On Wednesday, I co-hosted a screening for Ben Shapiro’s visit to the University of Utah. Prior to the event, a viewer who’s fairly new to politics and hadn’t heard of Ben Shapiro until a month ago (which, let’s be real, how is that even possible?) told me that while he agreed with Ben on gun rights, he didn’t think Shapiro’s argument was all that great. Then he asked me for my take.
Quickly, for those who are unfamiliar with Shapiro’s history of destroying Piers Morgan on the 2nd Amendment, here’s Ben’s basic approach: “The basis for the Second Amendment is not really about self defense, and it’s not about hunting. It’s about resistance to government tyranny. That’s what the Founders said, and that’s what the right believes in this country.”
I restated Ben’s argument and stressed the importance of shifting the debate to remember the core principle of the issue, but then I turned to another source who one might not immediately consider when citing constitutional scholarship: Steven Crowder.
Crowder’s oft-quoted meme on the 2nd Amendment is, “Why do I need an AR-15? Because go f*** yourself.” The question isn’t whether I need a gun but the mere fact that I want one and it’s my right so I’m getting one. Why do you need your iPhone, flat screen, fidget spinner, or Taco Bell? It’s irrelevant. Your money is yours to spend pretty much however you want, up to and including a gun if you so choose, and except in rare conditions, the government can’t stop you.
The real question isn’t why I need it, but who gave the government permission to stop me.
The man said he thought I had a more convincing argument than Ben, which is 100% the highest compliment a conservative can receive.
But I didn’t let it get to my head for two reasons: 1) it was just a mix of two ideas others have been sharing for years, one of them Shapiro himself, and 2) it made me realize the importance of distinct conservative personalities.
Analysis: Shapiro vs. Crowder
Before I go any further, no one can intelligently refute that Ben Shapiro is one of the sharpest and all-around best debaters in modern history. He knows and implements all the right tactics in just the right combinations based on his opponent’s typical strategy and weaknesses. He literally wrote the handbook on this with his bestseller Bullies, and he frequently speaks on how to use the Left’s talking points against them.
That said, he has a very unique brand that doesn’t lend itself to certain audiences, and depending on his goal, he may speak very differently. In debate, you are not trying to convince your opponent of anything; you’re trying to show the crowd that you know better than your opponent and that he’s a stooge. This is Shapiro’s bread and butter.
In dialogue, however, you actually do want to find some common ground, and Ben’s strategy here, conscious or not, is typically to prove his point analytically through philosophical reasoning. Personally, I love this. But it doesn’t impact everyone the same way.
For example, at the University of Utah, Ben was asked to provide evidence for the existence of God, the soul, and free will. To be fair, this is a deeply philosophical question — the kind Ben attracts because he’s so brilliant. But the first words out of his mouth were, “All right, I’m gonna give you the Aristotelian slash Aquinas argument for the existence of a God,” and he continued in that vein, citing the concepts of actuality vs. potential, contingency, an infinite regress of causes, and the unmoved mover.
Not everyone speaks this language. I’d bet that many people don’t know that Aristotelian (especially when hearing it rather than reading it) relates to Aristotle. Of course, I loved his answer, but I’ve read Aristotle. And although I haven’t read Thomas Aquinas, I’m acquainted. But I also watch C-SPAN in my spare time, so I’m clearly not the metric by which one should measure public political interest.
Bottom line: there is none greater than Ben Shapiro in the modern conservative movement. But going with pure Shapiro as a communication tactic might not be enough to attract the largest base. I don’t think Shapiro believes that either.
Enter Steven Crowder.
Crowder’s approach is comedic, irreverent, and inflammatory. He’s not a provocateur like a certain flamboyant, pro-pedophilia, Alt-Right apologist whose name I won’t dignify; Crowder’s schtick is actually incredibly substantive, and in some cases, as with his recent undercover exposé on Antifa, legitimately groundbreaking.
He intentionally triggers Leftists, but not just for the sake of triggering. He educates by debunking historical myths, exposing corruption, and rebutting culturally popular political lies from the likes of John Oliver, Vox, and Samantha Bee.
Ben Shapiro is fully capable of inciting outrage with witty one-liners (hence the thug life videos); it’s just not how he leads. Steven Crowder is highly intelligent and often delves into deeper territory than just politically infused comedy, or even comically infused politics, but he does so in a way that makes sense to someone with any level of political expertise.
I don’t hesitate at all in saying that Ben Shapiro knows more than Steven Crowder about political theory, I can say with equal confidence that Crowder is more effective at communicating with the average listener.
Glenn Beck speaks on the radio and asks the question: Is Ben Shapiro the new William F. Buckley?
Opinion: The argument over free speech: intellectually shallow, vitally important | Opinion | ocolly.com
On the right you have individuals like Charlie Kirk and Steven Crowder, two people I’ll admit to otherwise enjoying, who spend most of their time lambasting the millennial generation of being soft and unable take criticism, that they are in social and political echo-chambers. Largely, this line of reasoning is unproductive, meaning it is unlikely to change the mind of its opponents, and, as I’ve been alluding to, it lacks real intellectual heft. That being said, however, this argument has an equally simplistic counterpart.
Erich: Do you see your role, in part, then as guiding the opposition to the Left towards a grounding in a set of principles such as constitutionalism rather than encouraging opposition to the Left by hook or by crook?
Ben: Yes that’s the idea. The idea is to understand why the Left despises the Right and understand that the replacement for that is not a tribalism of the Right but rather a universalism within the founding principles.
Both are indispensable to conservatism.
Ben Shapiro is the William F. Buckley of our generation. If you’ve never seen Buckley’s show Firing Line, you need to right now.
But Steven Crowder is this generation’s Rush Limbaugh, and that title shouldn’t be treated lightly.
I can’t imagine where conservatism would be without either of these legends, regardless of the contrast between Buckley’s reserved intellectualism and Limbaugh’s affinity for sports and song parodies.
At their core, Ben is a thinker and Steven is a comic. Both are brilliant, and they’re exactly what conservatism needs. And whether you’re cut from the Crowder cloth or you lean Shapiro, whether you’re a mix of the two or something else entirely, conservatism needs you too.
Richie Angel is a Co-Editor in Chief of The New Guards. Follow him and The New Guards on Twitter, and check out The New Guards on Facebook.