The following is a conversation with Yoram Brook and Yoram Hazoni.
This is Yoram’s third time on this podcast and Yoram’s first time.
Yoram Brook is an Objectivist Philosopher, Chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute, host of
the Yoram Brook Show, and the coauthor of Free Market Revolution and Equal is Unfair.
Yoram Hazoni is a National Conservatism thinker, Chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation that
hosted the National Conservatism Conference.
He is also the host of the NatCon Talk and author of The Virtue of Nationalism and an
upcoming book called Conservatism, A Rediscovery.
Allow me to say a few words about each part of the two word title of this episode, Nationalism
First Debate, I would like to have a few conversations this year that are a kind of debate with two
or three people that hold differing views on a particular topic but come to the table
with respect for each other and a desire to learn and discover something interesting together
through the empathetic exploration of the tension between their ideas.
This is not strictly a debate, it is simply a conversation.
There is no structure, there is no winners, except of course just a bit of trash talking
to keep it fun.
Some of these topics will be very difficult and I hope you can keep an open mind and have
patience with me as the kind of moderator who tries to bring out the best in each person
and the ideas discussed.
Okay that’s my comment on the word Debate.
Now onto the word Nationalism.
This debate could have been called Nationalism versus Individualism or National Conservatism
versus Individualism or just Conservatism versus Individualism.
As we discussed in this episode, these words have slightly different meanings depending
on who you ask.
This is especially true, I think, for any word that ends in “-ism”.
I personally enjoy the discussion of the meaning of such philosophical words.
I don’t think it’s possible to arrive at a perfect definition that everybody agrees with,
but the process of trying to do so for a bit is interesting and productive, at least to
As long as we don’t get stuck there, as some folks sometimes do in these conversations.
This is the Lex Readman Podcast, to support it please check out our sponsors in the description
and now here’s my conversation with Yoram Brooke and Yoram Hosoni.
I attended the excellent debate between the two of you yesterday at UT Austin.
The debate was between ideas of Conservatism, represented by Yoram Hosoni, and ideas of
Individualism, represented by Yoram Brooke.
Let’s start with the topics of the debate.
Yoram, how do you define Conservatism, maybe in the way you were thinking about it yesterday?
What to you are some principles of Conservatism?
Let me define it and then we can get into principles if you want.
When I talk about political Conservatism, I’m talking about a political standpoint that
regards the recovery, elaboration, and restoration of tradition as the key to maintaining a nation
and strengthening it through time.
This is something that if you have time to talk about it like we do on the show, it’s
worth emphasizing that Conservatism is not like Liberalism or Marxism.
Liberalism and Marxism are both kind of universal theories and they claim to be able to tell
you what’s good for human beings at all times in all places.
And Conservatism is a little bit different because it’s going to carry different values
in every nation, in every tribe.
Even every family, you can say, has somewhat different values and these loyalty groups,
they compete with one another.
That’s the way human beings work.
So it’s deeply rooted in history of that particular area of land.
Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say land, you’re right that many forms of Conservatism are
tied to a particular place.
So how does the implementation of Conservatism to you differ from the ideal of Conservatism,
the implementations you’ve seen of political Conservatism in the United States and the
rest of the world?
Just to give some context, because it’s a loaded term, like most political terms.
So when people think about conservative in the United States, they think about the Republican
Party, what, can you kind of disambiguate some of this, what are we supposed to think
Yeah, that’s a really important question.
Usually the word conservative is associated with Edmund Burke and with the English common
Going back centuries and centuries, there’s kind of a classical English conservative tradition
that goes Fortescue, Hooker, Coke, Seldon, Hale, Burke, Blackstone before Burke.
If you take that kind of as a benchmark and you compare it, then you can compare it to
things like the American Federalist Party at the time of the American founding is in
many respects very much in keeping with that tradition.
As you go forward, there’s an increasing mix of liberalism into conservatism.
I think by the time you get to the 1960s with William Buckley and Frank Meyer, the jargon
term is fusionism.
By the time you get there, it’s arguable that their conservatism isn’t very conservative
anymore, that it’s kind of a public liberalism mixed with a private conservatism.
So a lot of the debate that we have today about what does the word conservatism actually
mean, a lot of the confusion comes from that, comes from the fact that on the one hand,
we have people who use the term, I think properly historically to refer to this common law tradition
of which Burke was a spokesman, but there are lots of other people who when they say
conservative, they just mean liberal.
I think that’s a big problem.
It’s a problem just to have an intelligent debate is difficult when people are using
the word almost too antithetical.
What would you say the essential idea of conservatism is time?
You mentioned your father’s a physicist.
So a lot of physicists when they form models of the universe, they don’t consider time.
So everything is dealt with instantaneously.
A particle is represented fully by its current state, velocity and position.
You’re saying, so you’re arguing with all of physics and your father, as we always do,
that their time matters in conservatism.
That’s the fundamental element is the full history matters and you cannot separate the
individual from the history, from the roots that they come from.
The parallel in political theory is what’s called rationalism.
I guess we’ll probably talk about that some.
Rationalism is kind of an instantaneous, timeless thing.
Before I mentioned that liberalism and various enlightenment theories, they don’t include
time at all.
Their goal is to say, look, there’s such a thing as universal human reason.
All human beings, if they reason properly, will come to the same conclusions.
If that’s true, then it removes the time consideration.
It removes tradition and context because everywhere where you are at any time, you ought to be
able to use reason and come to the same conclusions about politics or morals.
So that’s a theory like Immanuel Kant or John Locke is an example, Hobbes is an example.
That kind of political theorizing really does say at a given instant, we can know pretty
much everything that we need to know, at least the big things.
And conservatism is the opposite.
It’s a traditionalist view, exactly as you say, that says that history is crucial.
So you’re on, you say that history is interesting, but perhaps not crucial if in the context
No, I mean, I think there’s a false dichotomy he presented here, and that is that one view
holds that you can derive anything from a particular historical path and kind of an
And if we know the history, we know where we should be tomorrow.
We know where we should stand today.
And the other path is we ignore history, we ignore facts, we ignore what’s going on.
We can derive from some a priori axioms, we can derive a truth right now.
And both are false.
Both of those views, in my view, are false.
And you know, Ayn Rand and I reject both of those views.
And I think the better thinkers of the Enlightenment did as well, although they sometimes fall
into the trap of appearing like rationalists.
And Jorm and I agree on one thing, and that is that Kant is one of, you know, we’ve talked
about this in the past, Alex, but we both hate Kant.
We both think Kant is, I at least think Kant is probably the most destructive philosopher
since Plato, who was pretty destructive himself.
And part of the problem is that Kant divorces reason from reality.
That is, he divorces reason from history.
He divorces reason from experience, because we don’t have direct experience of reality
according to Kant, right?
We’re removed from that direct experience.
But I view Kant as the anti Enlightenment, that is, I view Kant as the destroyer of good
And I acknowledge a lot of history of philosophy, people who do history of philosophy view Kant
as the embodiment of the Enlightenment, that is the ultimate.
But I think that’s a mistake.
I think both Rousseau and Kant are fundamentally the goal, the mission in life is to destroy
So my view is neither of those options are the right option.
That is, the true reason based, reason is not divorced from reality.
It’s quite the opposite.
Reason is a tool.
It’s a faculty of identifying and integrating what?
It’s identifying and integrating the facts of reality as we know them through sense perception
or through the study of history, through what actually happened.
So it’s the integration of those facts.
It’s the knowledge of that history.
And then what we do is we abstract away principles based on what’s worked in the past, what hasn’t
worked in the past, the consequences of different ideas, different past, different actions.
We abstract away principles that then can be universal.
We make mistakes, right?
We can come up with a universal principle, it turns out it’s not.
But if we have the whole scope of human history, we can derive principles as we do in life,
as individuals, we derive principles that are then truths that we can live by, but you
don’t do that by ignoring history.
You do that by learning history, by understanding history, by understanding in a sense tradition
and where it leads to, and then trying to do better.
And I think good thinkers are constantly trying to do better based on what they know about
the past and what they know about the present.
What’s the difference between studying history on a journey of reason and tradition?
So you mentioned that Burke understood that reason begins with an inherited tradition
So what’s the difference between studying history, but then being free to go any way
you want and tradition where it feels more, I don’t want to say a negative term like burden,
but there’s more of a momentum that forces you to go the same way as your ancestors.
It’s the recognition that people are wrong, often are wrong.
Including your parents, including your teachers, including everybody.
Everybody is potentially wrong, and that you can’t accept anybody just because they happen
to come before you.
That is, you have to evaluate and judge, and you have to have a standard by which to evaluate
and judge the actions of those who came before you, whether they are your parents, whether
they are the state in which you happen to be born, whether they are somebody on the
other side of planet Earth.
You can judge them if you have a standard.
And my standard, and I think the right standard, is human well being.
That which is good for human beings, qua human beings, is the standard by which we judge.
I can say that certain periods of history were bad.
It’s important to study them.
It’s important to understand what they did that made them bad so we cannot do that again.
And I can say certain cultures, certain periods in time were good.
Because they promoted human well being and human flourishing.
That’s the standard.
To derive from that, okay, what is it that made a particular culture good?
What is it that made that particular culture positive in terms of human well being and
What made this bad?
And hopefully from that, I can derive a principle.
Okay, if I want human flourishing and human well being in the future, I want to be more
like these guys and less like those guys.
I want to derive what is the principle that will guide me in the future.
That’s I think how human knowledge ultimately develops.
I think people often make a mistake, I’m not saying your own, but lots of people don’t
actually read the original sources and so what happens is people will attack conservatives
assuming that conservatives think that whatever comes from the past is right.
And actually, it’s very difficult to find a thinker who actually says something like
Seldon or Burke, the big conservative theorists hooker, they’re all people who understand
that the tradition carries with it mistakes that were made in the past.
And this is actually I think an important part of their empiricism is that they see
the search for truth as something a society does by trial and error.
And what that means is that in any given moment, you have to be aware of the possibility that
things that you’ve inherited are actually false.
And the job of the political thinker or the jurist or the philosopher is not to dig in
and say whatever it is that we’ve inherited is right.
The job is to look at the society as a whole and say, look, we have this job of first of
all conservation, just making sure that we don’t lose good things that we’ve had.
And second, seeing if we can repair things in order to improve them where it’s necessary
or where it’s possible.
And that process is actually a creative process.
This is a way in which I think it is similar to Jeroen’s philosophy that you take the
inherited tradition and you look for a way that you can shape it in order to make it
something better than it was.
That’s a baseline for what we call conservatism.
It’s not, yeah.
Just a comment.
So the trial and error, the errors is, you’re proud of the errors.
It’s a feature, not a bug.
So you mentioned trial and error a few times yesterday, it’s a really interesting kind
It’s basically accepting that the journey is going to have flaws as opposed to saying,
I mean, the conclusion there is the current system is flawed and it will always be flawed
and you try to improve it.
When you listen to your on talk, there’s much more of an optimism for the system being perfect
now or potentially soon, or it could be perfect.
And to me, the way I heard it is almost like accepting that the system is flawed and through
trial and error will improve and Jeroen says, no, we can have a perfection now.
That’s the way it sounds to me.
And I think that’s right.
I think the difference is that at some point, just like in science, I think one can stop
the trial and error and say, I can now see a pattern here.
I can see that certain actions lead to bad consequences, certain actions lead to good
Let me try to abstract away what is it that is good and what is it that is bad and build
a system around what is good and reject what is bad.
I think ultimately, if you read the founding fathers and whether we call them conservatives
or individuals, what the founding fathers actually did, all of them, I think, is study
They all did.
They all talk about history.
They all talk about examples of other cultures, whether they go back to the Republic in Venice
or back to the ancient Greeks.
They studied these.
They learned lessons from them.
They try to figure out what has worked in the past and what hasn’t and try to derive
They got pretty close to what I would consider kind of an ideal, but they didn’t get it
Here we sit 200 and something years after the Declaration and after the Constitution.
I think we can look back and say, okay, well, what did they get right?
What did they get wrong based on how is it done and where are the flaws and we can improve
I think we can get closer to perfection based on those kind of observations, based on that
kind of abstraction, that kind of discovery of what is true.
Just like at some point, you do the experiments, you do the trial and error, and now you come
up with a scientific principle.
It is true that 100 years later, you might discover that, hey, I missed something, there’s
something, but to not take the full lesson, to insist on incrementalism, to insist on
we’re just going to tinker with the system instead of saying, no, there’s something really
wrong with having a king, there’s something really wrong with not having any representation,
whatever the standard needs to be in the name of we don’t want to move too fast, I think
is a mistake.
The problem with trial and error in politics is that we’re talking about human life, right?
So there was a big trial around communism, and 100 million people paid the price for
I could have told them in advance, as did many people, that it would not work.
There are principles of human nature, principles that we can study from history, principles
about economics and other aspects.
Well, we know it’s not going to work.
You don’t need to try it again.
We’ve had communal arrangements throughout history.
There was an experiment with fascism, and there have been experiments with all kinds
of political systems.
Okay, we’ve done them.
Sad that we did them, because many of us knew they wouldn’t work.
We should learn the lesson, and I think that all of history now converges on one lesson,
and that is what we need to do is build systems that protect individual freedom.
That is the core.
That’s what ultimately leads to human flourishing and human success and human achievement, and
to the extent that we place anything above that individual, whether it’s the state, whether
it’s the ethnicity, whether it’s the race, whether it’s the bourgeois, whatever it happens
to be, class or whatever, whenever we place something above the individual, the consequence
That’s one of these principles that I think we can derive from studying 3,000 years of
It’s tragic, I think, because we’re going to keep experimenting, sadly.
I see it, right?
I’m not winning this battle.
I’m losing the battle.
We’re going to keep experimenting with different forms of collectivism, and we’re going to
keep paying the price in human life and in missed opportunities for human flourishing
and human success and human wealth and prosperity.
Let’s take communism as a good example.
None of the major conservative thinkers would say, you know what’s a good idea?
A good idea would be to experiment by raising everything that we’ve inherited and starting
I mean, that’s the conservative complaint or accusation against rationalists as opposed
I mean, using rationalism, let’s take Descartes kind of as a benchmark.
Can you also maybe define rationalism?
These are two terms that are in philosophy, especially in epistemology.
They’re often compared to one another.
Jeroen said that it’s a false dichotomy, and maybe it is a bit exaggerated, but that doesn’t
mean it’s not useful for conceptualizing the domain.
So a rationalist is somebody like Descartes who says, I’m going to set aside, I’m going
to try to set aside everything I know, everything I’ve inherited, I’m going to start from scratch.
And he explicitly says, in evaluating the inheritance of the past, he explicitly says,
you take a look at the histories that we have, they’re not reliable.
You take a look at the moral and the scientific writings that we receive, they’re not very
His baseline is to look very critically at the past and say, look, I’m evaluating it.
I think all in all, it’s just not worth very much.
And so whatever I do, beginning from scratch, is going to be better as long as, and here’s
his caveat, as long as I’m proceeding from self evident assumptions, from self evident
premises, things that you can’t argue against.
I think, therefore, I am.
And then from there, deducing what he calls infallible conclusions.
So that model of self evident premises to infallible conclusions, I’m calling that rationalism,
I think that’s kind of a standard academic jargon term.
And it’s opposed to empiricism, which is a thinker, I think in universities, usually
the empiricist is David Hume.
And David Hume will say, we can’t learn anything the way that Descartes said.
There is nothing that’s that self evident and that infallible.
So Hume proposes, based on Newton and Boyle and the new physical sciences.
So Hume proposes a science of man.
And the science of man sounds an awful lot like what Yaron just said, which is we’re
going to take a look at human nature, at the nature of societies.
Human nature, we’re going to try to abstract towards fixed principles for describing it.
Human societies, we’re going to try to do the same thing.
And from there, we get, for example, contemporary economics.
But we also get sociology and anthropology, which cut in a different direction.
So that’s rationalism versus empiricism.
Can I just say?
Yeah, go ahead, please.
Yeah, I agree with that.
I think empiricism, the one thing I disagree is I think empiricism rarely comes to these
I mean, they want more facts.
It’s always about collecting more evidence.
But this is where I think Ayn Rand is so unusual and where I think there’s something new here.
And that’s a bold statement given the history of philosophy.
But I think Ayn Rand is something new.
And so she says, yes, we agree about rationalism and that it’s inherently wrong.
Empiricism has the problem of, OK, where does it lead?
You never come to a conclusion.
You’re just accumulating evidence.
There’s something in addition.
There’s a third alternative, which she is positing, which is using empirical evidence,
not denying empirical evidence, recognizing that there are some axioms, there are some
axioms that we all, at the base of all of our knowledge, that are starting points.
We’re not rejecting axiomatic knowledge.
And integrating those two and identifying the fact that based on these axioms and based
on these empirical evidence, we can come to truths.
Just again, like we do in science, we have certain axioms, scientific axioms, we have
certain experiments that we run, and then we can come to some identification of a truth.
And that truth is always going to be challenged by new information, by new knowledge.
But as long as that’s what we know, that is what truth is.
So truth is contextual in the sense that it’s contextual, it’s based on that knowledge that
It’s always available to change if you get new facts.
It’s always available to change if the facts that you get, and they really are, I mean,
the burden of changing what you’ve come to a conclusion of truth is high, so you’d have
to have real evidence that it’s not true, but that happens all the time.
So it happens in science, right?
We discovered that what we thought was true is not true, and it can happen in politics
and ethics even more so than in science because they’re much messier fields.
But the idea is that you can come to a truth, but it’s not just deductive.
Most truths are inductive.
We learn from observing reality and, again, coming to principles about what works and
And here I think this is—Ayn Rand is different.
She doesn’t fall into the—and she’s different in her politics, and she’s different in
She doesn’t fall into the conventional view.
She’s an opponent of Hume, and she’s an opponent of Descartes, and she’s certainly
an opponent of Kant.
And I think she’s right, right?
If it’s okay, can we walk back to criticism of communism?
You’re both critics of communism and socialism.
Why did communism fail?
You started to say that conservatives criticize it on the basis of rationalism, that you’re
throwing away the past.
You’re starting from scratch.
Is that the fundamental description of why communism failed?
I think the fundamental difference between rationalists and empiricists is the question
of whether you’re throwing away the past.
That’s the argument.
And it cashes out as a distinction between abstract, universal, rationalist political
theories and empirical political theories.
Artificial political theories, they’re always going to say something like, look, there are
many different societies.
We can say that some are better and some are worse, but the problem is that there are many
different ways in which a society can be better or worse.
There’s an ongoing competition, and we’re learning on an ongoing basis what are the
ways in which societies can be better and worse.
That creates a kind of, I’d say, a mild skepticism, a moderate skepticism among conservatives.
I don’t think too many conservatives have a problem looking at the Soviet Union, which
is brutal and murderous, ineffective in its economics, totally ineffective spiritually,
and then collapsed.
So I think it’s easier for us to look at a system like that and say, what on earth?
What should we learn from that?
But the main conservative tradition is pretty tolerant of a diversity of different kinds
of society and is slow to insist that France is so tyrannical, it just needs a revolution
because what’s going to come after the revolution is going to be much better.
The assumption is that there’s lots of things that are good about most societies and that
a clean slate leads you to throw out all of the inherited things that you don’t even know
how to notice until they’re gone.
Could I actually play devil’s advocate here and address something you also said?
Can we, as opposed to knowing the empirical data of the 20th century that communism presented,
can we go back to the beginning of the 20th century?
Can you empathize or steel man or put yourself in a place of the Soviet Union where the workers
are being disrespected?
And can you not see that the conservatives could be pro communism?
Communism is such a strongly negative word in modern day political discourse that you
have to put yourself in the mind of people who like red colors, it’s all about the branding,
I think, but also like the ideas of solidarity, of nation, of togetherness, of respect for
I mean, all of these things that communism represents, can you not see that this idea
is actually going along with conservatism?
It is in some ways respecting the deep ideals of the past, but proposing a new way to raise
those ideals, implement those ideals in the system.
Yes, I’m going to try to do what you’re suggesting, but historically we actually have a more
useful option, I think, for both of our positions.
Instead of pretending that we like the actual communists, we have conservative statesmen
like Disraeli and Bismarck who initiated social legislation.
The first step towards saying, look, we’re one nation, we’re undergoing industrialization,
that industrialization is important and positive, but it’s also doing a lot of damage to a lot
And in particular, it’s doing damage not just to individuals and families, but it’s doing
damage to the social fabric, the capacity of Britain or German to remain cohesive societies
is being harmed.
And so it’s these two conservative statesmen, Disraeli and Bismarck, who actually take the
first steps in order to legislate for what today we would consider to be minimal social
programs, pensions and disability insurance and those kinds of things.
So for sure, conservatives do look at industrialization as a rapid change and they say, we do have
to care about the nation as a whole and we have to care about it as a unit.
And I assume that your own will say, look, that’s the first step towards the catastrophe
But before your own drives that nail into the coffin, let me try to make a distinction
because when you read Marx, you’re reading an intellectual descendant of Descartes.
You’re reading somebody who says, look, every society consists of oppressors and oppressed.
And that’s an improvement in some ways over liberal thinking because at least he’s seeing
groups as a real social phenomenon.
But he says, every society has an oppressor class and oppressed class.
They’re different classes, they’re different groups, and whenever one is stronger, it exploits
the ones that are weaker.
That is the foundation of a revolutionary political theory.
Because the moment that you say that the only relationship between the stronger and the
weaker is exploitation.
The moment that you say that, then you’re pushed into the position and Marx and Engels
say this explicitly, you’re pushed into the position.
We’re saying, when will the exploitation end?
Never until there’s a revolution.
What happens when there’s a revolution?
You eliminate the oppressor class.
I mean, you can immediately when you read it, see why it’s different from Descartes
or Bismarck because they’re trying to keep everybody somehow at peace with one another.
And Marx is saying, there is no peace.
That oppressor class has to be annihilated.
And then they go ahead and do it, and they kill 100 million people.
So I do think that despite the fact your question is good and right, there are certain similarities
and concern, but still I think you can tell the difference.
That extra step of revolution to you is where the problem comes.
That extra step of let’s kill all the oppressors, that’s the problem.
And then to you, the whole step one is the problem.
Well, it’s all a problem.
First I don’t view communism as something that radical in a sense that I think it comes
from a tradition of collectivism.
I think it comes from a tradition of looking at groups and measuring things in terms of
It comes from tradition where you expect some people to be sacrificed for the greater good
of the whole.
I think it comes from a tradition where mysticism or revelation as the source of truth is accepted.
I view Marx as in some sense very Christian.
I don’t think he’s this radical rejecting, I think he’s just reformatting Christianity
in a sense.
In a sense he’s replacing God with the proletarian.
Knowledge you have to get knowledge from somewhere, so you need the dictatorship of the proletarian,
you need somebody, the Stalin, the Lenin who somehow communes with the spirit, the spirit
of the proletarian.
There’s no rationality, not rationalism, there’s no rationality in Marx.
There is a lot of mysticism and there is a lot of hand waving and there’s a lot of sacrifice
and a lot of original sin in the way he views humanity.
So I view Marx as one more collectivist in a whole string of collectivists.
And I think the Bismarckian response, I know less about Disraeli so I’ll focus on Bismarck,
and Bismarck is really responding to political pressures from the left and he’s responding
to the rise of communism, socialism, but what Bismarck is doing, he’s putting something
alternative, he’s presenting an alternative to the proletarian as the standard by which
we should measure the good.
And what he’s replacing it as the state, he’s replacing the proletarian with the state,
and that has exactly the same problems.
That is first it requires sacrificing some to others, which is what the welfare state
It places the state above all, so the state now becomes I think the biggest evil of Bismarck
and I definitely view him as a negative force in history, is public education.
I mean the Germans really dig in on public education, really develop it, and really the
American model of public education is copying the German, the Prussian Bismarckian public
Can you speak to that real quick, why the public education is such a root of moral evil
Well because it now says that there’s one standard and that standard is determined by
government, by a bureaucracy, by whatever the government deems is in the national interest,
and Bismarck is very explicit about this.
He’s training the workers of the future, they need to catch up with England and other places
and they need to train the workers and he’s going to train some people to be the managerial
classes, he’s going to train other people to be – and he decides, right, the government,
the bureaucracy is going to decide who’s who and where they go.
There’s no individual choice, there’s no individual showing an ability to break out of what the
government has decided is their little box, there’s very little freedom, there’s very
little – you know, ultimately there’s very little competition, there’s very little
innovation, and this is the problem we have today in American education, which we can
get to, is there’s no competition and no innovation.
We have one standard, fit all, and then we have conflicts about what should be taught,
and the conflicts now are not pedagogical, they’re not about what works and what doesn’t.
Nobody cares about that.
It’s about political agendas, right, it’s about what my group wants to be taught and
what that group wants to be taught, rather than actually discovering how do we get kids
I mean, we all know how to get kids to read, but there’s a political agenda around not
teaching phonics, for example.
So a lot of schools don’t teach phonics, even though the kids will never learn how
to read properly.
So it becomes politics, and I don’t believe politics belongs in education.
I think education is a product, it’s a service, and we know how to deliver products and services
really, really efficiently at a really, really low price at a really, really high quality,
and that’s leaving it to the market to do.
But your fundamental criticism is that the state can use education to further its authoritarian
Well, or whatever the aims – I mean, think about the conservative today critique of American
educational system, right, it’s dominated by the left.
Yeah, what did you expect, right?
If you leave it up to the state to fund, they’re going to fund the things that promote state
growth and state intervention, and the left is better at that.
It has been better at that than the right, and they now dominate our educational institutions.
But look, if we go back to Bismarck, my problem is placing the state above the individual.
So if communism places the class above the individual, what matters is class, individuals,
and nothing, they’re cogs in a machine.
Bismarck, certainly the German tradition much more than the British tradition or the American
tradition, the German tradition is to place the state above the individual.
I think that’s equally evil, and the outcome is fascism, and the outcome is the same.
The outcome is the deaths of tens of millions of people when taken to its ultimate conclusion.
Just like socialism, the ultimate conclusion of it is communism, you know, nationalism
in that form, kind of the Bismarckian form, the ultimate conclusion is Nazism or some
form of fascism.
Because you don’t care about the individual, the individual doesn’t matter.
I think this is one of the differences in the Anglo, you know, Anglo American tradition
where the Anglo American tradition, even the conservatives, have always acknowledged and
it goes back to…
Especially the conservatives.
The conservatives were there first.
Well, you’ve defined conservatives to include all the good thinkers of the distant past,
and they’re all good thinkers.
We agree on that.
I’m defining conservatism the way that Burke does.
Look, this is a very simple observation.
Burke thinks, when you open Burke and you actually read him, he starts naming all of
these people who he’s defending.
And it’s bizarre, I’m sorry, it’s just intellectual sloppiness for people to be publishing books
called Burke, The First Conservative, The Founding Conservative, The Found…
I mean, this is nonstop, it’s a view that says Burke reacts to the French Revolution,
so conservatism has no prior tradition, it’s just reacting to the French Revolution.
And this is…
I mean, this is just absurd.
Can I ask a quick question on conservatism?
Are there any conservatives that are embracing of revolutions?
So are they ultimately against the concept of revolution?
Yes, Burke himself embraces the Polish Revolution, which takes place almost exactly at the same
time as the French Revolution.
And the argument is really interesting because there’s a common mistake is assuming that
Burke and conservative thinkers are always in favor of slow change.
I think that’s also just factually mistaken.
Burke is against the French Revolution because he thinks that there are actually tried and
true things that work, things that work for human flourishing and freedom included as
a very important part of human flourishing.
He like many others takes the English constitution to be a model of something that works.
So it has a king, it has various other things that maybe your own will say, well, that’s
a mistake, but still for centuries, it’s the leader in many things that I think we can
easily agree are human flourishing.
And Burke says, look, what’s wrong with the French Revolution?
What’s wrong with the French Revolution is that they have a system that has all sorts
of problems, but they could be repairing it.
And instead what they’re doing by overthrowing everything is they’re moving away from what
we know is good for human beings.
Then he looks at the Polish Revolution and he says, the Poles do the opposite.
The Poles have a nonfunctioning traditional constitution.
It’s too democratic.
It’s impossible to raise armies and to defend the country because of the fact that every
nobleman has a veto.
So the Polish Revolution moves in the direction of the British constitution.
They repair their constitution through a quick, a rapid revolution.
They install a king along the model that looks a lot like Britain and Burke supports it.
He says, this is a good revolution.
So it’s not the need to quickly make a change in order to save yourself.
That’s not what conservatives are objecting to.
What they’re objecting to is instead of looking at experience in order to try to make a slow
or quick improvement, a measured improvement to achieve a particular goal, instead of doing
that, you say, look, the whole thing has just been wrong.
And what we’ve really got to do is annihilate a certain part of the population and then
make completely new laws and a completely new theory.
That’s what he’s objecting to.
That’s the French Revolution.
And that then becomes the model for communist revolutions.
And for me, I mean, the French Revolution is clearly a real evil and wrong, but it’s
not that it was a revolution and it’s not that it tried to change everything.
I mean, let’s remember what was going on in France at the time and people were starving
and the monarchy in particular was completely detached, completely detached from the suffering
of the people and something needed to change.
The unfortunate thing is that the change was motivated by an egalitarian philosophy, not
egalitarian in the sense that I think the Fauny Fathers talked about, but egalitarian
in the sense of real equality, equality of outcome, motivated by a philosophy, by Rousseau’s
philosophy, and inevitably led, you could tell that the ideas were going to lead to
this, to massive destruction and death and the annihilation of a class.
You can’t, annihilation is never an option.
That is, it’s not true that a good revolution never leads to mass death of just whole groups
of people because a good revolution is about the sanctity of the individual.
It’s about preservation, liberty of the individual.
And again, that goes back to, and the French Revolution denies and Rousseau denies really
that in civilization there is a value in a thing called the individual.
I think this is a good place to have this discussion.
The Fauny Fathers of the United States, are they individualists or are they conservatives?
So in this particular revolution that founded this country, at the core of which are some
fascinating, some powerful ideas, were those founding fathers, were those ideas coming
from a place of conservatism or did they put primary value into the freedom and the power
of the individual?
What do you think?
There were both.
I mean, this is something that’s a little bit difficult sometimes for Americans, I mean,
very educated Americans, they talk about the founding fathers as though it’s kind of like
this collective entity with a single brain and a single value system.
But I think at the time that’s not the way any of them saw it.
So roughly there’s two camps and they map onto the rationalist versus traditionalist
empiricist dichotomy that I proposed earlier.
So on the one hand, you have real revolutionaries like Jefferson and Paine.
These are the people who Burke was writing against.
These are the people who supported the French Revolution.
So when you say real, so when you say Paine, you’re referring to revolutionaries in a bad
way, like this is a problem.
These are people who will say history up until now has been, with Descartes, but applied
History up until now has been just a story of ugliness, foolishness, stupidity, and evil.
And if you apply reason, we’ll all come to the same conclusions.
Paine writes a book called The Age of Reason, and The Age of Reason is a manifesto for here
is the answer to political and moral problems throughout history.
We have the answers.
And it’s in the same school as Rousseau’s The Social Continent.
You don’t like that?
Not at all.
Well, I thought it was the opposite.
I think they’re the opposite.
Okay, so let me…
Just to throw in a quick question on Jefferson and Paine, do you think America would exist
without those two figures?
So like how important is spice in the flavor of the dish you’re making?
I don’t want to try to run the counterfactual, I don’t have confidence that I know the answer
to the question.
But it’s so much fun.
You know what?
I’m going to offer something that I think is more fun.
More fun than the counterfactual is America had two revolutions, not one, okay?
At first, there is a revolution that is strongly spiced with this kind of rationalism.
And then there’s a 10 year period after the Declaration of Independence.
There’s a 10 year period under which America has a constitution.
This first constitution, which today they call the Articles of the Confederation, but
there’s a constitution from 1777.
And that constitution is based on, in a lot of ways, on the hottest new ideas.
It has, instead of the traditional British system with a division of powers between an
executive and a bicameral legislature, instead of that traditional English model, which most
of the states had as their governments, instead of that, they say, no, we’re going to have
one elected body, okay, and that body, that Congress, it’s going to be the executive,
it’s going to be the legislative, it’s going to be everything, and it’s going to run as
a big committee.
These are the ideas of the French Revolution.
You get to actually see them implemented in Pennsylvania, in the Pennsylvania Constitution,
and then later in the National Assembly in France.
It’s a disaster.
The thing doesn’t work.
It’s completely made up.
It’s neither based on historical experience, nor is it based on historical custom, on what
people are used to.
And what they succeed in creating with this first constitution is it’s wonderfully rational,
but it’s a complete disaster.
It doesn’t allow the raising of taxes.
It doesn’t allow the mustering of troops.
It doesn’t allow giving orders to soldiers to fight a war.
And if that had continued, if that had continued to be the American Constitution, America never
would have been an independent country.
There I’m willing to do that counterfactual.
What happens during those years where Washington and Jay and Knox and Hamilton and Morris,
there’s like this group of conservatives, they’re mostly soldiers and lawyers.
This is in Washington, most of them are from northern cities.
And this group is much more conservative than the Tom Paine and Jefferson School.
Some historians call them the Nationalist Party.
Historically, they give up the word nationalism and they call themselves the Federalists,
but they’re basically the Nationalist Party.
What does that mean?
It means on the one hand that their goal is to create an independent nation, independent
But on the other hand, they believe that they already have national legal traditions, the
common law, the forms of government that have been imported from Britain, and of course
Christianity, which they consider to be part of their inheritance.
This Federalist Party is the conservative party.
These are people who are extremely close in ideas to Burke.
And these are people who wrote the Constitution of the United States, the second constitution,
the second revolution in 1787, when Washington leads the establishment of a new constitution,
which maybe technically legally, it wasn’t even legal under the old constitution, but
it was democratic.
And what it did is it said, we’re going to take what we know about English government,
what we’ve learned by applying English government in the states, we’re going to create a national
government, a unified national government, that’s going to muster power in its hands,
enough power to be able to do things like fighting wars to defend a unified people.
Those are conservatives.
Now it’s reasonable to say, well, look, there was no king, so how conservative could they
But I think that’s a reasonable question.
But don’t forget that the American colonies, the English colonies in America by that point
had been around for 150 years.
They had written constitutions, they had already adapted for an entire century, adapted the
English constitution to local conditions where there’s no aristocracy and there’s no king.
I think you can see that as a positive thing.
On the other hand, they have slavery, that’s an innovation, that’s not English.
So it’s a little bit different from the English constitution, but those men are conservatives.
They make the minimum changes that they need to the English constitution and they largely
replicate it, which is why the Jeffersonians hated them so much.
They call them apostates.
They say they’ve betrayed equality and liberty and fraternity by adopting an English style
So I would imagine, Yaron, you would put emphasis of the success of the key ideas at the founding
of this country elsewhere, at the freedom of the individual as opposed to the tradition
of the British empire.
The one thing I agree with, Yaron, is the fact that yes, the founding fathers were not
They argued, they debated, they disagreed, they wrote against each other.
Jefferson and Adams for decades didn’t even speak to each other, though they did make
up and had a fascinating relationship after.
You and I are making up too.
There you go.
It’s like the founding fathers.
You know, there’s this massive debate and discussion, but I don’t agree with the characterization
of Paine and Jefferson.
I don’t think it’s just to call them rationalists because I don’t think they’re rationalists.
People who’ve looked at history, at the problems in history, and remember this is the 18th
century and they were coming out of a hundred years earlier, some of the bloodiest wars
in all of human history were happening in Europe, many of them over religion.
You know, they had seen what was going on in France and other countries where people
were starving and where kings were frolicking in palaces in spite of that.
They were very aware of the relative freedom that the British tradition had given Englishmen.
I think they knew that, they understood that, and I think they were building on that.
They were taking the observation of the past and trying to come up with a more perfect
system, and I think they did.
In that sense, I’m a huge fan of Jefferson.
You know, there are two things that I think are unfortunate about Jefferson.
One is that he continued to hold slaves, which is very unfortunate.
The second is early support for the French Revolution, which I think is a massive mistake
and I wouldn’t be surprised if he regretted it later in life, given the consequences.
But they were trying to derive principles by which they could establish a new state,
and yes, there was pushback by some and there was disagreement, and the Constitution in
the end is to some extent a form of compromise, it’s still one of the great documents of
all of human history, political documents, the Constitution, although I think it’s
inferior to the Declaration.
I’m a huge fan of the Declaration and I think one of the mistakes the conservatives makes,
one of the mistakes the Supreme Court makes and American judiciary makes is assuming the
two documents are separate.
I think Lincoln is absolutely right, you can’t understand the Constitution without understanding
the Declaration, the Declaration of what set the context and what sets everything up for
Individual rights are the key concept there, and one of the challenges was that some of
the compromises, and compromise is not necessarily between groups, but compromises that even
Jefferson made and others made regarding individual rights, set America on a path that we’re
suffering from today.
I mentioned three last night, one was slavery, obviously that was a horrific compromise,
one that America not just paid for with the Civil War, 600,000 young men died because
of it, but the suffering of black slaves for all those years.
But then the whole issue of racial tensions in this country for a century and to this
day really is a consequence of that initial compromise, who knows what the counterfactual
is in America if there’s a Civil War right at the founding, because there would have
been a war no matter what, but if it had happened in the late 18th century, early 19th century,
rather than waiting till 1860s, but then second was Jefferson’s embrace of public education,
his founding of the University of Virginia, which I think is a great tragedy, which nobody
agrees with me on, so that’s one of the areas where I’m pretty radical.
And then they embrace, both by Jefferson and by Hamilton, for different reasons, but an
embrace by both of them of government role in the economy.
And I do finance, so I know a little bit about finance, and the debate between Jefferson
and Hamilton about banking is fascinating, but at the end of the day, both wanted a role
for government in banking, they both didn’t trust, Jefferson didn’t trust big financial
interests, Hamilton wanted to capture some of those financial interests for the state,
and as a consequence, we set America on a path where, in my view, regulation always
leads to more regulation, there’s never a case where regulation decreases, and we started
out with a certain regulatory body around banks, and a recognition that it was okay
to regulate the economy, so once we get into the late 19th century, it’s fine to regulate
the railroads, it’s fine to pass antitrust laws, it’s fine to then continue on the path
of where we are today, which is heavy, heavy, heavy, massive involvement of government in
every aspect of our economy, and really in every aspect of our life, because of education.
So I think the country was founded on certain mistakes, and we haven’t been willing to
question those mistakes, and in a sense that we’ve only moved in the opposite direction,
and now America’s become, whereas I think it was founded on the idea of the primacy
of the individual, the sanctity of the individual, at least as an idea, even if not fully implemented,
I think now that’s completely lost, I don’t think anybody really is an advocate out there
for individualism in politics, or for true freedom in politics.
We’ll get to individualism, but let me ask the Beatles and the Rolling Stones question
about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Well, because it’s like which document, Beatles or Rolling Stones, which document is more
It’s obviously the Beatles, right?
Is there a question here?
Is there even a question?
But let me then even zoom in further and ask you to pick your favorite song.
So what ideas in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence do you think are the most
important to the success of the United States of America?
I’ll answer the question, but before answering the question, I want to register a dissent
from your own.
Is it the public education?
Is it which?
No, no, no.
Actually, look, we’re not so far apart on public education.
I’m actually kind of surprised that you’re so anti Bismarck because his public school
system, his national public school system was created in order to stick it to the church.
It was the church that ran the schools before then, and so that’s a different…
I’m all for sticking it to the church, any opportunity, but not when the alternative
is the nation.
I’d rather see a free educational system where freedom is in education.
So I want to register a dissent about Lincoln.
Look, Lincoln is an important figure and a great man, and he was presiding over a country,
which at that point was pretty Jeffersonian in terms of its self perception.
He said what he needed to say.
I’m not going to criticize him, but I don’t accept the idea that the Declaration of Independence,
which starts one revolution, is of a piece with the second constitution, the constitution
of 1787, the nationalist constitution, which is effectively a counter revolution.
What happens is there is a revolution.
It’s based on certain principles.
There are a lot…
Not exactly, but in many ways resembles the later ideas of the French Revolution.
And what the Federalist Party does, the Nationalist Conservative Party does, is a counter revolution
to reinstate the Old English Constitution.
So these documents are, if you’re willing to accept the evidence of history, they are
in many respects contrary to one another.
And so if I’m asked what’s the most important values that are handed down by these documents,
I don’t have an objection to life, liberty, and property, all of which are really important
I do have an objection to the pompous overreach of these are self evident, which is absurd.
They can’t be self evident.
If they were self evident, then somebody would have come up with them like 2,000 years before.
It’s not self evident.
So that’s damaging.
I like the conservative preamble of the constitution, which describes the purposes of the national
government that’s being established.
There are seven purposes, a more perfect union, which is the principle of cohesion, justice,
domestic peace, common defense, the general welfare, which is the welfare of the public
as a thing that’s not only individuals, but there is such a thing as a general welfare,
liberty, which we agree is absolutely crucial, and posterity, the idea that the purpose of
the government is to be able to sustain and grow this independent nation, and not only
to guarantee rights no matter what happens.
You don’t like the, we hold these truths to be self evident, so you’re definitely a Beatles
You don’t want the pompous, you don’t need that revolutionary strength.
Look, I think that that expression, self evident truths, it does tremendous damage because instead
of a moderate skepticism, which says, look, we may not know everything, it says, look,
we know everything.
Here it is.
Here’s what we know.
Here’s what we think.
So, you know, I’ll agree with you all.
I don’t like self evident.
I don’t like self evident because he’s absolutely right.
It’s not self evident.
These are massive achievements.
These are massive achievements of enlightened thinking, of studying history, of understanding
human nature, of deriving a truth from 3,000 years of historical knowledge and a better
understanding of human nature and a capacity.
It’s using reason in some ways better than any human beings have.
I mean, the founding fathers are giants historically, in my view, because they came up with these
I do think they’re truths, but they’re certainly not self evident.
I mean, if they were, your arm is right.
They would have discovered them thousands of years earlier or everybody would accept
I mean, how many people today think that those, what they state in that document is true?
Pretty much, you know, five people.
I don’t know.
It’s very, it’s very, your criticism of modern society, yes, we’ll get there.
It’s very, very few people recognize that if they were self evident, bam, everybody
would have become, you know, would have accepted the American Revolution as truth and that
A lot of work has to go into understanding and describing and convincing people about
But I completely disagree with your arm about this idea or I’ll voice my dissent, as we
I disagree with your official dissent.
About A, that this being two different revolutions and B, that the American Revolution had any
similarity to the French Revolution.
You know that Jefferson and Payne, they were in France running a different revolution.
I know, but they were waiting constantly.
I mean, they were in communication with Madison, there was a lot of input going on.
I know, and Jefferson’s sitting there in Paris pulling his hair out because Madison has come
under the influence of these nationalists and he can’t believe it.
The reality is that the difference between the French Revolution and the American Revolution
is vast and it is a deep philosophical difference and it’s a difference that expressed, I think,
between the differences.
You know, Joram, in his writings, lumps Rousseau with Locke and with Voltaire and with others
and I think that’s wrong.
I think Rousseau is very different than the others.
I think, again, Rousseau is an anti enlightenment figure, Rousseau is in many respects hearkening
back to a past, an ancient past and I think a completely distorted view of human nature,
of human mind.
He rejects reason.
I mean, Rousseau is on the premise that reason is the end of humanity, reason is the destruction
of humanity, reason is how we get civilization and civilization is awful because –
I don’t disagree.
We’re only talking about different texts.
When I say Rousseau, I’m just talking about the social contract.
Yeah, but the social contract, there’s similarity between others, but he takes it in a completely
different direction and we agree social contract is a bad idea, but you can’t have a contract
that you don’t actually voluntarily accept, but Rousseau is the French Revolution.
Rousseau is about destruction and mayhem and chaos and anarchy.
He is the spirit behind the French Revolution.
I think the American Revolution is a complete rejection of Rousseau.
I think Jefferson is a complete rejection of Rousseau.
I don’t think Jefferson is a fan of Rousseau.
He is of Voltaire and he certainly is of Montesquieu.
If you look at the Federalist Papers, the intellectual most cited in the Federalist
Papers I think in terms of just the number of times it’s cited is Montesquieu.
So I think that the American Revolution is an individualistic revolution.
It is a revolution about the rights of the individual.
The French Revolution is a negation of the rights of the individual.
It’s a collectivistic revolution.
It’s not quite the Marxist revolution of the proletarian, but it’s defining people in classes
and it’s a rebellion against a certain class and yeah, kill them all, right?
Off with their heads.
It is a negation.
It’s about egalitarianism in the sense of equality of outcome, not in a sense of equality
before the law or equality of rights, which is the Jeffersonian sense.
I think it’s wrong to lump Jefferson in to the fraternity egalitarian notion of the French,
which is far more similar to what ultimately became socialism and Marxism and that tradition.
It’s anti individualistic, the French Revolution is, whereas the American Revolution, the first
one, is individualistic.
It’s all about individual rights and while there’s certain phrases in the Declaration
of Independence that I don’t agree with, it’s beautifully written and it’s a magnificent
document, so it’s hard for me to say I don’t agree, but who am I?
These were giants, self evident is one of them.
I’m not particularly crazy about Endowed by the Creator, but I like the fact that it’s
creator and not God or not a specific creator, but just a more general thing.
But putting those two ashes aside, it’s the greatest political document in all of human
history in my view by far.
Nothing comes close.
It is a document that identifies the core principles of political truism, of truth.
That is, the role of government is to preserve and to protect these rights, these inalienable
rights and that is so crucial that these rights are inalienable.
That is, a majority can’t vote them out, a revelation can’t vote them out.
This is what is required for human liberty and human freedom, the right that is the sanction,
the freedom to act on your own behalf, to act based on your own judgment and as long
as you’re not interfering with other people’s rights, you are free to do so.
That is such a profound truth and that to me is the essence of political philosophy.
That’s the beginning and it’s based on, just not to fall into, Yolam’s going to say it’s
a rationalist, it’s based on a whole history of what happens when we negate that.
It’s based on looking at England and seeing to the extent that they practiced a respect
for individual liberty, of property, of freedom, good things happened.
So let’s take that all the way.
Let’s not compromise on that.
Let’s be consistent with the good and reject the bad and when England goes away, distance
itself from the rights of man, from the idea of a right to property and so on, bad things
happen and when they go to it, let’s go all in and I’m all in on the right to life, liberty,
property and the pursuit of happiness.
And I think the idea of pursuit of happiness is profound because it’s a moral statement.
It’s a statement that says that sanctions and says that ultimately people should be
allowed to make their own judgments and live their lives as they see fit based on how they
They might be right, they might be wrong, but we’re not going to dictate what happiness
entails and dictate to people how they should live their lives.
We’re going to let them figure that out.
So it has this self interested moral code kind of embedded in it.
So I think it’s a beautiful statement.
So I think the declaration is key and I think there was an experiment.
An experiment was proposed in that period before the Constitution where the experiment
was let’s let the states, let’s have a kind of a loose confederation, let’s let the states
experiment with setting up their own constitutions and rule of government and we won’t have any
kind of unity.
And I think what they realized, and I think even Jefferson realized, is that that was
not workable because many of the states were starting to significantly violate rights.
There was nothing to unify, there was nothing to really protect the vision of the declaration.
You needed to establish a nation, which is what the Constitution does, it establishes
But the purpose of that was to put everybody under one set of laws that protected rights.
The focus was still on the protection of rights and I agree with six of the seven of the principles.
Which did this group?
The common welfare, the general welfare, which I’m worried about, right?
I think in the way the founders understood it, I think I probably agreed with it.
But it’s such an ambiguous—
I’m sure you don’t agree.
Maybe I don’t.
Can you state the general welfare principle?
Well the idea that part of the role of government is to secure the general welfare is something—
This is something we didn’t get to in the debate, we really should have, is the question
of whether there is such a thing as a common good or a public interest or a national interest
or a general welfare, do these words, do these terms mean anything other than the good of
all of the individuals in the country?
That’s an important—
Yeah, so that’s right, so that’s why I object to it because I think it’s too easy
to interpret it as.
So I interpret it as, well, what’s good for a general, a group, a common people, it’s
a good collection of individuals, so what’s good for the individual is good for the common
welfare, but I understand that that’s something that is hard for people to grasp and not the
So I would have skipped the general welfare in order to avoid the fact that now the general
welfare includes the government telling you what gender you should be assigned, so I would
have wanted to have skipped that completely.
So I think the Constitution is completely consistent with the Declaration with a few
exceptions of general welfare, but perfection is a difficult thing to find, particularly
for me politically, but it’s a magnificent document, the Constitution.
It doesn’t quite rise to the level, I think, of the Declaration, but it’s a magnificent
document because—and this is the difference, I think, between the English Constitution.
Here’s what I see as the difference.
The difference is that the Constitution is written in the context of why do we have a
separation of powers, for example?
We have a separation of powers in order to make sure that the government only does what
the government is supposed to do, and what is the government supposed to do?
Well, fundamentally, it’s supposed to protect rights.
I mean, all of those seven, or at least six of the seven, are about protecting rights.
They’re about protecting us from foreign invaders.
They’re about protecting peace within the country.
They’re about preserving this protection of rights, and why do we have this separation
so that we make sure that no one of those entities, the executive or the legislature,
the judicial, can violate rights because there’s always somebody looking over their shoulder.
There’s always somebody who can veto their power, but there’s a purpose to it, and that
purpose is clearly signified and characterized, and that’s why I think the Bill of Rights
was written, in order to add to the clarification of what exactly we mean.
What is the purpose?
The purpose is to preserve rights, and that’s why we need to elaborate what those rights
And Madison’s objection to the Bill of Rights was to say not that he objected to having
protection of rights, but to listing them because he was worried that other rights that
were not listed would not be, and his worry was completely justified because it’s exactly
It’s like, the only reason we have free speech in America is because we’ve got it in writing
as a First Amendment.
If we didn’t have it in writing, it would have been gone a long time ago, and the reason
we don’t have, for example, the freedom to negotiate a contract, you know, independent
government regulation, that was not listed as a right in the Bill, even though I think
it’s clearly covered under the Constitution and certainly under the Declaration.
So there was a massive mistake done in the Bill of Rights.
They tried to cover it with the Ninth Amendment, but it never really stuck, this idea that
nonenumerated rights that are still in place.
So I don’t see it as a second revolution.
I think it’s a fix to a flaw that happened.
It’s a fix that allowed the expansion of the protection of rights to all states by creating
a national entity to protect those rights, and that’s what ultimately led to slavery
You know, under the initial agreement, slavery would have been there in perpetuity because
states were sovereign in a way that under the new Constitution they were not, and in
a sense, the Constitution sets in motion, the Declaration and then the Constitution
set in motion, the Civil War.
The Civil War has to happen because at the end of the day, you cannot have some states
with a massive violation of rights, what’s more of a violation of rights than slavery,
and some states that recognize it’s not, it inevitably leads to the Civil War.
Yaron was just saying that, you know, other than the general welfare, these principles
are about individual liberties.
I just don’t think you can read it that way.
The first stated purpose of the Constitution of 1787 is in order to form a more perfect
A more perfect union, it’s describing a characteristic of the whole, it is not a characteristic of
If you look at how the individuals are doing, you don’t know whether their union is more
or less perfect.
So what they’re doing is they’re looking at the condition in which in order to be able
to fight the battle of Yorktown, somebody has to write a personal check in order to
be able to move armies.
A more perfect union is a more cohesive union, it’s the ability to get all of these different
individuals to do one focused thing when it’s necessary to do it.
Well it’s more than that, right, so I agree with that, but for what purpose?
That is, and this is why, you know, this is why it’s so hard with these historical documents
because there’s a context and there’s a thinking that they can’t write everything down, right,
which is sad because I wish they had.
What’s the purpose of a more perfect union?
The purpose of the more perfect union is to preserve the liberty of the individuals within
Well how do you know?
Because if you look, what’s the rest?
So what is the common defense?
The common defense is to protect us from foreign invaders who would now disrupt what the rest
of the Constitution is all about.
All of the Constitution is written in a way as to preserve, find ways to limit the ability
of government to violate the rights of individuals.
The beauty of this Constitution, and again, it’s connection to the Declaration and tradition,
What came before it?
What came before it was a document, which they all respected, which was the Declaration,
which set the context for this.
And now the union is there in order to provide for the common defense, great, because we
know that foreign invaders can violate our rights, that’s what war is about.
To protect us from peace, to establish peace and justice within the country, that’s based
on law, the rule of law, and again, individual liberty.
So to me, when you read the Founders, when you read the Federalist Papers, when you read
what they wrote, what they’re trying to do is figure out the right kind of political
system, the right kind of structure to be able to preserve these liberties, and not
all of them had, from my perspective, a perfect understanding of what those liberties entailed,
but they were all, even the conservatives that you call conservatives, were all in generally
in agreement about the importance of individual liberty and the importance of individual liberty.
Of course, because almost all of these rights are traditional English rights, they exist
in the English Bill of Rights, in the English Petition of Rights, they exist in force.
All of these are traditional.
And what they’re trying to do is perfect that.
They’re trying to take the British system and perfect it.
But you keep leaving out that they want to be like England in that they want to have
an independent nation.
An independent nation is not a collection of individual liberties.
An independent nation, the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence is the
declaration that there is a collective right, that we as a people are breaking the bonds
with another people, and we’re going to take our place, our equal station, among the nations
of the earth.
But for what purpose?
The purpose is to protect individual rights.
And there’s no collective right.
Your argument is completely circular.
You’re not allowing the possibility that there could be great and decent men that you and
I both admire who wanted the independence of their nation, not because that would give
individuals liberty, but because the independence of their nation was itself a great good.
So we clearly disagree on this, because I don’t think the independence of the nation
is a good in and of itself, because it’s –
But did they think it was?
I don’t think they did.
And this is why they tried so hard not to break from England, and why many of them struggled,
really, really struggled with having a revolution, because England was pretty good, right?
England was the best.
And this is where we should get to the universality of these things, because I do think England
was the best, and universally and absolutely was the best system out there.
And they struggled to break from England, because they didn’t view the value of having
a nation as the primary.
But what they identified in England is certain flaws in the system that created situations
in which their rights were being violated.
So they figured the only option in order to secure these rights is to break away from
England and secure a nation.
Now, I am not an anarchist, as Michael Malice is, because we’ve discussed it.
I believe you need nations.
You need nations to secure those rights.
That is, the rights are not – you can’t secure those rights without having a nation.
But the nation is just a means to an end.
The end is the rights, and I think that’s how the founders understood it, and that’s
why they created this kind of country.
I think this is a good place to ask about common welfare and cohesion.
Let me say what John Donne wrote that, quote, no man is an island entire of itself.
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
He went on, any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore
never sent to know for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.
So let’s talk about individualism and cohesion, not just at the political level, but at a
philosophical level for the human condition.
What is central?
What is the role of other humans in our lives?
What’s the importance of cohesion?
This is something you’ve talked about.
So Aaron said that the beauty of the founding documents is that they create a cohesive union
that protects the individual freedoms, but you have spoken about the value of the union,
the common welfare, the cohesion in itself.
So can you maybe elaborate on what is the role of cohesion and the collective, not to
use that term, but multiple humans together connected in the human condition?
Sure, I keep getting the feeling that Yaron and I are actually having a disagreement about
empirical reality, because I think that enlightenment rationalist political thought features the
individual, it features the state.
There isn’t really a nation other than the nation, the people as a collective is created
by the state, and when the state disappears, then the collective disappears.
Now, I think that when conservatives of all stripes look at this kind of thinking, that
there’s the individuals and then there’s the state, and there really isn’t anything else.
When they look at that, they say, even before you get to consequences, it’s a terrible theory
because when we try to understand any field of inquiry, any domain, any subject area,
when you try to understand it, we try to come up with a small number of concepts and of
relations among the concepts, which is supposed to be able to explain, to illuminate as much
as possible the important things that are taking place in the domain.
And conservatives look at this, individuals and the state, and they say, you’re missing
most of what’s going on in politics, also in personal human relations as well.
But it just doesn’t look like a description of human beings, it looks like a completely
And then conservatives say, well, look, once you adopt this artificial thing, then the
consequences are horrific because you’re not describing reality.
So a conservative reality begins with an empirical view of what are human beings like, and the
first thing you notice about human beings, or at least the first thing I think conservatives
notice is that they’re sticky, is that they clump, they turn into groups.
And you take any arbitrary collection of human beings and set them to a task, or even just
leave them alone, and they quickly form into groups and those groups are always structured
This is this competition within the hierarchy, who’s going to be the leader, who’s going
to be number two.
But everywhere you look in human societies, universally, there are groups, the groups
compete and they’re structured internally as hierarchies, and then there are internal
competitions for who leads the different groups.
And when we think about scientific explanation, we allow that there are different levels of
explanation that a macroscopic object like a table, it doesn’t have properties that can
be directly derived from the properties of the atoms or the molecules or the microfibers
that make up the table.
And that’s understood, that there’s what academic philosophers call emergent properties,
that when you get up to the level of the table, it has properties like that you can’t put
your fist through it, which you can’t necessarily know just by looking at the atoms alone.
And I think conservatives say the same thing is true for political theory, for social theory,
that looking at an individual human being and thinking about what does that individual
human being need, which Jeroen does very eloquently in his writings.
But that doesn’t tell you what the characteristics are of this hierarchically structured group.
As soon as you have that, it has its own qualities.
So an example, the question of what holds these groups together, and we need to answer
I try to answer it by saying there’s such a thing as mutual loyalty.
Mutual loyalty is shorthand for human beings, individuals have the capacity to include another
individual within their self, within their conception of their self.
When two people do it, it creates a bond, like a bond between two atoms creates a molecule.
That doesn’t mean that they lose their individuality.
Within the group, they may still continue competing with one another.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t, in reality, a bond, and that real bond is the
stuff of which political events and political history are made, is the coming together,
the cohesion and the dissolution of these bonded loyalty groups.
That’s the reality of politics.
And so when I hear these discussions about individuals in the state, I feel like we’re
missing most of the reality, and in order to understand the political reality, we need
to understand what makes human beings coherent to groups, what makes them dissolve, what
makes the groups come apart and end up creating civil wars and that kind of thing.
I think we also need to know, in practice, rival groups do come together and bond.
I mean, basically, when we think about democratic society, we’re talking about different groups,
we can call them tribes, or you can come up with a different name, but different tribal
groupings with different views, they come together to form a nation, and they’re able
to do that, even though often they hate each other, like we were talking about the American
Revolution, and often they hate each other, and nevertheless, they’re able to come together.
And that leads us into questions like, how does honor, the giving of honor by one group
to another, how does that increase the mutual loyalty between groups that are still competing
with one another?
All of these questions, I think we have to answer them in order to be able to talk about
And I think the reason, the first reason why one should approach politics as a conservative
rather than as an individualist is because it gives us these theoretical tools to be
able to talk about reality, which we don’t have as long as we keep within the individualist
As we’re talking, the metaphor that’s popping up into my mind, and this is also something
that bothers me with theoretical physics, the metaphor is there’s some sense in which
this thing’s called theories of everything, where you try to describe the basic laws of
physics, how they interact together, and once you do, you have a sense that you understand
all of reality.
In a sense, you do.
And that to me, that to me is understanding the individual, like how the individual behaves
in this world.
But then you’re saying that they’re, hey, hey, you’re also forgetting chemistry, biology,
how all of that actually comes together, the stickiness, the stickiness of molecules and
how they build different systems and they, some systems can kill each other, some systems
can flourish, some can make pancakes and bananas and some can make poison and all those kinds
of things that we need to be able to, we need to consider the full stack of things that
are constructed from the fundamental basics.
And I guess, Yaron, you’re saying that, no, you’re just like the theoretical physicist,
it all starts at the bottom, like if you need to preserve the fundamentals of reality, which
is the individual, like the basic atom of human society is the individual, do you?
So yes, so the basic unit, the basic moral unit, the basic ethical unit in society is
And yeah, of course we form groups and you can’t understand history unless you understand
group formation and group motivation and I have a view about what kind of groups should
be formed and politically, from a political perspective, voluntary ones, ones in which
we join when we want to join and we can leave when we want to leave and ones that help us
and clearly groups help us pursue whatever it is a goal is ultimately.
So in the pursuit of happiness, there are lots of groups that one wants to form, whether
it’s marriage, whether it’s businesses, whether it’s sports teams, there are lots of different
groups one wants to form, but the question is what is the standard of well being?
Is it the standard of well being some algorithm that maximizes the well being of a group,
some utilitarian function?
Is it something that’s inherent in the group that we can measure as goodness and to help
with individuals within as long as we can get the group to function well, we don’t really
care about where the individuals are.
So to me, the goal of creating groups is the well being of the individual and that’s why
it needs to be voluntary and that’s why there has to be a way out of those.
Sometimes it’s costly, it’s not a cheap out, that’s why you should really think about what
groups you and this on an issue that’s very controversial, maybe we can discuss, maybe
To me, immigration is so important, open immigration or free immigration is because that’s another
group that I would like people to be able to voluntarily choose both in and out and
I’d like to see people be able to go and join that group that they believe will allow for
the pursuit of happiness.
But let me say that that’s a description of an ideal, what I’m just saying.
I recognize that that’s not the reality in which we live.
I recognize that that’s not the reality in which history.
Recognizing that the individual exists in a sense, philosophically, is a massive achievement.
Human beings, however they evolved, clearly we started out in a tribal context in which
the individual didn’t matter.
We followed the leader, the competition was for power, power over the group and dictates
how the group should work.
The history of human beings is a history of gaining knowledge and part of the knowledge
is the value of an individual.
You can see that in religion, you can see that in philosophy, you can see that through
We evolved from tribes into nations and then empires and conflicts between nations and
conflicts between empires.
We tried a lot of different things, if you will.
I don’t think we always did it on purpose, but different philosophies, different sets
of ideas drove us towards different collectives, different groupings, and different ways in
which to structure.
After 3,000 years of known history, there’s history before that, but we don’t know much
about it, 3,000 years of known history, you can sit back and evaluate.
I think that’s what is done in the Enlightenment.
You sit back, and certainly we can do it today, we can sit back and evaluate.
What promotes human flourishing and what doesn’t?
What do we mean by human flourishing?
Well, individual human beings.
Now, since I don’t believe in a zero sum world, and the world is not zero sum, we can see
that, it’s empirically possible to show that the world is not a zero sum game, my flourishing
doesn’t come at your expense, so I can show that a system that promotes my flourishing
probably promotes your flourishing as well and promotes the general welfare in that sense
because it promotes individuals flourishing, and we can look at all these examples of how
we evolved and what leads to bloodshed and what doesn’t and what promotes this ability
to flourish as an individual, again, an achievement, the idea of individual flourishing, and then
we can think about how to create a political system around that, a political system that
recognizes and allows for the formation of groups, but just under the principle of voluntary.
You can’t be forced to join a group, you can’t be coerced into forming a group other than
the fact that you’re born in a particular place, in a particular, you know, that in
a sense, but that’s not forced, there’s a difference between metaphysics and between
So this is something that came up in the debate that Yoram said that not all human relations
are voluntary, and you kind of emphasized that a lot of where we are is not voluntary.
We’re grounded, we’re connected in so much.
So how can a human be free in the way you’re describing, individual be free if some part
of who we are is not voluntary, some part of who we are is other people?
Well because what do we mean by freedom?
Freedom doesn’t mean the negation of the laws of physics, right?
Freedom doesn’t mean ignoring, freedom means the ability within the scope of what’s available
for you to choose, being able to choose those things.
So in a political context, freedom means, you know, the absence of coercion.
So once you’re an adult, you know, Yoram says you’re born into a particular religious
context, absolutely, but once you’re an adult, I think it’s incumbent on you to evaluate
that religious context and look at different religions or nonreligion or whatever and choose
your philosophy of life, choose your values, choose how you want to live your life.
That’s the freedom.
The freedom is, one system says you’re either coerced by the state or coerced by the group
or coerced by society around you to follow a particular path, or the expectation is,
the demand is, the pressure is to conform to a particular path, and my view is, no,
you should be in a position to be able to choose your path, and that choice means you
look around, you evaluate, you evaluate based on history, based on knowledge, based on all
of these things, and you choose what that path would be.
That’s fundamentally what freedom means.
Yes, you cannot choose your parents, but of course not.
Nobody would claim that that’s within the scope of what is possible.
I think the coercion freedom dichotomy, these are too few concepts, coercion and freedom.
It’s too simplistic to be able to describe what we’re actually dealing with.
The traditional Anglo conservative view is that society has to be, it has to be ordered,
it has to be disciplined, and there are two choices for how it can be ordered.
One is that a people is, by its own traditions, you would say voluntarily, but these are mostly
inherited traditions, by its own traditions, it is ordered.
For example, people just in general will not go into somebody else’s yard, because that’s
the custom here, is we don’t go into somebody else’s yard without their permission.
Fortescue, we’re talking about 500 years ago already, Fortescue says that the genius of
the English people is that our government can be mild and apply very little coercion,
because the people are so disciplined.
When he says the people are so disciplined, what he’s saying is that our nation, our tribes,
we have strong traditions which channel people through tools of being honored and dishonored.
That’s a reality that exists in every society, and it’s not captured by your distinction
between coercion and lack of coercion.
When I’m going to be dishonored if I don’t care for my aging mother, I’m not being coerced
like the state comes and puts a gun to my head, but I am being pressured and given guidelines.
I’m saying that’s wrong, and I’m saying that’s dangerous, because that could easily be used
for bad traditions.
No, of course it is.
What’s the standard by which we evaluate what a good tradition is and what a bad tradition
It’s the English.
You’re getting to the standard too fast.
You’re getting to the standard too fast.
But first I want to know, factually, is it true that all societies work like this?
Because if it’s true that all societies work like this, then saying we should be free from
it is just a fantasy.
A, I don’t think all societies work like this.
I think much of what happened in America post founding in the 19th century didn’t work like
I think that’s the genius of America, and I think what happened during the 19th century
in the Industrial Revolution, what happened in the 19th century to some extent globally
but certainly in the United States didn’t work that way.
It broke tradition.
I think all innovation breaks tradition, and I think that’s what the genius of this country
is and the post enlightenment world is.
I think pre that tradition, they work that way.
And then the question is, do people understand why they do what they do?
That is, I don’t want people doing what I think is right just because I think it’s right
and I’ve created a society in which somebody founded this country in a particular way,
so we’re just going to follow.
I want people to understand what they’re doing.
So I want people to have a respect for property, not because it’s a tradition, but because
they understand the value of a respect for property.
I want people not to murder one another, not because there’s a commandment, thou shall
not murder, but because they have an understanding of why murdering is bad and wrong and bad
for them and bad for the kind of world that they want to live in.
And I think that’s what we achieve through enlightenment, through education, and where
we don’t treat people just as a blob, a tribe that just follows orders, but we now treat
individuals as capable of thinking for themselves, capable for discovering truth, capable of
figuring out their own values, and that’s the big break between.
And this is the break, I think, that the Declaration represents, the break between society that
is based on tradition, following commandments, following rules, because they are the rules,
because they are the commandments, and a society where individuals understand those rules,
Yes, it’s now become a tradition, let’s say, to respect individual rights, to respect
property rights, but they’re not following it because it’s a tradition.
They’re following it because they understand what it is about it that makes it good.
So that’s the world, I think, that we were on the process of evolving towards, and that
is what got destroyed in the 20th century and has certainly disappeared today.
And I think that’s the great tragedy, is that we’re evolving to a place where people understood
the values that represent it.
Of course, the danger with tradition is, I mean, we’ll agree, right?
Yeah, it’s okay to kill the Jew, right?
Or it’s okay to steal people’s property if they’re of a certain color, or it’s okay to
Those are all traditions.
And yet, once you stop and say, but what are they based on?
Is this right?
Is this just, based on some moral law?
No, it’s not.
There’s something wrong here.
We can’t achieve happiness and success if we follow these rules.
You’re talking about reason and tradition, but I think I would love to sort of linger
on the stickiness of humans that you describe.
So you kind of said this primary, the individuals, is primary and that was a great invention.
But to me, it’s not at all obvious that somehow, that the invention that humans have been practicing
for a very long time of the stickiness of community, of family, of love, that’s not
obvious to me, that’s not also fundamental to human flourishing and should be celebrated
Of course it is.
Now, I suppose the argument you’re making is when you start to let the state define
what the stickiness, how the stickiness looks between humans, so you’re really like the
But I just want to sort of, the observation is, humans seem to be pretty happy when they
form communities, however you define that.
So romantic partnership, family.
People are miserable in other communities.
So the nature of the community matters, right?
We know this.
We know that some bondings are not healthy and not good for the individuals involved
and they don’t thrive.
So I absolutely, I mean, I’m a lover, not a fighter, right?
I’m a huge believer in love.
The whole philosophy I think is a love based philosophy.
I fight in order to love, right?
So love is at the core of all of this and it’s a love of life.
It’s a love of the world out there and it’s a love of other people because they represent
a value to you.
So the stickiness is there, it’s, you know, my point is A, it should be chosen.
It should be consciously chosen and this is, put aside the state.
Forget the state for a minute.
Forget all that.
What I would encourage individuals to do, and this is where, you know, I’m not primarily
a political, you know, interested in politics, although I tend to talk most about that.
I’m primarily interested in human beings and how they live in a sense in morality.
And what I would urge individuals to do is to think about their relationships, to choose
the best relationships possible, but to seek out great relationships because other human
beings are an immense value to us.
And you know, when I write, you know, maybe you won’t quote this or not, but when I write
that, you know, about the trade of principle and trading, you know, it’s easy and obvious
to think of it as a materialistic kind of thing.
You know, I get, you know, I do the chores this day and my wife does the chores the other
day and we’re trading.
But trading is much more subtle than that and much more, can be much more spiritual
It’s about the trading in emotions.
It’s about the way one sees each other, it’s what one gets from one another.
I think friendship is a form of trade.
Now I know that that seems to make it material, but I don’t think of trade as a material
Friendship is incredibly important in life.
Love is incredibly important in life.
You know, having a group of friends is incredibly important in life.
All of these are sticky and important.
How can I try to be eloquent on this?
So if you give people freedom, if you give people, well, not politics, relations, relationships.
So this is interesting because we have an interesting dynamic going on here in terms
of beliefs, they’re differing and there was interesting overlaps, but there’s a worry.
If you look at human history and you study the lessons of history and you look at modern
society, if you give people freedom in terms of stickiness and human relations and so on
full, like if you not give people freedom, emphasize freedom as the highest ideal.
You start getting more tender online dating, the stickiness dissolves just like in chemistry.
You start to have a gas versus a liquid, right?
That’s the worry.
So you have to study what actually happens.
If you emphasize that the stickiness, the bonds of humans is holding you back, the exercise
of voluntary choice is the highest ideal, the danger of that is for that to be implemented
or interpreted in certain kinds of ways by us flawed humans that are not, I mean, you
could say we’re perfectly reasonable and rational, we can think through all of our decisions,
but really, I mean, especially you’re young, you get horny, you make decisions that are
So the point is you have to look at reality of when you emphasize different things.
So when you talk about what is the ideal life, what is the ideal relations, you have to also
think like, what are you emphasizing?
I think you both agree on what’s important, that community can be important, that freedom
is important, but what are you emphasizing and you’re really emphasizing the individual
and you’re emphasizing, Yoram, you’re emphasizing more of the community, of the family, of the
stickiness of the nation.
Well, look, I don’t want to deny the place of the individual.
I think that there really is a very great change in civilization when the books of Moses
announce that the individual is created in the image of God.
That’s a step that’s, as far as we know, without precedent before that in history, and to a
very large degree, I mean, one of the kind of unspoken things going on is that Yoram
and I really do agree on all sorts of things, I think in part because we’re both Jewish.
You did say Yoram is basically Moses, yes sir.
No, I said he was channeling Moses, but that’s still, in my book, that’s still pretty impressive.
No, that’s a compliment, I took it as one.
For me, that’s a compliment.
And we’ll talk about this a little bit just for the listeners, just so they know, Yoram,
amongst many things, we’ll talk about the virtue of nationalism, but you’re also a religious
scholar of sorts, or at least leverage the Bible for much, not much, but some of the
wisdom in your life.
Look, the way that Yoram looks at enlightenment, or maybe at Ayn Rand, that’s the way that
I see the Hebrew scripture and the tradition that comes from it.
It has the same kind of place in my life, and I just, I don’t know how much we want
to explore it, but I think that the agreement that we do have about the positive value of
the creative individual, the positive value of the individual’s desire to improve the
world, and in my book that means including his or her desire to improve his family, his
tribe, his congregation, his nation, but it still comes from this kind of, what Yoram
calls selfishness, the desire to make things better for yourself.
In Hebrew Bible and in Judaism, that just is a positive thing.
Of course, it can be taken too far, but it just is positive, and it doesn’t carry these
kinds of, you should turn the other cheek, you should give away your cloak, you should
love your enemy, these kinds of Christian tropes do not exist in Judaism, and so it
just, I like listening to Yoram, I do feel like he goes too far on various things, but
I also hear underneath it, I can sort of hear the Jewish current and the resistance to things
about Christianity that Jews often find.
Okay, I’ll ask you a question there.
Can you make an argument for turn the other cheek?
I tend to, I guess you would equate that with altruism.
I tend to.
It’s unjust to turn the other cheek.
You don’t love yourself if you’re turning the other cheek, it’s a lack of love, lack
of self respect.
Well, let me push back on that, because I like turn the other cheek, especially on Twitter.
So I like block the offender on Twitter.
No, so Twitter aside is more like you’re investing in the long term version of yourself versus
the short term.
So that’s the way I think about it, is like the energy you put onto the world.
The turn the other cheek philosophy allows you to walk through the fire gracefully.
It’s some sense.
I mean, perhaps you would reframe that as not, then that’s not being altruistic or whatever,
but there is something pragmatic about that kind of approach to life.
Disciplining yourself so that you become a better version of yourself.
I mean, not only do we agree, but I think every religious and philosophical tradition
probably has a version of that, even Kant, who we joined together in finding to be terrible.
Even Kant makes that distinction between the short term interest and the long term interest.
So I think that’s universal.
I don’t know of anybody who’s really disagreeing about that.
The thing that we were talking about a couple of minutes ago before we got onto this tangent
is the relationship between the individual who is in the image of God and is of value
as an individual.
Nevertheless, there’s this question about what is good for that person and also what
makes him happy.
I’m not sure that those are exactly the same things, but they’re both certainly relevant
And I feel like, I mean, I think we’re beginning to uncover this empirical disagreement about
what it is that’s good for the individual and what it is that makes them happy.
And I’ll go back to something I raised in the debate, which is this theory of Durkheim
that now has been popularized by Jordan Peterson.
Durkheim argues that he’s writing a book on suicide, he’s trying to understand what
brings individuals to suicide, and he coins this term, anomie, lack of law.
And the argument is that individuals basically are healthy and happy when they find their
place in a hierarchy.
Within a loyalty group in a certain place in a hierarchy, they compete and struggle
in order to rise in the hierarchy, but they know where they are.
They know who they are.
The kids today like to say they know what their identity is because they associate themselves.
Their self expands to take on the leadership, the different layers, the past and the future
of this particular hierarchy.
And I completely agree with you, Ron, that some of these hierarchies are pernicious and
oppressive and terrible, and some of them are better.
What we might disagree about is that you can find human beings who are capable of becoming
healthy and happy off by themselves without participating in this kind of structure.
The minute that you accept, if you accept, that this is empirical reality about human
beings, it’s an iron law, you can’t do anything.
You can tell human beings that they can be free of all constraints, all you want, and
you can get them to do things that, as you say, they can have contempt for hierarchies.
They can say, I’m not going to serve the man, I’m just going to burn them all down.
You can get kids to say all of these things.
You can get them either to be Marxists who are actively trying to overthrow and destroy
the existing hierarchies, or you can make them some kind of liberal where they basically
pretend the hierarchies don’t exist, they just act like they’re not there.
In both cases, and it’s not a coincidence that that’s what universities teach is your
choice is either Marxist revolution or liberal ignoring of the hierarchies.
In both cases, what you’ve done is you’ve eliminated the possibility that the young
person will be able to find his or her place in a way that allows them to grow and exercise
their love, their drive, their creativity in order to advance something constructive.
You’ve eliminated it and you’ve put the burden on them, a kind of a Nietzschean burden, to
just be the fountain of all values yourself, which maybe some people can do it, but almost
no one can do it.
And I think that’s empirically true.
And so I think by telling them about their freedom rather than telling them about the
need to join into some traditionalist hierarchy that can be good and healthy for them, I think
we’re destroying them.
I think we’re destroying this generation and the last one and the next.
Yaron, is the burden of freedom destroying mankind?
I mean, how many people are indeed free?
Look, the problem is that we’re caught up on political concepts and we’re moving into
And I don’t think it’s right to tell people, you’re free, go do whatever the hell you want.
Just use your emotions.
Just go where you want to go in the spur of the moment.
Think short term.
Don’t think long term.
Well, don’t think.
One has to provide moral guidance and morality here is crucial and crucially important.
And part of taking responsibility for your own life is establishing a moral framework
for your life.
And what does it mean to live a good life?
I mean, that’s much more important in a sense of a question.
And it is my belief that people can do that.
They can find and choose the values necessary to achieve a good life, but they need guidance.
They need guidance.
This is why religion evolved in my view, because people need guidance.
So I had called religion a primitive form of philosophy.
It was the original philosophy that provided people with some guidance about what to do
and what not to do.
And secular philosophy is supposed to do the same.
And the problem is that I think religion and 99% of secular philosophy give people bad
advice about what to do, and therefore they do bad stuff.
And sometimes because when they do good stuff, it gets reinforced, we survive in spite of
But ideas like Kant and Hegel and Marx and so on give young people awful advice about
how to live and what to do, and as a consequence, really bad stuff happens.
And the world in which we exist today, which we agree there are a lot of pathologies to
it, a lot of bad stuff going on, in my view is going the wrong way.
In my view, a product of a set of ideas, on the one hand I think Christian ideas, on the
other hand I think secular philosophical ideas that have driven this country and the world
more generally in a really, really bad direction.
And this is why I do what I do, because I think at the core of it, the only way to change
it is not to impose a new set of ideas from the top, because I worry about who’s going
to be doing the imposition.
Plus, I don’t believe you can force people to be good.
It’s to challenge the ideas, it’s to question the ideas, it’s to present an alternative
view of morality, an alternative set of moral principles, ultimately an alternative view
of political principles.
But it has to start with morality.
If you don’t – and my morality is centered on the individual and what the individual
should do with his life in order to attain a good life, I believe that leads to happiness,
the good life, that’s why it’s good, right?
The goal is survival and thriving and flourishing and happiness, ultimately.
But politics is a servant of that in the end.
It’s not an end in itself.
So the real issue is, you know, you asked before what is the value of relationship.
There’s an enormous value in relationship because we get values from other people.
We don’t produce all our values.
We don’t produce all our spiritual values, and we don’t produce all our material values.
Other people are a massive benefit to us because they produce values we can’t – there’s
a massive division of labor in terms of values, not just in economics, but also in philosophy
It’s why we have teachers.
It’s why we have moral teachers.
Moral teachers are important to help guide us towards a good life.
Not all of us are philosophers.
But what I do demand, if you all are individuals – this is where I put a burden on people,
Understand what you’re doing, right?
You know, don’t embrace a moral teaching because it was tradition.
Don’t embrace a moral teaching because your parents embraced it.
Don’t embrace a moral teaching just because your teachers are teaching it.
Think about it.
Embrace it because you – embrace it.
You might be wrong.
You might embrace the wrong one, but take moral responsibility.
Take responsibility over your life by evaluating, testing, challenging what you have received
and choosing what you’re going to pursue.
And I acknowledge empirically that most people don’t do that, and this is why intellectual
leadership is so important.
This is why you want to get – you want the voices in a culture to be good voices so that
those people who don’t think for themselves end up being followers, but they end up being
followers of somebody good versus followers of somebody bad.
But for the thinkers in the world out there, who I think are the people who count, who
are the people who shape society –
Wait a minute.
Not count in a sense that you can dismiss the lives of others and, you know, because
I’m – you know, obviously I’m anti coercion and anti violence, but –
They sound like Plato.
But – yes.
I don’t want to sound like Plato.
But in a sense that they’re the ones who shape – who end up shaping the world.
They’re the ones who end up shaping how the world is.
I want those people to make choices about their values and not to just accept them based
on tradition or based on the commandment or based on where they happen to grow up.
And in that sense, again, you know, I do – and this is an interesting point where we disagree,
but I’m not exactly sure what Jerome’s position is.
I do believe in universal values.
That is, there are things that are good, and there are things that are evil.
And I think we’d agree on that.
When there are systems, we agree that communism and fascism are evil.
Well, I think we should be able to agree that some things – some political systems are
And maybe there’s this middle ground where we both think that they’re not particularly
bad but not particularly good, and you all might think they’re better than I think
But if we can agree on this is good and this is evil, right, then the systems that tend
towards the good are good, and the systems that tend towards the evil are evil.
But that’s universal, right?
You know, I look at places like South Korea, Japan, Asia – you know, cultures that are
very, very different in many respects in the West.
And yet when they adopt certain Western ideas about freedom, about liberty, about individualism
– I mean, the Japanese Constitution, because MacArthur forced it in there, has the pursuit
of happiness in the Constitution, not because they chose it because he put it in there.
But they, to some extent, adopted that, and they’re successful places today.
Those societies in Asia that didn’t adopt these values are not successful societies
Yaron, Japan has a birth rate of, what is it, 1.1, 1.2 children per woman?
I mean, look, there are some things – there are some places where you give people freedom
– this is also biblical, right?
The idea that everyone did what’s right in his own eyes, okay?
This is a refrain in the Book of Judges.
And the Bible is not an anti–freedom book.
I mean, there’s many, many – look, I –
Well, let’s talk –
No, we’re not – fine.
Well, we –
Oh, we’ll get there.
Oh, he’s going to guide us.
Okay, look, just as an asterisk, I’m not asking you because the Bible is such a great
authoritarian book – it’s not that at all.
In my view, if you want to know where this – what you call the sanctity of property,
where does the sanctity of property comes from?
It comes from the Ten Commandments.
It comes from Moses saying, I haven’t taken anything from anyone.
It comes from Samuel saying, I haven’t taken anything from anyone.
It’s the condemnation of Ahab, of the unjust kings who steal the property of their subjects.
So, property and freedom, I think there’s a great basis for it in the Bible.
But right now, I’m focusing on this other question, which is what happens when everyone
does what’s right in his own eyes?
That’s the Book of Judges, and that’s this civil war, moral corruption, theft, idolatry,
murder, rape – I mean, that’s what happens when everyone does whatever is right in his
Well, no, that’s what it says in the text.
Okay, so when I look at – you’re right, there are things that I think are objectively
I think it’s really hard to get people to agree to them, almost impossible.
But when I look at a country which is approaching one birth per woman – in other words, half
of the minimum necessary for replacement – you can say whatever you want.
Whatever you want about immigration, we can have that discussion.
But the point is that when your values are such that you’re not even capable of doing
the most basic techniques that human beings need in order to be able to propagate themselves
and their values and the way they see things, then I – look, you’re finished.
You can’t say that –
So if I implied that Japan is an ideal society, I take that back.
But let’s think about Japan for a minute.
I just think we’re in trouble, and we’re in trouble –
I agree with –
All right, all right.
Give me a second.
I’ll hold you to that.
It’s being a tutorial.
No, I’m sorry.
It’s his show, man.
It is his show.
We enter into his hierarchy and that’s it.
We should talk about hierarchy.
Just to clarify, how do you explain the situation in Japan?
Is it the decrease in value in family, like some of the – just expand on that.
How do you explain that situation?
You’re saying that that society is in trouble in a certain way.
Can you kind of describe the nature of that trouble?
I’m saying that when the individual is part of a social group – this can be a family,
a congregation, a community, a tribe, a nation – when the individual feels that the things
that are happening to the society are things that are happening to him or to her.
And I want to emphasize, this is not the standard view of collectivism that Mussolini will say,
the glory of the individual is in totally immersing himself in the organic whole.
That’s not what I’m saying.
I’m saying that human beings have and are both.
They enter into a society to which they are loyal and they compete with one another in
the terms that that society allows competition, but also sometimes by bending the rules and
by shaping them and by changing them.
What you see in many societies, certainly throughout the liberal West, but also in countries
that have been affected by the liberal West, by industrialization and ideas of individualism,
what you see is a collapse of a willingness of the individual to look at what is needed
by the whole and to make choices that are, as Jorn would call them, selfish because the
purpose of them is self expression, competition, self assertion, moving up in the hierarchy,
achieving honor or wealth in order to do those things.
But when you stop being able to look at the framework of a particular society and identify
with it, you cease to understand what it is that you need to do, not every single person,
but I’m talking about society wide.
So there are a few individuals who are just going to have a fantastic time and live the
kind of life that Jorn is describing, and the great majority, they stop being willing
to take risks.
They stop being willing to get married.
They stop being willing to have children.
They stop being willing to start companies.
They stop being willing to put themselves out to do great things because the guide rails
that told them what kinds of things and the social feedback that honored them when they
did things like getting married and having children, they’ve been crushed.
And what have they been crushed by?
They’ve been crushed by the false view that if you tell the individual, be free, make
all your own decisions, that they will then be free and make all their own decisions.
They just stop.
They stop being human.
So do you want to respond to that?
So I don’t think anybody should have children.
If the goal, there’s a good tweet clip that you can make.
I don’t think anybody should have children for the goal of perpetuating their nation
or expanding their society or for some, I think they’d make horrible parents if that
was the goal, the purpose of doing it.
I think people should have children because they want to embrace that challenge, that
beauty, that experience, that amazing, very, very hard, very, very difficult experience
And it’s about being able to project a long term, but also being able to enjoy and love
the creation of another human being, that process of creation.
It is a beautiful, self interested thing.
And by the way, not everybody should have children.
I think way too many people have children.
There’s some awful parents out there that I wish would stop.
I mean, there are.
Life is precious and life of suffering is sad.
It’s sad to see people suffer and a lot of people are born into situations and are born
into parents that destroy their capacity to ever live a good life.
And that’s a tragic and sad thing.
So I don’t measure the health of a society in how many children they’re having or health
of a couple of whether they have children or not.
Those are individual choices.
Some people make a choice not to have children, which is completely rational and consistent
with their values.
Now when you look at a society overall, I do think having children and not having children
is a reflection of something.
I think it’s a reflection of a certain optimism about the future.
I think it’s a reflection of thinking long term versus short term.
I think a short term society doesn’t have children.
People don’t have children there because children are a long term investment.
They require real planning and real effort and real thinking about the long term.
But those are moral issues.
And again, we’re confusing or mixing.
When I say Japan, look how well Japan has done.
I don’t mean the specific Japanese people and how many kids they’re having and what
kind of life they’re having in terms of these kind of particulars.
But think about the alternatives Japan faces if you look around the options that they face.
They tried empire.
They tried nationalistic empire.
It didn’t turn out too well for them or anybody who they interacted with.
They could have become North Korea.
We know how that turned out.
We know what that is.
We’ve seen Cambodia, if you’ve ever been to Cambodia and seen the kind of poverty.
And yes, maybe Cambodians have lots of children, but God, I’d rather be in Japan any day than
have children in the kind of poverty and horrific circumstances they have.
But in the context of the available regimes that were possible post World War II for the
Japanese to embrace, they embraced one that generally led to prosperity, to freedom, to
individuals pursuing values, not perfectly because they didn’t implement the philosophical
foundation, the moral foundation that I would like them to have.
They’re still being impacted by Kantian, Hegelian, whatever philosophy that’s out there in the
West that’s destroying the better part.
So you give people freedom, now what do they do with it?
And if they have a bad philosophy, they’re going to do bad things with that freedom.
You tell people to do whatever they choose to do.
But if they have bad ideas, they will choose to do bad things.
So it is true that the primacy of morality and the primacy of philosophy has to be recognized.
It’s not the primacy of politics.
And indeed, you don’t get free societies unless you have some elements of decent philosophy.
But you can get free societies with a rotten philosophy, but they don’t stay free for very
So how can it be a decent philosophy if it doesn’t care about posterity?
If you’re willing to say, I’m offering guidance, I think you should live as a traitor, all
relationships should be voluntary, those are interesting things.
But the moment that it comes to posterity, to the future, to there being a future, let’s
say that there were a society that lived the way, in general, according to your view.
Let’s say there was such a society.
How can you not care whether that society is capable of passing it on to the next generation
But the way to pass it on to the next generation is through ideas and not through having children.
Having children is an individual choice that some people are going to make and some people
are not, but the fundamental that preserves the good life.
What does that even mean?
If every generation from now on, your society that was good at a certain point has half
as many people in it, it’s going to very quickly, it’s just going to be overrun.
Overrun by whom?
What do you mean overrun by whom?
Are we just totally ahistorical?
If you’re the Spartans and you have all of these warrior values, but you stop having
children, you get overrun, you get defeated.
Well, in the case of Sparta, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.
But I get it.
That’s not my point.
You have to have the ability to have enough children to create enough wealth and enough
power, enough strength.
Who makes these kind of conclusions, the decisions about how many you make it as an individual
and you decide that in order to…
No, we’re not talking about…
We’re talking about what kind of intellectual, cultural, religious inheritance you give your
And those are the ideas that I give my children and those ideas are going to perpetuate because
they’re good ideas.
If they’re bad ideas…
No, they’re not going to perpetuate.
They can’t be good ideas if they don’t produce future generations.
What are you talking about?
Why would they not produce future generations?
Because look at every liberal society on earth is in democratic collapse.
There’s not a single liberal society on earth today that I’m willing to defend.
Because they’re not living by my philosophy, they’ve not accepted my ideas.
They have a semblance, they have a semblance of a political system that is a little bit
like what I would like, far from what I would ideal, but they certainly don’t have a moral
I believe that people who have the right moral foundation, most of them, not all of them,
but most of them will have children, most of them will continue into the future, most
of them will fight for a future, but not because they care what happens in 200 years, but because
they care about their lifetime and part of having fun and enjoying one’s lifetime is
having kids, is projecting into the future.
Are you really going to tell me that people have children because it’s fun?
They’re fun when they’re four years old.
They’re not fun when they’re 15.
When they’re 15, they’re not fun.
I agree with that.
No, they’re just not fun.
Look, you don’t do this.
I’m learning so much today.
You don’t do this for fun.
Marriage also you don’t do for fun.
There are times that are fun and there are times that are not fun.
Fun is not exactly the right word, but you certainly do it for happiness.
You do it for fulfillment.
You do it as a challenge.
You do it for making your life better, for making your life interesting, for making your
life challenging, for embracing.
Part of it is fun, part of it is hard work, but you do it because it makes your life a
It’s very interesting, empirically speaking, if you dissolve the cultural backbone where
everybody comes up, like the background, the moral ideas that everybody is raised with,
if you dissolve that and if you truly emphasize the individual, I think Yoram is saying it’s
going to naturally lead to the dissolution of marriage and all of these concepts.
So basically saying you’re not going to choose some of these things.
You’re going to more and more choose the short term optimization versus the long term optimization
beyond your own life, like posterity.
So I don’t think about posterity.
I don’t know what posterity means.
I can project into my children’s life.
Maybe when I have grandchildren, it’s the grandchildren’s life, but it ends there.
I can’t project 300 years into the future.
It’s ridiculous to try to think about 300 years into the future.
Things change so much.
But that’s the founding fathers.
That’s the conservative founding fathers.
Well, no, I don’t think.
I think they set up a system.
I think the whole idea was to set up a system that was self perpetuating that would if people
lived up to it, right?
Would perpetuate itself into 300 years.
No systems are self perpetuating.
Things rise and fall and it’s the…
They don’t necessarily rise and fall.
I don’t believe in that.
Let me speak to your heart for a second.
The great individuals in societies are the people who have seen the decline, understood
it and provided resources in order to redirect and bring it back up.
You can’t agree to that?
I don’t see it that way at all.
Yes, I want people out there to rebel against conventional morality.
I think conventional morality is destructive to their own lives and broadly to posterity
because I think it’s unsustainable, it’s not good and this goes to…
I think conventional morality is Christian morality.
It’s a morality that’s been secularized through Christian lens and I think it’s destructive,
but I don’t want them to dump that and not replace it with something.
I want and I think it’s necessary and essential for people to have a moral code and to have
a moral code.
Morality is a set of guidelines to live your life.
It is a set of values to guide you, to help you identify what is good for you and what
is bad for you.
Here’s the thing.
Let me argue against it.
Hold on a second.
You’re saying central to this morality that people should have is reason.
You’re not saying other things.
You’re basically saying reason will arrive a lot of things.
Why are you so sure that reason is so important?
There’s nothing else.
Hold on a second.
But it seems like obvious to you.
So first of all, humans have limited cognitive capacity.
So even to assume the reason could actually function that well from an artificial intelligence
The whole discussion about whether there is such a thing as artificial intelligence, whether
that is what it is.
But see, here’s the thing.
I mean, you’re very confident about this particular thing, but not about other aspects of human
nature that seems to be obviously present.
So yes, human relations, love, connection between us.
So it’s very possible to argue that all of the accomplishments of reason would not exist
without the connection of other humans.
But of course that’s true.
It’s not obvious though.
It’s possible that reason is a property of the collective of multiple people interacting
with each other.
When you look at the greatest inventions of human history, some people tell that story
by individual inventors.
You could argue that’s true.
Some people say that it’s a bunch of people in a room together.
The idea is bubbling.
And if you’re saying individual is primary and they have the full power and the capacity
to make choices, I don’t know if that’s necessarily obviously true.
So there’s a straw manning going on here of my position, right?
My favorite thing to do.
You don’t do it and you do it more politely than anybody else I know when you do it.
Of course we all stand on the shoulders of giants.
Of course, invention and science is collaborative.
Not always, not a hundred percent.
Newton stood on the shoulders of giants.
I don’t know how collaborative he was.
He wasn’t exactly known as a bubbling up and testing ideas out with other people.
But this is a metaphysical fact.
You can’t eat for me.
There’s no collective stomach.
You can’t eat for me.
You know, you can provide me with food, but I need to do the eating.
You can’t think for me.
You can help stimulate my thought.
You can challenge my thinking.
You can add to it.
But in the end of the day, only I can either do my thinking or not do my thinking, but
I need to think.
But you can think all by yourself alone.
What does that mean?
All by yourself.
Can I think on a desert island?
Yes, I can think on a desert island.
Can I think as big and as broad and as deep as I can in Aristotle’s Lyceum?
Of course not.
I’m a much better thinker in Aristotle’s Lyceum or in any kind of situation like this
where you’re going to challenge me and I have to come back and I have to think deeply about
what it is you said and why I’m not communicating very effectively and why you’re not understanding
Of course, now you’re causing me to think much more deeply and to challenge me.
But it’s still true that I have to think.
And if I don’t think for myself, who’s going to think for me?
So this is why I’m not a philosopher.
I’m certainly not an original thinker in that sense.
I recognize the fact that there are geniuses that are much smarter than me, whether it’s
Aristotle or Ayn Rand or people that inspire me.
I study their work.
I try to understand it to the best of my ability.
But I don’t take it as gospel.
I take it as this is something I need to figure out.
I need to learn it.
I need to understand it because it’s good for my life.
It’s important to me.
But I have to do the thinking.
It won’t be mine.
It’ll be Ayn Rand’s.
But it won’t be mine unless I’ve done the thinking to integrate it into my soul, into
my consciousness, into my mind.
But it’s still true that I have to think for myself, not on a desert island.
I now regret ever using a desert island in the book as an example, because …
We’ve achieved something.
There is progress.
We’re moving …
Progress towards truth is taking place.
Because clearly, it was misunderstood.
I didn’t make myself clear.
I didn’t make myself clear enough in the book in terms of what I meant.
But I do not advocate for thinking alone in a dark room, not engaging with reality, not
studying history, not knowing about the world, or on a desert island, not interacting with
So you’re a collectivist?
I’m a trader.
So I enjoy what we’re doing right now because you’re challenging me.
You make me a better thinker.
The fact that a lot of people are going to watch this plays into it as well.
But I would probably enjoy engaging with you in conversation.
It’s not even recording, so …
There you go.
I would enjoy engaging with you in conversation even if it wasn’t being recorded, and even
if it was because that kind of conversation makes me a better … There are some people
who I wouldn’t.
There are some people who make it worse, that you walk away from the conversation because
they’re harmful to you.
And this is where choice comes in.
I want to be able to choose who I engage with.
I don’t always have that choice because, as a public intellectual, you go in front
You don’t always choose who it is, but you want to choose who you engage with and who
You want to choose the forum in which you engage and how you engage.
And the standard for me is reason.
There is no other standard.
So you asked a deep question to start off.
Because that’s where the values come from.
That’s the only tool we have to discover truth.
Yes, you know, reason is something that it doesn’t guarantee truth.
It doesn’t guarantee the world is right, it’s fallible.
But it’s all we have.
It’s the tool in which we evaluate the world around us and we come to conclusions about
There just isn’t other tools.
Emotions are not tools of cognition.
Consciousness is a tool.
Emotion like love, all of these things are ways to experience the world to say that reason
is the best tool.
But there’s a difference between experiencing the world and evaluating the world in terms
of what is truth or what is not.
As a scientist, I appreciate the value of reason.
And emotions and love are consequences.
They’re not primary.
Emotions are consequences of conclusions you’ve come to.
Your emotions will change very quickly, relatively speaking, when your evaluations of a situation
Different people can see exactly the same scene and have completely different emotions
because they’re bringing different value systems and they’re bringing different thoughts to
Maybe love is primary.
But let me ask.
Love is the same thing.
You can fall out of love with somebody.
Because you learn something new.
Because you’ve discovered something new about the person.
Now you don’t love them anymore.
This is the wrong podcast to bring up love.
We’ll talk forever about it.
So, Yoram, you wrote the book, The Virtue of Nationalism, contrasting nation states with
empires and with global governance like United Nations and so on.
So you argue that nationalism uniquely provides the, quote, the collective right of a free
people to rule themselves.
So continuing our conversation, why is this particular collection of humans we call a
nation a uniquely powerful way to preserve the freedom of a people, to have people rule
Before I say anything on the subject, I should emphasize that I’m not a rationalist.
I’m an empiricist and I’m offering what I think is a valid observation of human history.
I don’t have some kind of deductive framework for proving that the nation is the best.
And empirically, we know something about the way systems of national states work and about
the way empires work and the way tribal societies work.
What we don’t know is, you know, is it possible to invent something else?
I mean, there’s a lot of things we don’t know here.
So with the caveat that I’m making an empirical observation, the basic argument is human beings
form collectives naturally, loyalty groups, and for most of human history and prehistory,
as far as we know, human beings lived in tribal societies.
Tribal societies are societies in which there’s constant friction and constant warfare among
very small groups, among families and clans.
And we reach a turning point in human history with the invention of large scale agriculture,
which allows the creation of vast wealth.
It allows the establishment of standing armies instead of militias.
You know, Sargon of Akkad says, I can pay 5,000 men to do nothing other than to drill
in the arts of war and then I’m gonna send them out to conquer the neighboring city states
and there you have empire.
The Bible, which is the source of our image, our conception of a world of independent nations
that are not constantly trying to conquer one another, the source of that is the Bible.
And the biblical world is one in which Israel and various other small nations are trying
to fight for their independence against world empires, against empires Babylonian, Assyrian,
Persian, Egyptian, which aspire to rule the world.
My claim is fundamentally twofold, it’s moral that whenever you conquer a foreign nation,
you’re murdering and you’re stealing, you’re destroying.
As your own would say, you’re using force to cause people to submit.
So there is something in the prophets that rebels against this ongoing atrocity and carnage
of trying to take over the whole world.
And there’s a prudential practical argument, which is that the world is governed best when
there are multiple nations, when they’re free to experiment and chart their own courses.
That means they have their own route to God, they have their own moralities, they have
their own forms of economy and government.
And what tends to happen in history is that when something is successful, when something
looks like, when a different nation looks at it and say, well, those people are flourishing,
they’re succeeding, then it’s imitated in the way that the Dutch invented the stock
market and the English said, look, that makes them powerful, so we’ll adopt it.
So there’s endless examples of that.
So that’s the argument for it.
The argument is since we don’t know a priori deductively from self evident principles what
is best, it’s best to have a world in which people are trying different things.
So quick question, because the word nationalism sometimes is presented in negative light in
connection to the nationalism of Nazi Germany, for example.
So you’re looking empirically at a world of nations that respect each other.
I use the word nationalism the way that I inherited it in my tradition, which is it’s
a principled standpoint that says that the world is governed best when many nations are
able to be independent and chart their own course.
As far as the Nazis, Hitler’s an imperialist.
He hated nation states.
His whole theory, if you pick up, I don’t recommend doing this, but if you do…
I’m actually reading it right now, Mein Kampf?
If you do read Mein Kampf, then you’ll see that he says explicitly that the goal is for
Germany to be the lord of the earth and mistress of the globe, and he detests the idea of the
independent nation state because he sees it as weak and defeat.
He might as well have said it’s Jewish.
So let me ask from the individual perspective, for nationalism, what do you make of the value
of the love of country?
The reason I connect that… So I personally, what would you say, a patriot?
I love the love of country.
Or I am susceptible… Or how should… In a Randian way, I enjoy… I in a self interest
Don’t run away from it.
Well, I love a lot of things, but I’m saying this particular love is a little bit contentious,
which is loving your country.
That’s an interesting love that some people are a little uncomfortable with, especially
when that love… I grew up in the Soviet Union to say you just love the country.
It represents a certain thing to you, and you don’t think philosophically like I was
marching around with marks under my arm or something like that.
It’s just loving community at the level of nation.
It’s very interesting.
I don’t know if that’s an artifact of the past that we’re going to have to strip away.
I don’t know if I was just raised in that kind of community, but I appreciate that.
I guess the thing I’m torn about is that love of country that I have in my heart that I
now love America and I consider myself an American, that would have easily, if I was
born earlier, been used by Stalin, and I would have proudly died on the battlefield.
I would have proudly died if I was in Nazi Germany as a German, and I would proudly die
as an American.
Are you sure about these things?
I think about this a lot.
It’s interesting to run a radical counterfactual and be sure of the answer.
I’m not sure.
I think about this a lot because, obviously, I’m really interested in history.
This is the way I think about most situations is I empathize.
I really try to do hard work of placing myself in that moment and thinking through it.
I’m just… Okay, I just know myself psychologically.
What I’m susceptible to, that’s a negative way to phrase it, but what I would love doing.
I’m just saying, my question is, is the love of nation a useful or a powerful moral, from
a moral philosophy perspective, a good thing?
I think it is a good thing, but before we ask whether it’s a good thing, I think it’s
worth asking whether there’s any way to live without it.
The idea of national independence of a world or a continent which politically is governed
by multiple independent national states, that is a political theory.
Somebody came up with that in the Bible or elsewhere.
Someone came up with this idea and sold it, and a lot of people like it, but the nation
is not an invention.
Every place in human history that we have any record of, there are nations.
The fact of people creating families, families creating an alliance of clans, clans creating
alliances of tribes, tribes creating an alliance that becomes the nation, we see that everywhere
in human history, everywhere we look.
The love of a group of tribes that have come together in order to fight opponents that
are trying to destroy your way of life and steal your land and harm your women and children,
the love of the leadership that brings it together.
This is a George Washington type figure or an Alfred the Great type figure or Saul, the
biblical Saul, somebody who has the wisdom, the daring to unite the tribes, overcome their
internal, mutual hatreds and grievances and rally them around a set of ideas, a language,
a tradition, an identity as people say today.
That love is irradicable from human beings.
Maybe we’ll have a brave new world, people will take drugs in order to get rid of it.
The problem is that could be leveraged by authoritarian regimes.
Yes, but that’s true of everything.
It’s like saying you can have children and you can teach them to be evil.
You can make a lot of money, you can use it for evil.
You can have a gun for self defense, but you can use it for evil.
Come on, that’s human.
That’s being human.
You guys are making love this primary, which I don’t think it is.
How dare you, your honor.
There are lots of people in the world out there who don’t love their nation because
the nation is not worth loving.
That is love is conditional.
It’s not unconditional.
Love is conditioned on the value that’s presented to you.
I lived through this experience in my own life.
I grew up in Israel at a time of everything was geared towards patriotism and the state.
I would say I was trained to, when I saw a grenade, to jump on it because that was every
song and every story and everything was about the state is everything and you should sacrifice.
When the flag went up, I got teary eyed.
I bought into it completely and at some point, I rejected that and I changed and I changed
my alliance and I rejected my love of Israel.
It’s not that I don’t love it anymore, but it’s certainly not my top love and I’m certainly
not looking for the grenade to jump on and I’m not volunteering to go fight the war there.
I fell in love from a distance with the idea of America.
I love the idea of America more than I love America.
I could see myself falling out of love with America given where it’s heading.
It’s not automatic.
It’s conditioned on what it is that it represents and what value it represents for me.
I think that’s always the case with love.
It’s not true that children have to love their parents.
That’s the ideal and hopefully most children love their parents, but some children fall
out of love with their parents because their parents don’t deserve their love.
The same with the other way around.
I think parents are capable of not loving their children.
Love is a conditional thing.
It’s not automatic.
Let me point out an agreement.
Let me say something about an agreement.
You’re trying to bribe me with an agreement.
To soften the blow, mostly I like to talk to Yaron about his ideas and I don’t want
to talk about Ayn Rand, but I want to say something.
Just one thing about Ayn Rand.
All my kids read Ayn Rand’s books.
My father read The Fountainhead.
We know Ayn Rand.
I’ll tell you it is incredibly difficult reading for me.
It’s painful to read.
Why is it painful?
Not because I disagree with the view of trading and business and the creativity of it and
That stuff moves me and I do admire it, but to read a book that’s a thousand pages long
in which nobody is having children, nobody is having a stable marriage, no one is running
an admirable government that’s fighting for a just cause, anywhere, anywhere.
I feel like it’s focusing on one aspect of what it is to be human and to flourish and
that everything else is just erased and thrown out as though it’s just not part of reality
and I’m scared.
I’m scared of what happens to teenagers who hormonally are in any case.
They’re programmed to pull away from their parents and experiment with things.
They’re biologically programmed to do that and you give them a book which says, look,
you don’t have to have a family.
You don’t have to raise children.
You don’t have to have a country.
You don’t have to fight for anything.
All you have to do is assert yourself and trade.
I think it’s destructive because it’s not realistic.
It’s just not real.
But I got none of that from Ayn Rand.
I got none of that from Ayn Rand.
The books were not about a family.
You could write a book in Ayn Rand style where people have a family, but the goal, the purpose,
it’s a novel.
It’s a novel which is delimited with a particular story.
There’s one family in Gulch Gulch and there’s a little passage about raising children and
the value of that because it’s not core to what she is writing about, but that doesn’t
When I read Ayn Rand, I read Atlas Shrugged when I was 16, and I read it over the years
several times more.
It never occurred to me, oh, Ayn Rand’s anti family, I shouldn’t have a family.
That thought never came into my mind.
I always wanted to have children.
I continue to want to have children.
I thought of it a little differently.
I thought of how I would find a partner a little bit differently.
I thought about what I would look for in a partner differently, but not that I wouldn’t
want to get married.
One question I have is what effect it has on society, so outside of you.
So for example, you mentioned love should be conditional.
Well, it is.
Whether you like it or not, it is.
You might pretend that it isn’t, but it’s always conditional.
Well, let me try to say something and see if it makes any sense.
So could there be things that are true, like love is conditional, is always conditional,
but if you say it often, it has a negative effect on society.
So for example, I mean, so maybe I’m just a romantic, but good luck saying love is conditional
to a romantic partner.
I mean, you could, I would argue, en masse, that would deteriorate the quality of relationships.
If you remind the partner of that truth that is universal, like you have to, I mean, okay,
maybe it’s just me.
I’ll just speak to myself.
It’s like there is a certain romantic notion of unconditional love.
It’s part of why you have so many destructive marriages.
It’s part of why…
So you would say that’s a problem.
Yes, it’s a real problem because, yes, there is a, you talked about honoring your spouse
and there’s a real truth there and I respect that.
Yes, you have to do certain things.
Love is not, you marry somebody and there’s a real attitude out there in the culture.
You marry somebody and okay, now we’re going to, we’re just going to cruise.
That’s the Hollywood marriage.
You know, marriage is work.
Like all values, it’s work.
It’s something you have to reignite every day.
You have to, the challenges, the real disagreements, the things you fight about, you disagree
about and there’s real, if it’s a value, you work it out, you struggle through it.
And sometimes you struggle through it and you come to a conclusion, no, this is not
going to work and you dissolve a marriage and I’m all for dissolving after really, really
fighting for it because if it’s an important value and if you fell in love with this person
for a reason, then that’s something worth fighting for.
I have a feeling that Hollywood goes the other way, but it’s not this cruising along and
everything is easy, no human relationship is like that.
Not friendship, not love, not raising children, not being a child.
You know, they require work and they require thinking and they require creating the conditions
to thrive and that’s the sense in which it’s conditional.
You have to work at it and it’s very easy not to do the work and it’s very easy to drift
away and I think most people don’t do the work, most people take it and generally in
The only place people seem to work is at work and then they take the rest of their life
as I’m going to cruise and yet every aspect of your life, the art you choose, the friends
you choose, the lovers you choose, all require real thinking and real work to be successful
None of them are just there because there is no such thing as just the intrinsic.
Right, I agree with all of that.
I was going to say before that the rabbis have this sort of shocking expression, tzargidul
banim, the pain of raising children.
And I find when I speak to audiences about relationships, I find that in general and
this is cross cultural, it’s different countries, different religious backgrounds, that in general
young people do not know that the only way to make a marriage work is through a lot of
pain and overcoming.
They don’t know that raising children involves a great deal of pain.
They don’t know that caring for and helping your parents approach the end of their lives
causes a great deal of pain and everything is kind of this sketchy, very sketchy, glimpsy
kind of, and I mentioned Hollywood just because everything is made to look easy except there’s
kind of a funny breakdown of something but then maybe there’s a divorce, they shoot
one another so then they should get divorced.
But the reality of how hard it is to do and how heroic it is to do it and then overcome
and then actually in the end achieve something, create something that was really, it’s almost
not discussed and so to me it’s just not surprising that if there’s no parallel to
Ayn Rand about the heroic saving of a marriage that was on the rocks, how does it actually
So it’s a good point you’re making but something just came to me that I’ve never
thought of before so that’s always good.
This is where conversation is good.
Look, take the Talmud and I can’t remember how many years after the Bible the Talmud
is written, over how long of a period it’s written, how many people participating in
Ayn Rand was one individual.
She wrote a series of books on philosophy which I think are true but they’re the beginning.
There is a lot of work to be done to apply this.
So hopefully there will be one of her students who writes a book on relationships and there’ll
be somebody who writes a book on developing a political theory in greater detail and develop
She’s got a few writings on ethics and it’s in the novels but there’s a lot of work
to be done, fleshing it out, what does it mean, how do you…
So to say Ayn Rand didn’t do everything is a truism.
She didn’t do everything.
Okay, so what?
But she laid this amazing philosophical foundation that allows us to take those principles and
to apply them to all these realms of human life and she does it on a scope that few philosophers
in human history have done because she goes from metaphysics all the way to aesthetics,
hitting the key, and she’s an original thinker on each one of those things.
And she might be right, she might be wrong on certain aspects of it, always happy to
have a debate about where she’s wrong or where she’s not, but there’s a lot of
work to be done, right?
It’s not like – and if there were objectivists out there who present it as, okay, human knowledge
is over because Ayn Rand wrote these books, that’s absurd, right?
This huge amount of work to be done in applying these particular ideas just like there was
for any philosophy, take these ideas and now apply them to all these realms in human experience
that flesh it out and make it – and one of the reasons I don’t think objectivism
is taken off is because there’s all this work still to be done that allows it to be
relatable to people in every aspect of them.
Let me ask a hard question here.
We’ve got –
Can I say what I agreed with you, Omar?
This is good.
This will be a good transition.
Here, this is the clip.
This is the clip.
I agree about nations.
So I don’t like the term nationalism because I fear what happens when you put an ism at
the end of any word.
But the nation is a good thing.
And having a diversity of nations in a sense is a good thing.
And in this sense, I don’t think one can come up – so look, I said and I hold that
the ideal nation is a nation that protects individual rights.
How do you do that?
What are the details?
How do we define property rights exactly in an internet world?
There’s going to be disagreement, rational, reasonable disagreement.
They’re going to be – in my future, in the 300 years from now, in my ideas of one
finally, right, there will be multiple nations trying to apply the principle of applying
individual rights, and they’ll do it differently.
One of the benefits of federalism is that while you have a national government, there
are certain issues that you relegate to states, and they can try different things and learn
because there is a huge value in empirical knowledge comes there.
You can’t just deduce it all and figure it all out.
You have to experiment.
So I do – I hate the idea of a one world government because experimentation is gone,
and if you make a mistake, everybody suffers.
I like the idea, and then I like the idea of people being able to choose where they
But this notion of experimentation I think is crucial, but you need a principle.
So I don’t like the idea of nations if all the nations are going to be bad, right?
If all the nations are going to be horrible, then I don’t like it.
What I like is a variety of nations all practicing basically good ideas, and then we try to
figure out, okay, what works better than other things, and what is sustainable and what is
Given how many difficult aspects of history and society we talked about, let me ask a
hard question of both of you.
I’m going to breeze up until now.
What gives you hope about the future?
So we’ve been describing reasons to maybe not have hope.
What gives you hope?
When you look at the world, what gives you hope that in 200 years, in 300 years, in 500
years, like the founders look into the future, that human civilization will be all right,
and more than that, it will flourish?
Two things for me.
One is history.
So in the very long run, good ideas win out.
I think in the very long run, you can go through a dark ages, but you come out of a dark ages.
The good and the just does win in the end, even if it is bloody and difficult and hard
to get there.
So while I am quite pessimistic, unfortunately, about the short run, I’m ultimately optimistic
that in the long run, good ideas win and they’re justified.
And I think the fundamental behind that is I think is that I’m fundamentally positive
about human nature.
I think human beings can think, they’re capable of reasoning, they’re capable of figuring
out the truth, they’re capable of learning from experience.
They don’t always do it.
It’s an achievement to do it, but over time, they do.
If you create the right circumstances, they will, and when things get bad enough, they
look for a way out.
They look maybe at history, if the history is available to them, maybe at just learning
from what’s around them to find better ways of doing things, and that reinforces itself.
But human beings are an amazing creature.
We’re just amazing in our capacity to be creative, in our capacity to think, in our capacity
to love, in our capacity to change our environment to fit our needs and to fit our requirements
for survival and to learn and to grow and to progress.
So again, long term, I think all that wins out.
Short term, in any point in history, short term, right now, it doesn’t look too good.
What about you, Yaron?
The source for Yaron’s hope is the book of Exodus, which is the first place in human
history where we are presented with the possibility that an enslaved people that’s being persecuted
and murdered and living under the worst possible regime can free itself and have a shot at
a life of independence and worth, and it’s another inherited Jewish idea in the tradition.
The way that we express this is by saying that there is a God who judges.
The Israelis in Egypt were enslaved for hundreds of years, according to the Exodus story, hundreds
of years before God wakes up and hears them.
And he doesn’t do anything until Moses kills the oppressor and goes out into the desert.
So I think it’s pretty realistic that there is a God that God judges and acts, but probably
often not for a very, very long time and not until there’s a human being who gets up and
I know that today people don’t want to read the Bible.
They don’t like reading the Bible.
But I always hear in my ear this cry of the prophet Jeremiah who saw his nation destroyed
and his people exiled.
And he says, in God’s name, he says, he’s not my word like fire, like the hammer that
shatters rock, a petition, a petzela.
My word is like fire, like the hammer that shatters rock.
And this is actually the traditional way of saying something like what Yaron is saying
that it may take a long, long time, but there is a truth and it has its own strength and
it will, in the end, shatter the things that are opposing it.
That’s our traditional hope.
We grow up like that.
So I do have hope.
I see the trends.
The trends are terrible right now and it’s frightening and it’s hard, but we are terrible
at seeing the future.
And it is very possible that an unexpected turn of events is going to appear maybe soon,
maybe much later, and the possibility of a redemption is there.
Let me ask, given that long arc of history, given that you do study the Bible, what is
the meaning of this whole thing?
What’s the meaning of life?
Wow, that’s beautiful.
I think that the meaning of life is in part what Yaron touches on when he says that productive
work, labor, creativity is at the heart of what it is to be human.
I just think that there are some more arenas and maybe we even agree on a lot of them.
To be human is to inherit a world which is imperfect, terribly imperfect, imperfect in
And God created it that way.
He created a world which is terribly lacking and he created us with the ability to stand
up and to say, I can change the direction of this.
I can do something to change the direction of this.
I can take the time and the abilities that are given to me to be a partner with God in
creating the world.
It’s not going to stay the way it was before me.
It’ll be something different, maybe a little bit, maybe a lot.
But that is the heart.
That is the key.
That is the meaningful life is to be a partner with God in creating the world so that it
is moving that much more in the right direction rather than the way we found it.
So nudge, even if a little bit, the direction of the world.
Well, Yaron, you’ve actually been talking in your program about life quite a bit.
So let me ask the same question and I never tire you of asking this question.
What do you think is the meaning of this whole thing?
Well, I mean, I don’t believe in God, so God doesn’t play a role in my view of the meaning
I think the meaning of life is to live.
I like to say to live with a capital L. It’s to embrace it and I agree with you on in a
sense we’re born into a world and as human beings, one of the things that makes us very
different than other animals is our capacity to change that world.
We can actually go out there and change the world around us.
We can change it materially through production and through, we can change it spiritually
through changing the ideas of people.
We can change the direction to which humanity works.
We can create a little universe.
I think part of the joy of creating a family is to create a little universe.
We’re creating a little world around us that’s part of the joy.
And there is joy in family, let’s not make it all about difficulty and hard work.
Part of the idea of getting married is to create a little world in which you and your
spouse are creating something that didn’t exist before and building something, building
But it’s really to live.
And one of the things that I see and it saddens me is wasted lives, is people who just cruise
They get born in a particular place, they never challenge it, they never question.
They just, you know, they live, die and nothing really happened.
Nothing really changed.
They didn’t produce, they didn’t make anything of their life.
And produce here, again, in the largest sense.
So to me it’s, in every aspect of life, as you know because you’ve listened to my show,
I love art, I love aesthetics, I love the experience of great art.
I love relationships, I love producing, I like business, I like that aspect of it.
And I think people are shallow in so many parts of their lives, which saddens me.
If you had eight billion people on this planet, even if it never grew, even if we just stayed
at eight billion, but the eight billion all lived fully, wow.
I mean, what an amazing place this would be, what an amazing experience we would have.
So to me that is, the meaning is just make the most that you have a short period of time
And that’s it.
This is it.
And live it, experience it fully and challenge yourself and push yourself.
And let me just say something about optimism.
One source of hope for me in the world in which we live right now is that there are
people who do that, at least in certain realms of their lives.
And I’m inspired, and I know a lot of people don’t like me for this, but I’m inspired for
example by Silicon Valley, in spite of all the political disagreements I have with them
and all of that.
I’m inspired by people inventing new technologies and building, I’m inspired by the people you
talk to about artificial intelligence and about new ideas and about pushing the boundaries
Those things are exciting and it’s terrific to see a world that I think generally is in
Yet there are these pockets in which people are still creating new ventures and new ideas
and new things.
That inspires me and it gives me hope that that is not dead, that in spite of the decay
that’s in our culture, there’s still pockets where that spirit of being human is still
alive and well.
Yeah, they inspire me as well.
Yeah, and they truly live with a capital L, and maybe I can do a star, maybe you can also
put a little bit of love with a capital L out there as well.
Yaron, you knew I would end it that way, wouldn’t you?
Yaron, thank you so much, this is a huge honor.
I really enjoyed the debate yesterday, I really enjoyed the conversation today that you spent
your valuable time with me, it just means a lot.
Thank you so much, this was amazing.
Thanks for listening to this conversation with Yaron Brook and Yaron Hosoni.
To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description.
And now, let me leave you with some words from Edmund Burke.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.