The critically-acclaimed novelist discusses his escape from the political faith.
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Andrew Klavan, the author of such internationally bestselling crime novels as True Crime, filmed by Clint Eastwood, and Don’t Say A Word, filmed starring Michael Douglas. He has been nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award five times and has won twice. His last novel for adults, Empire of Lies, topped Amazon.com’s thriller list. His new novel series for young adults continues in February with The Long Way Home. Andrew is a contributing editor to City Journal, the magazine of the Manhattan Institute. His essays on politics, religion, movies and literature have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Washington Post, the LA Times, and elsewhere. As a screenwriter, he wrote the screenplays for 1990's A Shock to the System, starring Michael Caine, and 2008's One Missed Call. His Klavan on the Culture videos appear at PJTV.com. His website is AndrewKlavan.com.
FP: Andrew Klavan, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I’d like to talk to you today about your journey into and out of the Left.
How did you at first become a member of the political faith? Tell us about the beginnings of your intellectual journey.
Klavan: Well, I was always a dissatisfied liberal. I just never knew there was anything else to be. I was born Jewish to a mother who worshipped FDR and a father who thought that any Republican victory prefigured the return of Adolf Hitler. That's not an exaggeration: he thought Republicans were all just Hitler in disguise. So going from that family into the arts, where everyone mouths this elitist, pseudo-sophisticated left-wing bushwa without any real understanding of the underlying issues: leftism was simply the water I swam in. Conservatives were the bad guys. Everyone knew that.
FP: So how did your second thoughts begin? Tell us about your journey out of the Left.
Klavan: It was an experience that very much mirrored the pattern of the famous paradigm shift described in Thomas Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions." Anomalies started to occur, things that didn't fit into what I thought of as a "liberal" world view. The Bakke case, in which the Supreme Court supported affirmative action - that was a big one: I thought it was a clear sign that the left - my side - had signed on to racism. Feminism, political correctness, the disaster of welfare, the appeasement of the Soviet Union - I kept saying, "Well, that's no good," but I thought they were anomalies. I still didn't realize there was an alternative philosophy that described the world more accurately. Then the Berlin Wall fell down - everything Reagan predicted - stupid Reagan, cowboy Reagan, dumb old movie actor Reagan - every single thing he said would happen, happened. And it finally began to dawn on me, "Oh, I get it: it's not this and this and this that's wrong. It's ALL wrong." And I started the long, difficult process of changing my mind.
FP: As you began changing your mind, what happened to your relationships? The leftist milieu does not allow dissent and will banish a heretic into “non-person” status. Did something of this nature begin happening to you? Tell us a bit about how your second thoughts affected your friendships and social life.
Klavan: A lot of friends dropped away and a lot of business opportunities disappeared. Working in Hollywood became much, much more difficult. The worst time, I think, was during the Bush/Kerry election when passions were running so terribly high. Liberals would say things to me, like, "I hope the war goes badly so Kerry wins." When I would point out that they were essentially wishing Americans dead so that their candidate would win, they felt I was being cruel and uncivil. The left is fine with calling you racist, sexist, a pig, a Nazi - but if you point out the simple inarguable consequences of their words and actions, they feel you've just gone way too far!
FP: A leftist is also part of the political faith very much because of his own vision of himself being a social redeemer and there is much self-satisfaction that comes with seeing oneself in this way. Can you share a bit how you had to shed yourself of some ways you saw yourself and also what it meant to you to become someone who your dad had demonized? This must have been very difficult.
Klavan: It's a lot like the Matrix, you know: once you take the red pill, once you see that leftist virtue is an illusion created by an ideologically driven media and academy, once you see what leftist policies have really done to black people in this country, how they've appeased and encouraged tyranny, destroyed cities, ruined economies, blasted cultures it's just impossible to re-submerge yourself in the left's self-righteous illusion. Was it difficult to have people I liked or even loved reel back in moral horror and disgust when they learned I was a conservative? Sometimes, I guess. But I'm a hard guy about stuff like that. There's so much true love in my life - the love of God, my wife, my kids, my friends - it's an embarrassment of riches. That hasn't changed.
FP: What are your thoughts on the position the Left has taken in our conflict with radical Islam?
Klavan: If I were still capable of being appalled by them, I'd be appalled, but as it is... well, I don't know how you shrug in print but picture me shrugging. So desperate are they to display their tolerance, to claim virtue and open-mindedness for themselves, so secretly ashamed and guilt-ridden and self-hating are they, I guess, that they will give aid and comfort to a philosophy that turns everything they're supposed to stand for on its head. Anti-female, anti-gay, anti-religious liberty, anti-humanity, radical Islam is a cancer on the face of the earth. Ignoring it, pretending it isn't there, moral equivalence, relativism - all the various forms of false piety in which the left specializes - are as helpful with radical Islam as they are with other cancers. It's like having your doctor say, "Yes, there's a spot on your x-ray, but let's not do anything about it, in case we make it angry or seem biased!" Academics, entertainers, wealthy elites like Michael Moore who think Islamists are going to like them, spare them and their limousines and their millions, because they're such ever-so-good people... well, they're like the intellectuals who lined the streets of Vienna to welcome Hitler. The next day, they were gone.
FP: What is it in your character that made it impossible for you to remain a leftist?
Klavan: I think that question should be answered by whoever delivers my eulogy. Personally, I'm hoping he uses phrases like "an undying love of truth," and "an uncompromising commitment to authenticity." Then a little something about my sparkling smile, my lambent wit and my kindness to widows and orphans. Some praise for my sexual prowess wouldn't go amiss. But perhaps I've gotten off the subject.
FP: You mentioned that leftists are “secretly ashamed and guilt-ridden and self-hating.” Can you expand a bit on this? What is it, in the end, that is at the core of the leftist mindset and belief system?
Klavan: Shame and guilt and self-hatred are universal. Whether you chalk it up to original sin or to Oedipus or call it Jewish guilt or Catholic guilt or white guilt or black guilt, every single one of us knows he is not the person he was made to be. There are honest ways to confront that. You can kneel before God and pray for forgiveness and live in the joy of his love. Or you can drink heavily and make sardonic remarks until you destroy everyone you care about and then keel over dead - that's honest too. But what a lot of people do is try to escape their sense of shame dishonestly by constructing elaborate moral frameworks that allow them to parade their virtue and their lavish repentance without any real inconvenience to themselves while simultaneously indulging in self-righteousness by condemning others for their impenitent evil. That's the bad version of religion - the sort of religion Jesus came to dismantle. And that's exactly the sort of religion leftism is: an elaborate system for hiding shame behind a cheap mask of virtue. That's why they demonize any opposition. To them, we're not just disagreeing with them, we're threatening to tear off the mask of their virtue and reveal them to themselves. Which, without God or sufficient whiskey, would be unbearable.
FP: You mentioned your love of God. Is your faith connected to, or influence, your view of the limitations of the leftist vision? How if so?
Klavan: I was an atheist and an agnostic for a long time. Finding God, or perhaps accepting the God I always knew was there, was transformative in too many ways to describe. But one of the most important things God did was make a realist of me. There's a great joke for you. The atheists preen themselves on their realism and accuse the faithful of wishful thinking, but for me, God freed me to develop a full, honorable and tragic sense of life, to perceive both the nobility and the sinfulness of every individual, and to understand why no system will make us good or fair but that there are systems that can keep us free so that we can choose whether or not to be good or fair. That understanding - plus a sense of peace in the face of the left's slavering insults and hatred - were gifts of God to me and it turns out they're very helpful in maintaining my conservatism.
FP: Radical Islam is gaining much strength on myriad realms and the Left has disabled us from even being able to name the enemy, let alone fight him properly. Are you optimistic or pessimistic that our civilization has the will and capacity to defend itself?
Klavan: Radical Islam is sort of like an opportunistic virus, you know. If it's the final cause of the West's death, it will only be because we weakened ourselves so badly that we gave it a chance to take hold. And listen, death comes eventually to us all, right? Countries die, civilizations die, nothing made by man's hands lasts forever. Conservatives are sort of like the doctors who are trying to keep America alive as long as we can and the question is: how long? My own feeling is that the country right now is in some danger from radical Islam, but that the real and present and terrible danger is to our republic, our system of individual liberty under limited government - and that danger comes from within. Bread and circuses - or as we call them today, entitlements and the mainstream media - are being employed to poison our will and moral seriousness. I foresee many years of American power yet to come, maybe more American power than ever before - but will it be republican power, the power of a free people over themselves, or will it be imperial power, the bloated strength of a slave state on the march? We'll see.
FP: You mentioned Michael Moore. Who are some leftists that you think are especially pathetic sad cases?
Klavan: Al Gore is quite hilarious. Global warming! I love that. I seriously think the man had a nervous breakdown and decided to parlay it into an industry. Why go nuts for free when you can make a fortune at it? Going around in his fume-spewing jets preaching to us about our carbon footprints, he reminds me of some ancient Pope with mistresses and catamites and palaces condemning the sinfulness of the poor. Then there's that knucklehead Evan Thomas. He's the guy who practically lynched the Duke University Boys on the cover of Newsweek and then said, "Oh, we had the narrative right we just got the facts wrong." In my business - writing novels - you can get the narrative right and the facts wrong. In his business, the facts are the narrative. He's lucky there's a Keith Olbermann, or he'd be the poster boy for our corrupt idiot news media.
FP: Who do you admire in our political theater today in terms of warriors for freedom?
Klavan: Rudy Giuliani is a great man in terms of his accomplishments but he may have played out his political string. We have all the good writers and thinkers, every single one: Horowitz, Krauthammer, Fouad Ajami, Jonah Goldberg, Mark Steyn, on and on - who has the left got to touch the hems of their garments? Our entertainer-slash-commentators are great. El Rush-bo is a radio genius. Coulter, Beck, Hannity. It makes me crazy the way right wingers are always nervously edging away from them, while the left embraces their John Stewarts and Michael Moores. Andrew Breitbart is terrific; he's building an empire of truth to defeat the msm's empire of lies - and he'll do it too. And we've got some good pols, especially the babes: Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin, Liz Cheney. What we're missing is a towering figure to take the presidential helm but, you know, cometh the hour, cometh the man. And the hour is sure enough cometh-ing.
FP: Were you always a man of humor? Why humor to fight our enemies and fight for the truth? What is especially meaningful and powerful about humor? Interestingly enough, humor is not something that the Left and radical Islam particularly excel in, to say the least.
Klavan: LOL, no, the funniest Muslim right now is Achmed the Dead Terrorist, that Jeff Dunham puppet who's always screaming, "I'll kill you!" But you know, my Dad was a radio comedian so I guess I inherited a certain sense of hilarity. But it's not a weapon to me. I mean, in comedians, humor is frequently an expression of anger or hostility. In me, it's something different. I know this sounds silly when you say it flat-out, but the truth is: I'm very fond of the human race. Too fond of them, I sometimes think. And when you see how small we are, how brief our lives are, what gifts of creation these fingersnaps of consciousness are in God's great scheme... and then you see what we do to one another: the holocausts and the little cruelties, the elaborate lies and self-deceptions... gassing a child to death because his name ends in itz instead of er, betraying and abusing the spouses who love us, hurting our own kids, all the ways we spend our little moment when we could be loving each other and making funny faces.... well, it's absurd, isn't it? And the absurdity either makes your heart explode with pity, or you have to laugh. Or both. For me, it's both.
FP: Andrew Klavan, thank you for joining us. It was an honor to speak with you.
We'd like to remind our readers that Andrew Klavan's latest novel for adults is Empire of Lies. Get it now!