On Tuesday evening, the day that Daily Wire Editor-In-Chief Ben Shapiro’s new book, “The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great,” was released, the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California hosted a speech by Shapiro in which he spoke about his book, delivering a powerful and stirring call to return to the founding principles that created America.
The evening started with an introduction from John Heubusch, the executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, in which he charmingly related the story of driving his children to school each day and their decision to stop arguing over which radio station to listen to once they found Shapiro on radio and later, on his podcast. Heubusch commented of the radio show:
When I first discovered it by accident, I found it featured, in part, a fresh, new, remarkably bright and deeply thoughtful conservative voice I had not heard before. His name was Ben Shapiro … when he spoke it just blew me away; I found not just any conservative voice; these were not warmed-over talking points from some think tank or a pundit that had let loose in the social blogosphere the day before; ; this was an extremely articulate point of view from a new, younger generation who had something valuable or provocative to say every time he opened his mouth. Like it or not, the child hostages I had in my back seat were going to listen to him, and listen good.
The story had a happy ending; the kids loved listening to Shapiro. Heubusch recalled that the day Shapiro announced he was leaving the radio show, his son commented, “We’re screwed.” After a week of radio silence, his son discovered Shapiro’s new podcast. Heubusch joked, “I saw him hug his sister for the first time this century.”
Shapiro began his speech by noting, “It’s fantastic to be at the home of Ronald Reagan, the president who reminded us that tyranny is no more than one generation away if we don’t stand up for the truth and if we do not stand up for that that is righteous and free.” He noted that the phrase titling his new book, “The right side of history,” “can be used in extraordinarily pernicious ways. I’ve tweeted about this before. I think that President Obama, for example, used to say, the right side of history, you’ll be on the wrong side of history if you don’t agree with President Obama. But of course, that’s not how I mean ‘The right side of history.’ What I mean is that we live in the greatest, freest, most prosperous country in the history of the world, (applause) that America is on the right side of history because history as already made its judgment on America’s founding ideals and found it to be up to snuff.”
Shapiro segued to speaking of Western civilization itself:
The reason I believe America is so great is that it is the apex, the apotheosis of a 3,000-year history of intellectual development, of fundamental principles. What makes America exceptional is not that we have an incredible country filled with beautiful land and natural resources; what makes it special is not even the people who live here; it’s that the people who live here have grown up in a society replete with values, which is why America can always grow, which is why people can come in and become American; it’s why my great-grandparents could come here knowing no English, with no money, and become American, because America was, and is, an idea, something that President Reagan understood well.
America is the peak of what Western civilization was built to be, and while we have not always lived up to the promise of the founding principles, those founding principles were good, true, and eternal, and they were based in a deeper good, true and eternal truth that springs from Sinai, moves forward through the Sermon on the Mount, through Greek teleology, and down to us today … We stand atop a building we did not build.
After noting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent comments ripping America, Shapiro continued, “What we have right now in the West is a conflict of meaning; we have a group of folks who believe that Western civilization was built on great principles and a group of people who believe that Western civilization is essentially a power hierarchy.”
Shapiro spoke of the fact that America is tremendously successful but multitudes of people are still unhappy, and posited that the kinds of happiness that had been preached on college campuses, whether libertinism or “whatever floats your boat” or “your subjective perception of the good” were not what the Founders envisioned. He stated:
That’s not what Western civilization is about. Western civilization had its own definition of what happiness was: When Thomas Jefferson talks in the Declaration of Independence about the “pursuit of happiness,” he didn’t mean the ability to watch Netflix and chill. Thomas Jefferson was talking about something with a very specific meaning: what Thomas Jefferson was talking about was the same thing the Bible talks about and what Aristotle was talking about. In the Biblical language, the word for happiness is “simcha,” and you are commanded to be “b’simcha,” you are commanded to be happy.
How can you be commanded to feel an emotion? How can you be commanded to be happy? It’s because for the Biblically living people who populated Western civilization, “simcha,” happiness, lay in right action in accordance with God’s will. That’s what happiness was. That didn’t mean you were emotionally happy about this stuff; it meant you did your duty and this gave you a life of happiness and meaning. Happiness lay in moral purpose … Aristotle believed the same thing; he called it eudamonia; and the idea was that if you are acting in accord with complete virtue then you are happy.
After outlining exactly how America and the West could achieve real happiness with individual purpose, individual capacity, communal purpose and communal capacity, all undergirded by a relationship with God and reliance on reason, Shapiro pointed out the pitfalls of believing that you are a victim, while also noting that America needs a restoration of the social fabric.
He concluded, “Let’s reengage with the ideas that animated our civilization in the first place. If we do, we will save that civilization and preserve it for the future. Civilization, as Ronald Reagan said, is always one generation away from extinction. It is also one generation away from restoration.”