I didn’t want to see Dave Rubin’s again Don’t Burn This Country. A Dave Rubin book seemed enough – probably too much – for a lifetime. Yet, like a burglar stepping back from his life of crime to walk past a mansion with wide-open doors and the glitter of jewelry beyond the hallway, I was drawn in again. Just one more job.
In case anyone has never heard of Mr. Rubin, he is an interviewer and commentator who started out as a slightly leftist contributor to the Young Turks then drifted into the “anti-awakening” realms of the “Intellectual Dark Web”, where his talk show became a hub of the phenomenon as he interviewed everyone who disliked “safe spaces” and transsexuals. with blue hair. As Donald Trump ascended to the presidency, Rubin became a more partisan pro-MAGA commentator.
What makes Rubin such a fun public figure is that he built his reputation on his passion for “ideas,” but he treats them like a cat would treat a fragile ornament. He is no more capable of grasping complex ideas than I would be able to lift 500 pounds. In this new polemic, he writes for example:
Simply put, the left is for collectivism and judgment based on group identity; the right is for individual thought, individual expression and personal freedom.
To break. Oh dear. Let’s admit that this possesses truer in the United States than it has in Europe. Yet, where would the conservatisms of Russell Kirk, Brent Bozell and Pat Buchanan lie? Does Rubin’s precise have room for the modern “new right”? This “simply” should be “single-minded”.
Rubin is constantly, endlessly buttering up right-wingers without showing much understanding of their beliefs. He says:
I find the right to be exponentially more tolerant, a lot more respectful of individuals, a lot more supportive of individual thought, a lot more interested in diversity, a lot more progressive, a lot more inclusive and, honestly, just a lot more fun side. The Right is a toga party with a group of people who drink and smoke and share different and often competing ideas.
Oh yeah, it’s a normal hug box here. That’s why William F. Buckley and Ayn Rand got along so well, and why Sohrab Ahmari and David French are such good friends.
When in doubt – whether it’s related to what he believes or what his readers want to hear – Rubin is comfortably vague. A passage on religion salutes “the eternal truths told for thousands of years through historical and biblical accounts”. But what truths? Uh, “the ideals of liberty and equality.” I don’t blame Rubin for being agnostic. I am too. I blame him for pretending he has mentioned anything.
In a nutshell, this book is lazy. It looks like Rubin sat down and wrote down whatever came to mind over a few rainy afternoons. A few sources informed him. The section on progressives is a shoddy account of the ideas of James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose. The section on economics is a shoddy account of the work of Thomas Sowell (thank goodness this obscure and fringe thinker has now been exposed to a wider audience). It would be forgivable if Rubin wrote in clear and entertaining prose, but he doesn’t. Summarizing Lindsay and Pluckrose on critical theory, for example, Rubin writes:
When these principles are applied, consequences often occur: boundaries blur, specialized language becomes a tool, truth becomes subjective, and the individual disintegrates.
What kind of consequences? When is the specialized language do not a tool? What does it mean for the individual to “disintegrate”? Knowing the context, we have an idea of what Rubin means, but his prose is a hindrance rather than a help.
I could choose examples all day. Rejecting ideas of universal health care, Rubin writes, “The assumption that an institution is meant to solve anything is the reason nothing is ever solved at all.” He makes another derogatory reference to “man-made institutions” a few sentences later. Dave, I hate to break this to you, but the insurance companies? They are institutions!
You are never quite sure, as you effortlessly persuade yourself to turn the pages of this book, what is bad writing and what is bad thinking. In his very, very vague passage about God, says Rubin, “I have always been one who preferred knowledge to belief.” Belief is not an antonym of knowledge. We believein many cases, because of what we to know.
What about Rubin’s narration? He met some interesting people and was at the heart of interesting events. Lazily, he recycles a pointless story about a time he and her husband met Donald Trump, who told them loud and clear that there was nothing wrong with being gay. For Rubin, “his audacity was probably because he thought we thought he was homophobic.” It’s typically unlike Donald Trump to be blunt, so I’m sure it would have taken the self-awareness he’s so famous for to inspire such a comment.
Rubin recounts how his talk show developed, ending with a triumphant fanfare:
Having genuine, open, and honest conversations with like-minded, albeit unpopular, people has helped me feel a little less crazy – a little less alone. Thus, the “Intellectual Dark Web” was born in my 24 x 22 foot garage.
What do you think contributed the most to the development of the intellectual Dark Web? The Rubin Report or The Joe Rogan Experience? It’s interesting, now that I think about it, that a book about “woke” nonsense, alternative media, and self-reliance doesn’t mention Rogan once. Maybe it’s because Joe stopped inviting him on.
I realized, however, as Rubin discussed creating his show and social media platform Locals, what I found interesting about him. Rubin achieved something that I should find admirable. He built a gloriously successful career on very, very little. I’m sure it took an awful lot of hard work, ingenuity and risk. That is impressive. But he did so with depressing attention to the quality of his work. It is an objectively lazy book, in both style and substance. No amount of hard work that got him to the point where he could get away with writing such a book can change that fact. Such indifference to stylistic and intellectual quality is what makes his professional virtues hard to admire. Would you admire someone who built a restaurant from scratch if their food tasted crap?
Rubin’s too rich and famous to care what I think. (That wealth and fame is what keeps me from feeling bad about being a little mean.) But if you want to accomplish something through the many alternative avenues available to us, I implore you to care about quality as well as success. Am I still up to this? Heaven no. But I should. Mr. Rubin’s book is a case study in what not to do.