No Fun Allowed! How the Left Became the Fun Police.

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Back in the day, supposedly conservatives were the ones who cracked down on fun. The common knowledge went that liberals were focused on free expression and free speech, while the right tried to shut things down.

The modern left has abandoned its old principles of free expression, however, and become infamous for scolding Americans on not being 100% politically correct.

Noah Rothman, author of the new book “The Rise of the New Puritans: Fighting Back Against Progressives’ War on Fun,” says this new wave of woke censorship echoes the utopian push by the Puritans of old.

Rothman says the leftist utopia is “a sort of messianic mission” that views anything not directly pushing leftist ideology “as not only worthless, but a threat [and] a menace.”

He continues:

The ideal here, an unrealizable ideal, is the creation, insofar as it is possible, of the ideal society. This is a vision, a framework of social organization, that extirpates the maladies associated with human frailty. It’s an unachievable objective.

Rothman joins the show to detail the left’s shift from free expression to wokescolding, and how the rest if us can best counter it. 

We also cover these stories:

  • President Joe Biden says he is committed to putting more restrictions on gun ownership in America. 
  • Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk backs off from buying Twitter and shares memes about it.
  • Gas prices are going down, according to AAA.

Listen to our interview or read a lightly edited transcript below.

Doug Blair: My guest today is Noah Rothman, author of the new book “The Rise of the New Puritans: Fighting Back Against Progressives’ War on Fun,” available now wherever books are sold. Noah, welcome to the show.

Noah Rothman: Thank you so much for having me, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Blair: I love the title of this book. It’s so evocative and it’s such an apt comparison to the modern left. But the question is, how did we get to this point where the modern left has become the “New Puritans”?

Rothman: Right. Well, it’s all rather disorienting for anybody who’s probably, I guess, older than 20. I mean, for most of our adult lives, an impulse to see in innocent cultural products corrupting influences, the stuff that degrades society, not just you as an individual, is typically found on the right. The left, by contrast, emphasized self-fulfillment, self-gratification, hedonism, to a degree that was even perhaps self-destructive.

And this was the dynamic that pertained our entire lives, up until about five, 10 years ago, when things began to change rather dramatically. And we started seeing moral crusades, and we’ve seen many of them led by left and left-leaning institutions, in pursuit of goals that render frivolous products, frivolous diversions, happy pastimes into something with a greater social value.

We’ve seen entertainment companies impose on media products themes that are designed to advance a social purpose, and render it a little bit more valuable than something as trite as entertainment. Comedians emphasizing the pain that somebody had to endure so that you could enjoy something as trite as a punchline.

When you sit down to a meal, you have to be confronted with the environmental damage that you’re doing. And when you sit down to watch some sports, you’re confronted with the agonizing lamentable state of racial dynamics in America. And when fans protest, and as they often do, they’re admonished explicitly for saying that they want their diversion, they want their escapism, over their duty to dwell on the world’s horrors.

There is a real moral framework at work here, and it’s really native to progressivism. As liberals identify lefts with liberalism and more with progressivism, they’ve adopted its habits of mind.

Utopianism, a sort of messianic mission, and a hatred and a fear of idleness, that which doesn’t contribute to directly advance the progressive project and the progressive ideals is seen as not only worthless, but a threat, a menace, and a desire to impose conformity on their surroundings.

A lot of these are human traits, a lot of them are not native to America in general. But when you start pulling on these threads, you find the origins of this old morality finding itself in new voices, in the 19th century, in Victorian ethos and mainline Protestantism, and the origins of progressivism, which had a moral dimension as much as a political dimension.

And you pull on that thread a little further, and it doesn’t take long before you get to the late 1600s, early 1700s, and a Puritanical ethos that had all of this, that had a fear of idleness, that had a mistrust of pastimes and diversions, and that sought to impose conformity on its surroundings.

There’s a lot to be said for this moral outlook, but one thing you can definitely say is it is an explicit rejection of their parents’ political philosophy, which was as licentious as possible. And what we have now is a younger generation that is upholding this moral framework, but, as a result, is less chill, is less open, is less adventurous than their grandparents.

Blair: Right. I mean, it’s funny because—I’m going to put my cards on the table here, I’m kind of a nerd. It reminds me of back in the ’90s where you had this push against Dungeons & Dragons from the right, where it was like a moral panic over these types of products. But now it’s the left that’s pushing to ban these things. I see that a lot of people who are on the left are trying to get that taken down. Where does that shift occur? And how is it that the right gives up that territory where the left takes it on?

Rothman: So, as cultural crusades, conventional cultural crusades that the right tended to wage fell out of favor, there was a vacuum there, and the left took it up.

So again, going back to the ’90s where probably you and I had our primary socialization, the conventional culture wars that the right waged was against lasciviousness in popular culture, divorce, gay marriage rights, and abortion. And we’ve since seen a burst of moral enthusiasm around the new legal environment that we’re now navigating as a result of Dobbs [v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization].

But a lot of this stuff fell out of favor or just had less urgency around it, with shifting attitudes, cultural attitudes, and attitudes on the right. And a lot of it changed around the ascension of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump helped the right get over and typically toward divorce, for example. Donald Trump deemphasized transgenderism as an issue. If you remember, in 2016, he came out in favor of the North Carolina bathroom law, which was contravened traditional conservatives and what they were saying about that at the time. And abortion had declined dramatically in rates for years, up to this point.

So they didn’t exactly win or lose per se, there were mixed results in the culture wars, but generally, the right fled the field.

And then you had then the left, as it began to mature in this marinate, in this idea of a moral covenant, an idealized society, and a theory of social organization that placed, that emphasized a moral conduct over the pursuit of self-gratification and self-pleasure, it began to take on a moral dimension and police public morality in ways that we traditionally associated with the right.

Now, this is a departure from what we expected to see in perpetuity after the triumph of the sexual revolution, but it turns out the sexual revolution was a passing phase. The history of progressivism in this country has a moral dimension to it. And as we have the return of progressivism on the left, we have a return of a moral code.

Blair: One of the things that always strikes me about this new wave of progressivism and wokeism is there’s a religious element in the secular sense. So you’ve got this idea of original sin—white privilege, male privilege, all of these things. There’s a way to be redeemed, which is you get your high priest, the diversity consultants, to come in and absolve you of it. But the weird thing is, there is no permanent absolution.

When you look at Christianity or a religion like that, there is a way to get redeemed. Whereas in wokeism, it doesn’t really seem like there is. Is that an accurate assessment that there is this secular religion to it?

Rothman: It is. I take some qualified exception to the idea that this is wholly and entirely a secular faith. That’s the theory that’s been advanced in a variety of ways by scholars, authors, and critics over the years. And that’s not entirely wrong.

I maintain that because there’s no pathway to absolution, there is no deism in this theory. It transcends the conduct of religious practice, and it certainly transcends politics.

What I maintain is that it is bigger than that, it is a theory of social organization, it is a way of life, which makes it much more similar to Puritanism, which wasn’t just a way of life. It was a theory of how society should organize themselves, totally, wholly, and in every aspect of personal, interpersonal, and public conduct, that would advance their shared goal, which is the creation of this social covenant.

That, to me, seems a more apt description for what we’re witnessing than simply a substitute religion.

Blair: The very first chapter of your book goes into the story of a Palestinian-owned grocer, who, I mean, the story is horrific, but he gets destroyed by the mob. Could you go into that story a little bit and explain why this is such a good representation of what we’re looking at here?

Rothman: Yeah. I mean, it’s just one of several examples in the introduction. This is Majdi Wadi, who is a Palestinian by birth, a grocer in Minnesota, I believe, who was very popular, both locally and nationally. He was feted on the floor of the House by then-Rep. Keith Ellison, and he was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri. It was a popular place.

In fact, popularity was perhaps its downfall because it was soon discovered that his daughter, a low-level employee at this grocer, had made racially insensitive remarks on social media at the age of 14 and 18, respectively.

And he apologized profusely for his daughter’s conduct, he pledged money to causes, designed to give him some sort of indulgence from the mob. The mob did not relent, so he had to do the only thing he could do, which was to fire his child, divorce himself from his child.

But that itself was not enough. Eventually, the landlord canceled the lease on Holy Land Grocery. And this is a punishment that was befitting of the charge, which was the careless parentage of a willful daughter.

Likewise, throughout the first chapter, you had this midfielder with the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team, Aleksandar Katai, whose wife, during the riots in 2020, made some really genuinely provocative and insensitive and racially inflammatory comments on Twitter.

She got in plenty of trouble, but he was the one who had to suffer, he had to denounce his own wife. And when that wasn’t good enough, he lost his job, he lost his career because he had cavorted with a woman of ill repute.

These are some very old codes of conduct that we’re seeing restored and reimposed on society by the left in ways that, 20 years ago, … we would’ve only seen in the right. And they would’ve been properly repulsed by what they have seen as not a justice that coordinates with and comports with the modern secular liberalism.

It’s a sort of justice that is collective, that is spiritual in nature, and that requires you to find and seek redemption in quiet, contemplative penance for the sins of those around you, for the sins of your environment, because you can’t distinguish between the sin, the sinner, and the environment in which the sin is committed. They are all part of the same continuum. That is a Puritanical outlook if I’ve ever heard one and it is certainly being adopted again by the inheritors of that legacy.

Blair: Do we see that the end goal of this new Puritanism is the same as the old goal? I mean, do we see this utopic vision of the world pushed through this New Age faith? Or is it more just to destroy the opposition?

Rothman: Yeah, the goal of big “P” Puritans was the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, a new Zion. And they were the chosen people. Yes, the ideal here, an unrealizable ideal is the creation, insofar as it is possible, of the ideal society.

This is a vision, a framework of social organization that extirpates the maladies associated with human frailty. It’s an unachievable objective, it’s enough to drive you mad. But that is the objective, and they’re going to do everything they can in its pursuit, up to and including making themselves and everyone around them miserable.

Blair: Well, that’s certainly the case. And I’m curious, too, obviously, in your book, you attack this issue and you look into how it’s affecting the country, but how does the average American respond to this? Is this causing a pushback against the left from the average American who sees this as problematic?

Rothman: It’s causing a pushback against the left from the left. Most of the people I spoke with describe themselves as liberal, vote Democratic, wouldn’t vote for a Republican with a gun to their heads, but they absolutely resent the conditions that are sapping them of enthusiasm for their life’s work.

They used to get up every morning, happy to do what they wanted to do in life. Now, they get up every morning miserable because they don’t get to do what they want to do in life. They have to conduct politics, they have to behave in a public fashion, and be in the public eye, and behave to comport with public scrutiny in ways that are just soul-sucking, that sap them of enthusiasm, again, for their conditions and their surroundings.

So yeah, there is a backlash forming and there’s a backlash forming among average Americans, too. One of the ways I say and suggest that this cult of misery might collapse, as cults of misery tend to do, is embodied in the phrase “Banned in Boston.”

So when we think of stereotypes of a caricatured blue-nosed Puritan, we don’t think of the big “P” Puritans in the 1600s, 1700s. Scholars of Puritanism get very frustrated by this. Our stereotypes, they get a bad rap.

Our stereotypes of Puritanism are really derived from the 19th century, from the second Great Awakening and the Victorian period, when progressivism was just coming to the fore, and was typified very much by a moralism that was native to mainline Protestantism.

And Boston was the epicenter of this. And in Boston, Comstockery and whatnot organized itself to combat the threats posed by licentious literature, most notably the evils of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”

And this was very successful well into the 20th century. Plays were bowdlerized, books were banned, songs couldn’t be played on the radio, etc., etc. But there was a backlash that developed around it, and it was commercial in nature because initially “Banned in Boston” was a warning against lude, lascivious literature. It soon became a powerful advertisement for it, for a titillating literary experience you just had to have for yourself.

Publishers actively sought to have their books banned in Boston to increase sales around the country. And the modern equivalent is banned on Amazon, banned on Facebook. When conservative books are targeted by these censorious mobs, and the ill-prepared 20-year-olds who have no idea what they’re doing, these sales of these products that are targeted explode, they do far better than the publisher and the PR campaign dedicated to them could possibly have imagined just because of the powerful advertisement for the something so taboo you just have to experience it for yourself.

So they’re sowing the seeds for their own destruction. Not only immiserating everyone around you, which is certainly not a sustainable condition in the absence of a coercive mechanism to enforce it, but also because they’re advertising the very things they seek to extirpate.

Blair: As we wrap-up, I want to emphasize that point. It sounds like what to do is basically just to continue to point out that this is not fun, it’s miserable and nobody wants to do it. And then also seek out the materials that the Puritanical left is pushing. Is that really the best way for us to get rid of this wokeness, is to just keep on trucking?

Rothman: Well, yes, and to lead a joyful life. And perhaps, if I have a prescription here, it is to give people a permission through this, what I hope is a very enjoyable read, a romp, I wanted this to be a quick and fun read, is to give you permission to be able to mock these people. They are mockable, they are hilarious in their conduct.

There’s a lot of fear about that on the left, but they understand the material that they’re being handed on a daily basis, and they’re just foregoing voluntarily out of fear.

And there’s a bully aspect to this. There are bullies, and the prescription against bullies is just ignore them, they’ll go away. If you give them attention, you’re giving them what they want. Yeah. But if you give them attention and you’re mocking them, you are giving them what they want, but you’re giving a lot more people what they want, too, which is to see these people lampooned and pilloried, and to enjoy that, and to laugh at that.

There’s so much comedy fodder that is left on the table here. It is, first of all, an abdication of your responsibility as a comedian and as an entertainer. But second, it’s unnatural and unsustainable, there’s only so long you can hold your tongue, and I hope that this book helps give permission to people who are inclined toward that to pursue it.

Blair: Well, I think that’s a great strategy. I continue to laugh at the left every day, so hopefully this book will help people do that, too. That was Noah Rothman, author of the new book “The Rise of the New Puritans: Fighting Back Against Progressives’ War on Fun,” available now wherever books are sold. Noah, thank you so much. And let’s keep on laughing.

Rothman: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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