At Christmas, I suddenly saw a posting on Twitter to the effect that Ben Shapiro had delivered “an amazing speech and received a standing ovation”. I was immediately interested, as I had read many articles by him and had watched bits of speeches which had been disrupted so much by protesters that it had been impossible for me to evaluate. Nevertheless I had been impressed by the former, and guardedly so by the latter. Was this the opportunity to critique him properly? Where and when was this speech?
The answers were (a) yes, and (b) I haven’t been able to find out. But here it is…
We join it halfway through a sentence, yet the speech apparently hasn’t started. The sentence that follows gives us the title of the speech, ‘Why Freedom Succeeds While Collectivism Fails‘. He is pitting freedom against collectivism; not capitalism versus socialism or right versus left, but freedom versus collectivism. I find that interesting. The right/left dichotomy has actually become blurred and corrupted when so many institutions automatically classify anything wrong as right wing. I have even heard Stalin’s pogroms described as a right wing policy. Likewise the terms capitalism and socialism come these days much confusing baggage. I am impressed that Shapiro skirts all this so neatly.
And he needs to. He needs there to be no doubt what he is saying because he takes no prisoners while saying it. This is blunt! We have become so accustomed to politicians and commentators being mealy mouthed and smothered in caveats, particularly when criticising the left – sorry, collectivism, that it is a little startling to hear Shapiro say that this collectivism is evil. He’s right, of course, but we’re not used to hearing it.
He even dares to say that this collectivism has evil intent, and he will prove it by itemising how it breaks each of the Ten Commandments. I immediately smile with professional approval because a structure like that is a gift to a speaker provided he knows the Commandments by heart. Shapiro, wearing a Yamaka, seems to stand a good chance.
Then why does he keep looking down at the lectern? Does he need prompting? No of course he doesn’t: the lectern is a comfort blanket. It’s a pity, because those periods when we lose his eyes, albeit momentarily, take the edge off his effectiveness.
I don’t mean those occasions when it is absolutely correct to read from the lectern, for instance when he quotes someone – there are a few occasions when he does – I mean those glances down when we know he didn’t need to.
Another thing that takes away some of his edge is the rapidity with which he speaks. I can’t even believe I’m saying this because I am rabidly in favour of speakers being themselves, warts and all, and I am sure this is not nervous gabbling but simply the way he naturally speaks. But too much gets lost. He loses a couple of laughs and one or two moment of impact because the audience didn’t quite catch what he said.
But for all that, this is indeed an amazing speech. He well deserves his standing ovation.