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Andrew Klavan (@andrewklavan) is a screenwriter, bestselling crime and suspense novelist, contributor to publications such as City Journal and PJ Media and proprietor of “The Andrew Klavan Show,” a video podcast on The Daily Wire.
Klavan is witty, he’s got a sense of humor and a keen understanding of the importance of narrative and storytelling to culture.
I spoke with him about his intellectual journey from liberal to conservative, the criticality of culture to politics and how conservatives can compete, political correctness, progressivism, Islam, freedom of speech and Silicon Valley and much more.
What We Discussed
- Klavan’s journey from Hollywood liberal to conservative
- Why the Left dominates in the arts
- Idealism versus materialism and liberals versus classical liberals
- How Klavan would change culture if he had unlimited resources
- The conservatism of “The Sopranos“
- The importance of saying the unsayable
- The power of The Power Broker
- How Hollywood reconciles its progressivism with Chinese funders and Islamic supremacists
- The tyranny of central planning
- The wages of political correctness, trigger warnings, safe spaces, multiculturalism and identity politics
- Donald Trump’s presidency as a product of progressivism
- George Carlin and Donald Trump
- Silicon Valley’s ideological discrimination and what to do about it
Klavan’s Recommended Reads
- The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro
- Witness by Whittaker Chambers
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Friedrich Hayek
- After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre
- “Tough Guy” novels
- Ernest Hemingway
- The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle
- American Sniper
- Ayn Rand
- David Brooks
- Ross Douthat
- Federalist #51
- Jonah Goldberg
- House of Cards
- Immanuel Kant
- David Mamet
- Cormac McCarthy
- National Review Online
- Friedrich Nietzsche
- Steven Pinker
- John Podhoretz
- Bret Stephens
- Tom Stoppard
- V for Vendetta
- Wall Street
- War and Peace by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Thanks for Listening!
Check out other episodes at benweingarten.com/bigideas.
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The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ben Weingarten: If one were to look at your background and look at your resume they’d say, how could this person hold the ideas that he holds today? You have a background in literature on the academic side, you are a writer, a screenwriter, you’ve created all sorts of content, you were in the Hollywood world, you grew up on the East Coast and then you went to Berkeley from New York. I mean how do you end up a conservative with that background?
Andrew Klavan: Well, I always joke that my wife married a liberal Jew and ended up with a conservative Christian. She’s very patient about it. But you know, all my life, even as a little kid I had this obsession that things should hang together, that things should make sense. You shouldn’t say something that conflicts with something else that you’re saying. And you should work. I remember just as a kid even making up day dreams they always had to make sense, just things connecting together. And really in terms of my political journey, if I can call it that, when Reagan came into power, he was treated just like Trump is being treated now. He was the worst, he was a movie actor, he was dumb. His entire worldview came from watching “Bedtime with Bonzo” and watching cowboy movies. He knew nothing. I just completely believed that, I completely believed it. But, you pay attention and at one point the economy is in the tank, everything is going wrong, and people are lining up just to get a tank of gas, and then suddenly it’s “happy days are here again” and the Berlin Wall is falling down. And people now, they lie about this relentlessly but they tell you that, “Oh yeah, we all knew the Berlin Wall…” No one except Ronald Reagan knew. He said to George Shultz the Secretary of State, “We’re gonna win the Cold War.” And Shultz said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “I mean, we win and they lose.”
So when that happened it was really the wall coming down. I just thought, “That old buzzard was right about everything.” And if that was true then the whole stuff about him being dumb, about his being a movie star, about his being a warmonger, it just didn’t hold together. And that was just the beginning…’cause what every liberal knows is that the other side is evil. That’s what we knew, we didn’t know exactly why we believed what we believed, we didn’t know how we could be saying the stupid things we were saying, but we knew the [people on the] other side were Nazis. And so, that revelation that “No, he was right, the things worked,” that just was a turning point, it was really like losing a balloon, after that I kinda just flew away.
And at that point I moved to England for seven years, I lived in England for seven years, and I didn’t even know my politics was changing ’cause I really wasn’t paying attention to the Clinton years. When I came back, the people who were speaking for me were Rush Limbaugh, the guys in “The Corner” at NRO who I used to call my imaginary friends ’cause they were the only people who were saying the things that I believed. And it was just impossible not to change.
Ben Weingarten: So, you saw the outcomes of conservatism and essentially the notion of the facts of life proving to be conservative, borne out in politics. Then intellectually what happened? Did that spur you to then start reading the classics of the Western canon or in particular the kind of books that formed the American founding? What was your intellectual journey from that point?
Andrew Klavan: Well, part of this was I was extremely well-versed in the Western canon because I wanted to be a writer, I thought this is what I should know, this is my background. So I had read by that time everything. When I say everything, I had read like virtually every book in the canon. You can’t find a list of 100 books you should read in the literary sphere and the philosophical sphere that I haven’t hit, so that was the work I did to become a writer. I was really well-versed in that but there were all these voices that I had just never really thought of. You know just reading a book like Witness which is a life changing book. And all the, Hayek and all the people. And even coming…I’ve never liked Ayn Rand, I’ve never liked her writing. I think she’s a bad novelist basically. But even coming back to her who I had read her books and understanding what it was she was complaining about. She’s brilliant on economics and just understanding that, so I did come back to all of that and it really was, this kind of, it’s kinda pitiful when I think about it now, but I would sit there at my computer doing my work and then every now and again just going over to “The Corner” at NRO where guys like Jonah Goldberg, John Podhoretz and all of the great writers who are over there would chat. And I would just think “Yes, that’s what I mean, that’s what I’m thinking, that’s the, their point.” I remember John Podhoretz put up a comment about the three great poets of the 20th century and he named one and I wrote to him and I guessed the other two. [laughter] Goodness gracious. And that was how I got into contact with them. That was what brought me in.
Plus, a reporter I had worked with as a young man right out of college, I had worked with a reporter, the only conservative I had ever met, openly conservative guy that I ever met. And I saw an article by him and I hadn’t talked to him in years and years and I got in touch with him and that really kinda brought me into the family.
Ben Weingarten: What is it in the media, in entertainment, in the arts that makes it such that they’re almost always…dominated by leftists? And that even goes back in history because art in its finest form is about revealing truths. If the facts of life are conservative, well, you would think that people in the arts would see all that. But is there a psychological predisposition to leftism? What’s your take?
Andrew Klavan: Well, talent is blind. And so, it lands on all kinds of people. Right now, right at this moment, we really do have a kind of, blacklist or graylist, that’s keeping people from speaking, making it so it’s not a welcome situation. I mean, I always remember, that after the color barriers came down there were still no blacks who were managers in baseball. And people would say, on the air, they would say, “Well, they just don’t have the capacity to be managers in baseball,” which is hilarious, now that you look at the record.
But if you bar the door, and you put up a sign that says, “You’re Not Welcome,” when you open the door, no one’s going to be waiting outside, right? It takes a couple of years for people to come. And so, we’re at that situation, where the door is barred, and that is now. The big question is, is not whether conservatives have less talent than leftists, ’cause, when you think about it, most of our best writers, most of the best writers right now, are way on the right. So you have Tom Stoppard, who I think is the best writer alive. You have David Mamet. You have Cormac McCarthy, who’s never come out, but it’s very clear that he’s a conservative. I mean, these are like kind of the big guys, and all these other people who are getting all the praise, they’ll vanish but Tom Stoppard’s gonna be around forever. So there’s a lot of real talent on the right.
I think there are two things where they have an advantage over us in the arts. One is, everything is narrative to them because we believe in the facts. We don’t believe that the story is the truth. And they literally believe that, if you can sell the narrative, that is the truth. So that makes narrative a very high stakes game for them, in a way it simply isn’t for us, emotionally. I mean, I love nothing more than the arts. I love nothing more than stories, narratives, but I don’t that think that they’re necessarily [chuckle] the truth. And I just don’t think that you buy into something…when a story works, it is true, but it’s not necessarily what the writer thinks is true is true. So they do have that advantage.
They also have the advantage, the conservatives tend to be a little bit rock-headed. They tend to say, “Well, if I go into this job, managing funds, I’ll be a millionaire by the time I’m 25. If I go into this job, writing poems, I’ll starve to death, and no one’ll ever know who I am.” And they’re just not gonna make that choice [laughter], where leftists, I think, are a little bit wilder, a little bit more able to do that, a little bit more unstrung. And they will do that. So I think they have advantages there.
Ben Weingarten: How do you explain that classical liberal philosophy is an idealist philosophy, and the leftist philosophy, let’s call it progressivism, or whatever you wanna call the different strands of it, is materialist. Yet the left is all about, like you said, kind of, there’s a free spirit, there’s the idea of creativity being virtuous, and the like, and it’s our side that’s all about, “Well, we like low taxes, because low taxes lead to these 50 positive benefits,” as opposed to, “We like low taxes, because you earned your money, and what’s fair and what’s just is that you reap what you sow, you work hard, you earn something from it.” Why does the other side control the idealist narrative, when we should be the idealists?
Andrew Klavan: Because we don’t tell stories. I mean, you ever see Paul Ryan selling a…It’s hilarious, whether, pointing at the graph with a stick, and you just wanna rip your eyeballs out [laughter], you know like, “Please, Paul. Stop.” But you’re absolutely right. I mean, this is what I always try to talk about. I really dislike that we talk so much about the practical applications of what we do, even if we’re talking about marriage. When we say, “If you get married at a certain time, and you don’t have kids unless you’re married, you won’t be poor.” Well, yes [laughter], that’s also true, but it is also true that, there’s a purpose to our love lives, and our sex lives, and if you don’t live out that purpose, you know, you’ll be living nothing. You’ll be living this meaningless string of relationships that won’t go anywhere, and you’ll be less happy. And I think that when we…I was just giving a speech to college students who I think I must have shocked them down to their souls, but I was talking about the pursuit of happiness, and the idea of happiness that goes back to Socrates.
And it’s not, when I hear conservatives talk about happiness, I hear them talking about, “Well, you could build a business if you want, and you can live in the woods, if…” You know what, I think, like, that’s not what happiness is. Happiness is very strictly tied to virtue. Virtue is very strictly tied to liberty. It all makes sense. I mean, this is the thing. What we say makes sense, and when we start arguing in a practical way, I think I know why we do it.
I think, we think it’s the immediate problem, that if we talk in ideal terms, we won’t be selling, maybe the immediate benefits, and that there is a purpose to that. But you’re right. You’ve got to tell a moral story, and we have a moral story to tell. In fact, we have the moral story to tell, and the only way the left ever tells good stories is by pretending they’re conservatives, and then inserting propaganda into those good stories. So, if you watch their best movies, their most successful movies, Avatar, and things like that, they’re really selling conservative values, and then plugging in leftist ideas into them, to make it propaganda.
Ben Weingarten: Let’s say you had an infinite budget, and infinite power. How would you change the culture, given the way the cards are stacked today?
Andrew Klavan: Great question. It’s a great question, and here is the best answer I can give you: Political movements and politicians and political people don’t make art. Artists make art. People like me make me art. I mean, I’m like, nuts, right? I walk around, and I think up stories about people who don’t exist, and I put them together, and I work really hard to make them real, and that’s a crazy thing to do. And it’s people like me who make art. You do not make art thinking, “You know what? I’m gonna change people’s minds.” You make art thinking, “This is the thing I wanna express, this is the story. And I think it’s gonna be delightful and beautiful.”
Because talent is blind, there’ll be people who can do that on the left and right. What we need, is we need a place of welcome. We need a place where you can go and pitch a story — if it’s to the movies, or write a book, that has values that resonate with conservatives, that are true values, conservative values — and find welcome, and find a living, and find people who’ll make that movie, who’ll produce that TV show, who publish that book. The trick here, and this is the trick that conservatives stumble on all the time, is that conservative art doesn’t look like conservative life, right?
To me, one of the truly great works of my life, and a truly conservative work, is The Sopranos. It’s filled with filthy language, it’s filled with nudity, it’s filled with violence. And we get these kind of…[chuckle] I’m trying to think of a polite way to put it, but we get these kind of stick-up-the-spine people who just think, “Well, that’s not conservative. Look at what they’re doing. Those women have their shirts off. It can’t be. How can that possibly be conservative?” Well, it’s a story about the moral law. It’s a story in which everything goes wrong for people because they do not follow the moral law. And it’s an amazing story about stagnation and how people don’t change, and how even when in the presence of G-d…There’s one episode where G-d ultimately enters the story, and everybody just ignores him. [laughter] It’s an amazing, amazing piece of work.
And so conservatives have to stop holding artwork that is helpful to some kind of political standard. Whenever I hear somebody say, “Oh, this work of art normalizes homosexuality,” I think, well, homosexuality is normal. It’s obviously been around forever, so it’s not like something that we invented in a lab. It’s obviously a natural thing. And you can talk about…There’s a wonderful gay character on The Shield, who is conflicted with his religion, who’s very realistic, and it didn’t condemn him on either side, it just showed the struggle that he was going through.
So you can tell all kinds of stories about people if you’re not constricted by political correctness. What I would say is we need both a home for artists — we need a home for artists, and we need an enlightened audience, an audience that reads. We need an infrastructure. This is what the Left has. They have the Oscars, they have the Emmys, they have the Grammys, they have the New York Times, they have all the things that review…NPR. I mean, NPR’s a wonderful station, [chuckle] if you happen to be a Communist. [chuckle] It’s just you can, that’s where you can go to hear the latest jazz review, the latest art review, and hear intelligent people speaking with passion about something. And not just speaking about, whether it fits the bill or not.
A good example recently was the film Get Out, which basically puts forward the story of a guy, a black guy, who wants to sort of move into upper-class white liberal society and realizes they’re only out to steal his soul. That’s without giving away the plot, that’s basically what it’s about. And I had a conversation with Ben Shapiro about this, where Ben said, “That’s terrible. That’s a racist message.” And I said, “No, that’s a work of…That’s a horror story, because it is showing you that assimilation comes with a price, and it’s giving you the horror version of that price.” And I would rather, in real life, we understood that it’s worth assimilating, that’s a good thing, but I think you can tell a horror story about that. I think that’s a fair work of art. And it tells a true thing about the cost of assimilation.
Ben Weingarten: So in order to not be branded the conservative Weinstein Brothers — leaving aside the personal issues, or the conservative NPR, is it then about…Do you have to play to kind of the predilections of society, in terms of the makeup of the casts and kind of the narratives themselves so that while the narratives ultimately bring out truths and bring out a perspective that is not there, it’s sort of covered with the veneer of progressivism? Because otherwise, you’re toxified immediately. It’s, “Oh, this is if Roger Ailes was Walt Disney, here’s what he would do.”
Andrew Klavan: No. I think we should be toxified, actually. I don’t think we should do that. The model conservative movie for me would be American Sniper — a complex story, not a rah-rah war movie, nothing like that, but just a story in which the people who believe in freedom are the good guys, and the people who believe in not-freedom are the bad guys. Because that’s really the way it works. So they made a dozen anti-war movies that all bombed. More than a dozen. It was one of the low points in Hollywood, ’cause our soldiers were in the field while they were propagandizing for this horrible enemy we were fighting. And they all bombed, so help me. There was writing in Variety, which is a show business trade paper, they were writing, “People just don’t wanna see…Movies about the War on Terror.”
And I thought, “Yeah, they don’t wanna see movies about the War on Terror in which we’re rapists and killers and we’re the bad guys, ’cause they know that’s not true.” American Sniper came out and was a huge hit, and they said, “Oh, that’s kind of confusing. What’s the difference here?” They didn’t understand it. We shouldn’t even…And it didn’t win the Oscar, which it deserved only by about 50 miles. It was better than any picture that had been made in 20 years. So I think we should be willing to be toxified.
Part of the thing we have to accomplish, and this is part… And this is where we have to be openly right-wing, ‘cause I don’t care if a movie is openly right-wing or not, as long as it tells the truth. But I think one way we should be openly right-wing is to say things that you’re not allowed to say because that is the bound, the thing…that’s the prison they’ve put us in — that political correctness is a mental prison. We’ve got to start saying there’s dysfunction in the black community. That’s why…what the problem is there. There is a cancer in the House of Islam. Women and men are different than one another and women get incredible pleasure and joy out of being homemakers and raising children, and they don’t have to be the greatest athlete in the world. And if a woman punches a man in the face, he’ll kill her. He won’t go rolling out the door like he does in the movie. Those are the things we have to say just because they’re true.
We have reached a point where in order to speak the very, very simple truth, the very obvious truth, we have to be toxified. And that’s why we need the infrastructure to celebrate the things that we make. And they shouldn’t celebrate them on a political ground, they should celebrate them on aesthetic grounds. But we have to build our own culture because you cannot care…too many conservatives care what the New York Times thinks of them. The New York Times is a piece of a trash and it should now be given out for a penny in supermarkets. I don’t care what they say about me. They can come to my house and you know like throw things if they want. Too many conservatives are looking for that mainstream acknowledgement. What we have to do is build another mainstream.
Ben Weingarten: When you walked in to my apartment where we’re recording this, you noticed in my library…Yes, a library in the Upper West Side, it just sounds so pompous. But yes, there’s a little library here with some books, one of which is The Power Broker. And you asked me if I had read it, to which I responded, “I’m about half way through it.” And most people I think just have it because it’s a form of virtue-signaling. It’s a book that you have to have because it’s very long, and Robert Caro wrote it. Why did you ask about that book?
Andrew Klavan: That book taught me more about politics than any other book because it’s so detailed in the way that he manipulated his way through the city [New York] and how the city was run. And it showed you how the things that were being reported had nothing to do with was actually going on. And it’s just an amazingly detailed look at just how the gears of politics work. And I just think it’s a great story. And so when I saw it, I always think like if you’ve read that book, you know something that people who haven’t read that book do not know. There’s no other book like it really. And I’ve read the first…his volume of, Caro’s volume about Lyndon Johnson, but I haven’t read the whole thing and I hear that…there’s a lot of the same thing.
Ben Weingarten: Yeah, it’s tough ’cause each of the books are like a thousand pages.
Andrew Klavan: A thousand pages, I know. I don’t know how he does it.
Ben Weingarten: And I think you also see in that book in particular because it’s about human nature and how we are a corrupted people. He is sort of the archetype of so many different characters and storylines that you see in almost everything. I know you’ve written a couple of articles at least on House of Cards, and I always try to say in a show like that, set aside whatever the politics is because it’s gonna be ridiculous…But in terms of showing kind of this is how base politics really is, and it really is for almost all the people in the system about power. It’s not about ideas. I think there is something valuable to that, and there is almost a libertarian message in it if you take it to its logical conclusion which is these people…First of all, everyone is corrupted in one way or another. But in particular where there’s power, corrupted people are drawn to it, and even if they’re not, they become more corrupted over time. So you should be against more of these people making decisions that impact your life.
Andrew Klavan: Yes.
Ben Weingarten: But does it work out like that ’cause I sense it’s more like Wall Street where people will say, “Oh, Gordon Gekko is a bad guy but I wanna go become an investment banker” after.
Andrew Klavan: Well, House of Cards is interesting ’cause it’s a perfect example of what I was talking about before of how the left takes right-wing stories and inserts propaganda. So the guy in that is a Democrat, right? And he’s obviously a terrible guy. But he’s always on the right side of every issue, so he’s always pushing things like tax cuts. And then the Republicans are saying, “You can’t cut taxes.” You go like, “Wait a minute. What did I just see?” And so you look at that and you think they’re just selling you the word “Democrat.” They are just selling you Democrats ’cause they’re Democrats. That was in between the actor chasing the boys around [chuckle] doing what Democrats actually do when they…
And I think about that, I think about the movie V for Vendetta. A good story in which Christians are oppressing people but Islam is a beautiful thing even if you disagree with it. And you think like, “Yeah, except no.” [laughter] I know that’s not right. It really is not what is happening in the world. So they tell a good story, but they twist it around. They twist reality around to make you think the bad guys are the good guys. And that is what makes House of Cards so disturbing to watch. And then as you say, it does make you think like, “This is politics. I don’t trust any of these guys,” which is always good. That’s always a good thing. The original by the way was written by a Thatcherite. That was written in England. It’s a British story written by a guy who was with Thatcher and it was much more realistic.
Ben Weingarten: And since you mentioned the Islamic supremacists generally and how of course they are portrayed as the good guys and it sort of, it represents the perfect kind of inversion that progressives love. I mean they’re the modern-day Sophists I would say. So you have the Islamic supremacists and then you also, in Hollywood increasingly have China, where China is backing many movies and movie studios and building their own as well. Do the people in Hollywood realize who they’ve kind of gotten into bed with and the fact that many of the movements that they support or the places in or people from whom they take money, often times would basically put a knife to their throat if it came down to it at the end of the day? Or is it just these people were valuable in us furthering our viewpoint and thus we can deal with the fact that maybe we wouldn’t wanna live under Sharia law. Or maybe communism in China wouldn’t be so much fun.
Andrew Klavan: Well there’s there’s two things at work. The fascination…Let me deal with the easier one first. The thing with Islam versus Christianity where an Islamic regime can throw a gay guy off a roof for being homosexual, and the left doesn’t say a word, but if Mike Pence says, “I don’t think homosexuality is quite the right thing,” it’s like, “Mike Pence, he is a devil, he’s a demon!” And that I really do believe is just like when your friend says something to you, you listen to them, but when your Dad or your Mom says it, you go nuts because Christianity is who we are. No matter who we are, no matter what our religion is, if you’re a Westerner you were shaped by Christianity. And so when the Christian says things, it’s their Mom and Dad, and that’s why they get hysterical about it ’cause they hate Western culture and therefore they hate Christianity. And Islam is just a stranger, it really doesn’t have the same kind of moral weight.
The other thing though is much more disturbing, which is the fascination the left has with totalitarianism. The famous Thomas Friedman line, “Oh if we could just be China for a day,” the line, I don’t know if you’ve read Steven Pinker’s book about how wonderful everything is. And it basically underneath it all he’s selling the idea that the experts have got this, it’s the Wilsonian idea that things have just gotten too complex for little you and little me, it’s really got…it’s got to be handled by the experts, that’s the FDR idea. We need this state, this administrative state to take care of things. Barack Obama, he said the same thing. “If I could just sit down with the experts and solve all our problems, that would be great, but I’ve got this annoying democratic process to take care of.” And this is their true belief, this is their true elitist self-love, it’s a form of narcissism I guess. There is nothing to support it except this, that experts in their field do expert things and do wonderful things. We love experts, we love scientists, we love all these people who figure things out and it’s great, but if you woke up every morning and I was standing over you with a gun and I told you what to do all day long and what to say and what to think all day long holding a gun to your head, and I was always right so that your life went great, I still would have taken away from you the most important thing that you have and they do not understand this. Pinker doesn’t understand it. Obama didn’t understand it. The press doesn’t understand it.
So they become fascinated with this idea of Dad sitting up on his throne working it all out for us because they all think they are that guy, they are the expert who’s gonna do it. And so they identify with them. The way they…you know you remember the school kids singing about Obama, I mean it was just appalling, it was chilling, and they really do have a fascination with autocracy and absolutism. It makes me laugh out loud to see them becoming hysterical. I don’t mind them becoming hysterical about Trump, he’s a wild guy, there’s a lot to say good and bad about him, but he’s made the executive office weaker. Purposely he has made the government weaker, he has taken away his power, and that to them is some kind of dictatorship, [chuckle] and I think it really is a very disturbing trend on the left, this absolute dreamy fascination with the notion that as long as you can get the economy working right, as long as you don’t have high crime and you have an autocrat, that’s the perfect form of government.
Ben Weingarten: I guess at its core maybe what we can say is that for some who believe in that Wilsonian technocratic dream for us nightmare, they want to supplant G-d with man, and the State is our church, and that is radical on the one end and they love the radicalism element of it, but then there’s also the playing to the hubris of, “I’m superior to you and I should make decisions over your life.” Yet these are the people who virtue-signal, even though they would suggest there probably is no such thing as virtue because they’re nihilists or moral relativists — on the one hand they argue that they’re “virtuous,” “good,” “fair,” “just,” but they wanna be the oppressors and they want us to be the slave. So how do you convey that to the public?
Andrew Klavan: Oh well that is the thing that happens…luckily they do overstep all the time because they really do wanna take all your guns away, they really do wanna take your…they’d take your vote away if they could, I mean they really would. And so if you let them talk long enough, they kind of back into that. And you do have to remember that as much as people got kind of dreamy-eyed about Barack Obama — and you know he came across, he had a very winning personality and that he was a excellent politician — they voted every Democrat out of office while he was in power. [chuckle] Virtually every single Democrat in the country lost his seat during the Obama administration. So people do know, they do understand that they’re being toyed with.
I think on the right we can be a little bit…we can live too much in our heads. I keep hearing people say things like there’s nothing in the Constitution that allows the government to take money away from one person and give it to another person. I agree, I think it’s immoral to take money away from one person and give it to another person, but we’ve kind of lost that argument, and a certain amount…every developed democracy has a certain amount of social spending, it does seem to help things, it does seem to help people who are not really able to work in the culture. I’d like to keep it to the minimum at which it actually works, but I don’t think we can tell people anymore…I just don’t think it’s realistic to tell people anymore we’re gonna get rid of this social safety net. Even Reagan didn’t wanna do that, and I think it’s past that.
When I see people…I mean this is an issue that sticks in my mind because I think the right has just handled this as badly as it’s possible to handle it. When I see people complaining about gay people, being old enough to remember gay people being arrested for being gay, I think we don’t really want that, we don’t…I remember it was back in the ‘80s, around ’86, when they, the Supreme Court knocked down the sodomy laws, and the right was just reeling and I thought, “Really, well, do you really want the state to have the power to kick down the guy’s bedroom door because he’s not doing it the way you think… ” You know. Then I thought like G-d knows the rest of us get up to all kinds of things even with our wives, do you want them…Sodomy is fairly wide definition in law, and it’s like…And I felt like, sometimes I feel like we’re talking out of an imaginary universe — this kind of 1950s universe that wasn’t really the 1950s when it was actually the 1950s. And so I think that we lose a lot there. I always joke that conservatives can…trace any event to the end of Western civilization. They can connect the dots and figure out how it gets to the end of Western civilization. So maybe we need to loosen up a little bit there.
Ben Weingarten: I wanna piggy back up on something that you mentioned earlier about political correctness as a form of mind control, or thought control. And really what political correctness is is it’s anti-truth because it is blocking you from saying what you know to be true and you can see it and you can feel it and touch it, and they don’t want you to because it conflicts with their narrative. Where does — when you combine the political correctness with trigger warnings, safe spaces, the cult of multiculturalism and identity politics — does this end up a circular firing squad where it becomes impossible to keep straight who is where in the hierarchy, and also life is just not fun at all. And you go ultimately, “There they go again” with almost everything that you see occur in society. And maybe you could say that Trump in part is a response to that because he’s the guy who was politically incorrect and people said, “Look, he is saying what I feel and no other politician is saying,” but ultimately does it collapse on itself or does it just get progressively worse?
Andrew Klavan: Well, it certainly can get so bad before it collapses. One hopes that it will always collapse that the truth will out, but it can get awfully bad before that happens. And it really is when we talk about culture, we tend to think about the movies even though the movies aren’t that important anymore. But we think about the movies, we think about TV, maybe books, a little bit music certainly, we don’t think about manners. Manners are a very important part of our culture and really shape us almost more than anything else because they’re what we do every day and they’re things…we don’t say…do you open a door for a lady or do you not? Do you say something at the dinner table or do you not? And the left hijacked that very, very important system of relationships. Manners are important. It’s important to be polite, it’s important to be civil, and so it is weird with Trump that the thing that I like about him least is actually having the most beneficial effect. The fact that he is a bore — and he is a bore, there’s no question about it, he’s a mean-spirited, nasty little man in a lot of ways — and by the way I think he’s been doing a great job.
I’m just saying, you know he calls people names, he bullies people who supported him, he has no loyalty, nothing like it, but it is weird because he is shattering this thing that has wrapped us around like barbed wire. And I think that’s a positive thing ’cause I think the problem is not them tearing each other apart as they scream about their intersectional nonsense, the problem is us second-guessing the words coming out of our mouth. The problem is us saying, “Oh was that joke racist?” Who cares? Who cares? Racism is a philosophy. Do you hold it or not? Do you think that black people are inferior to white people or not? If you don’t you’re not a racist. I always remember a guy making a remark to me…a friend making a remark to me and then turning to me and saying “Geez, maybe that was anti-Semitic.” I said, “It can’t be anti-Semitic ’cause you’re not an anti-Semite.” You know what I mean? It’s a sentence. It’s words you spoke. maybe it came out of a tribal part of your head, so what?
And I just think like not to be able to tell jokes about men and women and the silly differences between them, not to be able to tell jokes about all the different races, I think it makes us more angry, I think it makes us more separate and more hostile toward one another ’cause it all gets repressed. So I think it’s just important to break that every single day. And it’s weird because I come from a revolutionary generation, I’m like a visitor from the ‘60s basically…and I talk to people who are younger, people even in their late 30s, and they’re shocked at the things that come out of my mouth. And I say to them, “You agree with this.” I hold no animosity toward anybody truly except individuals who do bad things. I’ll say whatever I damn well please, and I just think that that is what is needed because it is dangerous, and you are right, they will get into a circular firing squad but before that happens they could shoot a lot of the rest of us too.
Ben Weingarten: Yeah you are the counterculture once again.
Andrew Klavan: No question about it. I feel this is the ‘60s for conservatives, yeah.
Ben Weingarten: I’ve held a theory and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it. I would suggest that the president in a couple of ways is a product of progressivism himself — one aspect of it being you talk about, let’s say his lack of decorum or diplomacy frequently. And so, there’s a part of that which we as conservatives would say, “Well, you’re supposed to conduct yourself in a certain way,” and the like. But on the other hand, leftists have destroyed that sort of vision of society. The whole point was to go against The Man, and turn things on their head. So one aspect of it is, he could only exist as a result of what progressives did. And then another element of it is that, if you believe that you are completely ostracized and marginalized, Trump’s stance as a battering ram against people that wanna take you out of society. So I’m thinking here in particular of Christians writ large, where you have folks who believe that their religious liberty is being stomped upon. And here’s a guy who may not hold your beliefs deep in his heart but he is gonna fight for you. Both of those things I would say kind of stem pretty much directly from a progressivism where you have an identity politics which says, “We’re gonna destroy you if you don’t come along with us.”
Andrew Klavan: Yeah. I completely agree with this. And I think, it’s like when Trump gets up and he says in the NFL, they should stand up for the flag, or he says, they should say “Merry Christmas.” And the kind of intellectual…I won’t call them Never Trumpers, ’cause a lot of them have kinda moved to the middle a little bit. But the intellectual right sits and goes like, “Ugh. What a demagogue. He doesn’t care about…” And he is demagogue. There’s no question about it. He’s also right, and it matters. It matters that our athletes don’t salute the flag, and you turn on ESPN and every single announcer says, “Well, they have the right to do that.”
Nobody disagrees that they have the right to do it. That doesn’t make it right. And I think, when I was in New York for Christmas this year, and people were saying “Merry Christmas,” and I was glad. I think you should say “Merry Christmas.” I don’t think you should have to even think about it. This is largely a Christian country. It’s not an insult to say “Merry Christmas” to somebody who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. If that’s the worst thing that happens to them in their day, they’ve had a great time. [chuckle]
And so, he actually is achieving this. That is one part of this. And the thing about his incivility is, you are absolutely right. I always think about…George Carlin, a radical comedian from the ’60s. He kinda became a radical. And he does a very famous routine, I think it was called “The Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV.” And he just strung together the worst curse words you could think of into one gigantic word, and he kept saying it over and over, and over again. It’s how silly it is that you can’t say this, and it’s hilarious. It was a hilarious routine. He was a hilarious comedian. But after awhile, it dawns to you, that’s totally untrue. That is totally wrong. If I can say the word tree and conjure in your mind the shape of a tree, then I can say something that turns the sex act vulgar into something vulgar and violent, and you get that idea. So if those words do communicate something vulgar, they do communicate something violent. And if you can’t get through a sentence without saying it, then you are cheapening our culture. The left only did that. We were complaining about it when we were the Presbyterian…We were the stiff-necked Lutheran who wouldn’t come to the party.
So the fact that now Trump comes up and he embodies that, how is it supposed to be? Was it supposed to be only the president who didn’t do it, but everybody else did? What do you think happens when you tear down the culture? [chuckle] And so, I do think he is absolutely their creation and it is like… I’ve said this a lot. He is like Godzilla. You set off a bomb and out of it comes this mutated monster who just crushes everything around him. And I think that they set off the bomb.
Ben Weingarten: As a content creator today, in some ways all of us have more freedom than we’ve ever had to disseminate our ideas and create whatever we want more cheaply, more efficiently, faster than ever before, and get it in front of the eyeballs of more people faster than ever before. On the other hand, the kind of gatekeepers today are people who hate us. And I’m talking of course of the big tech companies in Silicon Valley, who really think about the world in a lot of ways like people in Hollywood think about the world. Given that by the tweak of an algorithm, or by the flip of a demonetization switch, these platforms can destroy a business and stop you from disseminating your content overnight, what do you think should be done, if anything, about it? And let me just say, my bias is towards the idea that the free market can handle this. And if 50 percent of people let’s say are being discriminated against by these companies, then we should create parallel companies just like to your point, we should create parallel infrastructure in media. What say you?
Andrew Klavan: Well, where are these guys? This is what I wanna know. Fox News comes along and I think it was Charles Krauthammer who said they discovered a niche, it just happened to be half the country. Where is the Fox comedy channel? Where is the Fox drama channel? Where are the conservatives? Why are conservatives not doing any of this and serving people? Especially the…libertarian young, there’s so many of them. Young people by nature are libertarian, “Leave me alone, Dad.” And they wanna hear crazy comedians saying the unsayable. Why aren’t we serving those people? We do serve them on YouTube and online. And yes, you are right. Since just like it was when Reagan was elected that the press started to say, “Oh, my god. We can’t tell the truth. We can’t just be fair. We gotta stop these people.” In the same way, the election of Trump…suddenly the fact that they were stealing information from us on Facebook which made Obama a genius was now suddenly an evil Russian plot.
So my question is, yeah, where are our billionaires who aren’t saying like, “Here is a well-made YouTube channel where…You know what? It’s not gonna be conservative, but we’re not gonna keep you off of it either. We’re not gonna silence anybody who wants to come on, comes on. Everybody can come on here.” Where are those guys? Because I think YouTube would be deserted like that because it would just be the liberal channel. That’s all it would be and so people…If there’s a liberal channel, and yet you get to the free channel, then great. There is a point. There is a point and I’ve always said this. I’ve always believed this. Everything in life needs bookends. Everything. Because we’re not angels, as Madison said, we have to have government. And there is such a thing as monopoly. And there is a time when you have to say, “You know what, you guys have gotten so big, and good for you but it’s now impossible to get information online without going through you and therefore you have to deliver…You have to be fair, or you have to let everybody do it, or we have to break you up.” And I do think there might come a point. Google has gotten so poisonous in some ways. Just getting information is now so difficult on Google.
To get the right wing point of view, it’s on page four all the time, and it used to be just wherever it was in the algorithm. I think there does come a time when I would support breaking some of these guys up and just saying, “You’re just too big. You’re monopolizing the conversation.” And in lieu of that I would much rather of course see the free market handle it. I just keep wondering where are these…I’m not a billionaire. I can’t do it. But we need those guys to do it.
Ben Weingarten: Yeah, Google as we speak is presently surfacing all of the most negative Andrew Klavan hit pieces to the top right now.
Andrew Klavan: Is it really?
Ben Weingarten: Your work is like 10th page.
Andrew Klavan: Are you kidding?
Ben Weingarten: No, I am kidding.
Andrew Klavan: Oh. [laughter] I always feel in this battle, hilariously… There’s a scene in War and Peace where the young Russian soldier goes into his first battle and he sees the French coming over the hill, and he says, “They’re trying to kill me; me, whom everyone loves.” [laughter] That’s the way I always feel when I’m attacked. Why would anybody attack me? I’m such a lovable guy. [laughter]
Ben Weingarten: Now for the kind of “News you can use” part of all this. Who do you read, or what publications do you read on a regular basis to get angry, get excited, get inspired?
Andrew Klavan: In terms of the news?
Ben Weingarten: In terms of the news or culture or more broadly. What do you use as your inspiration for your work?
Andrew Klavan: Well, for my political work I read a lot. I wake up in the morning and I read both the New York Times, which is now truly a piece of trash. And I read their op-ed page which I call ‘Knucklehead Row’ because…[laughter]
Ben Weingarten: Why do you subject yourself to that?
Andrew Klavan: Well, I do it because I just wanna know, are they saying anything? Now they’ve got these smart guys. Brett Stephens is a smart guy, and Ross Douthat. But it’s like the Kool-Aid, they don’t drink Kool-Aid anymore, they just inhale it, and they go over there and I guess they have to be friends with people and they get so beaten up if they say anything, go off the reservation at all.
Ben Weingarten: You’ve gotta be a Never Trump conservative.
Andrew Klavan: Yes, but they end up as liberals. David Brooks is now absurd. The stuff that comes out his mouth I just think, “You gotta be kidding me.” But I read them and I read, I think, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page conversely is one of the best pages around, and the Wall Street Journal “Saturday Review” is also spectacular. And what’s really interesting, by the way, is when I tell my friends in New York who only read The New York Times, most of them being liberal, I tell them, “Just look at the Wall Street Journal.” They can’t believe the things. They’ll say to me, “I can’t believe you’re allowed to say that.” And I think, “Allowed?” [laughter] “Allowed? Have you read the First Amendment?”
And so I read all of those and then there are sites that I find send me to good pieces. I’ve always loved Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit. I think he does an excellent job of bringing stuff in, aggregating, as they say. I still like Drudge. He can get a little bit overexcited, but…Hot Air does this too, and these are…And oh, I can’t leave out RealClearPolitics because RealClearPolitics really does a good job of getting the smartest left wing op-ed against the smartest right wing op-ed. And when I talk to my liberal friends I always send them there because it’s hard to read stuff you disagree with. It really is. It’s hard to read guys ranting against somebody who might be your hero, but it really is worthwhile. And so I like to go to that site and just sample what everybody is doing. That’s where I go for my non-fiction work.
For my fiction work I’m still very much immersed in the classics and I now find myself at this point…It’s kinda weird to talk about because it’s kinda weird to talk about reading as if it were an adventure. You sound like a third grade teacher. But I educated myself. When I went to college I didn’t pay any attention. I drank and played my way through college, and when I got out…but I had bought all of the books. I bought all the books, and when I got out I read all the books. I read them, every single one from page one to the last page. But it took me 15 years, and at the end of 15 years I remember walking out of a pharmacy in London and just thinking, “You know, I’m actually educated now. I actually know stuff.” And now I find myself going back to a lot of the classics and they suddenly all make sense to me in a way. ‘Cause when you first read them you’re building a context. When you come back to them, you’re reading them in that context and it’s like having fireworks go off in your head. Suddenly, I joke all the time to my wife I always say, “Now that I understand everything.” [laughter]
It’s like everything makes sense, and it does, it really does come after a while where you think like, “Ah, I can plug Nietzsche in here, and I can plug Kant in here, and I can plug Shakespeare in here and I get what they’re saying, I get what they’re talking about.” It’s a really exciting experience. It’s fun to understand these guys who had been my friends for life, and suddenly understand where they’re coming from.
Ben Weingarten: If you could narrow it down to, let’s say three to five books, what are the ones that have had the greatest impact on your life?
Andrew Klavan: Well, there’s no…absolutely no question that the book that had the greatest impact on my life was Crime and Punishment. And when I was in college — so we’re talking the ‘70s — when I was in college, it was moral relativism was just rising to the surface, political correctness was just taking hold. And I was crazy, I wasn’t really paying any attention. I noticed sometimes people were screaming at me about something, but wasn’t paying any attention to them. But I did hear this “moral relativism,” and it did really affect me and it was the intellectual air you breathed. And I read Crime and Punishment and I remember putting that book down, this old Signet paperback, I remember putting it down and covering my face with my hands and thinking, “This is the truth. There is a moral law.” And I could never again, even though I engaged for the first half of my career, almost every novel I wrote was about how do you know if something is true even though I engaged with it, and it consumed me because I couldn’t find G-d in fact, until I got past it. I knew after I read Crime and Punishment where I was heading, I knew I was heading in that direction. I think at that point, if I had been wiser, if I had talked to my older self, he would have said “Look, why don’t you just get baptized now because that’s where you’re going.” That was a huge, huge thing.
Shakespeare, I know it’s silly to say Shakespeare, but Shakespeare formed my conception of what a human being is. And I’ve never found him to be wrong on the subject. He shaped…and now it’s funny ’cause now I go back and I see, “Oh he didn’t just came down from heaven” ’cause Shakespeare almost seems like he’s very hard to believe, he was a human being. But he was, and he came at a time and place. But still, his insights into human beings and his insights into the moral order really shaped my idea of who people are and how they work, and so that was certainly tremendously influential.
And now that I go back and re-read them, I realize of course, that Plato and Aristotle had a huge effect on the way I thought, but I didn’t, I didn’t really know it at the time because I got them, I did understand them. Recently, I almost never write in books. And recently, my son picked up one of my favorite books, a book called After Virtue, which is kind of an Aristotelian book. And I said to him, “I love that book and I can’t remember a single word that’s in it. I can’t remember anything that’s in it.” And he started to read it and he said, “You can’t remember what’s in it because you consumed it. It’s everything you think. You know, you just took it on for yourself.” I went…and re-read it, I re-read it last month, then I thought, “Oh yeah, that is exactly what happened.” Same thing happened with Crime and Punishment, although that was such a great story, I could remember it. But I think that happened too with Plato and Aristotle, I just consumed them and set the measure. I mean, that’s where you get the idea that there is such a thing as truth, and you can’t speak it, you can’t speak the truth but you can come closer to it in half measure.
And those are the things I think that really, I’m sure if I sat here I could think of 50 more, but those are the things that shaped me. And my reading…and oh, just, I have to mention this that all the “tough guy” novels because that was where I started. I started with the tough guy novels, and they led me into Western culture because I was looking for role models as a man that I didn’t have around me. Guys like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and Ernest Hemingway supplied those images of what a man is like, what it is like to be a man in the world. They were huge because from there, they led me to the “King Arthur” stories, and that led me to Christianity, and that led me to basically the wider culture.
Backed Vibes (clean) Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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