Ben Shapiro on academia, social issues, and the Great Recession

Author, columnist, and Breitbart News at-large editor Ben Shapiro shares his views about some of the most important issues facing America. Photo: Photo used with permission of Ben Shapiro.

FLORIDA, January 24, 2013 — Ben Shapiro – author, columnist, and at-large editor for Breitbart News – has written books on political indoctrination at America’s universities the political impact of popular culture. So just how much of an impact does academia have on American culture? If social conservatism continues to be unpopular with voters, should the Republican Party adopt more libertarian ideas? 

In this second part of a two-part interview, Shapiro explains his take on these issues and more.


Joseph F. Cotto: How great of an impact would you say that academia has on American culture? 

Ben Shapiro: It has an enormous impact on American culture. The very notion of the role of government in our lives has been fundamentally shifted by academia, which pushes the notion that there is a cadre of experts on every issue, who can run Americans’ lives with regard to those issues better than Americans can themselves. Woodrow Wilson came from the German progressive tradition in academia; that tradition now runs the universities.

Because these “experts” are perceived as having more knowledge than members of the general population, they are treated by the media with kid gloves and handed outsized influence. Their untested recommendations about doing away with vital social institutions and undermining long-held beliefs are quickly tried. And when those theories are found wanting, they aren’t discarded. Instead, their failure is blamed on failures of implementation by the benighted public. Thus academia grows in influence even as their ideas fail over and over.

Cotto: During the years ahead, it seems likely that social conservatism will grow increasingly unpopular. In your opinion, should the Republican Party begin to adopt more libertarian ideas on social policy?

Shapiro: I don’t believe all social issues are created equal.

I think on same-sex marriage, the conservative movement gave up the ghost long ago by failing to defend the sanctity of marriage. Conservatives allowed marriage to be redefined as a relationship of love between two people, rather than a relationship of love between two people consummated for the purpose of procreating and raising healthy children. When marriage ceased to be about children and became solely about the relations of the two people involved, the principle basis for marriage was redefined: love, commitment, and consent, but not child-rearing. That basis clearly allows for different forms of marriage. If the Republican Party wants to incentivize marriage, it should begin by revitalizing the role of children in marriage, rather than focusing on a symptom of marriage’s undermining (same-sex marriage).

With regard to abortion, the Republican Party should not change its pro-life stance. Science supports the pro-life position, and in the future, our great-grandchildren will look at us with horror-stricken eyes for allowing the destruction of unborn children.

Cotto: America remains in the grip of the Great Recession. How do you think that our country can reclaim its economic vitality?

Shapiro: Remove the shackles the government has placed on private industry. The greatest tool for destroying poverty has always been the free market. The poor today live better than yesterday’s rich. The creation of new products and services means that each generation successively lives better than the last. But only capitalism can incentivize the creation of new products and services; socialism just redistributes what is currently there, and in the process destroys the incentive for future development.

America’s people have not changed. Our goals have not changed. Our desire to work has not changed. What has changed is the size and scope of an intrusive government promising us a free slice of the pie on the table, and preventing the bakers from baking more pies by doing so.

Cotto: Over the last several years, mass movements such as Occupy and the Tea Party have had quite an impact on the political process. Each is largely a result of the recession and popular anger at government malfeasance. Are these movements as different from one another as pundits tend to claim?

Shapiro: These movements are fundamentally different in ideals. Frustration with the ineffective government can go one of two ways: toward more government, or toward less government. The Tea Party stands on the principle that government growth and intrusiveness has crippled the dynamism of the American people; Occupy says that private industry is intrinsically nasty, and that government must be set loose on private industry. The Tea Party opposes corporatism on the principle that government picking winners and losers ends up making the American people the real losers; Occupy opposes corporatism because it feels that the government is picking the wrong winners and losers (they’d prefer Sierra Club to Goldman Sachs).

Cotto: How did you get into journalism? Tell us a bit about your life and career.

Shapiro: I grew up in Burbank, CA. My dad is a composer for film and TV; my mom started off as a secretary, and worked her way up to run business affairs for several television production companies. My sisters and I grew up in a two-bedroom house – I shared a bedroom with three younger sisters until I was 11 – and one bathroom. We’re Jewish.

When I was 13, my family became observant. We moved to a larger house, and I went to Jewish day school. I skipped third grade and ninth grade while bouncing between Jewish day school and public school. I went to college at UCLA at the age of 16. My first week, I read the student newspaper, the UCLA Daily Bruin – and there was an article comparing then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Nazi death camp administrator Adolf Eichmann. I promptly walked into the Bruin and asked to write a column for them.

After a year of doing that, I applied cold to Creators Syndicate. The folks there called me three weeks later and offered a syndicated column. They didn’t know quite how old I was – they were surprised when they found that my parents had to sign my contract for me under California law.

Right about this time, I met Andrew Breitbart. He was the anonymous other half of the Drudge Report at the time, and he emailed me out of the blue after reading a column of mine in the Bruin. We became fast friends, and he became a mentor for me.

During my junior year, David Limbaugh, with whom I had been in contact for a year or so, kindly suggested that if I wrote a book, he’d be happy to help me get it to a publisher. The result was Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth (Thomas Nelson, 2004). I went to Harvard Law, and followed that up with Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism Is Corrupting Our Future (Regnery, 2005). Then I wrote Project President: Bad Hair and Botox on the Road to the White House (Thomas Nelson, 2008).

After graduating, I worked at a law firm for about a year, then quit to work with Talk Radio Network, the syndicator Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham at the time. I rose to become executive vice president there, and in the meantime, wrote Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV (Harper Collins, 2011). I also became a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

In 2012, I quit TRN to write full time. But when Andrew Breitbart approached me in February 2013 and asked me to join Breitbart News as editor-at-large, I decided to do it. Andrew called it the longest flirtation in political history. A few weeks later, he tragically passed away. We have been carrying on his mission at Breitbart, and we’re proud to carry forward the torch that he handed us.

In March 2013, I began co-hosting The Morning Answer on KRLA 870 and KTIE 590 in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. I also began working on Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America (Threshold Editions, 2013). That’s my newest book, which just hit the New York Times bestseller list.

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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