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The Right Side of History

How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great

By Ben Shapiro
13-minute read
Audio available
The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great by Ben Shapiro

The Right Side of History (2019) is both a rousing defense of Western civilization and a handy guide to the religious and philosophical thinking that underpins it. It explores the centuries of thought that have helped build and sustain the West, and seeks to understand and dispel more recent threats to that way of thinking.

  • People interested in the history of philosophy
  • Those searching for a conservative guide to today’s world
  • People skeptical about contemporary left-of-center political thought

Ben Shapiro is one of the leading conservative commentators in the United States today. His podcast, The Ben Shapiro Show, is the nation’s top conservative podcast. He is a New York Times best-selling author of titles including Primetime Propaganda and The People Vs. Barack Obama.

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The Right Side of History

How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great

By Ben Shapiro
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great by Ben Shapiro
Synopsis

The Right Side of History (2019) is both a rousing defense of Western civilization and a handy guide to the religious and philosophical thinking that underpins it. It explores the centuries of thought that have helped build and sustain the West, and seeks to understand and dispel more recent threats to that way of thinking.

Key idea 1 of 8

True happiness is derived not from pleasure but from moral purpose.

Are you happy? If not, you certainly aren’t alone. Nearly three-quarters of Americans say they’re not confident that life for the next generation will be better than today, according to a 2014 story in the Washington Post.

Why are we so despondent? Well, perhaps it’s because we’ve lost sight of what happiness truly is. We associate it with pleasure – having sex, playing golf or watching our children grow. But the Bible and the philosophers of Athens tell us that true happiness comes from leading a life of moral purpose.

In the Hebrew Bible, the word used for happiness is simcha, meaning correct action in line with God’s will. It is commanded to live with simcha, and rejoice in the purpose that God has given humans. As Solomon says, “There is nothing better for a person than to rejoice in his work, because that is his lot.”

The philosophers of Athens took a similar view. Aristotle, for example, developed a concept of happiness that was also about living a good life. But a good life for Aristotle wasn’t a subjective concept that we can determine for ourselves. For him and his followers, something was good if it fulfilled its purpose. A good watch, to give a modern example, tells the time. And a good human acts in line with reason, because what makes humans unique is our capacity for reason, and our ability to use reason to explore the world.

So both the Bible and the Athenian philosophers arrived at similar conclusions. True happiness in life comes from moral purpose, whether that is serving God with joy, or following our moral duty as humans to pursue reason.

This may sound like hard work. Happiness, in this view, isn’t about frolicking at a festival, but instead about living a good, purposeful life. And this more serious approach is the only way to unlock true meaning in life.

The Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his memoir that those who saw no purpose in life were quickly lost. He argued that, in order to survive, those caught up in the terrible events of World War II had to quickly learn that what mattered was not what they expected from life. What mattered, rather, was what life expected of them.

So now that we understand the correlation between happiness and moral purpose, let’s take a look at what this means in practice.

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