THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY: HOW REASON AND MORAL PURPOSE MADE THE WEST GREAT
By Ben Shapiro
Broadside Books, $27.99, 256 pages
“This book is about two mysteries,” writes Ben Shapiro, editor in chief of the Daily Wire. “The first mystery: Why are things so good? The second mystery: Why are we blowing it?”
All available data prove that we are living in the most open and prosperous nation the world has known. This is still the nation in which all citizens of every race and religion from anywhere in the world can rise just as high and far as their talents and abilities will carry them. We are, Mr. Shapiro believes, the end product of more than 3,000 years of the efforts of people who accepted Judeo-Christian values and the Greek gift of reason, the combination of which led naturally to the concept of democracy.
Mr. Shapiro gives us a necessarily selective but solid overview of those centuries, touching on the theories, thoughts, philosophers, movements and religions that shaped our world and culminated in our nation, until very recently routinely referred to by political men and women as “the hope and envy of the world.” But perhaps not so much just now.
As Mr. Shapiro points out, and as our politics reflect on a daily basis, with media large and small providing an increasingly ubiquitous megaphone, “We are so angry at each other right now. That anger is palpable. Where did it come from?”
Mr. Shapiro, who has experienced first-hand the real and vicious mindlessness of that anger by mobs of protesters on campuses like Berkeley where he’s invited to speak — he’s reportedly the country’s most requested campus speaker — believe it’s the result of “the destruction of a common vision. We used to believe in the Founding vision. We used to see each other as brothers and sisters, not ‘the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent’ or ‘the privileged vs. the victims.”
“We weren’t enemies. We were a community, forged in fire and tethered together by a set of values stretching back to the Garden of Eden — a community of individuals working to understand the values of each other as images of God, a community of individuals who believed in our own capacity to change ourselves and the world around us.”
Without question, there has been a fracturing, with a new politics of identity and entitlement being pushed and encouraged by an unusually hostile media and by cynical and opportunistic politicians with no scruples chasing votes.
In this strongly written survey of Western thought and cogent statement of democratic principle, Mr. Shapiro provides an analysis of our current crisis, its causes and potential cures, advocating a return to the basic values upon which our civilization was built.
“It took Western civilization three thousand years to get here — we can lose it all in one generation unless we begin shoring up our foundation,” he writes.
How do we do that? In his case, he writes, he and his wife began by teaching their two children the values passed down to them by their own parents and through generations of parents before them.
“We will do our best to teach them what made our civilization great — and what makes our civilization great still. It is our job to reconnect with both the word of God and with the philosophy of reason and individual liberty — two words that are, after all, inextricably intertwined.”
To underscore the importance of educating our children, he quotes Ronald Reagan: “‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.’”
Mr. Shapiro concludes with a reflection on the larger meaning of the parent/child relationship and a strong note of hope: “I think that the history of Western civilization shows that our parents live on in us when we learn the lesson they teach us, when we recognize their wisdom even as we develop our own, we become a link in the chain of history. Our parents never die so long as we keep the flame of their ideals alive, and pass that flame along to our children.”
• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).