Dennis Prager is a popular and respected conservative radio talk
show host, broadcasting since 1982 and nationally syndicated since 1999.
In his fifth book, Still the Best Hope:
Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph (Broadside Books) Prager
maintains that the world must decide between American values and two
oppositional alternatives: Islamism and European-style democratic
The reasons for America's greatness lie in what he calls the American Trinity, imprinted on US coins: E Pluribus Unum, In God We Trust, and Liberty.
Q: A critic might say that the American Trinity, as you call it, is an oversimplification of American values.
A: I think that somebody who says that is trying to avoid defining
American values for himself. At what number is it not an
oversimplification? Is five okay? Eleven? What number would be okay?
The notion that there is no basic value system is far more
incoherent or invalid than the notion that there are essential values.
Every religion can tell you it has basic values. You ask a Christian,
most Christians would say love God and love your neighbor. Is that the
entirety of Christianity? No one in his right mind would say it is.
For Judaism, perhaps the most famous story in the second holiest book
of Judaism, the Talmud, is about the non-Jew who goes over to two of
the greatest Rabbis and asks them to summarize all of Judaism while
standing on one leg. One of the Rabbis (Shammai) bats him away; he says
itís not possible. That would be the equivalent to the person who
charged me with oversimplification. But the other Rabbi, considered the
greatest Rabbi of the Talmud (Hillel), and the one that normative
Judaism follows -- whose response normative Judaism in fact reveres and
accepts -- says, in effect, no problem, and summarizes it as love your
fellow. He says the rest is commentary, now go and study.
So itís clear that every system has to have a way of summarizing its
essence. Clarity demands the ability to simplify, but not to make
Q: Does the left have an American trinity? What would it be?
A: I donít try to put words in their mouths. A leftist would have to
answer it, but it seems to me, if you were to ask them, they would say
fairness, compassion, equality. Just off the top of my head, those are
three terms that they would most probably offer; those are the three
descriptions they articulate most often.
Q: Same sex marriage, abortion Ė why do conservatives focus on these, if they want government staying out of peoplesí lives?
A: No American conservative has ever argued that the government
should never be involved in peoplesí lives. That is anarchy and we donít
argue for that. With regard to same-sex marriage, every society in
history has defined marriage. Those who want same-sex marriage are just
as big advocates of the government being involved in defining marriage
as the right is. They just have a different definition. But they donít
allow brothers and sisters to marry, they donít allow polygamy, which
has a far longer history than same-sex marriage has in the history of
the world. Everybody has always believed that society defines marriage.
And as regards abortion, the issue is not government involvement. The issue is, does the human fetus have any rights?
Q: Moving to foreign policy, Obama agreed to surge the troops in
Afghanistan, contrary to what many believed to be a liberal position.
When would a conservative adopt a liberal position?
A: There are surely times when a conservative and a liberal would
agree. We would agree on how moral it is to discriminate on the basis of
race. Thereís absolutely no light between those two positions. It
becomes a little more complex when you talk about law as opposed to
morality. Because a conservative, or at least a libertarian
conservative, might say itís despicable to discriminate, but liberty
trumps despicability. And so thatís where you have an honest and
difficult difference. So for example as a Jew, I would say that anybody
who had a country club that did not want to admit Jews, was a vile
individual. Because America does not have a history of Nazism, I could
not easily say that I would want the law to be that he could not do
that. I would hope that decent non-Jews would boycott that country club,
but I think my love of liberty is so great that if I have to suffer on
occasion as a result of it, I still opt for it. So if you want to make a
country club and ban me, because Iím too tall, or because Iím Jewish,
or because Iím white, or because Iím not a vegetarian, whatever other
reason you come up with, I think you should be allowed to. I believe in
moral persuasion more than I do legal coercion.
Q: Is there any issue on which you lean towards liberalism?
A: I still think of myself as a classical liberal, even a John F.
Kennedy liberal. Modern liberalism is almost indistinguishable from
leftism, and I donít find that I agree with the left on almost anything,
and I canít think off the top of my head where the size of government,
taxation, foreign policy, or capital punishment, I would agree with the
Q: Why does the left have faith in the UN? Recently the UN
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food just came to Canada, of all
places. According to World Vision, a Christian relief and development
organization, two thirds of the worldís hungry live in seven countries:
Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia,
India, Indonesia and Pakistan. And the initiative was sponsored by Iran, North Korea, China, Zimbabwe and Cuba.
A: One is hungrier than the next. The key word to the answer is found
in your question Ė faith. To the left, as I point out in my book in the
largest single section, leftism is a religion. It may be, for most of
its adherents, a secular religion, but itís a religion nonetheless. And
so they have faith, they have faith in the United Nations. I guess this
would be a little controversial, but those of us who believe in God, and
I do, and believe in a good God and a just God, as I do, we do, even
though the world is filled with horrible injustice. It always has been,
and moments of divine interference are very few and far between, and yet
we still believe in a good God. The left still believes in the United
Nations, still believes in a world where profit motive will be,
essentially, eliminated, and people will still produce a great deal. So
despite all the evidence, leftists still believe in the United Nations.
The difference however is, UN creates policy, whereas belief in God
is belief in God. It might be irrational to believe in God, despite all
the worldís evil. Itís irrational to believe in the United Nations,
despite its decades of failure, moral failure -- it causes policy
decisions, on a real-time basis. My non-rationality is confined to
religiosity, whereas for the left, their non-rationality is this-world
based, and therefore much more dangerous.
Q: They would say that at least their motive is pure and they are trying.
A: Yes, motives are key to the left. Thatís why, no matter how much
good the free market has done, they donít like it much because itís
based on ďgreed.Ē Because profit motive is an incentive all the good it
has done is dismissed, because of its allegedly base motives. Whereas in
the case of the UN, motives are what count and not itís a dismal
failure. So whether you succeed or not doesnít matter to the left. Itís
what the left perceives to be your motives.
Q: Youíre obviously a prominent Jewish voice. Many conservatives tend to ask why Jews tilt leftward. Why do they?
A: When Jews left Judaism, they didnít stop being religious. They
simply swapped God-based Judaism for Godless secular humanism and
leftism. For left-wing Jews, Judaism is their ethnicity; leftism is
their religion. Judaism does want Jews to make the world better. Thatís
the whole point of God choosing a people, to be a light unto the
nations, and bring commandments to the world, and so on. So the
left-wing Jew has retained the desire to make a better world, but has
dropped God-based Judaism and ethical monotheism as the vehicles to do
so, and has substituted leftism. Thatís why, as one example, Judaism
does not believe that people are basically good and never did, but most
liberal and left Jews do.
Jews flocked to Marxism starting the late 19th century, becoming very
leftwing. Russian Jews and other Jews thought nothing could be worse
than the Czar. So if the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar they had to be
good. This was reinforced by Nazism, so that since the Nazis were
nationalists Ė clearly racial nationalists Ė only nationalism threatened
the Jews. So internationalism, they think, would ensure no more
Q: If the Torah were published for the first time today, what title would you give it?
A: Humanityís Recipe for Goodness.
Q: What can Americans or those who believe in American values, do to promote American values?
A: Read my book. And then spread its ideas. You talk to your
neighbors, your children, with these values. You have teachers teach
them, so they teach character development instead of Al Goreís global
warming thesis to elementary students. Imagine if everyone who taught on
the university level or high school level took a pill and woke up
tomorrow as an ethical monotheist. Imagine the effect it would have on
Q: If thereís one trait that annoys you most about people, what is it?
A: Driving slow in the left lane. Itís not entirely comical. The
reason that people drive slowly in the left lane are really the reasons
for much of humanityís problems. Number one, itís a profound
selfishness. They donít care how their driving affects traffic. They
like the lane. ďItís good for me, to hell with everybody else.Ē It
represents a great lack of self awareness, indispensable to decency, to
goodness, to character. The self-aware person knows how they are acting
and how they are affecting others. The non-self aware person, also known
as the narcissist, never considers how their behavior affects others.
So itís symbolic of very great moral problems.
Some people isolate their non-awareness to the road, but where itís more than the road, itís a major moral problem.
Q: People manifest their anger in the car, and their loss of self-control too.
A: As the Hebrew saying goes, you can judge a person by his behaviour
in three matters: [in Hebrew] kiso, kaaso, and koso: His pocket, his
cup and his anger Ė how a person acts in monetary matters, when he
drinks and his emotions.
Q: The Hebrew Trinity of behavior?
A: Yeah, if you will. Iím a Trinity fan. The West is governed by Trinity.
The Christians have the father, son and the Holy Spirit. Jews have
God, Torah and Israel. The leftist has race, gender and class. And the
American is Liberty, In God We Trust and E Pluribus Unum.
Q: People often come up to you after your lectures and say
theyíre offended by something or other youíve said. Youíve maintained
that a person has a choice whether to be offended. You also say that
words are ďthingsĒ that can be thrown at people, they can hurt.
A: Theyíre not mutually exclusive. We do choose whether to be
offended. For example, a pro-choice person who might hear a pro-life
speaker might say they are offended. What they really should say is that
they differ. Theyíve chosen to be offended. If someone flips me off
from another car, I choose whether or not to let that hurt me. There are
times, however, when one says something hurtful to their spouse, my
God, of course theyíre going to be hurt. To a certain extent, we should
allow who we allow to hurt us. My wife can hurt me, but a caller to my
show canít. Itís very important to remember.
Q: What modern psychology can tell us, is that, with enough
testing, it can be determined some criminals cannot tell right from
wrong. Youíve studied good and evil -- do you think there are people who
are innately, predisposed, hard-wired to do bad? In which case, are
they devoid of free will?
A: Yes. I hate to admit it, but yes. I donít have to wrestle with
not hurting people. I donít have a desire to do so. I donít get any
credit, I think, for not being mean. I donít have a mean streak. On the
other hand, Iím innately lazy. Every productive thing I do, I should be
given some sort of medal. I work so hard to fight that trait. Some
people have to fight their mean side. Those people, if they do, theyíre
better than others. The vast majority of men have to fight their desire
to have extramarital sex. But most women donít. So all things being
equal, with a relatively decent marriage, men have to fight the urge to
have sex with other women. Youíve got to give people credit for what
they wrestle with. There are people who definitively have a proclivity
for doing bad things.