The Anti-Intellectualism of Ben Shapiro
Awarded the title of “Conservative’s Intellectual,” Ben Shapiro has made his way from Breitbart propagandist to a respected and famous position within Conservatism. His shtick is everything but intellectual. And his rise is more of a continuous decent into a petty hack.
The boundaries between “entertainer” and “intellectual” are blurring. Too many entertainers in the conservative ecosystem pass as intellectuals. What is believed to be uncomfortable truths is merely affirming and riling up the audience. One of the biggest culprits is none other than “cool kids philosopher,” Ben Shapiro.
Shapiro is an entertainer, just like any late night talk-show or radio host. Yet many young conservatives — his most passionate fan base — view him as an intellectual heavyweight. His quick-witted debate style, and simplification of complex issues attracts many a young conservative viewer. Fans point to a few instances where Shapiro talks philosophy and theory as evidence of his profound intellectual capabilities. He graduated from Harvard Law School. Further proof, fans add.
But an intellectual he is not. Call him an entertainer. Watch and appreciate him within those boundaries, if you want. But his witty comebacks, aggressive debating, and name-calling isn’t thought-provoking. His routine isn’t well-rounded intellectual analysis. It is theater.
Shapiro excels at the “comeback game” that’s so popular with young conservatives. When someone’s offended at his tweets, articles, videos, or public speaking events, he revels in “triggering” their “liberal tears.” His opponents are social justice warriors or mindless college students in need of a “safe space.” This “owning the libs” persona is such a core part of his brand that one of the items sold through his store is a cup to hold liberal tears.
This isn’t to say that Ben can only play the comeback game and nothing else. When he needs to, Shapiro can gracefully navigate the line between petty mockery and seemingly intelligent responses. He even has moments of clarity and civility, including a fair share of “hitting the nail on the head” moments. But he is not a conservative intellectual. Conflating a snarky political commentator with an intellectual is the equivalent of building a house on sand, sooner or later the house will collapse.
From butchering the definition of fascism to paint it as left-wing, to playing the “what about” card every chance it suits his partisan narrative, Shapiro has shown his intellectual ineptitude time and time again.
In his writing, Shapiro makes no attempt at diving into philosophical and abstract discussions, opting for black and white declarations. He thrives on generalizations, and nuance is foreign to him. Weapons like mockery, red herrings, whataboutism, stereotyping, dehumanization, straw man fallacies, and hyper-partisanship make up his arsenal.
An example of a piece that is characteristic of Shapiro is an abysmally titled article published in Townhall: “‘Raising Awareness’ Isn’t Helping Much.” In it, Shapiro criticizes those “raising awareness” of sexual assault, because their efforts lack “real action.” That action being, “naming names.”
Ben’s entire argument can be reduced down to two over-simplified potential reasons: moral superiority and burden of proof.
“Perhaps it’s our innate drive toward establishing a feeling of moral superiority. You don’t get to feel morally superior when you name someone who acts in criminal fashion; you’re just a witness, and witnesses are useful members of society, bettering society actively rather than criticizing it from the outside.”
“Or perhaps it’s the burden that comes along with evidence. It’s much easier to gain sympathy by telling a story about victimization without naming names — a story nobody can contradict, since you’re not getting specific.”
Not only does he conveniently leave out the hundreds of women who named their assaulters, he also dismisses the real reasons women don’t name names (fear, self-blame, gaslighting, etc)…..