve a conception of an immortal soul
When judgement day comes, the bodies of the dead are brought back to life. The idea of the immortal soul is Greek, and both Christianity and Judaism gradually adopt it in the first few centuries CE. Ben could have learned this in an intro Western Civ course...
Shapiro continues to ignore Hinduism and Buddhism, which enjoin righteousness. Hinduism is such an obvious counterexample to his discussion of polytheism, but even as an account of greco-roman polytheism it’s slanderous and ahistorical.
Ok, time to make dinner. Evaluation so far:
Working my way through chapter 2, this is going downhill RAPIDLY. This is not history, not even bad history. It’s totally disconnected from and uninformed by history.
The approach in this book is summed up by the fact that we’re well into a discussion of how Judaism influenced History of WesCiv without even a gesture towards talking about Jewish history. Jewish history does not equal your favorite quotes from scripture.
This discussion refutes itself with even a basic knowledge of history. The concept of a predictable, discoverable God is essential to science and created by Jews? But science also apparently starts with the Greeks, who were (checks notes) pagans.
Oo, foreshadowing, the catholic church is a bad theocracy. Reading the bible is going to overturn it, seems like. Go protestants.
And we’re on to Athens. I hope chapter 3 comes down really hard on sophists, like Plato would have wanted.
And we begin our tour of the glorious beginnings of western philosophy in Athens with a rant about American college students
Only 16 ‘top universities’ offer courses in western civ, apparently. I have a feeling Ben’s list is American only. Cuz we are talking QUALITY. After the last chapter, I wonder quite seriously if Ben ever took a western civ course. He must have, right? Right?
He’s not wrong that SOME criticism of the value of Western Civ comes from lefty anti-colonialism. But you can also just meet that criticism by presenting a balanced picture that makes room for and discusses the imperialism, the oppression, etc. Which makes the whole thing better
Ben can’t make up his mind whether the dignity and primacy of man is a Jerusalem or an Athens thing. You would think Athens, except the last chapter was SUPER sxcited about God making man in His image
Oh, and here comes Plato’s allegory of the cave. Fingers crossed, Ben.
Hey, not terrible! He kind of misses the point though: for him it’s just ‘some smart people can go get the Light of reason and bring it back down into the cave to share.’ That’s like, maybe a C+?
One of Ben’s themes is clearly going to be the importance of not being a materialist, so it seems like a huge miss to NOT TALK ABOUT how the physical world is just a bunch of toys casting shadows in the dark.
When Ben says “The first contribution of the ancient Greeks was” he means “the first one I care about”.

It’s the philosophy of natural law.
No, Ben, it is NOT the case that for “both Plato and Aristotle, what makes us “virtuous” is doing our job: look at the world with reason, discerning the final causes”
Discerning final causes is not an aspect of virtue for either of them. For Plato you could say it’s either knowing the Good or having your reason ruling over your soul, for Aristotle fulfilling your rational nature involves developing your capacities fully and using them properly
Aristotle’s unmoved mover wasn’t a designer of the order in nature, dude.
Otherwise the capsule history of the Greek thinkers is fine, given how short it is. He’s leaving a lot of stuff on the table that could help his argument — Plato’s forms and Pythagoras get mentioned re: the order of nature, but what about smacking goddamned materialists?
Tracing Aristotle’s political philosophy through Cicero to the founding fathers: check. Good job, Ben. That was on the rubric.
I’m sympathetic to the goal, but Ben’s defense of the importance of the classics is weak here. How does dissing the greeks undercut one’s ability to practice the values they espoused? You can simultaneously believe that separation of powers is important and that Aristotle sucks
“There is no question that without Athens, the West would simply not exist as it is.”

Ouch, that’s a freshmanish ‘sweeping statement that is accidentally a self own’. If the most you can say is ‘without it, history would be different’, you got nothing.
Why do we need Jerusalem? Because the Greeks couldn’t separate individual purpose from communal purpose properly.

No, they really could. They really really could, and nothing Ben Shapiro has to say about happiness is one fucking thousandth as insightful as Aristotle.
He also gets Aristotle so wrong here. I’m not going to go check his source, but either he is misreading Hansen, or Hansen is wrong too. Aristotle’s conception of virtue is one of actively choosing and acting well. It’s not alien from modern notions of freedom.
You need to be free to be virtuous, basically, for Aristotle, because you need to be able to make meaningful choices. Aristotle is not a classical liberal obviously, but you can make a great Aristotelian case for personal liberty being very important!
“The Greeks found happiness in philosophizing, not in action” SMH. You know, Ben, there was not just one philosophical account of happiness so generalizing like that is, how you say, wrong.

Also, Alexander the Great.
On to chapter 4!
Ben Shapiro: There were some differences between ancient Greek and Jewish thought.

Fact check: true
Oh hai, Christianity merges Jewish thought and Greek thought.

But it wasn’t the ‘first serious attempt to do so’, Ben. I give you: Philo of Alexandria
We get some surprising sympathy for the Donatist heretics in our whirlwind tour of the church fathers. Mean ol’ Augustine!
Faceplant “Christianity was the only religion actively seeking converts” in Roman society. Since Judaism didn’t proselytize.

Since, of course, Christianity and Judaism were the only religions.

Oh, god, he’s going to have to have a take on Islam, isn’t he. That should be fun.
Woah, it’s late. Time flies when you’re learning about Western Civ! Off to bed.

As an aside, I think this has actually been pretty useful as an exercise to think critically as I read. This phone keyboard is SLAYING me though so I got to do a different mode.
Now I just need to get people to read and retweet my brilliant live-tweeted critique of Shapiro’s latest. If only I had followers.

Uh, @CInsistence and I get along! @Noahpinion responded to me a few times! @aytchellesse will get the philosophy jokes!
Wow, Shapiro just covered the history of christianity through the Roman empire up until the 12th century in, what, 3 paragraphs? There’s that efficiency at work again.
The Dark ages weren’t really that dark, you guys.
Shapiro is leaving a ton more relevant stuff on the table. The early intellectual history of Chritianity is ALL about how to reconcile Greek philosophy with Christianity. But all the issues are being ignored — probably because they mostly didn’t have to do with FREEDOM
This chapter is such a Cole’s notes version. It’s like the power point slides off a mediocre lecture.
Oh, and here comes Islam!
Well that was brief. And uh, worrisome. “when Islamic civilization came up against Western civilization at the battle of Tours, Islamic forces were soundly defeated.

This little throwaway line is SO revealing. It’s worth a whole discussion, actually.
So, the question of how the Islamic world fits into the study of Western Civ is REALLY important. Maybe THE most important practical and theoretical question. Ben is following what was the standard approach back when Western Civ started up. And that would be ok if this was 1950..
Ben is assuming that Islam is a separate civilization from the West. But, in the time period he is talking about, Islam is THE BRIDGE between Athens and Jerusalem. Islam is an Abrahamic religion. It takes on board all the aspects of Judaism he thinks matter.
And it’s also heir to Greek philosophy. Europe is in 600-1000 CE WAY less civilized, educated, literate, etc.

So if you want to say that Islam is not Western, in the 8th century, but Charles Martel and his Franks are, you BETTER explain why.
The way that most modern Western Civ textbooks handle Islam, by the way, is to INCLUDE it in western civ, because it is successive to and deeply influenced by Roman, Greek, Jewish culture. But they mostly do a terrible job, because of the vastly deeper literature on Europe
Really, the way I theoretically favor doing WCiv now is to basically abandon Europe from 476-1000 and look at Eastern Roman empire and Islam instead. Maybe check in on Charlemagne. It’s not practical because the textbooks don’t support it though.
Obviously if you do that you miss lots of fun European dark ages stuff. But in WCiv you always have to leave out a ton of fun stuff, and you need to choose only the most essential topics because there is so much to cover. Islam shapes and transmits the classical heritage...
So why not focus on Islam when it is at its height, and leave Europe on the backburner until it becomes relevant again? And hey, you can make the case that Islam shouldn’t be included that way. I could be wrong. But this whole topic is not remotely on Shapiro’s radar.
OMG. Speaking of which...
Shapiro says medieval period was strong on moral purpose, but didn’t make enough room for reason. Reason came back to Europe via the “reintroduction of Greek reason to the west” in the 11th century. Yes, Ben, it’s usually called the translation movement...
And it was initially translation of texts FROM ARABIC into latin. Texts obtained from the muslim world, often commentaries by muslim philosophers. Somehow that part hasn’t come up. Weird.
Oh, hey, a little later Shapiro does say that Aristotle had survived in the Arabic world and got passed back in the 13th century to Europe. What the Arabs did with Aristotle it in that time is still of no interest, though, apparently.
Ooh, and we get Al-Farabi namechecked as he’s launching into a long exposition of Aquinas. Well, longer than any other philosopher thus far, Plato and Aristotle included.
Hey, the capsule discussion of Aquinas is fine. Makes sense since Aquinas is the best christian embodiment of J+A. And Ben correctly emphasizes that scientific research up until quite recently typically had religious motives.
“The age of scientific progress did not begin with the enlightenment. It began in the monastaries of Europe.”

And in the gardens of Al-Andalus, but, hey, this is big a step up from chapter 2.
Oh, but now he’s going to explain why scholastic philosophy didn’t do a good enough job uniting J&A. Oh god. You don’t take a swing at Aquinas, Ben. He’s in a different weight class.
Ended up being a squib. The problem with the scholastics was they were too focused on salvation to care about improving this world. Ok, fine.

It is kind of odd that Shapiro in this book seem to only care about religion in that it gives people a sense of purpose. Salvation? Meh.
And, of course,one of the weird things going all the way back is that there is no indication that we might get a sense of purpose from secular institutions. Like, didn’t the communist revolutionaries have a sense of purpose?
And we’re on to chapter 5. Which judging from the title, is going to be... about Liberalism? Already? Wow, that’s dispatched like 75% of my curriculum in 4 chapters.
Ok, no, phew, it’s the protestant reformation. That’s better.
Oh, no, it’s the scientific revolution. Luther just got namechecked as part of the backlash against reason.

This discussion of the scientific revolution is mostly interested in saying over and over again that these guys were not atheists and their faith motivated their science.
This is true, and important! But it’s a pretty narrow thing to focus on at the exclusion of everything else. And he is certainly not interested in discussing HOW their faith interacted with their research, or anything more than the briefest discussion of the science.
Coles notes Francis Bacon, Coles notes Descartes.
Actually, that’s a bad comparison becauese those notes actually give good detail on the intellectual content of the works they summarize.
This is crazy how fast he is jumping through thinkers. This is rhetorically terrible. What do these two-sentence summaries accomplish? With each one, he’s straining to find something to say to relate them to his topics. His discussion of Machiavelli is terrible. But most are.
And here’s Luther again. This is all over the place. Late medieval science, renaissance political philosophy, Scientific revolution, and reformation, all out of order and jumbled together, summarised quickly and poorly.
Ok, I’m going to try and use @threadreaderapp to unroll this because it is LONG
So we are already at Hobbes, now, in this same chapter that namechecked John Buridan, because Ben is a heat seeking missile for freedom. I am still angry at how lame his scientific revolution and renaissance was.
To no-one’s surprise, there is a long and loving paean to Locke. Home at last in liberalism’s fragrant bosom!
And oh my god, we namecheck Montesquieu and then, here it is, at last: America! In chapter 5! Silly me, I thought he might need more than half a chapter to cover the late middle ages, the renaissance, the reformation, and the scientific revolution. We’re in 1776!
Can I just stop for a minute to really breathe in how crazy that is?In retrospect, maybe it is not surprising that Ben Shapiro doesn’t really care all that much about HWesCiv except insofar as he can use it to push a political narrative. But, really, Ben, 24 pages?
Science is to be admired from afar. We are much to busy to learn what scientists back then thought! They loved both god and reason, as they ought; they therefore provide an instructive lesson that we may contemplate for the duration of two sentences. Onward to liberty!
We are seriously in 1825 now. Ringing endorsements of the genius of the founding fathers and the declaration of independence.

Looking back, I should have been WAY harder on Ben for his treatment of Greek political thought and practice.
So, Ben dodged talking seriously about Greek and Roman democracy by asserting that the Greek conception of virtue was collectivist: the individual can’t thrive outside the context of the state. This actually quite bad: both simplifying the variety of Greek political thought...
And misrepresenting Aristotle, who he SHOULD read as being completely in consonance with Ben’s own lame 4-factor model of happiness. You need meaning and agency at both the group and individual level? Yes, says Aristotle. But, Ben has a narrative need...
To build up to the GLORIOUS APOTHEOSIS of America. So the Greeks must have been missing something. And, since Ben is willing to engage a bit with philosophy but history is TOO messy, he doesn’t even begin to look at the actual political systems of Athens or Rome.
You might think the actual laws and government of Athens or Republican rome might be relevant to the legacy of the west! The founding fathers certainly did. But Shapiro has literally NOT DISCUSSED EITHER AT ALL.
For one thing, if he actually talked about the details of Athens’ democratic system for 2 seconds, the contention that the Greeks were NOT INDIVIDUALISTIC enough would be immediately revealed as nonsense.
I’m not sure I can handle Shapiro rubbing himself lasciviously all over the founding documents of America. This is getting too sexual. I need an adult.
Ben is actually quite dismissive of the intellectual antecedents of American democracy. Where the founders saw themselves as deeply indebted to classical thought, he presents them as genius innovators coming up with a fusion of ideas that goes far beyond anything in the ancients.
To be fair, we have probably arrived at the one area in history where Ben Shapiro knows more than me. Never been an early American history guy.
Thick, delicious freedom everywhere. The floodgates have opened. The American ideology “was the greatest experiment in human progress and liberty ever designed by the mind of man.” Jefferson mightily joined J&A together in a fusion that completes and perfects human happiness.
I think I’m going to need to lie down. This is intense.
Let us now examine why the U.S. constitution is the best and most perfect document supporting human happiness that was or ever will be written, using this janky account of human happiness I invented in chapter 1.
I’m not finding his account of the faithiness of the founding documents very convincing. He keeps baiting and switching back to secular institutions, referencing De Tocqueville on the uniqueness of american community engagement. Yes, part of that is congregations, but mostly not
De Tocqueville was mostly impressed by the proliferation of secular, local, democratic institutions. Little committees that democratically ran every area of American life. Participating in these can give us purpose and meaning... except no, to Shapiro we need to Divine it up
Hey, the founders owned slaves and Dred Scott was bad, you guys. But it’s ok because the underlying principles of the American experiment were universal and perfect and eventually society will catch up.
And that’s chapter 5. Apparently everything is going downhill from here. Nice symmetry in a way: 4 chapters buildup, a chapter of glorious climax, and 4 chapters of people screwing it all up.

I still can’t believe we went from the middle ages to the US constitution in 42 pages
Also, Islam really did only show up in three (3) references in chapter 4, only one of which mentioned the actual religion, in the context of talking about how it got its ass kicked by Charles Martell
Oh, no. Oh, please no, Ben, don’t do that. He’s going to take on ‘The Enlightenment’. It is already quite clear that this will have only the most glancing connection to the Enlightenment as it is understood by actual historians.

J. Israel’s radical Enlightenment represent
Critical reading hint: when someone is criticizing what ‘they’ say but never tells you who ‘they’ are, you may be looking at what is called the ‘strawman’ fallacy.
God this is awful. He’s trying to do critique of nobody real, holding views that nobody holds, by citing ‘facts’ that are contested and he never established or argued for.
Like sure, maybe he is right that J was key to various aspects of Enlightenment beliefs. But nobody thinks the enlightment came out of nowhere! Nobody thinks the J/C context was irrelevant! But Shapiro has no ability to discuss real opposing views
Because he hasn’t presented evidence for his own key views. We never got an argument that the idea of human dignity comes only from Genesis! We never got an argument that first and only Judaism imagines a world stable enough to predict scientifically!
Hangry now. Going to eat a bagel and pretend it’s the legacy of monotheistic religion.
Omg, could I give my students an assignment to live-tweet a western civ book? They would hate me so much but it might make them read it!
Ok, so now we are going back through the early modern period looking at the baddies. We get Machiavelli and Hobbes again. But he only cares that Machiavelli was dismissive of traditional morality. It is such a shame. If Shapiro had the intellectual chops, there’s so much more...
And Shapiro calls Hobbes the first moral relativist. Boo! Hiss!

Dude, do you even sophist? Protagoras is disappointed.

But seriously, why the hell did we not get Socrates pantsing all the moral relativists back in Athens? This should be catnip for Ben.
But I guess it comes down to the big problem with this book, which is that for all his promises, Mr. Shapiro is neither very interested in nor very good at discussing western civilization. His concerns are too narrow and his historical knowledge too shallow.
Ooh, and now we get Spinoza!

Who, yes, did argue that Moses did not write the Torah. As is now accepted by historians everywhere. Is Shapiro really unfamiliar with the practice of looking at the bible as a historical document? Can he really be that ignorant?
It is telling that Ben is relying for his discussion of Spinoza from a popular source... from 1926.
Ben talks about Aristotelian teleology a lot for a guy who has NO idea what it means. Aristotelian teleology does not get you providence, and it does not get you divinity!
Wow, that was a timely complaint. On the next page Shapiro literally identifies Aristotelian teleology as the target of Voltaire’s satire of Pangloss, writing as if ‘noses exist for the purpose of holding glasses’ is Aristotelian telos.
Hi Kant! He tried to form an objective morality based on reason. Too bad he couldn’t, Shapiro tells us. But Kant came closest!
Yeah, all those Enlightenment moralists (he mentions Voltaire, Kant, and Bentham) were just unconsciously taking moral ideas from Judeo-Christianity and couldn’t come up with a real objective morality. Sorry, secular humanists!
Shapiro on early modern philosophy is just so sad. It’s watching somebody earnestly explain that Memento was ok, but it shouldn’t have been in backwards order because he doesn’t live his life backwards.
It’s like complaining after the play that Hamlet should have just killed Claudius when he had the chance.
Hume shows up as the guy who doesn’t believe in miracles and says reason should be the slave of the passions. This is not a celebration of the importance of philosophy and the western tradition. It’s a dude yelling at the waiter that they forgot to cook his steak tartare.
And we move smoothly from Rousseau to... Darwin?
“Darwinism was seen as a final permission by the intelligentsia of the time to break with the ways of the ancients.”


I guess we are not going to spend much time celebrating evolution by natural selection as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science, huh?
He slides in that Darwinism allowed us to abandon the legacy of Athens all sneaky like. I see you, Ben. Threatening to Jerusalem? Sure. Athens? I need receipts.
Dostoevsky knew that reason alone, unmoored by God, could not hold back the tide, folks.

Yawn. This is getting repetitive. Since there is never any argument or deep analysis, it is just the same set of bad or good ideas mouthed by different players.
I mean, Dostoevsky is fascinating! A passionate and deep discussion of the Grand Inquisitor would be fun! But Shapiro does as limp a job with the people he likes as the ones he warns against. How do we know Dostoevsky was right about the enlightenment? He ‘foresaw’ it.
And that implies Dostoevsky was right, because foreseeing is a success term, and so we don’t really need to bother discussing how plausible his vision was, what it was based on, how it was similar or different from other criticisms of materialism.
And the logical culmination of reason unbound from Athens is Nietzsche. Of course, of course.
Chapter 7. WOW. There were two enlightenments: American and European. The American one embraced J&A; the European one rejected it. Could you get any more simplistic, reductionist, binary, and misleading than that? Unbelievable.
He’s getting a lot of mileage out of Robespierre’s shortlived cult of Reason. Which, to be fair, was pretty wacky.
Oops, mistake: Robespierre’s was the cult of the Supreme being. My bad!
Ben, my man, hedonism is not the same as moral relativism.
French revolution BAD. Which, I mean, sure you can be Burkean if you want. Reasonable enough. But his gloss that the French revolution rejected J&A is very contestable. Once again, J&A just means ‘stuff Ben Shapiro likes from history’.
Ben explains Burke’s views. Then, we get: “Burke was correct.” Well, it’s about time that was settled. The father of modern conservatism was correct in his views. I hope Shapiro explains Marx, says “Marx was wrong.”, and ends the chapter. There would be a nice symmetry.
I guess we aren’t going to hear about how the French revolution swept away aristocracy and all the abuses of the Ancien Regime. Burke said it was bad, after all, and we have already learned that Burke Was Correct.
And we finally come to Marx. Ok discussion so far, but it’s showing why Shapiro’s 4 factor theory of happiness is so useless. Marx says individuals are free to develop their potential only in the community. Why doesn’t that just fit with Ben’s account? Only becuase he says so.
Now, obviously real-world political communism will be a different story: their will be some principled basis for saying it crushes individuals under a ruthless collective boot. But to make the case that theoretical Marxism doesn’t meet his criterion...
Ben would have to get into actual analysis of Marxism, which ain’t gonna happen, and he would have to clarify what it means for a community to promote individual flourishing more clearly. Which also ain’t gonna happen.
To the surprise of no-one, Ben Shapiro does not have a solid handle on how Marx’s thought differs from Marxism-Leninism.
Hey, Marxism offers a system of meaning and purpose! Cool, you can get that from a secular conception, Ben? What about the divine? I thought it needed to be divine somehow?
Ooh, bureaucracy is the practical way of implementing the state-centred vision of the evil-enlightenment. I like that. Death to red-tape and bureacracy! Long live deregulation!
Goddamn experts trying to rationalize my freedom.
It probably indicates my naive unfamiliarity with American conservative dogma that I was surprised John Dewey turned out to be a villain. Him and his ungodly Darwinism and pragmatic utilitarianism!
I do not know all that much about John Dewey, but I am pretty confident I am reading a rank and unprincipled hatchet job. Call it a philosopher’s intuition.
For instance, does Dewey’s philosophy of education make children effectively state property? Accurate summary, or slanderous hyperbole? I somehow suspect hyperbole.
I somehow am also suspicious whether Dewey is best thought of as a direct intellectual descendant of Hegel. German idealists and American pragmatists are basically the same, huh? Did not know that.
Shapiro’s politics are really derailing his history. Ok, you don’t like Woodrow Wilson. Maybe he didn’t actually declare the constitution null and void and himself the new philosopher emperor of the United states of Reason?
He’s got 3 horsemen of the apocalypse: romantic nationalism, scientific governance, and collectivist redistributionism. Guess we won’t hear much about unchecked capitalism. The dutch east india company gets a pass. We already skipped colonialism. Only lefties whine about that.
Comparison of Vladimir Lenin to Bernie Sanders. Alright then.
Stalin and Mao were bad, guys.
Heavy reliance on Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism”.
FDR lengthened the great depression by nearly a decade! Wow, the US economy had been JUST about to recover when he was elected, I guess.
I don’t have the energy to quibble about how scientific and bureaucratic Nazi germany was compared to other industrialised nations. The Nazi bureacracy was famously inefficient and, as with the Soviet Union, ideology trumped science. But whatever. Evidence isn’t the game here
Chapter 8 — almost done! This book sucks.
It’s striking that he has almost nothing to say about the first world war. I guess he did mention welhelmine germany was very nationalist. Yeah, nothing cures nationalism like religion, Shapiro. He connects nationalism to the French revolution, so he can blame it on atheism.
It’s remarkeable how little interest Shapiro has in trying to understand Marxism or existentialism. The core of how I teach HWesCiv is trying to help students understand views that they may not be familiar wihpth or that seem strange.
Even if one agrees with Shapiro about communism being a dead end, a bit more of an attempt to explain its appeal would be so valuable. How did it motivate people? Why did it spread to many countries? What inspired people about it, for a while?
For the record, I do not accept Shapiro’s contention that the enlightenment worshipped reason, nor that it should be identified with/blamed for communism/Nazism. And Shapiro has not given me any reasons to change my mind.
Everything since chapter 5: “Here’s a dude I don’t like. Here’s a highly distorted summary of the worst things about their views. The problem is that they forgot about J&A. They put too much faith in reason/tried to replace god with man/subordinated the individual to the group”
So far in chapter 8: Freud bad, Kinsey bad. TBF he emphasizes legitimate scientific problems with their views.
Being mad at E.O. Wilson for being a determinist seems weird.
One improvement in these later chapters: Shapiro is much more familiar with the authors, and his critiques are becoming more connected with their ideas, even if those are very partially and unfavorably portrayed.
He doesn’t critique Wilsons ethical naturalism very effectively, but at least he’s providing some arguments. I like arguments. We’re grading on a curve, here, apparently.
Actually this really is just like when you’re marking a mediocre essay that has been regurgitating the lecture at you and then it makes an original point and supports it with a really lame argument but you still are so happy to see the argument you kind of forgive it.
And Pinker is next, and here Shapiro just faceplants again. Dude, you did not show that the project of humanistic ethics failed. Yes, Pinker is allowed to label some thinker from the time period counter-enlightenment if they explictly rejected enlightenment values.
It’s not the ‘no true scotsman’ fallacy if you actually have an account of what the enlightenment is. Pinker has his flaws, but out of the two of them Shapiro is the one who is worse about making J&A whatever he wants cuz his concepts are so vague.
“Material human progress in the absence of spiritual human fulfilment isn’t enough”, says Ben, asserting his key idea that he pretended he proved in chapter 1 by showing people need a sense of purpose and a connection to their community. Obvs that can only happen spiritually!
A point in Shapiro’s favor: it IS hard to come up with a good naturalistic ethics. Moral skepticism is a really difficult problem. He’s just wrong in thinking religion offers a solution to the problem.
My god, he is so blind to non-Judeo Christian religious ethics. What about Hinduism, or Buddhism, dude? Polytheisms have ethics!
And with a few parting swipes at Sam Harris. And the final full chapter: modern pagans.

Called it.
There are some nice turns of phrase near the beginning of this chapter. Shapiro isn’t bad in ranty prophet mode, if that’s your thing.
And I am sympathetic to him throwing cold water on the contempt for ‘bourgeois morality’ you find among older lefties.
And at long last, we arrive at Marcuse and the hippies and the radfems and the sjw’s. This is the war Shapiro was born to fight.
And, unsurprisingly, it is by far the best chapter of the book. He’s on his home turf, he knows his enemy.
Fiend! Vile wretch! Miscreant! Do not cast aspersions on The Bad Touch! It is not a mere paean to mindless fornication, it is a shakespearean triumph, self-reflectively embracing our animal nature while wryly commenting the absurdity of those urges.
Weird how a guy so critical of scientism and hedonism is so quiet about capitalism. Like, isn’t measuring human welfare via fulfilling our material desires kind of the whole jam of liberal economists? Why do they get a pass, Ben?
He focuses on self-actualization as what SJW’s care about because that is easy to critique. Oppression would be a LOT harder.
Gee, he totally ignores how intersectionality can be used to understand real and concrete oppression, and focuses on the standpoint epistemology stuff. He mentions Crenshaw, but not the cases of discrimination that caused her to develop the concept.
Strawman, strawman, strawman. There’s lots to criticise on the intersectional left, but if you want substance Shapiro is not the person for the job.
It would have been cool to see a substantive discussion of the authoritarian left in its many guises. TBF, Shapiro isn’t bad on ‘free speech is important and these people are shutting it down.’ He’s just tarring the entire left with the same brush when in fact it’s a key split.
Science is really the clearest example of how Shapiro has no substantive content to his theses. The goalposts are just wherever he needs them to be. He loves science except when sciency people disagree with him. Then they’re cutting off the roots of J&A.
I will sleep in the ‘don’t let Lefties declare scientific facts wrongthink’ bed with Shapiro, but I am not going to cuddle. I wonder if we will hear anything about righty opposition to scientific factsAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA but seriously that’s relevant right?
Wait, tribal identity can provide meaning, again? So do we need the divine or not? I’m so confused.
And capitalism can’t provide meaning! He kind of sneaks that in there, but, it is clearly part of the thesis. We need our churches because the market won’t do it all for us.
It’s purely a pragmatic case, by the way. We need churches because they make us happy because divine community and the four parts of happiness he invented.
And that’s it for chapter 9. Thank you, sweet baby jesus, with your chubby cheeks and your tiny little baby fingers.

Now we get to find out how to fix western civilization. Cool.
I will respectfully disagree with Shapiro’s take on the binding of Isaac. Sacrificing a child is not the same as risking them.
For all Shapiro’s contempt for humanistic ethics, his advice to his kids is just another version of every humanist ever. He’s just Hume or Dennett plus ‘God has a plan, not that I can explain it or prove it exists.’
Principle 4 for his kids is ‘we are all brothers and sisters’ because...we share the same civilization. I mean, I guess except for the muslims and chinese and africans, I assume. Who are... not our brothers and sisters?
Shapiro has WISELY almost entirely avoided discussing any civilization other than Western, even, somehow, Islam. It’s rhetorically awkward to either admit they have science and providence, or explain in depth why they are inferior. Better to leave their inferiority implied.
And on that cheerful note, we’re done! He concludes with a touching little story about his daughter and existential angst, actually, but you know, I’m an analytic philosopher, so...
So I’m going to go with a firm: would not recommend to anyone. It has some rhetorical moments, but predictable ones, it’s a disaster as history and as philosophy, his thesis is barely argued for, and it is too boring too often, despite the writing being clear and stylish.
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