I grew up in a conservative family. The people I talk to most frequently, the people I call when I need help, are conservative. I’m not inclined to paint conservatives as thoughtless bigots. But a few years ago, listening to the voices and arguments of commentators like Shapiro, I began to feel a very specific deja vu I couldn’t initially identify. It felt as if the arguments I was reading were eerily familiar. I found myself Googling lines from articles, especially when I read the rhetoric of a group of people we could call the “reasonable right.”
These are figures who typically dislike President Trump but often say they’re being pushed rightward — sometimes away from what they claim is their natural leftward bent — by intolerance and extremism on the left. The reasonable right includes people like Shapiro and the radio commentator Dave Rubin; legal scholar Amy Wax and Jordan Peterson, the Canadian academic who warns about identity politics; the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt; the New York Times columnist Bari Weiss and the American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers, self-described feminists who decry excesses in the feminist movement; the novelist Bret Easton Ellis and the podcaster Sam Harris, who believe that important subjects have needlessly been excluded from political discussions. They present their concerns as, principally, freedom of speech and diversity of thought. Weiss has called them “renegade” ideological explorers who venture into “dangerous” territory despite the “outrage and derision” directed their way by haughty social gatekeepers.
So it felt frustrating: When I read Weiss, when I listened to Shapiro, when I watched Peterson or read the supposedly heterodox online magazine Quillette, what was I reminded of?