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KLAVAN: Who Do You Think You Are?

The following is the transcript of a speech given by Andrew Klavan at the YAF National Conservative Students Conference.

I found I had to give a lot of thought to what I wanted to say to a group of whippersnappers like yourselves.

The fact is I sometimes feel nowadays like the character in Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’ who is a “traveler from an antique land.” The antique land I come from is the America of the early 1960’s where I grew up. That was a good place. We were rightfully proud of both our political greatness and our moral goodness. No matter what they tell you, we were also very aware of our failings, but we were confident that our traditions would make us better, and that those good traditions were worth teaching to our children and the world.

But that America is gone – and it is not coming back, at least not in its old form, for the simple reason that nothing ever comes back in its old form. That’s an iron law of life. Whenever I hear someone say something like, this singer is the new Elvis, I always think: who was the old Elvis? There wasn’t one. The good things in life are unique and fleeting, and once you lose them, they’re gone forever.

So as much as I would enjoy it, there’s no point in my standing here and saying, “When I was a boy the world was a better place.” That’s not even the point. It wasn’t better. It was just good and bad in different ways. But our country’s mentality was healthier, more realistic and more sane than it is today. And that’s something that can’t be recovered. It has to be rebuilt in a new way for a new time. So I’m not going to talk to you about the past. 

And I think it would be useless for me to talk to you about the future. You’re going to face developments and challenges the likes of which I’ve never seen. Machines may soon develop almost human levels of intelligence, so they’ll be qualified to run for congress. Humans may have their intelligence enhanced by implanted devices, so that our greatest intellectuals will finally be intelligent enough to understand what everybody else already knows. And most consequentially, I think, there will soon be incubators that perform the functions now performed by the human womb, so that you’ll all be as sexually equal and as free of gender responsibilities as the damned are in the fires of hell.

So I’ve been asking myself: if there’s no point in talking about the past, because it’s unrecoverable, or the future, because it’s unknowable, how can I make the next twenty minutes worth your while. I think the best thing I can do is to use my Methuselah-like decrepitude to give you bit of context for your present moment.

I used to do this at the Daily Wire when we were first creating the place, and it was really just me and Ben and Jeremy, a producer named Jonathan Hay and eventually, for our sins, Michael Knowles. We started out in Jeremy’s pool house doing 15 minute podcasts on a card table. The rest of the time we’d sit around and argue about the politics of the day to try to get a sense of things — and sometimes the younger guys would say things like, “This is the most divided era in American history,” and I’d say, you know, between the ages of ten and fourteen, I saw the president of the United States murdered by a Communist, his senator brother murdered by a Palestinian and the greatest civil rights leader of the age gunned down by a racist pornographer. To me, things look pretty chill. I think that was useful to keep the rhetoric in check and align our feelings with reality.

So today, I want to tell you something I see happening in your moment that has never happened in my experience before. It’s happened several times in the course of history, but it’s something new in my lifetime, and that is this: The Establishment has collapsed.

The old men – the political, intellectual and cultural leaders who are responsible for passing on to you the wisdom of the ages and the traditions of the west have utterly abandoned their posts, and in their stead there has gathered the greatest collection of liars, frauds and clowns it has ever been my pleasure to make fun of.

Your professors are buffoons, your cultural critics are vulgarians, your priests are cowards, and your journalists aren’t fit to unlace the sandals of your professors, critics and priests. 

I’m talking about the people who are supposed to be the grown-ups, the parent class. Their job is to be a little fusty, a little old-fashioned, a little slow to accept the latest fad. They’re supposed to have read at least some of the great books and teach you what they say. And while they’re at it, they might also teach you how a gentleman ties his tie, how a lady behaves in company, and how to say the pledge of allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer. 

The establishment, the parent class, has to be willing to be made fun of by young people like you. They have to be willing to be scorned as being irrelevant and out-of-date. The wise old men and women know that the young are natural revolutionaries, but they also know that great revolutions don’t come from revolutionaries, they grow out of great traditions. They come from guys like the American founders, who, young as some of them were, were deeply imbued with British and Western traditions and wanted to take those traditions to the next level. Great Revolutions do not from guys like Robespierre and the other French revolutionaries who thought they could reinvent the moral universe and ended up knee deep in blood.

Now I say that the complete collapse of the establishment is new in my lifetime, but that doesn’t mean it just happened overnight. It’s like Hemingway said of a man who went bankrupt, it happened gradually, then suddenly. The bankruptcy of western culture and ideas was the same way. T.S. Eliot saw it coming a full century ago and wrote a poem about it called ‘The Waste Land.’ And in 1940, as the twin horrors of fascism and communism were threatening to engulf the west, a thoughtful journalist named Walter Lippmann gave a speech to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is what he said: 

“Those who are responsible for education have progressively removed from the curriculum of studies the Western culture which produced the modern democratic state. The schools and colleges have, therefore, been sending out into the world men who no longer understand the creative principle of the society in which they must live… deprived of their cultural tradition, the newly educated Western men no longer possess in the form and substance of their own minds and spirits the ideas, the premises, the rationale, the logic, the method, the values of the deposited wisdom which are the genius of the development of Western civilization; That prevailing education is destined, if it continues, to destroy Western Civilization.”

What I am saying is it has continued and that destiny of destruction is now nearing fruition. The generation who was trained up to be ignorant of why the west was great, trained the generation of ignoramuses who trained the complete morons who are training you today. 

The effects are obvious everywhere. Christian churches hang Black Lives Matter and gay pride banners, as if they’ve forgotten that there are no black and white lives in Christ, and pride is not a realistic emotion for any human being to feel. It’s as if they worship Karl Marx, who thought mankind could perfect the world, instead of Christ, who understood this world is the kingdom of our enemy. It’s no wonder that, during the pandemic, these priests curled up like dead weasels when they were ordered to shut their doors by bureaucrats who believe there’s nothing worse than death. Secretly, the priests agreed with them.

You have Academics who either won’t teach the great books or silence those books by smothering them under their own banal and unfounded critical theories. Even worse, they threaten you with bad grades if you don’t lie and pretend to believe those theories. That’s a sin. It is a sin for an old person in authority to coerce a young person into compromising his integrity… it is a double sin to do that to young men because, while integrity is good for both sexes, it is the essence of being a man. To be a man you have to be who you say you are, and do what you say you will do.

And of course there are the morally-stunted perverts at the highest level of education and government who want to butcher and drug children out of their God-given sex, in order to bolster a theory of transgenderism that has zero scientific basis and so little logic, that it can only be defended by silencing and deplatforming anyone who dares to speak the obvious truth.

I won’t go on with this list forever, but I do want to go into detail in one instance, because I want to be very clear about what I’m saying and what I’m not. When the criminal drug addict George Floyd was killed by an act of sloppy policing in the spring of 2020, there was not and is not now, one iota of evidence that racism was the cause. Nonetheless, Maoist anti-American revolutionaries were able to spread that narrative to incite riots that destroyed black neighborhoods and businesses, to scuttle police techniques that had saved thousands of black lives over the last two decades, and to tear down the statues of the men who made this country great. 

But that’s not my complaint. There are always sad, smarmy, violent little thugs who tear down what they don’t know how to build. But where were the old men? Where was the establishment to say: “Hey punks, you, who have accomplished nothing, will not tear down the statues of men who gave you every good thing you have.”

The establishment joined the mob. The journalists covered up their barbarism by calling their violence “mostly peaceful.” City leaders agreed to remove statues of men like Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt at the behest of men like Beavis and Butthead. None of them had the knowledge or the spine to stand up and defend the glorious history of this unique nation that is the political fruition of high European culture, the greatest culture that has ever existed on the face of the earth.

Ibram X. Kendi is the author of the hugely best selling book “How to be an Anti-Racist.” The book is hilarious nonsense. In its first chapter, it gives a definition of racism: [quote] “Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities.” Now, obviously, that’s meaningless argle-bargle because it defines a word by using the word it’s trying to define. It’s like saying a dog is a dog-like creature who does things dogs do. 

But there’s more. Kendi has been repeatedly quoted as saying, “When I see racial disparities, I see racism.” Anyone who disagrees he says, must believe that blacks are inferior. In his brilliant book Discrimination and Disparities, Thomas Sowell, one of our wisest intellectuals, calls this assertion “the seemingly invincible fallacy.” He then proceeds to eviscerate it and with unassailable logic and rigorous statistical analysis demonstrates that the causes of disparities in everything from culture to the weather are so complex that to reduce them to a single cause like race is an act of childish simplicity. Kendi’s book quotes Sowell out of context once, but he’s obviously never read the top thinker on the issue he’s writing about. 

Something else Kendi doesn’t seem to have read is “The Oresteia” by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus. “The Oresteia” is a foundational document of the west, a trilogy of plays that tells how a seemingly endless chain of vengeance is finally brought to a halt by the goddess of wisdom Athena, who establishes the Greek justice system with equal justice for all. But Kendi kind of likes endless chains of vengeance. In “How to be an Anti-Racist,” he writes “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” This is a recipe for a society like the one they have in Afghanistan where medieval tribes make infinite war on one another over an offense that may or may not have happened hundreds of years ago.

Kendi is a nitwit. But again, that’s not what bothers me. There are always nitwits making a bundle selling their snake oil ideas. But Kendi has won a National Book Award for Nonfiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Grant. Businesses and colleges create policies on his say so.

Where are the old men? Where is the intellectual establishment that possesses the basic education and moral courage to dump this silly garbage in the circular file where it so clearly belongs?

The establishment has collapsed. And you may say to me: so what? Who needs the establishment. They’re just what the poet Yeats called “Old, learned, respectable bald heads who all think what other people think.” After all, didn’t western culture begin when the establishments in Athens and Jerusalem executed Socrates and Jesus for failing to toe the traditional line? Why shouldn’t a revolutionary country like ours have an establishment that calls itself the Resistance, even if what they resist is free speech and equality under the law?

And there’s some truth to this. Priests and scholars and political leaders who become too wedded to the way things used to be, sometimes fail to recognize legitimate innovation when it comes along.

But without an establishment dedicated to the preservation of tradition, there can be no real innovation, because innovate comes from a word meaning to renew and if you don’t know where your greatness comes from, you don’t know what to renew. Socrates and Jesus – not to mention Martin Luther King – weren’t trying to destroy their traditions, they were looking to fulfill them, to make them live out the meaning of their creeds.

More than this, without your traditions, you don’t even know who you are. None of us, not one of us, is self made. We’re each born with our own nature, but we’re shaped by our traditions and culture. When your elders fail to teach you that culture truly, it’s not that you’re set free to be whoever you want, it’s that you’re so ignorant, you’re ultimately doomed to become whoever the ignorant, arrogant, perverse, and ill-mannered people in charge at the moment say you should be.

And this, more than anything, is what I want to bring to your attention. Who is that person the Resistance establishment is telling you to be? Well, if you want to know the answer to that question you turn to my field, the arts. It’s the arts, as James Joyce wrote, that forge the uncreated conscience of the race.

If I wanted to discuss who you were in Elizabethan England, I might talk about “Hamlet.” If this were the Enlightenment, I might discuss “Lyrical Ballads” by Coleridge and Wordsworth. But today, let me make reference to Ben Shapiro’s greatest work, the rap song “WAP.” I know Cardi B did it first, but Ben did it better.

Now I can’t quote the rap song “WAP” because I’m SO incredibly old, I actually find it very difficult to use foul language when there are ladies present. I assume you’ve all heard the song at some point, but if not, let me summarize the story. Cardi B and her friend Megan Thee Stallion declare that they are like unto prostitutes, and then proudly and repeatedly — not to say incessantly and monotonously — boast about the copious lubrication of their genitalia. They then invite any and all nearby men to make use of said genitalia in various creative and vigorous ways.

Now once again, don’t mistake me: it doesn’t bother me that people write obscene ditties. I travel a lot and have had ample opportunity to read the walls of many public restrooms. I’m neither shocked nor offended in the least. But where are the old men? Where are the cultural critics who aren’t afraid to distinguish quality and wisdom from adolescent tripe. Here are some examples of the critical reactions — I culled these from Wikipedia. The New York Times, a former newspaper, called “WAP” “…an event record that transcends the event itself.” The LA Times called it a “savage, nasty, sex-positive triumph” with a “perfectly rendered lyric.” And NPR called it an “iconic song about women’s sexuality.”

Now, for context, I’m a fan of what’s called the American Songbook, the popular music from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, when African, European and Jewish musical traditions came together to create what I think were the best pop songs since the days of the Elizabethan ballad.

Let me read you a small portion of the lyric from a song I’ve always liked called “My One and Only Love.” It’s been recorded by everyone from Sinatra, to John Coltrane to Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan. I chose these lyrics because, like WAP, they’re a description of sexual intercourse… every adult who heard this song at the time in the 1950’s, knew it was a description of two people having sex.

Here is the lyric – the second verse of the song: 

The shadows fall and spread their mystic charms
In the hush of night while you’re in my arms.
I feel your lips, so warm and tender,
My one and only love.

Now these two songs, “WAP” and “My One and Only Love,” represent not only two very different descriptions of the act of sex, but two very different concepts of what it means to be a human being. The “WAP” concept of what it means to be a human being is the one your Resistance Establishment is selling you relentlessly every day — teaching it in schools, making it cool in movies and music, turning it into policy through politics, and enforcing it through the HR department of every corporation that fires you and every social media platform that bans you for speaking such obvious truths as men can’t become women, and race should not be used to determine outcomes. The effort is so pervasive, that if you yourselves have not yet bought into the WAP idea of who you are, your children will buy into it, because there will be no one left who remembers any other.

You will not be surprised to learn that this “WAP” idea of your humanity did not spring full-blown from the intellectual depths of Cardi B. It’s an idea that was handed down to Cardi B from serious thinkers like Schopenhauer, Freud and the Marquis de Sade. It is the idea that you are nothing more than meat with a chemistry set inside, and all your ideals and hopes and dreams are emanations of your physical drives, primary among them the sexual drive, which Schopenhauer called “the goal of all human effort,” and the “Lord of the world.” You are a random being created by a random process, and therefore can be recreated by your own will or by the will of society’s benevolent engineers into anything that will give you more pleasure and less shame, more economic equity and less conflict. 

Since you are only meat and chemicals, you can change the shape of the meat and the mix of the chemicals, and you will be made a different sex, or made happier or made more mystically wise. You can tear meat and chemicals out of the womb in pieces and nothing of true value has been lost. And since you are just meat and chemicals, what you perceive as moral and immoral are simply evolutionary constructs of the brain with no reference to outer reality, so morality can be redesigned at will. And, of course, if your genitalia happen to be really well lubricated tell the boys to come and get some, because after all, that’s what it’s all really about.

Now the idea of your humanity that arises from “My One and Only Love” is different and comes from another strain of the western tradition that includes thinkers like Immanuel Kant, and Coleridge, C.S. Lewis and Joseph Ratzinger, the former pope. The song begins: 

The very thought of you makes my heart sing

Like an April breeze on the wings of spring. 

This is spoken not by meat and chemicals but by a person with a mind that has thoughts, and a heart that can sing with joy. The love the speaker feels connects him not just to his lover but to all nature, his love transforms nature into poetry, which justifies the poetic language of the song: when he’s with his lover, the night has mystic charms, the very thought of her makes the April breeze seem to travel on the wings of spring. 

To be clear, this is not a moral vision. For all we know, the lovers in “My One and Only Love” may not be married, they may be married to other people, they might be gay as far as the lyrics tell us. All we know is that they are human beings with hearts and minds, whose deepest thoughts and emotions are interwoven with the whole of creation.

So, while they may not know God, they have the capacity to know him. They may not love their neighbors like themselves, but they have selves so they have something to work from. And because they’re not just meat puppets but human beings, their primary foundational pleasure is not sex, but the love that sex was designed to express. 

Now this vision of humanity has an authority that Cardi B doesn’t know about because there was no old man there to teach it to her, but I am an old man and I am here with you so I am going to teach it to you now. As Michael Knowles likes to say, I have read all the books. And there is nothing in science, nothing in philosophy, nothing in politics and nothing in the nature of the world that demands you regard yourself as meat and chemicals. Exactly the opposite is true. All of heaven and earth declare: You are exactly what you know yourself deep down to be: human beings fearfully and wonderfully made, male and female, in the image of God.

This has ramifications for how you live your lives. I hope you all have very pleasurable sex lives. But all the true joy of creatures such as yourselves is going to come not from sex, but from love. Schopenhauer was wrong. The old folk hymn “How Can I Keep From Singing” got it right: Love is lord of heaven and earth. 

The greater the things you love in your life, the more joy you will have. Love small things like clothes and video games and money and you will have a little joy. Love great things, like your family and your friends and the work of your hands, you will have a lot of joy. And if ever you should learn to love the God who made you, ‘bing bing bing’ you will hit the jackpot and even in your inevitable griefs and sorrows, you will know the true joy of life that leads to greater joy still. 

The primacy of love, the practice of love, the philosophy of love and the God of love are not things humanity learned in an instant: they were wrenched by human hearts and minds out of the fabric of reality and passed down over slow history, by priests and teachers and artists who learned them from the priests and teachers and artists who went before.

In your unlucky generation, that establishment, those keepers of the flame of western wisdom, have deserted their posts and abandoned their responsibilities, and left you to rediscover this central truth for yourselves. From their cowardly surrenders, to their idiot theories, from their abuse of drugs to their abuse of politics, the parent class has failed you.

But the good news is this: the priests and teachers and artists of all the generations past are still right here, walking by your sides. For thousands of years the best of them have been working in the midst of life’s suffering and evil to write books and compose music and develop religion, that are still lying at your feet like a bright trail through this present darkness. It is up to you to do what the old men have not done for you. Read those books, listen to that music, practice that religion, follow that trail: it will lead you back to who you really are. 

Andrew Klavan is the author of such internationally bestselling crime novels as True Crime, filmed by Clint Eastwood, Don’t Say A Word, filmed starring Michael Douglas as well as Empire of Lies and Werewolf Cop.  He has been nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award five times and has won twice. He wrote the screenplays to “A Shock to The System,” which starred Michael Caine, “One Missed Call,” which starred Edward Burns, and “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer,” starring Dean Cain. His political satire videos have been viewed by tens of millions of people, and he currently does a popular podcast The Andrew Klavan Show at the Daily Wire. His first book of non-fiction is a memoir of his religious journey The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ. His most recent fiction is the fantasy-suspense podcast and novel Another Kingdom.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire. 

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