Ben Shapiro was on friendly turf Wednesday as he addressed a large and enthusiastic audience at Liberty University — a departure from how some other colleges have welcomed him.
Shapiro, a conservative commentator and former Breitbart editor, previously has been met with protests, some resulting in student arrests, at campuses such as UCLA and the University of Utah.
Shapiro opened LU’s convocation by touching on the topic of virtue and how it pertains to public life.
“Only by balancing public rights with private virtues can we truly uphold freedom and pursue happiness,” Shapiro said in the early moments of his address.
A central theme of Shapiro’s convocation address was individualism vs. collectivism.
Shapiro declared collectivism a threat to individual liberties and accused the left of trying to trade away rights for comforts and surrender freedom for free rides. He also cautioned against what he described as the intentional dismantling of Judeo-Christian values by the left.
“Breaking down the family is a precondition to building up the state,” Shapiro said.
He described the right as being focused on what works and the left on what’s fair.
Shapiro criticized those who cherry pick Bible passages to support their political ideology, while simultaneously selecting scriptures to argue the validity of his own political views.
In his convocation address, Shapiro framed his arguments around the 10 Commandants.
“Give control to the collective and you won’t have to control yourself. If you just give control to the collective over your entire life, they will give you free condoms, they will pay for your abortion, all the rest,” Shapiro said, citing the Seventh Commandment prohibiting adultery.
Drawing from the Eighth Commandment, though shalt not steal, Shapiro took a swipe at socialism.
“Legalized theft is still theft,” Shapiro said.
He criticized former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, mimicking his Brooklyn accent as he accused the senator from Vermont of making a moral appeal for the redistribution of wealth based on context-free verses from a book of the Bible he’s never read.
Throughout his rapid-fire speech, Shapiro received vigorous applause from a capacity crowd in the Vines Center, which can seat about 10,000 for LU’s thrice-weekly convocations.
Jessica Sherrill, who is not an LU student, said she drove two hours to see Shapiro. She said she enjoys Shapiro’s YouTube takedowns of “dumb leftists” and social justice warriors.
“He just completely destroys them, and I love that,” Sherill said.
Conor Metz, a Liberty sophomore who runs a Facebook page titled “Dear Convo Speaker,” wrote on the social media site he hoped for more balance in Shapiro’s speech. In the post, Metz said he wished Shapiro had talked about the dangers of right-wing collectivism such as extreme nationalism, vilification of other people and cultures and harmful tariffs on trade.
Students interviewed after convocation expressed their appreciation of Shapiro’s views, with several noting they listened to his podcast. Others in the stands wore Shapiro T-shirts.
Though Shapiro lightly mocked Sanders at times — who he noted also has appeared at LU — students saidthey would like to see more diverse speakers like Sanders on campus.
Freshman Donnie Smith said he’s a conservative Shapiro fan and enjoys political speakers but would like to hear other points of view represented, noting a lack of liberal-leaning guests.
“If we’re never challenged, we’re never really gaining anything from the college experience,” he said.
Other convocation speakers, Smith said he can do entirely without.
“Personally, I was not a big fan of when they had [Catherine Lowe] from ‘The Bachelor’ come on. What perspective do I have to gain from her speaking?” Smith said. “That’s personally how I judge the convocation speakers, but we’ve had some pretty good ones [this year].”
In the 2017-18 school year, Liberty has welcomed a variety of well-known pastors, political figures, athletes and celebrities to discuss faith, grace, redemption, politics and other topics.
Josh Moody covers higher education. Reach him at (434) 385-5556.