National Post columnist Jonathan Kay interviews American author Dave Rubin about his new book, censorship on the left and why Canadians are listening to what he has to say
By Jonathan Kay, NATIONAL POST
The National Post’s Jonathan Kay recently interviewed American author Dave Rubin, whose tour for his new book, “Don’t Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in the Age of Unreason,” was disrupted by the ongoing pandemic, and is now being done out of Rubin’s garage.
Jonathan Kay: Nice suit. Look what I’m wearing. Thanks for making the rest of us look like crap.
Dave Rubin: I thought I’d keep it professional, you know? I’m on a book tour.
Kay: What’s it been like doing a book tour without actually touring?
Rubin: I got to tell you, it’s really bizarre, actually. The book came out on Tuesday, April 28, and I was supposed to be in New York the week before, doing all kinds of press, going on every TV show you can imagine and meeting with the publishers and all that good stuff. And then I was supposed to be on a book tour starting that night. We were gonna be at the Gramercy Theater in New York. And then I think I was going to be in D.C. and then across the country for the next month and a half or so. And instead, I’m in my garage. I mean, this is my garage. I happened to have a studio in my garage. So it’s kind of funny. We’re seeing all these CNN anchors in their kitchens, in their living rooms and things. I was a little ahead on the home studio thing.
So I’ve got a nice professional setup here, which is great. And, you know, there’s a certain convenience to it that I can do this all from here. But I guess it is missing a little something. Talking to a live person always adds a little something else to the conversation. But I’ve enjoyed this. And in many ways it’s allowed me to do more than I was going to be able to do because I can basically just, every day for the last four or five days, I’m starting in the morning. I started literally at 6 a.m. and I go till about 8 p.m., with just minor minor breaks and maybe lunch, if I’m lucky. So, you know, I’m happy to talk to people. I’m glad the book’s being well received. And you do what you gotta do.
Kay: You write that your original book idea was about how you abandoned the left side of the political spectrum — and then you decided you had a more interesting idea. Tell me about that.
Rubin: Yeah. The original title of the book was “Why I Left the Left,” which is the title of a very popular PragerU video that I did that has about 20 million views or so. I became sort of a “left the left” guy. I talk about the regressive left and that the left is no longer liberal.
That’s very much in the mix, the stew of things that I’ve been talking about for the last five years or so. And I started writing that book. And then I quickly realized I was like, you know, I don’t know if I want to write a book about just what I’m against or what I used to be. I want to write a book about what I’m for. And that’s what it became: “Don’t Burn This Book.” But I lay out three moments in the book that were my seminal “wake up” moments.
I won’t give you all three. I’ll give you one of them. You may know David Webb, who is a commentator, conservative commentator on Sirius XM Patriot Channel. He guest hosts on Fox News all the time. And years ago when I was a lefty, I was on the Young Turks. We were watching a clip of Fox News and David Webb came on and suddenly they were saying all the worst things about him. He was just talking about some basic conservative beliefs. Doesn’t even matter what he was talking about specifically. But suddenly they were calling him an “Uncle Tom” and a sellout and a race traitor. Just all of the worst things that you could say about somebody. And what they didn’t know was that a few years before I had had a show on Sirius XM and although I was a lefty and David Webb was on the right, we’d met in the hall one day and we started chatting. I used to go on his show every week and we’d debate topics and then we’d go downstairs and have a steak and have some whisky. And we were good, even though we disagreed on almost everything. But I knew him to be a good man and forthright and a passionate advocate for his positions.
It wasn’t some fake thing. And yet here the Young Turks were, the supposed tolerant people, the people who loved diversity. And they were suddenly seeing a black man. And just because he didn’t think the way they want black people to think he was the bad guy. He was all the worst things you could say about somebody. And because I knew him, it suddenly became so stark, so clear to me that when we think of racism, we think, oh, that you’re racist. You don’t want those people using a water fountain, something like that, which obviously is racist. But there’s a new pernicious racism, which is that you say you’re “for” groups — gays, blacks, women.
But you can’t be “for” whole groups because, believe it or not, black people think all sorts of different things. Gay people think all sorts of different things. Women think all sorts of different things. And to watch a group of supposedly tolerant people be angry at a black man who just thought differently than them, I realized was a new sort of systemic racism. And I say systemic because it’s sort of spread throughout all of the left. And even right now, Harvard discriminates against Asian people because they had “too many” Asian people — by their measure — being admitted to the university.
What the left does is they see racism almost everywhere except where it really is. They’re looking for it constantly. So they have to find it.
Kay: But what about the counterargument — that there’s still a lot of old-fashioned racism that’s still around.
Rubin: I don’t see that now. That’s not to say that there isn’t a KKK. There are some marginal white supremacist groups or the Westboro Baptist Church or something like that, which don’t have any mainstream traction, because anytime they do any stupid little thing that, of course, the media goes crazy with it. Does David Duke exist? Of course. David Duke exists. Does he have any influence in any way whatsoever? Of course not. So I don’t see actual influential bigotry out of the conservative side or on the right. But I do see it almost everywhere on the left. The left has become obsessed with identity, obsessed with gender and sexuality and the colour of skin. And I wouldn’t even call that reverse racism. I would call that racism. If you rail all day long against white Christian men because they’re white Christian men, that’s racism.
Again, I’m not saying that there are no racist people on either side of the political aisle. Of course there are. But I think what the left does is they see racism almost everywhere except where it really is. They’re looking for it constantly. So they have to find it. And just because you believe in low taxes doesn’t mean you’re a racist. Just because you believe that America should have a strong border, doesn’t mean you’re a racist.
These movements, they get equality, but then they — the activists — don’t want to go out of business. So then they have to just keep finding new and new perceived oppression.
Kay: Your book is partly about what you call the pitfalls of leaving the left. What are those pitfalls?
Rubin: The biggest growing political movement or political ideology in America right now is the disaffected liberal, which is what I would say that I am — I am a true liberal. And I lay out what classical liberalism is, which, of course, is about individual rights, meaning everyone that is a legal citizen of any country should be treated equally under the law. And then basically laissez-faire economics, light touch. That’s pretty much what my belief system is. That’s live and let live. And we could talk about the marginal differences between that and libertarianism.
As far as the pitfalls, well, I lay out some of the things that I guarantee will happen to you if you leave the left — or not even leave the left once you start questioning it. Because if you remember four or five years ago when I started talking about my frustrations with the left, I was always saying “we.” I was saying “we guys,” “we the left” have abandoned liberalism. “We” have to fix liberalism. “We” have to stand for the things that we’re supposed to stand for, like free speech and open inquiry and not deplatforming speakers and destroying people. These are liberal principles. So I was doing this from the left. And what I think a lot of people see right now is that I’m trying to give them the courage, I suppose, to be able to walk — and not be destroyed once you pick one position that is counter to whatever mainstream leftist orthodoxy is of the day.
If you don’t check all of those 10 boxes, they will eliminate you and they will try to mob you on social media. They will go after your employer. You will watch friends and family members turn on you and call you all of the worst things. And even if you say no, those are none of my beliefs. Well, then they’ll move the goalposts and try to extrapolate something else on you. One of the very important tips that I give people is don’t apologize unless you genuinely have done something wrong. I’m not saying never apologize. We’ve all wronged people. We’ve all done things that are wrong. So you can apologize if it’s earnest. But I think a lot of times that we see this when the mob comes after celebrities all the time, you know, a celebrity will say something that everyone knows is basically right. You may remember Mario Lopez said that we shouldn’t be … something to the effect of we shouldn’t be transitioning kids who are four years old, you know, gender transition. And it’s like everyone knows that’s the truth. That’s not anti-trans. It’s just that we might want to wait till they’re a little bit older. Then we could discuss all of that stuff. But he got mobbed. And then what does he do? He basically issues in a faux apology, even though we know he doesn’t really apologize. He doesn’t really feel any contrition about what he said.
Another one would be a Hollywood actor who I’m sort of friendly with, Mark Duplass, he basically tweeted out something to the effect that Ben Shapiro is not the devil, he just has different political thoughts. He got mobbed and then deleted the tweet and issued an apology. And it’s like once you do that, once you apologize for something you’re not sorry for, now they’ve got their foot on your neck forever and you will never get up. And they’re using that power over you. So one of the things you can do is be brave and stand up for what you believe. And I think if more of us start doing it, we can actually silence that mob.
Kay: But political cults come from the right side of the spectrum, too, no?
Rubin: Let’s not forget, it was mostly people on the right who were going after violent video games. Remember, they were trying to ban Mortal Kombat from the shelves. So these things are cyclical. And I’m glad you brought it up because it’s an important point.
Kay: We’re talking about censorship and preventing people from saying what they think. But it’s interesting that you’re not talking about government censoring people — which is what we would have been worried about 20 or maybe even 10 years ago. Instead, we’re talking about people censoring each other.
Rubin: We should always be wary of the government silencing dissent, silencing speech. But at the moment, I mean, Donald Trump can tweet whatever he wants and then what happens? The first hundred people that respond to him are usually blue check journalists or actors or activists, all telling him he’s a Nazi, he’s Hitler. He’s going to burn in hell. I mean, the worst things you can imagine. And guess what? Nobody knocks on their door. The Gestapo doesn’t show up to drag them off to the gulag. I mean, there’s no version of any of that. The bigger worry to me is that we are censoring ourselves. That is separate than the government. It’s an important distinction.
Kay: You’re a gay man. I’ve noticed, anecdotally, that many of the people pushing back against social-justice cultism are gay men, lesbians, Jews, Muslims — people who have some trait that makes them stand out from ordinary white people. Do you think having at least some mark of outsider status gives you moral capital to push back?
Rubin: I love this question because I’ve asked this of other guests of mine who are in similar situations. So Douglas Murray, the wonderful author from the U.K. who’s written a lot about this and talked about immigration in Europe and all sorts of things. His last book, “Madness of Crowds,” is one of the best books of the year. He happens to be gay. He’s a gay conservative in the U.K. And I’ve asked him about this. I see this from women. I see this from black people. It sort of gets to what I was saying earlier about why when you say you’re “for” a group, you will actually crush all of the free thinkers within that group. And that’s what I’m trying to restore. I’m trying to stop that from happening.
If you’re a minority because of your sexuality or your skin colour or some of these things, now, I don’t think that should give you power over people. I don’t think that inherently makes your opinions correct. I mean, that would be absurd. As absurd as saying, you know, someone who is a white male, that his opinions are correct just because of that. So those are silly notions. But what I do think is probable is that if you are a minority of some sort, you start looking at the world from a bit of an outsider perspective. You’re not in the machine all the time. And because of that, you suddenly realize that uniqueness is deeply important. You realize there is something different.
So the most interesting example of this would be what’s sort of happened to the gay community. I would say that for four decades, the gay community brought a tremendous amount of art and music and comedy and all of this cultural stuff that would start in gay clubs or whatever. I was never even into that scene at all. Much of this is before my time. But we all know that so much great music and all of this cultural stuff came from the gay community. Then, things shifted and the progressive movement sort of infiltrated the gay community. I’m not saying, well, their intentions were bad. Gay marriage, by the way, is an extremely positive development that the progressives pushed because they were pushing for equality. But they were pushing for gay people to be equal, not to be above. And what happens usually is then these movements, they get equality, but then they — the activists — don’t want to go out of business, sort of. So then they have to just keep finding new and new perceived oppression.
So what I think, unfortunately, has happened is the gay community, for whatever that term broadly means, they went from fighting for something. They went from being outsiders. And by the way, that comes with a lot of pain and all sorts of stuff. I mean, many gay people have written about this. And, you know, from my own experience, the pain and drugs and just doing stuff that I shouldn’t have done, it’s just part of being closeted and the outsider and the rest of it. But you take that, then you get equality. And now that’s great. Now things are good. But then the progressives move in and they kind of use you as a tool.
So if you notice, there’s really nothing interesting coming out of the gay community these days. And that is to directly answer your question. That is why we’re watching so many gay people walk away (from progressive orthodoxy) right now. And by the way, it’s the exact same thing with the black community.
Kay: You’re an American. Do you find your political message resonates with Canadians? It used to be that a political writer like you was mostly a celebrity in your own country. But thanks to social media, things are much more global.
Rubin: It really, really does. Now, part of that I have to credit Jordan Peterson, obviously, because, you know, Jordan, whose origin he was a clinical psychologist in Toronto and professor at the University of Toronto, you know, he’s sort of Canada’s biggest export over the last couple of years, certainly intellectually their biggest export. And I toured with Jordan Peterson. We had many stops in Canada. I’ve done some speaking events with Maxime Bernier from the Canadian People’s party. And I do sense that there is a strong liberty movement growing in Canada. You know, as Justin Trudeau and the Liberals of Canada sort of extend their power. And I know you guys have all sorts of problems. You know, Western Canada and the Calgary area feeling that they’re sort of being left out from what the decision-making process is. I sense that there is a there is a strong liberty movement there. So we absolutely wonderful receptions in all of our Canadian stops. I love doing them. We had a running joke in every Canadian stop on the tour because I would moderate the Q-and-A at the end of the show. So the way the shows would work, I would do about 15 minutes of crowd warm-up. Jordan would give about an hour and a half speech and then we would do about 45 minutes of Q-and-A. And each time, somebody would ask if Jordan would run for prime minister and he’d make you know, it’s a fun, silly comment about Trudeau. And it would always get a huge laugh. So I do sense that that there is a certain set of Canadians who are waking up to some of these more liberty or individual rights issues, which maybe isn’t fully within the Canadian political ethos as much as it is within an American one.
But, yes, to your point. Look, we’re all on YouTube, we’re all podcasting. We’re all doing all these things. And what is local is now everything. You know, it’s like everything is now local and what’s local is now everything.
Kay: Thanks so much for joining us. Stay safe!