The American promise is in grave danger. Threatened by disintegrationist forces, Americans must reaffirm the philosophy, culture, and history that have preserved the Union for more than 244 years — before it’s too late. That’s the clarion call of the latest book from Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Wire and popular podcast host Ben Shapiro.
Shapiro’s previous bestseller, “The Right Side of History,” is an accessible summary of the philosophical and religious underpinnings of Western Civilization, whose values are essential to a prosperous and purposeful future. “How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps” champions the role America plays representing the highest culmination of those Western values, and what will be lost if she is fundamentally unmade.
Of the many valuable insights of the book is the inadequacy of framing America’s current crisis as a battle between the traditional camps of the political left and right. Instead, “How to Destroy” casts the struggle between those who broadly agree on America’s founding philosophy, culture, and history — whom Shapiro calls “Unionists” — and the “Disintegrationists” tearing it all down, brick by brick.
“Unionism suggests that despite our differences, we are, at root, Americans,” he says, “Disintegrationism suggests that despite our American passports, we are, at root, different.”
Given the book’s provocative title and a cover featuring an illustration of the American flag fused with a lit stick of dynamite, many readers may be surprised at Shapiro’s prevailing optimism. “How to Destroy” isn’t about destruction at all — it’s about repairing and restoring the ties that keep our republic healthy and whole.
To be sure, the book’s pages radiate an indisputable sense of urgency. What separates his prognosis for the country, however, is that while he grants the national situation is indeed perilous, Shapiro rejects the premise that America is one election away from outright, irreversible Armageddon. The bonds that bound Americans since the 1770s are not just fraying, but growing increasingly weaker. Over time, however, with proper persuasion — not violence, or blunt political coercion — they can be reforged.
Outlining how to turn the tide in a battle slowly being lost to the Disintegrationists, the book results in what is, to date, the purest articulation both of Shapiro’s political philosophy and an excellent exploration of the numerous sources of America’s greatness.
Three Pivotal Pillars
In the conflict between Unionists and Disintegrationists, three pivotal pillars serve as the fronts of the struggle: American philosophy, American culture, and American history.
“Without America’s philosophy,” Shapiro warns, “reason collapses into tribalism; without America’s culture, individual rights collapse into collectivist tyranny or duties collapse into libertinism; without American history, the symbols that unite us divide us.”
Shapiro describes America’s philosophy as a belief in natural, unalienable rights that preexist government, equality before the law, and the belief that the purpose of the state is to secure and enforce those two things. America’s culture balances a reciprocal relationship between respecting individual rights and fulfilling societal duties inculcated by local associations, family, and houses of worship. Its unique expression is found in an adventurous, risk-taking, pioneering spirit.
Third, America’s history is filled with promise and peril, triumph and tragedy, and the story of the nation slowly — but surely — living up to its Founding principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence and protected by the U.S. Constitution.
A Republic of Liberty
Shapiro’s analysis of America’s philosophy and culture reflects the values of the Founding Era and the classical liberal ideology that permeated the works of John Locke, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. In a clear statement of his political beliefs, Shapiro proclaims:
Freedom, not virtue, is the goal of government; virtue is the goal of individual men, pursuing right reason — a task itself that requires freedom. … Before you grant the government the power to wield a gun, it’s absolutely necessary to think about what happens if your political opponent ends up on the trigger end and you end up staring into the muzzle. … When a monopoly on coercion is wedded with self-assurance about morality, tyranny is the most frequent result.
The cultural and philosophical chapters of “How to Destroy” remind the reader that while the Founding Fathers believed in the importance of a moral people steeped in Judeo-Christian values, it was the job of private institutions — families, voluntary community associations, and religious establishments — to instill the virtues necessary to exercise liberty in a free republic.
“Government cannot change the hearts of human beings — it cannot make them that which they are not,” writes Shapiro. “The founding fathers embraced epistemological uncertainty. They recognized that your definition of values may not match mine, and that the seeds of tyranny lie in using force to impose such values.”
The Whole, Messy, and Glorious Truth
As an antidote to our rapidly dissolving and increasingly contentious shared history, “How to Destroy” proposes an honest retelling of America’s past. Shapiro’s view of historical education falls in line with Wilfred M. McClay’s brilliant and inspiring “Land of Hope” text, which argues America’s failings aren’t indicative of the whole experience but, instead, remind us no nation is spared the sufferings wrought by men unmoored from reason and virtue.
While recognizing the ills of slavery, the relocation of American Indians, the oppression suffered under Jim Crow, and the internment of the Japanese, Shapiro argues America is a fundamentally good nation — one that has been a force for liberty and righteousness more than it has betrayed its ideals.
The answer to the ahistorical perversions taught by Marxists like Howard Zinn and the 1619 Project’s Nikole Hannah-Jones isn’t a power-washed, simplistic casting of America’s leaders as sinless demigods. Yet, when exposed to a full, truthful telling of the heroic — and human — men and women who helped build America, most will realize that yes, America is the last, best, hope for man on earth, and we must unite around ideas older than one or two election cycles to preserve her for those yet to come.
Tracing a Century of Growing Government Control
In a deft tour of American history, Shapiro traces the Disintegrationist temptation of government management and market-corralling back to the early 20th century. For many conservative readers, assailing progressives like Woodrow Wilson and FDR is fertile, well-trod ground — for good reason.
In “How to Destroy,” however, Shapiro also trains his fire at the misguided policies of two Republicans still often omitted from the right’s crosshairs: presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon.
For TR, Shapiro points out, businesses were fine to prosper as long as they did what the government wanted. While hiding behind the innocuous language of the “Square Deal,” Shapiro argues, “Roosevelt actually wanted to tear down large and successful businesses in the name of public welfare … precepts from which Barack Obama would draw inspiration a century later.”
Of course, as noted by Shapiro, TR’s progressive attempts to “reign-in” the purported excesses of capitalism and his willingness to disregard the Constitution paved the way for the even greater oversteps later committed by Wilson, FDR, and LBJ.
Although Nixon’s record is usually overshadowed by the Watergate scandal, Shapiro rightly recalls how Tricky Dick expanded LBJ’s harmful Great Society policies. By the end of his first term, Nixon had fixed prices, rents, salaries, and wages, instituted harmful tariffs, and separated American currency from the gold standard — policies that the economy wouldn’t begin to recover from until the early 80s. Worse, Shapiro explains, the unabated growth of the government Leviathan under LBJ, Nixon, Ford, and Carter warped with Founders’ view of natural rights apart from government and diminished the value of individual responsibility.
Defending Free Enterprise
The portions of the book most liable to spark further debate will surround Shapiro’s willingness to criticize members of the modern American right he believes have lost their way. “How to Destroy” draws a line from TR and Wilson’s distrust of capitalism forward to the new “common good conservatives” who, Shapiro argues, are falling prey to the same dangerous ideological dead-end arguments supported by progressives of the past.
It’s in the realm of economics, says Shapiro, that “common good conservatives” reveal themselves — deliberately or not — as crossing over to the side of the Disintegrationists. After rebutting the “Against The Dead Consensus” manifesto published by First Things, Shapiro denounces “common good conservatives” for deploying both the language and economic prescriptions pushed by socialists.
When “common good conservatives” view the free market not as an expression of the natural right to free exchange but as a tool that can be twisted to suit to social goals of a few elite government officials, Shapiro points out they’re merely offering “a restatement of the labor theory of value.”
Thinking one can manipulate the market for the purpose of creating family units is the same fundamental misunderstanding committed by Marxist materialists, writes Shapiro. While prosperity is created by successful economic systems like capitalism, healthy families are created by cultural and religious forces.
“For thousands of years,” reminds Shapiro, “people living in the worst sort of economic privation married and had families and went to church. … America’s traditional values collapsed in the 1960s, when the American economy was booming … and the proverbial line job at Ford was indeed available.”
Markets are natural outgrowths of human nature, and natural rights. You own yourself, and you own your labor, and no one has the right to remove that labor from you for the good of the collective without just compensation. … A culture of economic freedom is being replaced by a culture of economic expectation. And a culture of economic expectation inevitably results in a culture of economic tyranny.
Reclaiming a Risk-taking, Tough, Spirit of Adventure
With an increasing number of voices on both the left and the right seeking to appeal to voters with promises of an easier life or perpetual protection from the vicissitudes of the world, one thing that distinguishes Shapiro is his convincing case for the renewal of the quintessentially American sense of adventure. Indeed, it’s an ideological thoroughfare that runs through the entirety of “How to Destroy.”
In the face of the mob, the state, and others who push for the “permanent security” of the collective, Shapiro maintains:
The American spirit has always been restless; it has always been geared toward the horizon. That was true not only in terms of territorial expansion, but in terms of economic creativity. The Unionist culture is a culture of entrepreneurialism: a culture of striving and strain, of toil and hard work, a culture that celebrates success rather than seeking to punish or confiscate it.
The Disintegrationist program, Shapiro argues, “shields its beneficiaries from claims of selfishness by hiding behind the skirts of broad-based altruism.” Conversely, the Unionist, rights-based philosophy of the Founders guarantees freedom — not a handout or special privileges from the State, just, as Shapiro fondly puts it, “the promise of an adventure.”
Combating Big Tech and Social Media Bias
Shapiro rightfully asserts that censoring speech and discussion “obliterate the pressure valves” needed to let off steam in a pluralistic democracy. Yet, while one passage recalling the wrongful firing of former Google employee James Damore reminds the reader that Google was exposed in 2018 for circulating a memo labeling “individual achievement,” “meritocracy,” and “objectivity” as emblematic of “white dominant culture,” concerns over the growing power of Big Tech corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter aren’t directly addressed in the book.
Solutions and strategies to combat the increasingly censorious actions of Big Tech corporations — especially towards the political right — can be gleaned from the political philosophy outlined in “How to Destroy.” In a true free market system, entities that abuse their power and thumb their nose at vast swaths of their consumer base rarely last long. Furthermore, granting the state levers over private companies or internet policing could worsen Orwellian overreach once new controls are wielded by revenge-seeking opponents from the other side of the aisle.
Still, as social media bias and Big Tech censorship play a sizable role in the war between the forces of Union and the forces of Disintegration, Shapiro’s ideas on how to deal with such quandaries would have been invaluable.
A Time to Unite
“How to Destroy” refuses to be yet another addition to the growing canon of modern political literature proclaiming that America has essentially reached the point of no return. Largely the product of social media-obsessed culture and our increasingly partisan political echo chambers, Americans are ever-ready to assume the worst, most extreme caricatures of those with differing political views. Citing the latest data, however, Shapiro notes out that — thankfully — this just isn’t the case.
Yes, radical neo-Marxists as well as open socialists like Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., hold increasing sway over Democratic Party policy. And it’s true, white supremacists and antisemites are bolder today than in the previous decade. Yet these factions still represent just a small population of the nation.
Most Americans are Unionists, argues Shapiro, and will discover they agree on far more than they realize if they can put down their clubs long enough to engage with the vast majority of the country, not just the loudest, angriest voices:
America will be left with two choices: submission or disintegration. … Unless we remember. Unless we learn to love; unless we learn to trust. … We can start by remembering those who built our country — and why they built it.
Ultimately, if we’re going to make it out of our present crisis, the question Americans need to ask themselves isn’t who, what, or how to destroy — it’s how to unite.