On Wednesday, in a ringing speech before 11,000 people at Liberty University, Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro spoke of the Judeo-Christian principles undergirding the American experiment, and the need to return to a sense of community in order to save Western civilization. His speech was interrupted repeatedly by applause before he concluded with a call to action.
Shapiro began, “It really is a pleasure and an honor to be here today at Liberty University.” After thanking the Fred Allen and Young America’s Foundation for making the event possible, Shapiro asked the crowd to say a prayer for Alfie Evans, the British child who has been condemned by the state to die. He stated:
Before I begin, I wanted to take just a moment so we can silently pray together for Alfie Evans. If you don’t know the story, of Alfie Evans, Alfie Evans is a two-year-old child who has a degenerative brain condition. The government of Great Britain is now declaring that his parents cannot leave the country with Alfie Evans to seek experimental treatment, he has to stay in the hospital and die at the hands of the state. So before we go any further, I’d like to take about five seconds here, ten seconds and just pray silently for Alfie and his family, who are, I think, doing God’s work and standing up for the value of life.
After the silent prayer, he said, “Thank you. I appreciate it.” He continued:
I have long believed that the future of our nation is inextricably intertwined with the future of the Judeo-Christian value system, and I know of very few places in the United States that are more valuable to that future than right here at Liberty University. I’m just blown away by you guys. (applause)
America was built on a fundamental idea – an idea that was the product of nearly three thousand years of philosophical evolution. That idea, planted at Sinai, watered in the Galilee, pruned through the thought of Athens and strengthened by the push and pull of reason and revelation for centuries, was embedded by our Founders in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, and that principle was simple: that human beings are made in the image of God, that we are therefore beneficiaries of inalienable God-given rights, that government was created in order to protect those rights, not invade them, and that we must use our freedom to pursue virtue. God said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go so that they may worship me.”
The United States echoed that message from its very inception. George Washington stated in his First Inaugural Address, “Since there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage… the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”
The very basis of our politics, then, lies in the recognition that rights without virtues lead to chaos, and that virtues without rights lead to tyranny. Only by balancing public rights with private virtues can we truly uphold freedom and pursue happiness.
One half of the equation, though, seems to have gone awry in modern America.
We have been taught that our rights are paramount, which is fine, but we’ve also been taught that we have no duty to be virtuous. In fact, anyone who says that we have a duty to be virtuous is harming you, microaggressing you, ethnocentrically mansplaining to you in cisgender fashion. (laughter)
How can anyone expect us to be virtuous, the argument goes, when the system itself is so deeply flawed? How can we blame people for being immoral when the system is biased in favor of a few white rich men at the top? First we have to fix the system – then human beings themselves will change. Virtue will become natural; we’ll all just magically become wonderful great people. All we have to do to make this magical thing happen is hand over all our freedoms to a centralized government – and that government will then provide us new rights, better that the old God-given ones. Instead of the right to free speech, the government will provide us a right not to be offended; our feelings will be protected. (laughter)
Instead of a right to life, the government will provide us the right to kill unborn babies. Instead of a right to create and keep the wages of our labor, the government will provide us a nice, comfortable social safety net, without us actually having to do the work.
Then, after all that’s done, human beings will magically become better. We’ll become good, if all this happens.
This is the philosophy of collectivism – the philosophy that says that human beings suffer because the Judeo-Christian system expects too much of us individually. Judeo-Christian philosophy expects us to struggle, to strive. Judeo-Christian philosophy demands that we do our best, and that we act virtuously on the individual level, so that we can feel secure without invading each other’s rights. The Judeo-Christian tradition says that with freedom comes responsibility.
Collectivist philosophy, however, thinks differently; they expect us to give our individual striving up; no more striving, no more struggle, all we have to do is trade our individual responsibility for the comfort of collective power. Collectivist philosophy points out that individual virtue isn’t natural – it is a struggle. And we can avoid that struggle by handing over all power to a Nanny State. Judeo-Christianity says, “You’re free, and therefore you must give”; collectivist philosophy says, “You are unfree, and thus the state must take on your behalf.”
It is this philosophy of collectivism against which Moses and Jesus and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison fought. It is their Founding philosophy that Americans have fought and bled and died to extend to more and more people over time. Abraham Lincoln saw black slaves as human beings, and hundreds of thousands of Americans died to extend the American covenant to them. American soldiers left their corpses on the beaches of Normandy to extend that promise to subject peoples. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated fighting to extend the American promise to black Americans. Ronald Reagan spent his years fighting to spread the light of Americanism beyond the Berlin Wall. And today, Americans liberate Muslims in the Middle East from the heavy hand of collectivist Islamism; Americans protect South Koreans and Taiwanese free people from the burden of North Korean and Chinese communism; Americans stand ready to thwart the threat of collectivist tyranny across the globe.
But there is a threat to Founding philosophy growing right here at home. It’s growing because too many Americans believe that virtue is less important than virtue-signaling; too many Americans believe that freedom is actually a burden; too many Americans believe that they know what’s best for other Americans, even when they personally abandon virtue.
So, the question becomes how exactly do we go about restoring the Judeo-Christian tradition upon which the nation was built? How exactly do we bring back the philosophy of the Founders, and restore their promise?
To do that, we have to go back to basics. We actually have to talk about morality in politics. Not just efficiency, not just why our ideas work, but morality; what is good and what is bad, what is right, what is wrong, what is true and what is evil.
Now, advocates for founding philosophy—personal freedom, individual responsibility—we make a pretty big mistake when we talk about that philosophy because we do spend a lot of time talking about how effective it is. We point out that free markets have led to the greatest reduction in poverty in world history – in 1981, 44.3 percent of the global population lived on less than $1.90 per day; in 2015, the global extreme poverty rate dipped below 10 percent. We, on the Right, like to point out that a philosophy of individualism has led to massive increases in living standards within the United States and also around the world. We point out that collectivist countries tend to stagnate.
But we don’t point too often to underlying values. See, here’s the thing we have to acknowledge: there is a draw to collectivism. There is a draw to leftism. That draw is pretty simple: collectivism promises solutions to cosmic injustices. When collectivists stand up here and invoke the least specific—I mean like here, on this stage—and invoke the least specific verses of the Bible to justify government redistributionism and government crackdowns on religious practice because of fairness, they are making a moral appeal.
When Bernie Sanders stands up here and tells you that “the top 1 percent of the 1 percent own 90 percent of all the wealth,” when he says that America is not a “just society” in line with a context-free verse from a book he’s never read by Amos, (laughter) and then suggests that if you give him more power, he will rectify that unfairness, that is a moral appeal; it is not an argument about efficiency. It’s a bad moral appeal, of course – inequality doesn’t necessarily mean unfairness -- but it is a moral appeal.
And that moral appeal, unfortunately for too many people, is effective. It’s effective because it goes to our hearts, not to our heads. It reminds us of fundamental values, even if it’s skewing those fundamental values. Conservatives tend to talk about what works; people on the left tend to talk about what’s fair.
But values are not a left-wing monopoly. In fact, the fundamental values of Western civilization run a hell of a lot deeper than the shallow values of the collectivists. The values that resonate most with human beings are eternal, not changeable and not relativistic; they are universal, they are not group specific. And most of all, they apply to individual human beings, not group labels.
Those values were first embedded clearly and concisely in the Ten Commandments. If we return to those values, we will be a virtuous citizenry deserving of our liberty, and if we turn away from those values, then we will return to the horror of collectivism and tyranny.
So I’m going to go through the Ten Commandments, and I want to explain what they say to today’s modern politics, what they say to us, in the room, and why the Ten Commandments are so important and why they are still the basis for our outreach program on behalf of not only our God, but on behalf of a philosophy that is the only remaining hope for Western Civilization.
The First Commandment is the most controversial and it’s also the simplest: “I am the Lord thy God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of bondage.” Now, to start off, this is a bizarre commandment because it doesn’t actually command you to do anything on its face, but it does implicitly command you to do something: remove yourself from the arbitrary bondage of the state, and place yourself under a higher set of commandments. The Bible tells us in Genesis that we are each made in God’s image—and that means that we have the capacity to choose, and the obligation to choose right over wrong and life over death. Responsibility devolves on us personally, because we are servants of God, not servants of the state. Across three millennia, Jews and Christians alike have fought for the common notion that our allegiance to God outranks our allegiance to the state, and that if you use government to restrict my communion with Godly values, I will resist you in every way possible. (applause)
Today, collectivists, folks on the Left, they tell us that the state can order you to disobey God in your daily dealings – they can order the Christian baker to cater the same-sex wedding; they can order the Jewish doctor, like my wife, to perform abortions. The First Commandment says “No, you can’t.” And so does the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion for precisely this reason. And it’s because the founders understood the danger of tyranny and the value of individual freedom before God that they instituted the Second Amendment, too – they recognized that we have a God-given right to defend ourselves from tyranny and from terror. (applause)
The Second Commandment is also particularly important in today’s society; it says, “Thou shall have no other gods before me.” This is particularly relevant when it comes to the cults of personality that seem to dominate our politics. We’re told on all sides that we ought to trust the people at the top to solve our problems; a little bit of trust goes a long way. Every time something goes wrong in the United States, we are informed that if we just gave the government more power, our problems would be solved; like ancient pagans, if we sacrifice a bull on top of a mountain, the Health and Human Services Department will ensure nobody dies of cancer. (laughter)
This is stupid nonsense. Bernie and Elizabeth Warren worship at the altar of fairness; they proclaim that the universe is cosmically unjust. If you just hand over power to them, all of that will be cured. God says “Nah.”
God says that we are not allowed to trust in princes. And that means that it is also our job to call out our leaders when they stray; to do otherwise is to deify human beings. It is not our job to ignore the sins of our leaders by determining that they are in fact King David, selected by God to fulfill His will. It is our job to be Nathan the prophet, declaring wrongs when we see them in service to God. (applause)
If our leaders sin, we are bound to say, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?” And our leaders must repent to merit God’s love, just as we must constantly repent before Him. (applause)Power does not exempt sin; if it did, our leaders would be gods and we would be their subjects.
The Third Commandment says that we must not take God’s name in vain. This doesn’t merely mean that we shouldn’t shout “God bleep it.” God can handle a little potty mouth. It does mean that we can’t twist God’s words to justify our own political agendas. (applause)
Christians cannot justify abortion by misquoting Matthew 7:12 and talking about the Golden Rule—if they do, they’re putting our own words in God’s mouth. We cannot use Deuteronomy 16:20 to justify a government cracking down on religious people to promote same-sex marriage while deliberately ignoring the words of Leviticus. And we can’t justify forcible redistribution of wealth by citing Matthew on “the least of these” while ignoring the words of Leviticus 19:15, in which God enjoins us not to pervert justice on behalf of the poor or the wealthy. (applause)
Selectively citing the Bible while ignoring all the inconvenient parts, that makes you a Bible abuser – and it makes you dishonest as well.
The Fourth Commandment says that we must remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. One of the weirdest elements of collectivism is that it says we all owe something to the collective – and yet weirdly, collectivists seem to give a lot less to charity. New York Mayor Bill De Blasio routinely rips into the “greedy” rich—the guy gave a grand total of $350 to charity last year on an adjusted gross income of $223,449. By the way, he paid the guy who prepared his taxes $500. When you see income as the state’s responsibility rather than a gift from God, it alleviates the responsibility of having to actually pass that gift on to those who are less fortunate. Instead, you can demand that the government play God and grab other people’s cash.
The commandment to honor the Sabbath also reminds us that our time doesn’t actually belong to the state; it belongs to us. Every seven days, we say “no more.” Tyrannies say that our labor is not our own; we owe it to the collective. Our time isn’t our own; our income isn’t our own; our labor isn’t our own. Work harder, because the state is your creator. Remember that our time is a gift from God; that’s the first step toward fighting tyranny.
The Fifth Commandment says that we have to honor our parents. Obviously, this galls a lot of folks on the Left, really galls them. Collectivists see the state as the source of our morals, and our families as obstacles standing between individuals and their master. That’s exactly what’s happening with Alfie Evans, where bureaucrats are standing between parents and their child, saying that they know best that a child has to die because they know better than the parents do.
There is a reason Karl Marx abhorred the traditional family; let’s just say that. He saw it as a capitalist institution based “on capital, on private gain.” He openly called for “abolition of the family.” There is a reason Stalin trained Soviet youth to become “pioneers,”—that’s what he called them, emissaries of the state—who were told that the highest good involved ratting out your own family members. At one 1932 Soviet trial, a father actually cried out to his son, “It’s me, your father!” and the son replied, “Yes; he used to be my father, but I no longer consider him my father. I am not acting as a son, but as a Pioneer.” Stalin used to go around Soviet Russia talking about this story and using it as an example of good behavior. Breaking down the family is a precondition to building up the state.
And furthermore, respecting your parents means you actually have to respect their belief systems. You know, the ones that have been passed down generation after generation. The ones that your grandparents spilled blood for. GK Chesterton wrote in 1929, “The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to a fence and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” The more religious type of reformer would do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, then I may allow you to destroy it.”
The founders understood the value of the past. The authors of the French Revolution didn’t. That’s why Edmund Burke condemned the French Revolution – he saw the revolutionaries as stripping away fences that were built over thousands of years of human thought. He said, “Their liberty is not liberal. Their science is presumptuous ignorance. Their humanity is savage and brutal.” And Edmund Burke was right. Our parents may be wrong from time to time, but to presume, as so many on the Left do, that we can ignore the lessons of the past, discard our parents, build the world anew each generation, that consigns thousands, if not millions, to flames.
The Sixth Commandment is pretty simple, and we should all be able to agree on it, secular and religious alike, thou shall not murder. Unfortunately, as we are currently seeing in Britain, this is not the case. Collectivists routinely dismiss the value of human life. This, by the way, is the difference between social justice and individual justice: individual justice demands that you have to be held responsible for the stuff you do, for your own crimes. Social justice says that your life, on its own, is of little consequence—if a few eggs must be broken to make an omelet, then that’s the way that it works. To ask for evidence of wrongdoing becomes of secondary concern; the only thing that matters is the end goal. When we use people as means rather than ends, murder becomes possible.
And, by the way, it is actually kind of easy to use human beings as means rather than ends. There’s a famous study that was done at Yale University by Stanley Milgram in 1961. Here’s how it works: he chose pairs of participants; one would randomly be chosen to become a “learner,” and the other randomly be chosen to become a “teacher.” Except the selection was not random; the drawing was rigged so that the volunteers would become teachers and the learners were actually working for the experimenter, they were working for Milgram. So the learners were taken into a separate room and they were hooked up to electrodes that were supposedly buzzing with electricity. Teachers, the volunteers in this program, were brought into a separate room containing a switch that could shift the electric level from 15 volts all the way up to 450 volts. Teachers, these volunteers, were then informed by the researchers that it was their job to shock learners for making errors in a word game. The researchers would remain in the room and they would push the teachers to shock the learners, telling them to continue. According to Milgram’s experiment, two in three teachers shocked the learners all the way up to 450 volts, even as the actors begged for mercy; every one of the teachers shocked the learners up to 300 volts. Milgram concluded, “Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not.”
People are not averse to murder unless they are taught that they are personally responsible for the actions they take. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of abortion. Nowhere. As a society, we have taught individual human beings around the United States and around the world that they are not responsible for their actions. That’s how you get a piece in The Washington Post by Ruth Marcus championing the killing of unborn children with Down Syndrome. She actually wrote this: “I’m going to be blunt here: This was not the child I wanted. You can call me selfish, or worse, but I am in good company.”
It takes generations of inculcation in vice in order to believe such idiocy. (applause)
She is wrong; Ruth Marcus is wrong; she is not in good company; she’s in quite evil company. But human beings have always provided each other company when pursuing evil, without being taught an individual system of virtue where you are responsible for the actions that you take.
The Seventh Commandment is not to commit adultery. Again, you would think that this one would be obvious, right? It isn’t, unfortunately.
This commandment assumes the value of individual human beings; it assumes that you have the individual capacity to control your own nature. Collectivists reject both of these assumptions wholesale. There is a reason that Marx believed in what he called a “community of women”—he meant widespread promiscuity. The idea that one man and one woman must sublimate their desires in order to promise each other their trust and love stands in stark contrast to the ownership of the collective. Family formation is the single greatest threat to the substitution of leftist values for Judeo-Christian ones, because it assumes that you personally are capable of overcoming your own nature, and because the creation of children changes your life: it means that you are now responsible for someone else; your highest priority is protection of your family, rather than serving the collective.
I have two kids now; they made me a better human being. Kids make you a better human being if you allow them to, and being married to one person for the rest of your life makes you a better human being as well. (applause)
Furthermore, the commandment not to commit adultery actually places pleasure below commitment on the scale of priorities and this annoys a lot of people. This runs counter to the comforting promises of the collectivists – they say that you should trade away your rights in order that you have this soft cocoon of security, the promise of zero consequences for your action. Give control to the collective, you won’t have to control yourself. If you just give control to the collective over your entire life they will give you free condoms, they will pay for your abortion, all the rest.
But the Judeo-Christian ethic says to control yourself, and that in doing so, you become better and freer and a better servant of the Lord who made you. (applause)
The Eighth Commandment is similarly simple and should be similarly non-controversial and unfortunately it’s not: Thou shall not steal.
Individualism relies on our respect for one another’s rights. The Bible explicitly forbids the notion of social justice as a rationale for theft. The New Testament says in Second Thessalonians, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Charity is mandated by Judeo-Christian religion; theft is forbidden. And legalized theft is still theft. (applause)
If two of us are in a room with Bill Gates and we vote to take Bill Gates’ money, we are still thieves. This is a violation of the Eighth Commandment. Just because that’s a democracy doesn’t mean it’s not theft. Corporate welfare is theft as well; when big companies commandeer our politics to suck subsidies from other citizens, that is theft, too. Theft isn’t just you picking somebody else’s pocket; it’s you getting together with your friends and deciding to create laws that allow you to pick somebody else’s pocket. (applause)
The Ninth Commandment is not to bear false witness against your neighbor. Perhaps this one is the most commonly violated commandment of our time – the willingness to suggest that our neighbors are nasty people, bad characters, for the sake of elevating particular collective ideologies. Take, for example, the issue of gun control. Now, you can be for more gun control or you can be against more gun control. But folks on the Left constantly make the case that if you oppose their agenda, it’s because you don’t care enough about dead kids– that you’re simply willing to watch them die for $1.05 from the National Rifle Association. That’s not only a lie, it is bearing false witness, because there is no evidence for this proposition. But for a lot of folks on the Left, everyone is either a tool or an obstacle to utopia – and so lying about your political enemies is simply a great way to achieve your objective. These character attacks have become commonplace in our politics; the idea that if you disagree with somebody it’s because they’re a bad person, not because you disagree about the underlying values, the underlying principles, or agree about those values and principles but disagree about the politics themselves. Instead, everything has become about ripping people down on a personal level. Disagreement becomes a character assault. As long as that lasts we can’t have a free republic. (applause)
Finally, the Tenth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s ass. Sorry, Bill Clinton. (laughter, applause) Individualism is based on the possibilities inherent within human beings: you are capable of a lot and you must be encouraged to take advantage of those possibilities. You are not a victim. You are not a victim. You can achieve what your neighbor has achieved—jealousy is forbidden by the Bible—and if you can’t, that gives you no right to believe that your neighbor’s property belongs to you. (applause)
In Judaism, this commandment, not to covet your neighbor’s property, has been interpreted for thousands of years to mean that you can covet a Tesla like your neighbor’s Tesla, but you can’t covet your neighbor’s Tesla. Which actually makes perfect sense. A free system offers you the opportunity to make something of yourself; it offers you the opportunity to do better; it doesn’t offer you the ability to glom off of somebody else’s achievements. Collectivism rejects this, and hopes to end jealousy by narrowing the scope of human potential, for you to redistribute all the property, no one gets a Tesla, and maybe jealousy will go away. That’s not how human beings operate.
It’s a rejection of God, and it’s a rejection of the creative power of man God implanted in all of us. (applause)
So, here’s why all of this matters. Here’s why I went through all Ten Commandments: America is struggling right now in a lot of ways. But the biggest struggle we are having, the most difficult struggle we are having is the struggle for our national soul. We are so angry at each other right now. That anger is palpable. When you go and talk to members of your own family about politics there’s no way to have a good discussion without it devolving into people yelling at each other.
Why are people so angry right now? We’re so angry because our common vision has been destroyed. We used to believe in the Founding vision, supported by the framework of personal virtue culled from Judeo-Christian morality. The government was there to protect us from hurting each other, and Judeo-Christian morality was there to inculcate virtue in us so government didn’t have to step in.
We used to see each other as brothers and sisters, as friends and family, not “the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent” or “the privileged vs. the victims.” We were not enemies. We were a community, forged in fire and tethered together by a set of values stretching back to the Garden of Eden.
But no longer.
Somewhere along the way, we came to believe that we stood above the tradition that bore us, that we were better than the philosophical system of the founders. We began to think we were better than God; we began to scorn our past, we began to think we could remake the world, tearing down fences without considering why those fences were there in the first place.
We were wrong. It is our job to repair those fences. Not to tear them down, to repair them. To learn about them; to realize why they were there. Only then can we change the placement of those fences. (applause)
It is our job to learn, as you are doing here at Liberty, about what made our civilization great—and what can make our civilization great still. It is our job to reconnect with both the word of God and with the philosophy of individual liberty that sprang from that same word of God.
If we do all of that, if we do all of that, then we will be truly deserving of God’s blessing, and fit to proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.
Thank you so much.