Friday, 28 February 2020

The Right Side of History

Recently I started reading Ben Shapiro's book, The Right Side of History. Mr Shapiro's book had many footnotes, so I was encouraged that - despite being a bit of a lefty - I would enjoy reading a right-wing view about why the world seems to be coming apart at the seams. However, the author brassed me off right at the beginning with a sweeping claims of the US being "the greatest economy in the history of mankind" (Shapiro, 2019, 162.8/456). "Oh, really?" I thought. "What about Italy? What about Macedonia? What about China?" That one statement set the tone for what was to come. 

I was expecting an unbiased global history: what I got had elements of history, doctrine, rant, fallacy, and unsubstantiated statements. Mr Shapiro implies causation simply because one event happened after another. He assumes that values are only learned through attending one of the Judeo-Christian churches and keeping the sabbath (interestingly, he appears to ignore Muslim religions in his argument, even though they are based on the same old Testament as the Judeo-Christian sects).

The author pulls some selected threads together to imply that the development of the US constitution is one of "mankind's" greatest achievements (he uses 'mankind' a lot, which explains some of his patriarchal positioning). From my outsider understanding, the US constitution appears to have been effective in limiting government powers so that individuals are 'free' to shoot others, to not pay tax, and to be as tin-hat crazy as they wish in the privacy of their own homes.

To a Kiwi, the US constitution lacks focus on 'fairness', which is/was NZ's founding principle (Fischer, 2012). I get that, as America was founded at a time of persecution, US citizens are focused on protecting personal freedoms and minimising government. However, the rest of the world has collectively moved three centuries past that, to a place of societal support. To me it seems that we grew up and left the US behind, still holding onto their 'freedom' hat. Mr Shapiro seems to think that freedom is a great principle, and that looking after others is something that deluded and failed communist countries do. I think he missed the last fifty years and the whole China as a super-power thing.

The implication in the book is that greatest democracy the world has ever known (the US) is coming off the rails because its citizens don't believe in God any more. The US is still one of the most religious countries in the world, although it too is losing its faith (Voas, 18 July 2015). Further, the US is listed as a 'flawed' democracy as the 25th most democratic nation (data from the Economist, Wikipedia, 2020). New Zealand is the 4th most democratic. Chile and Estonia are more democratic than the US. 

Apparently communism is a failed experiment. Perhaps Mr Shapiro should have done a bit more reading about what other nations are doing, and maybe he would have discovered that China's GDP ppp is 25% larger than the US (Knoema, 2020) and that their communist experiment appears to be ticking along relatively well.

Anyway. This book is not well-evidenced. In my opinion it is a personal and flawed attempt at justifying the author's personal rationale that the joint civilisations of Greece and Israel (minus those inconvenient Palestinians) are what has made the West great. Well, really: made America great, because there is not much about the rest of the world.

To return to the author's claim about "the greatest economy in the history of mankind", Mr Shapiro would do well to look at Italy: yes, Ancient Rome and the Roman empire was modelled on Greece, but they created a 1,100 year, pan-European and North African 'nation', almost twice the land area of the USA at its height (City Data, 16 October 2013, Vox, 19 August 2014). Or we could check out the Macedonian empire under Alexander the Great which stretched from Greece to Egypt to India (5.5 million square kilometers), all within 13 years (Baradell, 29 October 2019; Britannica, 2020).

My advice? Don't bother unless you are a rabid right-winger who doesn't need evidence, and loves rhetoric. 

Didn't finish. Too annoyed. 


Sam

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