Unafraid conversations about anything
David French On Religious Liberty, CRT, Grace
David is a political writer and former attorney who took on high-profile cases for religious liberty. He was also a major in the Army Reserve who served in Iraq, and before that he served as president of FIRE, the campus free-speech group. David now writes for The Dispatch and The Atlantic, and his latest book is Divided We Fall: America's Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation. Last summer he wrote this wonderful review of my essay collection, Out On A Limb, but this is the first time we’ve spoken.
You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above. For two clips of my convo with David — on how many political Christians completely miss the point of Jesus, and on the “God gap” within the Democratic coalition — head over to our YouTube page.
That convo is a good complement to our January episode with Christopher Rufo (the two have tussled before), so we just transcribed Rufo’s episode in full. Here’s a reminder of his stance on CRT in the schools:
Starting around the 30-minute mark in the new episode, David and I discuss the tricky defense of liberalism in the face of both CRT curriculum and anti-CRT bills. We also grapple with the corrosive effects of Twitter and, in particular, the commentary surrounding the racist massacre in Buffalo this week. On that note, a reader writes:
I am a member of a mainline Christian denomination and parent of young children. My personal and professional experience of social media is centered on connections with clergy colleagues and active church members attached to a wide variety of Christian denominations. When news of the racially motivated shooting in Buffalo broke, my social media relationships immediately shifted to a flurry of outrage, comments about the pox of racism built into the American way, and pithy memes noting that the root problem of all that ails us is white supremacy.
For example, one friend wrote in response to the Buffalo shooting, “The root cause of gun violence is white supremacy. We will not be safe from gun violence until we end white supremacy. White fam, we are the ones who can end white supremacy. It is on us.” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church released a statement decrying the racism behind the shooting. Members of my left-leaning church have asked and encouraged me to preach from the pulpit about the evils of white supremacy and white fragility, especially now in light of the Buffalo shooting.
However, I did not hear a thing from these same people or religious bodies following the racially motivated shooting by Frank James on the NYC subway last month. Mr. James has been indicted on federal terror charges after shooting ten people. Were there no official prayers for victims and to end racial violence from religious bodies because no one ultimately died in the subway shooting? Why were there no tweets, memes, or impassioned calls to “do better” after such a horrific, calculated attack? The silence after that racially motivated shooting compared to the outcry after this month’s racially motivated shooting is noteworthy.
And essential to the CRT worldview. Racism is unique to white people. Another sign of our racialized culture war comes from this listener:
In your episode with Douglas Murray, you mentioned that you had to explain to someone how white people did not invent racism. I serve at the school board in Manhattan and we had the same discussion at our last meeting. The district is pushing a book called “Our Skin” to teach elementary kids how white people invented racism. Money quote:
“A long time ago, way before you were born, a group of white people made up an idea called race. They sorted people by skin color and said that white people were better, smarter, prettier, and that they deserve more than everybody else,” the book declares.
Here’s how Murray addresses the canard that white people invented racism:
On a lighter note, here’s a fan of last week’s episo
Tina Brown On The Royal Family
She needs no introduction — but in magazine history, Tina Brown is rightly deemed a legend, reviving Tatler, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, before turning to the web and The Daily Beast (where I worked for her). Her new book is The Palace Papers. We talked journalism, life and royals.
You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above, or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app. For two clips of my convo with Tina — on Meghan Markle’s epic narcissism, and why women make the best monarchs — head over to our YouTube page.
Having Tina on the pod was the perfect excuse to transcribe our popular episode with Michael Moynihan, who used to work for her at The Daily Beast — which also hosted the Dish for a few years. So we’re all old friends. From the Moynihan chat:
Andrew: I was talking to Tina Brown about this not that long ago, with the great days of the big magazines in the '80s and '90s. Really, when you look back on that time, it was an incredible festival of decadence and clearly over the top before the fall.
Michael: I love Tina. I did a thing — you can look this up — an interview with her, when her Vanity Fair Diaries came out, for The Fifth Column. Just Tina and I sat down and talked for an hour and a half, and it was one of the best things I think we’ve recorded, and got one of the best responses. Because people miss those stories.
Perhaps Bill Kristol should check out the clip with Moynihan on how to change your mind on stuff you get wrong:
A listener looks back to last week’s episode:
Wonderful interview with Douglas Murray, with the two of you riffing off each other with brilliant dialogue. Very warm and affirming as well. I particularly enjoyed your discussion of the religious dimension as one aspect of our present dilemma. I know you would want to provide variety for the Dishcast, but please consider having him on again.
This was the most memorable episode in a long time (although they are all great). Of course, your dialogue was choir-preaching, and so I need to be careful in avoiding confirmation bias. That said, I found Murray’s elegant way of encapsulating the obvious — which I fail to express myself — truly invigorating. I rewound and listened to many parts several times over. I ordered his book today.
Another listener dissents:
I find the armchair psychoanalysis regarding ressentiment — as the organizing principle of what is happening in our culture today — to be one of the least compelling arguments made in the episode.
Why not go ahead and attribute our perpetual unwillingness in the West to recognize what is great about it to Christianity’s concept of original sin? Or maybe read psychoanalytic literature on why an individual or group of people who are objectively improving might hold onto beliefs of the self or society as rotten? These seem just as likely as Nietzsche’s argument.
Ultimately, what a person speculates to be the primary motivator of another person or group reveals a lot. Your speculation that it’s mostly ressentiment suggests you want or need to demonize the CRT crowd. This is tragic given that this is precisely what you and Douglas accuse the CRT crowd of doing.
Another listener differs:
I don’t agree with everything you and Douglas Murray write, but thank you for talking about the resentment and bitterness that’s driving politics and culture today. It’s gone completely insane.
I used to work for a small talent agency, and during the pandemic I coached some actors over Zoom. During the George Floyd protests, one of my clients was up watching the news all night, not getting any sleep. I told her, look, you want to be informed and want to help. But you have to take care of yourself first or you’re no help to anyone. Go to bed and catch up on the news tomorrow. People criticized me for this kind of advice, saying I was privileged,
Douglas Murray On Defending The West
Douglas Murray is a British writer and commentator, primarily for The Spectator, and his latest book is The War on the West. It’s a powerful narrative of the past couple of decades, in which a small minority waged ideological war on the underpinnings of Western civilization: reason, toleration, free speech, color-blind racial politics.
You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of our conversation — on the seductive power of ressentiment and the case for gratitude, and on many Americans’ ignorance of history outside the US — head over to our YouTube page.
My convo with Murray complements the one I had with Roosevelt Montás, the great defender of the humanities at Columbia University and beyond — his episode is now available as a full transcript.
As far as last week’s episode with Bari Weiss, an addendum: she used our conversation for her own podcast, “Honestly,” and her version includes at least a half hour of conversation you won’t find in the Dishcast version — namely on the early marriage movement and my role in it. Here’s a snippet from that section:
This listener liked the episode:
You and Bari addressed the (increasingly popular) argument that if the illiberal left has taken the gloves off, then its opponents should do the same. I thought your response was commendable, and it reminded me of something Hitch said during a debate on free speech many years ago. He referred to the scene from A Man for All Seasons in which Sir Thomas More argues with Roper over whether a man should be arrested for breaking God’s law. It’s a marvellous exchange that I have often reflected upon in recent years:
Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down — and you're just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety's sake.
Someone at Reason — Peter Suderman, I think — observed last year that politics is becoming outcomes-based rather than process-based, which expresses much the same point, I think. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I’m glad you and Bari are willing to stand up for liberalism when so many of your peers have come to view it with disdain.
I love that section from A Man For All Seasons. It’s why I chose Thomas More as my confirmation saint. But it’s difficult to know the best way to stand up for liberalism when it comes to gender ideology in schools, as Bari and I discuss in this clip:
Another fan of the Bari episode gets more personal:
I am the mother of a trans-identifying child — now 23 years old. (I can’t give my name for fear of alienating her.) You captured the rollercoaster of emotions many parents going through this feel — the fear that she has adopted this ideology as a coping mechanism to deal with underlying mental health issues and that she will do irreparable harm to her body. And that we are politically homeless. I can’t vote for anyone who would support Trump. But Biden and his team have it wrong when they quote the lie of “better a trans son than dead daughter.”
I agree with DeSantis on many aspects of the so-called “don’t say gay” bill. I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss sexual orientation and gender ideology with young children. I also don’t think it’s appropriate to review the periodic table with them. That doesn’t mean I'm anti-chemistry.
Bari Weiss On Saving Liberalism From Right And Left
Bari was an opinion editor at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times before leaving to create her own op-ed page on Substack, “Common Sense.” She’s also the author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism, and for some reason one of the most reviled figures on Left Twitter, despite being one of the most gifted editors of her generation. We talk groomers and culture war desperation and the amnesia of recent triumphs.
This was a joint podcast, and you’ll be able to hear a somewhat longer version of the discussion next week on Bari’s pod, “Honestly.” You can listen to our version right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips — on wokeness enabling the far right, and on the agonizing choice when it comes to gender theory in schools — head over to our YouTube page.
New transcript just dropped: my conversation with John McWhorter, which is still our most downloaded episode on the Dishcast. We get into his latest book, Woke Racism, and how the successor ideology hurts black kids:
First up in Dishcast feedback this week, a “brief note of appreciation from a longtime reader and subscriber”:
I’ve been following the Dish since the inception of the blogosphere, and your Substack is a welcome addition to my intellectual life, especially the podcasts, which seem to get better and better. The last two — with Nicholas Christakis and Jonathan Haidt — have been especially wonderful. (I’ve also benefited considerably from Johann Hari’s excellent new book, which has largely taken me off social media). There are episodes that have annoyed me (e.g. the one with Anne Applebaum), but I listen because I don’t want to be part of an echo chamber.
Speaking of the Haidt pod, a listener dug up a gem from my favorite philosopher:
I appreciated the episode and Haidt’s recent piece in the Atlantic that invokes the Tower of Babel. The essay you mentioned by Oakeshott on Babel was not, as you worried, easily found, but it’s nonetheless attached:
The Haidt episode “sparked many new thoughts” from this listener:
The word “proportion” was mentioned in passing, but I think that word is crucial to understanding the real dysfunction wrought by social media. We have lost all sense of proportion in this post-Babel world. Whether it’s the trans debate — a conversation that really only affects one percent of the population — or CRT in schools, it’s difficult to talk about these heated culture-war topics while holding them in proportion to the real problems facing our society.
The power (or fear) of going viral on Twitter makes proportion impossible, which is one of the reasons why journalism is in such a bad place. Because nuance and context are hard, journalists and media figures — particularly cable news anchors — appear to be simply unequipped to deliver information in a way that holds these things in balance.
Consider the Hunter laptop story. Why was this story “buried” by the media? Was it a conspiracy in which corporate elite journalists just didn’t want Hunter Biden to look bad? Or, more likely, do they intuitively understand that in the post-Babel world, they don’t have the skills and tools to talk about this story, which may not have been the biggest of deals but also didn’t look great in the lead up to a pivotal election? They didn’t want “But her emails” 2.0 — another viral story that had no sense of proportion. Most people couldn’t even tell you what, exactly, was corrupt about Clinton’s emails; they just knew they existed because that’s all anyone talked about, and since it was all anyone was talking about, it must be bad, bad, bad!
The media simply doesn’t know how to function from a place of nuance; it can’t communicate information in a way that holds that information in proportion to its relevance, context, and importance. Is this the
Jonathan Haidt On Social Media’s Havoc
Haidt is a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at the NYU Stern School of Business, and he co-founded Heterodox Academy. His latest book is The Coddling of the American Mind, but our discussion centered on his new piece for The Atlantic, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” a history of social media.
You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of our convo — on why the Internet nosedived in 2014, and what we could do to fix Twitter — head over to our YouTube page.
For more on the precarious state of the liberal order, check out the full transcript of our episode with Jonathan Rauch we just posted. Jon being the optimistic liberal and me the pessimistic conservative, we debated Trump, the MSM, and Russiagate.
Meanwhile, a listener remarks on last week’s episode:
If Dr. Christakis’s appearance was part of a book tour, it worked on me. I’m going to buy his latest book. I’m reminded again of all the significant voices I’ve heard since I subscribed to the Dish. If I fail to resubscribe in the future, it will be only because I didn’t know that payment was due. I’ve definitely got my money’s worth from this subscription.
Here’s a clip of Christakis and me talking about why friends — especially male friends — rip on each other:
Here’s another listener on the “wonderful interview with Professor Christakis (a personal hero of mine)”:
Your comment about the uniqueness of Christianity, with respect to love, rather surprised me. Are there not very revolutionary (and non-obvious) similar attributes in Buddhism? Or even certain aspects of Judaism (or any number of other philosophical/religious traditions that predate Christianity)? That somehow the faith that you happened to be raised in is the system that uniquely changed the world seems, frankly, a bit parochial to me.
And if it did change the world, why was it that it took another 1700 years for its promises to be at all realized? (Full disclosure: I’m partial to Pinker’s argument that the Enlightenment was the singular inflection point in history.)
So my first request would be for you to interview an academic with broad knowledge of other faiths/philosophical systems to have a conversation (not a debate!) about the uniqueness of Christianity (and as you mentioned in the interview, the Catholic church). If that treads on your personal belief, then I would certainly understand your reluctance to have such a conversation.
My second request is that you would have an interview with an academic about theodicy. While I’ve read a number of layman’s discussions of this topic, I’d love to hear an honest, intellectual discussion on this subject.
I didn’t mean to suggest that the Buddha wasn’t also deeply instrumental in shifting human consciousness. Judaism and Islam also have deep traditions of mutual respect and love. But the radicalism of agape, a universal love to be expressed in action every minute, across tribe and race and region, is one of Christianity’s core legacies. Theodicy was well-covered on the Dish blog, but a pod convo is a great suggestion.
This next listener finally got around to our December episode with David Wallace-Wells on Covid — a topic that Christakis and I covered last week:
I'm a bit late in feeding back on this interview, but I just caught up with it on my daily dog walk this morning. David is obviously very well-informed on Covid and seems (as you note) to be an “honest broker” of information, which is relatively rare nowadays given the extent to which everything is politicized.
That said, I was taken aback that he was unaware of where Covid ranked in terms of causes of death in America today. Heart and stroke and cancer both kill far more people than Covid (approximately 850K and
Nicholas Christakis On Covid And Friendship
Nicholas is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale, where he directs the Human Nature Lab and co-directs the Yale Institute for Network Science. His latest book is Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live, and also check out Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society. We talk Covid, plagues, and friendship as a virtue.
You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of my convo with Nicholas — on how the two plagues of AIDS and Covid are different, and on the mutual abuse that strengthens a friendship — head to our YouTube page.
Also, heads up: a new transcript is here — for the popular episode with Dominic Cummings. The architect of the Leave campaign had a rare podcast discussion with me, and now you can read it in full.
Here’s a clip of Cummings describing his split with Boris:
Speaking of brilliant Brits from County Durham, last week’s episode with Fiona Hill was also a big hit with listeners. Here’s one:
Just an utterly lively, entertaining, informative interview — and not only regarding Eastern Europe. I loved getting to hear about your respective experiences growing up in different parts of England. Bravo!
Here’s a clip of Fiona and me talking about our mixed feelings over leaving home:
I thoroughly enjoyed this interview with Fiona — and you did too, I could tell. I can’t always grab the nettle of the Newcastle accent, but I could listen to that woman for hours! The Ireland-Ukraine analogy gave me a lot to consider. That insight alone was worth the listen.
Let me suggest one more interesting (if more obscure) analogy: James Madison’s ill-considered and ultimately failed invasion of Canada in 1812-13. I imagine David Frum, a good Canadian lad, will be able to comment on the similarities between Putin’s misbegotten “strategy” and Madison’s “war-hawk” fantasy about liberating the United Empire Loyalists from the Crown. (Oh-boy, did he get that one wrong!)
Another reader jumps on my response to a dissent last week:
“Yep, it was Obama who turned Aleppo into a graveyard...” This is glib and beneath you. The reader was referencing the fact that Russia was given a base in Syria and its combat aircraft now operate there on account of the deal Obama struck with Putin after his “redline” was crossed and he needed a way out. No, Obama wasn’t solely responsible for the debacle in Syria, but he was responsible for Russia now being there (necessitating Israel coordination with Russian military).
This next reader goes another round over Churchill:
You wrote, “But Churchill? One of the greatest statesmen in history equated with the worst president in history? Nah...” Winston Churchill was a magnificent, stalwart wartime leader. Yes, from mid-1940 through late-1941, he may have been the single most important person frustrating the war aims of the Third Reich. And from 1942 to 1945, he managed to keep Britain sitting at the same table as the US and the USSR.
But Churchill was a failure as a war strategist — from the Dardanelles fiasco in the First World War to the “soft-underbelly” Italy slog of the Second. And it was hardly statesmanlike of him to insist on overriding military professionals and screwing things up in the process. But your “one of the greatest statesman in history” claim is most inapt when we look at post-war Churchill and his opposition to decolonization and the dissolution of the empire. He was way too slow, way too begrudging.
I still agree with 84.3% of everything else you say.
Haha. Any decent assessment of Churchill should contain some of his giant flaws. But still …
A fan of the Dishcast asks, “Why don’t you have more academic philosophers on your podcast?”
Your episode with Jim
Andrew, Go on Joe Rogan please.
Is The Queen
Love the podcast but…
Andrew has a tendency to talk over his guests, a real desire to answer his own questions and show how smart he is.
Otherwise, excellent podcast.