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So to Speak podcast transcript: 'David French‑ism'
Note: This is an unedited rush transcript. Please check any quotations against the audio/video recording.
Nico Perrino: All right, welcome back to So to Speak, the free speech podcast where every other week we take an uncensored look at the world of free expression through personal stories and candid conversations. I’m your host as always, Nico Perrino. I’m here in FIRE’s Washington DC headquarters with my colleague Greg Lukianoff, again. Greg, two episodes in a row.
Greg Lukianoff: It’s a record.
Nico: I know, I know. He’s got the paperback edition of his New York Time’s best-selling book, The Coddling of the American Mind, coming out next month August 20. Yes, so pick up a copy of that. You can preorder it. It’s sold almost 200,000 copies.
Greg: Be sure to assail your local principals and professors and university presidents with it. Buy stacks of them.
Nico: Yes, and buy it using Amazon Smile. Because a portion of that –
Greg: Amazon Smile. Also, a portion of the proceeds go to FIRE as well, so no matter what, it’s benefiting us at the same time.
Nico: Yes, so double dip with that Amazon Smile usage. And this is a very special episode for us because while we have FIRE’s current President and CEO in the office today, our previous President and CEO from what? 2005?
David French: 2005.
Nico: David French is in the house.
David: That’s right. A homecoming.
Nico: And since then he’s become an ism.
David: Yes, I’m an ism.
Greg: Oh, I thought you’d be an ology.
Nico: Well, before we jump in into why you’ve become an ism. What got you interested in civil liberties on college campus. What brought you to FIRE in the first place?
David: Yes, I was in law school. A lot of people now sort of have this recency bias that says college campuses are awful and they have not been awful. I went to law school in 1991 in an era where the shout down was prevalent. If you were in class and you said something – I mean that mildly disagreed with the mandatory consensus, especially in ’91 and ’92. You would be hissed and booed. You would be shouted down. There were campaigns to try to – if someone was an outspoken conservative for example, people would call their employer, their future employer to try and get them fired.
Call federal judges to try to get their clerkships revoked.
Nico: Really, in the early ‘90s?
Greg: In the early ‘90s. That’s the first great age of political correctness. Whenever I talk about this stuff, I’m always like, “Oh, yeah. It hasn’t been this bad since 1986-1994.”
Nico: I knew speech codes were happening. But I didn’t know this sort of liberal – well actually, I did kind of know because I’m working on this documentary right now where I’m reviewing old archives of William F. Buckley’s Firing Line. And he actually did an episode, I think about political correctness, in which students came to the episode because he would do these live tapings. This was at a college campus. Leon Botstein was there. So, it might have been his campus.
And students protested it, disrupted it.
Greg: And I’ve got two book recommendations from this era. First of all, of course, The Shadow University, which you know was written in ’98. It talks a lot about this first great age of political correctness. But also, a book that I only discovered recently which was very popular at the time, Charlie Syke’s Hollow Man which is about –
Nico: I haven’t heard of that one –
Greg: It was surprisingly good. It was mostly about Dartmouth.
David: Yeah, and I was just reminiscing with a classmate the other day. If Twitter existed in 1992, the level at which people would think that the Ivy League in particular had just lost its ever-loving mind would be beyond today. Because it wasn’t just sort of the student gang tackling. I mean this was when people were passing speech codes and calling them speech codes. It just hadn’t penetrated public consciousness.
In large part because it hadn’t penetrated so widely. So, if you’re at the University of Alabama, for example or University of Tennessee, you’re not experiencing the shout downs and things like that. That would feel distant from you in a way that perhaps now, especially in say in 2015, it really spread a great deal. But I went there expecting some sort of platonic ideal of discourse and got shout downs and –
Nico: This was at Harvard?
David: At Harvard. And so, then I was very concerned about this issue, and years later I first came to FIRE actually as a – I might be the first member of the FIRE Legal Network.
Greg: I think you were.
David: I might be because I was very interested in the issue, and then FIRE launched a speech code litigation project. And I filed the first case in the speech code litigation project against Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, which was really remarkable – again, just think about all of this. These things are happening, and there’s no Twitter, there’s no social media. And so, your only ability to get the word out to everyone is persuading mainstream media reporters mainly to cover this issue, which was a chore.
But, we would go through things – at Shippensburg University, one of the fact patterns in the case was that one of my clients had gotten penalized because he had on his dorm room door a picture of – and this is right after 9/11, a B52 bomber bombing a picture of Osama bin Laden with Osama bin Laden in the crosshairs. Which happened to be a pictorial representation of the policy of the United States of America. And he was punished because they said that would be offensive to Muslims.
Now, if we think about that for three seconds –
Greg: That itself is offensive to Muslims.
David: That’s offensive to Muslims. I mean the idea that we are protecting the person of Osama bin Laden is something a Muslim student would want to see happen is a remarkable assumption. But these kinds of fact patterns were happening all the time. I had a case; it was Penn State University where the speech code at issue actually said this. And you can’t think too hard about this or it will tear a whole in the space/time continuum. “Act of intolerance will not be tolerated.”
So, what happens if an act of intolerance occurs and you don’t tolerate it. That’s another act of intolerance. But anyway –
Greg: It’s a time loop or something.
David: Yes, exactly. So, I had doing legal work for student groups, for individuals with the FIRE Legal Network. And then when the presidency opened, they created the position of president, I leapt at the chance. Because I was at a point where I was a commercial litigator with this really big pro bono First Amendment hobby which is a tough lifestyle to maintain. So, I made the decision to switch from commercial litigation to the world of civil liberties, and I’ve really never gone back since.
Nico: Well, two historical questions for you just because I’m interested. I was born in 1990. So, I wasn’t around for this.
David: Oh my gosh, okay. I was 21 then.
Nico: What got the first wave of political correctness, the first wave of speech codes into the public consciousness. Was it Jonathan Chait’s New York Magazine piece. Was it some sort of special reporting?
David: Oh, you mean in the ‘90s?
Nico: In the ‘90s. Yeah.
Greg: Jonathan Chait wrote about it?
Nico: Well, I think he –
David: No, that was much more recent.
Nico: Well, I know he’s written about it recently. But I thought he wrote the first big article in the early ‘90s, but I could be completely wrong.
Greg: Oh, did he really?
Nico: I’ll fact check that after this and make a note in the show notes. But I thought he did. Because when Nick Gillespie writes about these issues, he often references a piece in New York Mag in the early ‘90s as like the first big expose on what was happening on college campuses –
Greg: Well, FIRE co-founder Alan Kors – and Harvey Silvergate was fighting this long before this was cool.
Nico: Yeah, the Water Buffalo Case was in the early ‘90s.
Greg: Well, that was ’93. So, it was actually a little later in the whole sort of rise and fall of this kind of stuff. But Donald Downs is one of the people who points to 1987 as being an important turning point. Somehow that’s when it became okay to call something a speech code. And how it came to public consciousness, I mean that’s before my time. I entered college in 1992. But that definitely a year when the term political correctness was roundly made fun of both on left and right.
David: I would say – I can’t speak globally because it was really hard to sort of say, “Here’s this moment around the country.” But I will tell you a moment that occurred at Harvard Law School that began to switch the culture. I think it was GQ. GQ or Esquire, I can’t remember which one did a really long article called, “Beirut on the Charles,” where it talked about the civil war at Harvard Law School.
And frankly it made the radicals look silly. It really did. And I tried to look up the article recently, and you can only find excerpts of it online. I can’t find the actual –
Greg: We’ve got to hunt that down.
David: Full article. It’s called –
Nico: Beirut on the Charles.
David: It’s called, “Beirut on the Charles.” And I remember distinctly when that came out because I was thinking, “Yeah, Beirut’s overblown.” It would be like saying Raca on the Charles now or Fallujah on the Charles, which that’s a little overblown. But it did portray the very deep conflict, and there was this sort of a culture shift right there that people were saying, “You’re kind of embarrassing us.”
And it was not the conservative students because we were small and embattled. If you go to a Harvard Law School Federalist Society Meeting now versus the early ‘90s. Now, it’s hundreds of students will sometimes come to a Federalist Society event. In the early ‘90s there was about nine of us, and we were split between the social conservatives and the economic conservatives. And it was like from Life of Brian, People’s Front of Judea, and Judea’s People’s Front.
And there was this palpable sense that things have just gone too far. And the liberals on the left, the small l liberals in the left, as I recall began to assert themselves. And then Elena Kagan came as dean. And Elena Kagan just changed – was a sea change. So, she would go to Federalist Society Meetings, and say, “I love the Federalist Society.” She actively recruited conservative faculty members, busted up the sort of ideological monoculture on campus.
And when she was nominated for Supreme Court, there were people who tried to organize recent Harvard Law grads to oppose her; conservatives. And most of them were like, “Nope.” You don’t understand, she changed the campus. One of the things that I’m thinking a lot about now is that the small l liberals on each side of the spectrum have to hold their own side to account –
Nico: The classical liberals?
David: Yeah, the classical liberals. They have to hold their own side to –
Greg: No quite classical liberals. But I would say liberal circa 1982 where there’s like a good suspicion of government. Sort of the ACLU liberals –
Nico: Yeah, the higher-class liberals.
David: Yeah, old school. And she really – she had the credibility. She had the strength and fortitude to really set a new tone there. And I think because it hadn’t spread – this sort of virus hadn’t spread so much; you could take an institution and flip it around in a way that maybe might be more difficult now.
Nico: Well, it’s interesting because two weeks ago, Greg, or last week when we were talking to Sam Abrams over at Sarah Lawrence, I asked him the question, “I mean, how do you fix this situation at Sarah Lawrence?” And I said, “Is it a leadership change. Can a leadership on its own change the culture on a campus? And he seemed to think, “No.” But I’m kind of hearing that if you have someone like Elana Kagan, maybe you can.
David: Well, I think you can unless – there’s a point at which the student body is actually legitimately so comprehensively radicalized that you’re talking about sort of holding your finger in a dyke. But I think the reality – and I’ve been –
Nico: Like at Evergreen State, for example.
David: Right, right; which is rare. But I’ve been talking to folks in the Ivies and other major institutions, and they say that the vast majority of students even to this day are not interested in censorship. They may be more sympathetic than – they may be sympathetic to sort of the grassroots shame campaigns than they might have been 10 years ago. But when push comes to shove, they’re not in the quad. And it’s still a minority of students.
And a leadership can resist a five to 10 percent. Once it gets to 20 to 30 to 40, then you are talking about a different kind of challenge.
Greg: I just want to add in how I met David. And I started at FIRE way back on October of 2001. So, all my first cases were 9/11 cases. It was a really intense time.
Nico: You were in the air on 9/11.
Greg: I was in the air. I landed at Philadelphia International Airport at 9:10am on 9/11 2001. And I just thought it was a lame airport because it was super quiet, and we seemed like the only flight that had landed. And it actually turned out that we were one of the very few that had. And that’s when I was looking for an apartment as the first legal director of FIRE. And David was already – I think he was already in our legal network by the time I started.
And we just started chatting about different cases, and often times I’d stay late talking on the phone to David about Start Trek and moral philosophy. I was very angry about particular episodes of Voyager, and we had to talk through. So, we became friends pretty early on, and when he applied to be President of FIRE, I was psyched about it. And I like that we’re continuing the sort of identity of FIRE in which Harvey is left leaning and Alan is conservative leaning, of having a system in which the legal director is left leaning and the president was right leaning.
Because I think that’s one of those things that really makes FIRE special and keeps us honest. And I really enjoyed working with him.
Nico: Yeah, well I guess we should get into your background, David, because I think it helps set up this conversation about why you became an ism. You’re a conservative?
Nico: You’re unabashedly conservative. You’re an evangelical Christian if I’m not mistaken.
David: Yes, PCA. I was predestined to by a Presbyterian.
Nico: You’re a veteran. After you left FIRE, you joined the army reserves?
David: Army reserves. I left FIRE at the very end of December of 2015, and I was in Fort Lee April – late April the next year, 2006. And then finished my JAG training in April of ’07 and then deployed to Iraq at end of October, beginning of November of ’08.
Nico: And you did that because you were a believer in the Iraq War?
David: Yes. Well, I felt –
Nico: Still are, I think.
David: Yeah, I was at my apartment when I was at FIRE, and I was reading an article about a marine who was injured in Anbar province. And in the article, they were saying that phoned his wife and two kids in the Medevac chopper. A reporter had handed him a satellite phone – to tell them that he had been hurt but he’s going to be okay. And I just felt stricken in that moment that I had a wife and two kids, now I have three. And I supported this conflict, and what was I doing.
So, my wife kind of looked at me as I began to vocalize these thoughts. And I think her initial response was something like, “Don’t even think about it.” But I asked her to think about it. And the very next day she was out in the Independence Hall area near the FIRE offices. And there’s this place where – well, there are statues of founders all over and the signatures of founders. And my son, who was very young at the time, said to my wife, “Who are these people?”
And she said, “Well, they are the founders of our country.” And he’s super young, doesn’t really know. And she said, “They were farmers and pastors and soldiers and lawyers, but they were all patriots.” And my son said, “What’s a patriot?” And then my wife said came up with this great definition of patriotism just right off the top of her head. And she said something like, “A patriot is someone who loves his country more than they love themselves.”
And then my son looks at her and says, “Are we patriots?” And like that just absolutely touched her to her core. So, I come home from the FIRE offices and there she is with tears in her eyes and says I need to do it. And I said, “I’m going to go to Iraq” and she said, “You need to do it anyway.” And so, I walked down to the recruiting office, and they had no idea what to do with me.
Nico: You’re 37.
David: I’m 36 about to turn 37. Bald, I was not this ninja physique you see before you today. I weighed more. I was way out of shape, and I just said, “I want to be a JAG officer.” They had no idea what to do other than to give me an army physical at Fort Dix. So, I got up at crack of dawn and went to Fort Dix, barely passed the army physical. And then started the process of getting in shape. And just to tell you how comical that all was. The very first run that I did, I not only pulled a hamstring, I was so out of breath that I went to the doctor.
But months later I got my carcass into decent shape. And then let’s just put it this way, Michael Bay is not doing any training montages of my time at Fort Lee unless it is for a comedy. But I made it through.
Nico: And you were in the reserves. So, you had a job at Alliance Defending Freedom, ADF. And now you’re at National Review which I should mention. You’re an editor there. I think it’s fair to say that you were a part of what’s now been coined, the Conservative Consensus, surrounding the Bush Administration, the Iraq War. At least what Sohrab Ahmari, who is with the New York Post now, calls the Conservative Consensus.
And there is this journal called First Things, I believe it is a religious journal. And there was a manifesto of sorts written by a bunch of young conservatives against this Conservative Consensus.
David: Against the dead consensus I believe was the subtle title, yes.
Nico: And it’s kind of hard for me because I’m not in sort of conservative intellectual sphere to understand what that consensus is. But it seems to be – from the manifesto and from Sohrab’s subsequent article which we will discuss, that there was an agreement between kind of classical liberals, evangelical Christians, political conservatives as to what policy should look like.
It should be free marked oriented, free trade oriented, kind of a hawkish foreign policy. And also, critically for this conversation, a support for neutral principles. The law is blind, and that the libertine drag queen storyteller in San Francisco has equal rights to their beliefs that the evangelical Christian does.
David: Why would you think of that example?
Nico: Which brings us to, Against David French-ism, by Sohrab Ahmari who – interesting side note here, he probably wrote the most important article about FIRE ever in 2012. It was a weekend interview in the Wall Street Journal when he was an editor there, about Greg and FIRE. And that really put us kind of on the map in 2012.
Greg: In terms of publicity, it was actually related to my first book on learning liberty which came out in 2012. And in terms of raising our profile, nothing has really matched it since.
David: I remember that.
Nico: Yeah, it’s called, “How Free Speech Died on Campus.” I’ll put it in the show notes here. Anyway, that’s just an interesting aside, but, “Against David French-ism” – before I describe what he says in here, it could also be titled, “Against Civil Libertarianism, Against Neutral Principles, Against FIRE” in a sense because we are supporters of the civil libertarian principle.
David: Is the subtitle on there, “Down with the Foundation for Individual Rights,” –
Nico: It could also be, “For Theocracy” in my opinion. But we can get to that. And David, I think in your response, “In Defense of French-ism,” you kind of sum up his article pretty well. So, I’m going to read from that. “Ahmari’s stated desire is to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square reordered to the common good and ultimately the highest good.” That’s a quote from him. By contrast he says, “That David believes that institutions of a technocratic market society are neutral zones that should in theory accommodate both traditional Christianity and the libertine ways and paganized ideology of the other side.”
What inspired Sohrab to write the article was seeing an ad on Facebook or somewhere for a drag queen story time in San Francisco. You went on to write that, “According to Ahmari, contemporary politics should be viewed through a prism of ‘war and enmity’ and then public commitments to decency and civility become optional. In fact, they can become a hindrance to political victory over a vicious and committed opponent.”
“In essence,” you write “Ahmari is forsaking classical liberalism, the commitment to neutral principles such as free speech, religious liberty and due process, grounded in respect for individual liberty for a largely undefined version of Christian state-ism.”
“Classical liberalism,” you write, “especially polite classical liberalism is the path to defeat and decay. Only a more robust status Christian response can meet the challenge of the illiberal secular onslaught.” And in Sohrab’s piece, he kind of gives reasons for why we need to abandon neutral principles, why we need to abandon this classical liberalism that allows for free speech, religious liberty, freedom for atheists, as well as evangelical Christians.
He says, “Forced to reckon with the fact that autonomy unbound,” which is what classical liberalism sort of allows for. He says, “It hasn’t yielded freedom, but new and insidious forms of digital tyranny.” He says that you, David, “Treat as a nonstarter conservative proposals to intervene.” Instead he says that, “You urge essentially a cultural solution. Silicon Valley should voluntarily adopt First Amendment norms per French, and I wish him good luck persuading our programmer kings to go along.”
He continues, “How do we counter ideological mono thought at universities, workplaces and other institutions, try promoting better work life balances.” –
David: Okay, wait minute. I just cannot –
Nico: Cut me off –
David: Let’s just stop right there. What a ridiculous fiction that last statement is which is that my commitment to ending the ideological – the problem of ideological monocultures on campus is a commitment to work life balance. At one point – I think this is true, I think I had sued more universities on First Amendment grounds than any other lawyer out there. It’s probably not true anymore because I left the full-time practice of law in 2015.
But I sued the heck out of universities on First Amendment grounds, including the last big case that I had before I became full time at National Review, was suing on behalf of a professor who was denied a promotion because of his ideology. We busted the doors open there and won a case. I think it might have been the first jury verdict on behalf of a professor discriminated against because of his conservative ideology.
So, he constructed a straw man of me quite frankly. But what was accurate was my commitment to civil liberties. That was accurate. But this sort of idea that otherwise I’m sort of this passive speedbump, not even a speedbump –
Greg: It’s really bizarre. When you look at the sort of forgotten age of campus freedom of speech which is in-between the two great sort of politically correct moments. Where I came up, there were a handful of people actually fighting it. We all knew each other. And the lead lawyer and it was freaking David French.
Nico: So, this seems to be a full-frontal attack on neutral principles, on classical liberalism, on the foundation on which FIRE is built. And it’s a full-frontal attack from conservatives –
Nico: Rightists. We can debate what a conservative is all day. Who in the age of Trump have, as Sohrab puts, abandoned so-called consensus that existed during the George W. Bush era? I don’t know how to actually jump into this except to ask you because I’m not in the conservative intellectual sphere, is this something that you’ve been seeing coming along in the rightist movement for some time or just since Trump? And is it a big threat? It seems to be that they are arguing for a sort of theocracy, a sort of stateism where they are no longer neutral on speakers, for example.
Let’s just take free speech for example. Somehow, and Sohrab doesn’t get into it, they are going to put their thumb on the scale on one side to try and rectify all these wrongs that Sohrab lists off. He just sees conservatives moving left and right and doesn’t see a place for classical liberalism for conservatives.
David: Yeah, so there’s so much to unpack here. The first thing is let’s talk about what it isn’t. So, what he broadside isn’t, is it’s not really a broadside on what’s called fusionism, this sort of marriage of economic conservatism and social conservatism. That’s not really what it’s a broadside on. A lot of people of tried to make it that. But what it really is, it’s got three components. One, politics is war enmity – contemporary politics, which I disagree with. No. 2, that in those circumstances civility and decency are second order values; meaning undesirable in certain circumstances.
I disagree with that. And here’s the big one. The big one is that classical liberalism, the liberalism of the founders, is ultimately a threat to the culture. That is leads into cultural decay. The way I put it in another interview was John Locke plus 250 years equals drag queens.
Greg: That’s as bad as human history gets of course.
David: And so, I dispute him on all of these fronts. So, one of the things that I say in my response is, “Look, I’ll admit there was a point in time where I would have been a politics is war enmity guy.” Before I deployed to Iraq, I remember saying this at a conservative gathering. And I look back on this with shame based on what I learned about life since that time. And someone asked me, “Well, if you’re actively engaged in litigating at university campuses and you’re doing good work there, why would you go to Iraq?”
And I said, “Well, I believe the two great threats to America are jihadism abroad and university leftism at home. And I feel called to fight both.” Now that doesn’t mean that I agreed with university intolerance, but to put them in the same sentence was obscene. Here I was, I had lived three years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had a perfectly good life even doing battle with shout downs. My son was born in Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, New York when I was teaching at Cornell Law School where I had a perfectly nice life.
The first year of my marriage was spent in Manhattan. All of these places I’d lived – FIRE is in Center City, Philadelphia, right on the outskirts of the gay-borhood. Had a great life there. And to say that this was in any similar context to something that I would use in the same breath as jihad was ridiculous. So, as I wrote in my response to Sohrab, I spent a year in Iraq where I was risking my life for my fellow citizens. So, why would I want to come home and deprive them of their civil liberties.
And if I have confidence in my ideas. And if I have confidence that what I believe in is true, I don’t need the government to put the thumb on the scales. I just need the government to put its thumb off the scales, to have the ability to speak. I remember talking to Reverend Walter Fauntroy who is one of the founders of the professional Black Caucus. And he – I asked them how they were able to achieve such incredible legal change.
There are legacies of racism that exist to this day, but we cannot deny that in early ‘60s there was revolutionary legal change in this country. And he said, “We were able to do it through almighty god and the First Amendment. The First Amendment gave us the ability to speak and almighty god softened men’s hearts to hear the message.” That was a powerful word, and I’ve remembered that my entire life. And so, I look at a neutral public square as a moral good, if that makes sense.
Sohrab and others have accused people like me of sort of a fundamental amorality in our approach to the public square. I look at the Bill of Rights as one of the most moral documents ever created in human history, in human history. It is one of the most moral documents. It’s almost like the golden rule codified. And it doesn’t dictate a particular outcomes, but I don’t feel like I need the Bill of Rights to do that.
Greg: This is something I say a lot now in speeches and I’m trying to make sure I say it in every speech now, is that I get a little frustrated sometimes that historians refer to the American Revolution as the conservative revolution because they think – and I think they’ve absolutely got it backwards, that the 1789 French Revolution was the radical one. Whereas actually there’s much more tribalism and much more ancient ideas due to Rousseau, anyway.
But the First Amendment, when you think about it, after centuries and centuries and millennia of war over religion and the dissemination of information and speech, in one sentence we’re like, “You know what, it’s no longer going to be okay to use violence against any of these things. The rule is now people will get to worship their own god. It can not be imposed upon by the state. And you can say what you want, and you can spread that information by using the technology. And you can associate and assemble.”
It’s a radical idea in one sentence. It’s kind of like what’s crazier than being, “All of that stuff we were fighting about, violence and whatever, no longer. We’re not going to fight about that stuff anymore. And to me it’s an incredibly moral idea, partially because it comes with a huge amount of epistemic humility. Because it’s kind of like listen, it’s not our job. We know the limitations of what we can know. And we’re going to say what you can’t do and let human beings be decent.
David: We give about the same speech.
Greg: We like each other for lots of different reasons. Also, the fact that anytime someone compares something to the Holocaust; it happens on Twitter. We’re like, “Uh, no.” Exaggerations of those kind both make sure kind of, “Uhhh.”
David: But I talk about the eastern seaboard of the US in the colonial era. If you go down from north to south, from the Puritans to the Quakers to the Catholics in Maryland to Anglicans in Virginia to criminals in Georgia where they still remain, you’ve got a ton of the major combatants in the wars of religion being asked to live together in the same place. And we often denigrate the diversity of the founding through out current lens where we take for granted the Christian denominational diversity is not – that’s inherently peaceful.
But if you took the denominations that line any given road in Nashville, Tennessee and you transport them 300 years in the past –
Greg: They’d kill each other.
David: Yeah, the church bulletin would read, “Service at 11. Catholic burning at 12.” And so, the First Amendment is a bulwark against war to be honest. It’s a bulwark against war. It gives every single human being in this country the opportunity to change this country. As Frederick Douglass called the free speech, “The great moral renovator of society and government. It gives every person an opportunity to seek change without conflict.” Armed conflict and violence.
And that’s a marvelous gift –
Greg: There’s a great book by the way. I always like to do book recommendations when I can. Teresa Bejan’s Mere Civility talks a lot about the contribution to American thinking about freedom of speech. And she actually focuses a lot on the life and times of Roger Williams, who was an advocate of this kind of radical kind of like listen, “We’re fighting wars with our tongues here. Violence is off the table, but I’m allowed to say whatever I want given we’re in a theological battle.”
But it really influenced the way Americans look at free speech as not merely just a battle coming to some platonic rational good. That’s it’s really a much deeper spiritual – freedom of speech is really more of a spiritual right.
Nico: Is it a play on G.K. Chesterton’s Mere Christianity?
Greg: Well, it was actually what Roger Williams thought of the –
David: C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.
Nico: Oh, I was going to say C.S Lewis. I confused my –
Greg: You went for the –
Nico: Okay, so Sohrab in here quotes something that you wrote –
Greg: Is it Snyder cut?
David: Release it. Release it.
Nico: So, you write, “A core and very basic tenet of pluralism is notion that people of diametrically opposed beliefs can live and work side by side so long as they treat each other with dignity and respect.” Pretty much what you’ve been saying. “I spent my entire career working with people who believe that my religious beliefs are wrong, yet even in the case of profound disagreement, it is easy to treat people well. It is easy to treat people fairly.”
Sohrab would argue that Christians like yourself don’t get treated fairly. He would point to the Baker cases – or the establishment cases out in Arizona, in Colorado. He’d say look what’s happening to the family, look what’s happening to religion. Look what they did to Brett Kavanaugh which I guess was the turning point for Sohrab against the dead conservative consensus. And would say, “You know what, the progressives, war and enmity might not be our game, or we think it shouldn’t be our game. But it’s their game.”
And we can’t win if it’s their game because it’s just such a blunt tool.
David: That’s so false. But you are accurately summarizing the belief, I think. But there are always illiberal threats to liberalism, always. Even in the founding generation, the people who ratified the First Amendment, some of them also drafted the Alien and Sedition Acts. So, you’re talking about there are constant illiberal threats to liberalism. Liberalism has the tools and has had the tools for more than 200 years to repel those threats. And Ross Douthat has pointed this out, “Well, liberalism didn’t repel the confederacy.”
True, but it was the tools of persuasion and free speech that energized an entire segment of this country to have the moral will and to confront the threat of succession. I mean that was liberalism using the tools of liberalism to motivate a population. But anyway, there are illiberal threats to liberalism all the time. We have the ability to repel those threats. And so, for example, and this is something that Greg just wrote about in virtual pages of National Review.
There was a time, not very long ago, when 75 percent of universities – major universities in this country, had red light speech codes. Now the numbers are about 25 percent. That’s a massive change. And we didn’t go in and bulldoze the academic freedom. Those of us fighting this fight didn’t bulldoze the academic freedom of universities. We repelled illiberalism by confronting it in court. But there was not sort of takeover of universities for the highest good.
It was requiring universities to live up to constitutional ideals. And the Brett Kavanaugh situation. Look, we don’t have to get into that because it’s a very, very touchy. But I will say this that the most effective defense of Brett Kavanaugh was an appeal to due process and to rules of evidence.
Nico: Neutral principles.
David: Neutral principles. Due process, rules of evidence. Are these allegations corroborated? What is the evidence in support of these allegations? The most effective defense of him was not, “So what, we have more power than you.” The people who actually had the swing votes and the people who actually pondered these issues – I’ve talked to some of the people who were deep in that process. And they said it was the appeal to due process that made a difference, “Not, it doesn’t matter. The truth doesn’t matter here.”
“No matter what he should be on the court.” That’s not the way it worked. And so, the fact that there are illiberal threats to liberalism is not evidence of the failure of liberalism, it’s just a fact of life. It’s just the way things are.
Nico: But would you say that’s a blind faith that the outcome of these neutral principles will work in your favor, or do you just not care if sometimes you are going to win the argument, sometimes you are going to lose the argument. But Sohrab I think would argue that there are somethings that are just so important that you can’t put losing the argument to chance. For him the family, for example. He sees a declining birth rate. He sees no-fault divorce. And he says, “Okay, so we might get to speak our mind in some cases. These neutral principles might work for us in some cases, but look what’s happening to the family, the core unit of American society.
So, you put your faith – for you your faith is almost in the American civic religion. For him, it’s a means to an end, not an end in itself.
David: I do not believe the American commitment to individual liberty – and also, it’s not just individual liberty, it’s also freedom of association. And this is underappreciated when talking about the Bill of Rights. It protects the ability of people to form civic associations, to form religious organizations, and to advance their values collectively as well as individually. But my commitment to individual liberty is not contingent on the outcome of the exercise of that liberty.
And I think that if you do make your commitment to liberty contingent upon the outcome of the exercise of that liberty, you’re not committed to liberty. You are committed to the particular outcome. That does not say that the outcomes don’t really, really, really matter, and that I don’t care about the outcomes. I deeply care about the outcomes. And I understand – and one of the great virtues of individual liberty is that even if I “lose” any given battle, you know what I can do? I can wake up the next morning, and I can go right back at it. It doesn’t end. It’s an ongoing process of argument and persuasion.
And yes, I’m distressed by many of the things that have happened to the family. But I also know that at no point in my life have I been choked off from saying what I believe about faith and culture and politics. And I’m sad that my efforts at persuasion don’t always work, but at the same time, I’m very grateful that I always have access to those tools of argument. And so that’s the philosophical point.
But then here’s the practical point. If our culture is so darn lost. If it is just going to hell in a handbasket. Why do these guys think they are going to win in politics all the time?
Nico: He has a line here. He says, “Tub thump long enough about your sincere but irrational views and soon opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, polyamory, kids in drag, and much else of the same kind will come to resemble the wrong headed and indeed irrational opposition to vaccination mounted by ultra-orthodox Jews in New York.” I just think okay, if you open the floodgates for this sort of approach to politics, what if the ultra-orthodox Jews win?
They think they’re right just as much as you think you’re right.
David: Well, the scaremongering and the fearmongering to me is intolerable. So, there is this sense – one of the things that make our politics so toxic is that everyone thinks they’re losing. If you go to a progressive gathering – and because I’ve been opposed to Donald Trump, I have all this strange new respect. I can be invited in places I wasn’t invited before.
Nico: You and Justin Amash.
David: There’s just a few of us, all the strange [inaudible] [00:41:32]. It comes and goes depending on what I write about. There is not a sense of, when you go into a progressive gathering, that we are triumphant. There’s a sense of panic and danger. And then you go to a conservative Christian gathering – even though until recently the Republicans held every single branch of government. There’s a sense of panic and danger.
When the reality I think is much more nuanced. My colleague, Ramesh Ponnuru, has sent a summary that I think is spot on, which is in the last generation or so America has become more prolife, more progun and more pro-gay. If you look at a lot of the numbers, I think that’s absolutely right. Sohrab mentions abortion. The abortion rate in this country right now is lower, according to Guttmacher statistics, than is, was when Roe was decided. Think about that.
And that was when abortion was illegal in some parts of America. And it’s lower than at that point. And so, to say that all we do is lose is just wrong. We’re winning in some areas, and we’re losing in some areas. And we still have the ability to impact and persuade in all of the areas.
Greg: And just to add in. One thing that I do find interesting about Sohrab’s sort of vision of the world is that I don’t make any sense in it. And what I mean by that is that I’m an atheist. Ben’s in seventh grade, and I’m deeply concerned about religious liberty, and it actually makes me extremely angry. I have a whole chapter on learning liberty. But I do think one thing that does make it feel a little bit more validated is that I do think we are more tribal than we were even three years ago, let alone five, 10, 15 years ago.
And I don’t think there are as many people as those sort of generations of libertarians that I come from where it’s not even a question that you support the rights of people you disagree with or people of faith even if you don’t have it. And so, I do think this is feeding a polarization spiral that does worry me.
David: And when it’s negative polarization, which means that a Republican is a Republican not because they like Republican ideas as base, but because they really hate and fear the Democrats. And vice versa, the Democrats are Democrats not so much because they love Democratic ideas, they hate and fear Republicans. And so, what ends up happening is if you support civil liberties on an even-handed basis now, people are going to look at you and say, “You have given the enemy a victory.” The enemy.
Nico: But that’s not a new concept. I mean civil libertarians have always been kind of a quirky bunch. We at FIRE are nonpartisan. It’s why David French can work alongside Greg Lukianoff in support of these civil libertarian principles. I mean you can be – you can have a conservative or liberal sensibility and also be a civil libertarian. I’m making a documentary right now about Ira Glasser who ran the ACLU from 1978 to 2001. And before this article, I thought the big fight over neutral principles was happening on the left.
You see this on college campuses all the time. You see it off college campuses. Going back to the ‘60s and ‘70’s when Herbert Marcuse was writing about illiberal tolerance. The idea that, as David you say, supporting neutral principles is supporting the oppressor. And so, we need to abolish neutral principles and put our thumb on the scale in favor of the oppressed.
And to people like Ira Glasser, people like Norman Siegel, this is just completely foreign to them because they grew up during the civil rights movement when to put the thumb on the scale of certain groups. In order to put your thumb on the scale, you need to have certain power. To do that in southern towns meant censorship of the civil rights activists. So, I’ve always seen this happening on the left, but it’s completely new to me on the right. Although there’s always been censorship instincts across the board.
So, now I feel like we’re even more isolated as civil libertarians than we were two months ago.
David: I think that a consistent civil libertarian is quite isolated. There’s always been controversy around the defense of civil liberties. But I think the thing that’s different now is that negative polarization is a mass cultural phenomenon. And so, if you defend – I’ll give you an example. This isn’t exactly a legal – this is a cultural fight not a legal fight. But I’m very worried about the impact of corporate power over our culture of liberty.
And so, I was opposed to Google censoring James Damore, and firing him when he posted in good faith a manifesto about how he thought you could increase diversity at Google without resorting to discrimination. He was certainly – if you’re just looking from the outside in, there’s a lot of controversial stuff that people say at Google without facing consequences. He said something controversial, he’s out. I thought that was a problem. I thought it has a chilling effect in the culture.
Here’s what also has a chilling effect on the culture. When a football player peacefully kneels during the national anthem and the President of the United States says he should be fired. Now, the President didn’t violate the Constitution because he didn’t take any overt act in that direction. But I think that hurts the culture of liberty. But, in both of those circumstances, if you’re going to say that the President shouldn’t do that, and we shouldn’t call on the NFL to fire the kneeling player, you have host of people who come and say, “Well, you are disrespecting the flag.”
I’m doing no such thing. I don’t think he should kneel. But by golly if he’s going to kneel, I want to live in a country where corporations aren’t saying to their employees, “We’re going to start managing your good faith political expression.” And I have a problem with that. And I think we have a real issue with the culture of free speech in the country. So, I’m sort of a civil libertarian plus. I’m a civil libertarian in the legal sense, but I also want to be a civil libertarian in the cultural sense because I want our culture to respect rights of free speech, not just our judges.
Greg: And of course, David and I agree on this. And of course, shout out to Popehat’s Ken White –
David: Ken, if you’re listening, you are wrong.
Greg: Ken talks about the idea of free speech culture being incoherent. And having talked to them, I did a wonderful – it wasn’t even a debate. We did a panel up in Portland, Oregon. And I defended the idea of the culture of free speech. And I think more of what he is saying is that a lot of people that claim the culture of free speech are hypocrites, which is totally fine. But the idea that there isn’t such a thing – a coherent idea of a culture of free speech, I think is ridiculous.
Because of course, what came first? The cultural idea of freedom of speech or the First Amendment? Did the First Amendment magically appear out of some ideal that didn’t previously exist? That’s amazing.
Nico: Yeah, what’s President Zimmer trying to do –
David: Immaculate conception.
Greg: We didn’t have this before. We never thought this was a value before. And it’s relatively simple things. Of course, people come kind of like, “Are you saying the First Amendment should be imposed on these people?” No, but we should have a high tolerance for people we disagree with. We should actually – I’ll go one further, we should have genuine curiosity about where they are coming from. All of these kinds of things that I think actually happen to make your life better in addition.
But that’s how I go really over the edge. But when we start firing people – this is the Brendan Eich thing, the first case I talk about in Freedom from Speech, my short 2014 booklet. This was a person that was fired from – no, actually he stepped down from Mozilla –
David: Under pressure.
Greg: Under pressure because he’d given to an anti-gay marriage – he gave $1000.00 to an anti-gay marriage initiative back in California in 2008. And there were a lot of us including – I wrote an article in the Huffington Post talking about the 60-plus gay right activists, including Jonathan Rauch, who got together and said, “No, no, no. This is not the country we’re looking for. We don’t want to suddenly have a country where people are losing their jobs over being what we consider to be the wrong side of the debate. We want the deep pluralism that we were talking about.”
Nico: This isn’t confined to just civil libertarianism, although that’s FIRE’s stake in this. It’s also a bigger split across the board, economic libertarianism. Jane Costin over at Vox kind of did a Vox-splainer of this fight. And she talks about Tucker Carlson who is taking a split –
Greg: Jane is great by the way, definitely a follow Friday there.
Nico: Yes, you were just on a panel with her.
Greg: She was really fun to talk to.
Nico: Tucker Carlson for example says, “I was so blinded by this libertarian economic propaganda that I couldn’t get past my own assumptions about economics.” In short, he thinks that while low taxes and free trade might have made Americans wealthy. It didn’t necessarily make Americans happy or more moral. In their view, quite the contrary. So, this is happening –
David: I can’t wait to meet Tucker’s technocrats who are going to from the top down make Americans happier and make Americans feel more meaningful in their daily lives. So, this is –
Nico: Well, Sohrab thinks that Trump has done this. He said, “Trump understood what was missing from mainstream conservatism. His instinct has been to shift the cultural and political mix ever so slightly away from autonomy above all toward order, continuity and social cohesion.”
David: Okay, Trump the instrument of social cohesion. Good grief.
Nico: Trump, the guy who will fix the no-fault divorce family problem with his three divorces.
David: So, this is something that is – look, let’s define our terms here for a minute. Because one of the things that is happening is that words don’t mean what they used to mean anymore. So, we’re having an argument often about socialism right. People are using terms like socialism not to describe the government taking the means of production which is the typical definition of socialism. There’s no Ford Motors anymore, it’s the Bureau of Automotive Manufacturing.
It’s not Facebook anymore, it’s the Bureau of Social Media Division and Polarization. But what they are talking about is expanding a safety net. Now, I might be against that. I’m against Medicare for all. I’m against free public college for everybody. But I’m not going to say that is Venezuela or North Korea. And so, a lot of times what we look at is we look at our present highly regulated economy, and say, “Well, Republicans are libertarians.”
No, go to Kato or Resin and ask if the current American economy is a libertarian economy. It’s not. It’s highly regulated. There are thousands and thousands of government officials who regulate different aspects of this economy. So, what they are saying when they’re saying words like libertarian, they’re creating a false perception of people who are just like, “Ah, you know, whatever.” We have a huge social safety net in this country. We have enormous tax incentives that we give to civic associations and nonprofits to fill in and to minister to people who are hurting.
We have a comprehensive scheme – a comprehensive government led effort that tries to take the edges off our market economy. So, what’s weird to me is people will say, “Well, I don’t think we need more regulation of it. Or maybe a little bit less regulation of it becomes free market fundamentalism or libertarianism.” These are just buzzwords that are being attached to try and discredit an actual idea without grappling with the idea.
And one of the things on the economic front that just keeps being – you just don’t see is, okay American GDP is growing. Americans are growing more wealthy. Americans are living in bigger houses and they have more stuff and all of this. But here is how my government, here is how the federal government is going to fill the empty part in your heart, and make you feel more meaningful and more engaged, make your work feel more meaningful to make you feel more engaged in your community.
That’s what the federal government is going to do.
Nico: That’s social engineering that conservatives –
David: Yeah, it’s social engineering. It’s technocracy. And look, put the idea out there. But what I would say is that there are wounds that public policy can’t heal –
Nico: Ben Sasse writes about this.
David: Yeah, let’s just put it brass tacks. If I’m unfaithful to my wife and I lose my marriage, or if I’m sitting here unable to commit and I have three kids by two different women, three different child support payments. What industrial policy is going to make my life awesome in that circumstance? I can’t think of one. I don’t think anybody. All the king’s horse and all the king’s men can’t think of one. Individual choices have consequence. And one of the things that I believe is that civil society is far more important than government in stepping up and filling the void in people’s hearts and giving people a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.
And if you look to government to do that, No. 1 you are always going to be disappointed. And No. 2, you’re going to escalate the stakes of any given election all out of proportion to what government can achieve. And I think that’s what we’re doing so that every election – you guys have heard it; every election is the most important election of our lifetime. Every single one of them. And we’ll hear it again in 2020.
Nico: So, do you see yourself as losing this argument on your side, which is the right?
David: Oh, sure, for now.
Nico: But you’re optimistic that you will win in the end.
David: Well, I think that –
Nico: Okay, let’s say Trump gets elected to another four years. We can all remember what it was like in 2015 where it seemed like the conservative establishment, the antibodies were coming out. They were trying to purge Trump. They didn’t succeed, and it seems like on the drop of a hat there was this coalescing surrounding him. The National Republican Committee or whatever it is called is a mouthpiece for him at this point. Another four years of that, they’ll see this is where the power lies. This is how you win. And people like you will feel even more ostracized, I’m assuming.
David: Oh, sure. So, let’s put it this way. One of the consequences of negative polarization is that people are going to flock to the winner who has defeated the hated opponent. And there are few opponents in modern politics more hated than Hillary Clinton on the right for sure. I mean this is somebody that a lot of these older conservatives had spent a quarter of a century opposing the Clintons. And quite frankly, loathing the Clintons.
And so, there was this sense of existential despair at the thought that she was going to end up winning, that this long fight with the Clintons was going to end with another Clinton presidency. And it’s hard to overstate the level of gloom that was settling in on the right. So, when Trump shocked everybody and wins. He shocked people in his own campaign when he won. It created this outpouring of gratitude and exuberance almost unlike anything I have seen in politics.
And so, the loyalty – that moment cemented him. And a lot of people – this bond. And yeah, he had the rally Trumpist tour behind him. But that was a minority of the Republican Party. That moment, that extremely shocking moment when Trump won cemented a bond that I think a lot of people in the mainstream media just don’t get because they weren’t a part of this culture of gloom before then.
And so, whatever he did to win, that’s what people are about now.
Nico: Well, winning is what’s most important, Sohrab says. War enmity – if this is what wins our values, then so be it.
David: And now the interesting thing will be, what if it doesn’t win anymore. Then what. Well, part of history would say, “Well, then we move on,” because in January of 1981 not too many Democrats were saying, “You know what we need is more Carter-ism.” So, on the one hand you might think people will move on. On the other hand, what’s happened as a result of this Trumpist moment is the elevation of a huge number of voices, and the magnification of a huge number of voices on incredibly powerful platforms who have been spending the last several years trying to put an intellectual and moral frame around Trumpism.
And their Twitter following isn’t going to disappear. Their radio audience isn’t going to disappear. There is an entire edifice know that has been created –
Nico: Unless Facebook or Twitter takes him down, as they would argue.
David: As they would argue. But a lot of that is overblown for reasons we can talk about. But you are going to have a very large, strong following, especially if the election is close. Let’s say 2020 is close which I expect it to be, and he loses. There’s then going to be a stab in the back narrative about, “If only you never Trumpers had gotten on board, we wouldn’t be facing the unending sheer horror of the Biden/Harris/whatever administration.”
And so, this is not going to end anytime soon because it’s exposing a very deep fault line in people’s fundamental conception of what is America should be. Now, it could be papered over if Trump loses in 2020, and somebody like Mike Lee, somebody who more traditional and constitutional conservative who wins in 2024, then he won. He defeated the hated enemy.
Nico: And then we gravitate toward him.
David: Exactly. But what this is exposing is the negative polarization makes people malleable and makes people flock to not a principle, but to a person so long as the person can win. And I think that’s dangerous.
Nico: Greg, did you have anything to add on this?
Greg: Oh, no. Just it’s funny that the FIRE isn’t just nonpartisan because it’s politically expedient. It’s a principle we take extremely seriously. So, I really try not to chime in too much around presidential politics. But somedays it’s harder than others. I’ve always been very proud of the fact that we have an organization where people actually vote for different people within the staff. And I’m an atheist Democrat and my Vice President is my much beloved friend Robert Shibley who’s an evangelical Republican.
And I think that’s a really great model to follow.
Nico: And what we can all coalesce around is neutral principles which is what this article is more or less against. That’s an insurance policy for all of us with our –
Greg: And it’s never been easy. And it’s becoming increasingly rare. But there are always storms for this. It is a pretty radical idea. American liberalism has always been a radical idea, and it takes work and it takes some time of surviving a storm.
David: It’s funny you mentioned the political diversity of FIRE. I distinctly remember in November ’04 calling you, Greg, when the first exit polls came out and congratulating you that Kerry was going to be president. And it was maybe like 9 or 10 that night you realize that’s not happening, which had some interesting echoes in 2016. A lot of people in midafternoon were saying this is going to be a landslide, and then the actual results came in.
But my experience at FIRE taught me a great deal about – so, I was at a – before FIRE I was at a commercial law firm. And people of all different backgrounds were united around a common purpose of making money. It was the great equalizer. But at FIRE we had probably the most diverse workforce that you’ll find anywhere. Racially diverse, ideologically diverse, different sexual orientations, everything. And with people who were also very politically committed.
These weren’t passive commitments. Very politically committed. But we had a common purpose in defending the rights of others we would want to exercise ourselves. So, like a legal version of the golden rule. And what I would say – a lot of people ask me what can we do about polarization? What can we do about this enmity? And one of the first answers that I have is try defending the rights of others that you would like to exercise yourself. Because it doesn’t require you to yield on life, on guns, on anything.
It just asks you to say, “See the common humanity of your fellow citizen, and they crave the same liberty that you crave. Why don’t you help them achieve it?” And one of the things that happens when you do that is a) you form relationships and b) you develop and learn from them and c) you develop this in many cases mutual respect. And so that people who are very, very conservative know about Greg, and Greg has gone to bat for them 100,000 times on college campuses.
And so, they’ll read his bad takes on comic books, and say, “Now, he’s okay. He’s okay,”
Greg: I would like to say that I’m talking to a madman who currently believe that DC movies are better than Marvel movies. It’s insane.
David: It’s a fact.
Nico: Anyone who knows me, and Greg and our relationship knows that my eyes just glaze over when he starts talks about comics –
Greg: Nico used to be my assistant, and I’d start talking about comic books or – and he’s like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Nico: No idea what you are talking about. I think I’ve seen one comic book movie in the last decade.
Greg: But I’ll give credit where credit is due. There have been three great DC movies in a row. You’ve got Shazam, Wonder Women and Aquaman. Thinking about trident finding all the time. It’s actually supplanted the double light saber battle that’s always going on in my head.
David: Sharks with lasers attached to their heads. You just can’t beat that.
Greg: It’s ridicutastic. And it’s one of these things that I watched it at first as kind of this is a ridiculous – kind of as a bad movie. And then I was kind of like every time the director is asked what can I do with this movie. I’m like, “Okay, there’s going to be a monster. No, there’s going to be 10,000 monsters.” And I just like the fact that it’s always over the top at every moment.
David: There’s going to be a Kraken. And it’s going to have Julie Andrews voice.
Greg: We talked – because Ben, my kids love the movie Aquaman. And it’s the crabzillaopus is what we call the thing. And it’s like a billion miles tall. It’s an awful lot of fun.
David: The moment where it clicked over for me that I was in the presence of cinematic greatness was when they’re flying over the sands, and the Pitbull version of Toto’s Africa comes on.
Greg: Yeah, it’s amazing.
David: Which takes cheese ‘70s or was it ‘80s -- Africa Toto.
David: Cheese ‘80s on top of cheese hip hop. It was like –
Greg: It actually – and you’re slightly wrong on the scene because the flying came after that. It’s actually them arising from the water into the desert where they start playing that version. And it’s like, “Yes.” And then they owned it. They knew exactly what they were doing. So, I root for that all the time.
Nico: Well, one of the things that you could do, Greg, if you want to start a fund Twitter thing or I don’t know, do it on April Fool’s is write against David Frenchism and make it all about his views on comic books. And then you could respond with your in defense of Frenchism –
Greg: To get to more where we disagree, I think the worst movie of the last 1,500 years –
Greg: Is Batman versus Superman.
David: Fake news.
Greg: Just absolutely awful.
David: Fake news. The director’s cut was excellent.
Greg: I love this director’s cut faith where it’s kind of like this terrible movie and the director’s cut makes it amazing.
David: If you give Snyder the freedom to achieve his vision, he shall achieve that vision.
Nico: Well, let’s keep that conversation going on Twitter. In the meantime –
Greg: I can’t keep up with him on Twitter. It’s too much.
Nico: Sometimes I don’t know how these writers like David –
Greg: I don’t know.
Nico: To be so involved. I know you have to, to a certain extent.
David: To an extent.
Nico: To do your job, are so active on Twitter and also so prolific in your writing. But David, thanks for coming back to FIRE today. It’s been a fascinating conversation. You’re writing a book?
David: I’m writing a book. It’s called The Great American Divorce. And it’s essentially positing that if we embrace liberalism, we will embrace division in this country.
Nico: And until that comes out, you can read his, In Defense of Frenchism” which was in the June or July issue of National Review. It also can be found online. He writes all the time for National Review. Check him out there. Greg, thanks for coming back on the show again.
Greg: I want to write a defense of Lukianoffism just to pretend I’ve been attacked. I’m for me.
David: I know. It’s a weird thing to write.
Nico: When it happened, you must have been taken aback. You couldn’t have anticipated this would come.
David: No, no. I didn’t anticipate two things. One, the attack because I’m just sitting around Memorial Day weekend minding my own business, and I find out it’s my fault there’s a drag queen story hour in Sacramento. And then I didn’t anticipate how viral this would become. I think it hit in a news lag, and then within the next 10-15 days, it seemed like virtually every conservative commentator and pundit and publication had weighed in on it in some way, shape –
Greg: Where do you stand on Frenchism?
David: Exactly. Pro or con this jerk David French?
Nico: And then you got really good at responding to email, right?
David: Yeah, no.
Greg: Also, he managed to pick a target that if you want clicks is absolutely the right target. But he’s got a lot of respect across the political spectrum which is pretty rare these days.
Nico: Yeah, Sohrab says, “It’s hard to pick a fight with someone as nice as David French.”
David: As nice. And my wife is stunned at that statement.
Nico: Well, David, thanks for coming on the show.
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