Mr. Shapiro gives us a necessarily selective but solid overview...touching on the theories, thoughts, philosophers, movements and religions that shaped our world and culminated in our nation ... In this strongly written survey of Western thought and cogent statement of democratic principle, Mr. Shapiro provides an analysis of our current crisis, its causes and potential cures, advocating a return to the basic values upon which our civilization was built ... Mr. Shapiro concludes with a reflection on the larger meaning of the parent/child relationship and a strong note of hope[.]
Shapiro covers a lot of ground in fewer than 220 pages of text. However, as he lays out his historical survey, his case weakens when he nears the present day. He manages, in a single sweeping passage, to blame Karl Marx and New Left theorist Herbert Marcuse for a variety of modern social ills: pediatrician Benjamin Spock’s once-revolutionary precepts on child care, the insidious self-esteem of the Me Generation ... His message, which is a reductive gloss of intellectual history synthesized for easy digestion, seems primarily aimed at equipping his readers to lecture their friends and talk over their teachers ... the book claims that 'people need meaning,' ... But Shapiro’s book, I’m afraid, would not have convinced me, if I weren’t already in that camp.
Shapiro’s spiritual challenge to secularism is not new. In fact, it is venerable ... Why, then, did I find his book so dispiriting? Partly because, instead of contending with great ideas, it deploys them as if they were toy soldiers or characters in a video game. The head spins as he trots past thinkers from Plato to Steven Pinker, frequently rendering tendentious judgments along the way ... Although I am sympathetic with elements of the author’s case, his galloping reductionism left me enervated and wishing his short book were even shorter ... May we hope that someday Shapiro will leaven his combativeness with curiosity?
Weirdly, [Shapiro's] Golden Age is some gauzy hybrid of something he calls 'Judeo-Christian values' and something he calls 'Greek teleology.' They’re conveniently shorthanded throughout the book as 'Jerusalem' and 'Athens.' The idea he lays out in the book’s earnest, leaden prose is that Western society has lost its sense of purpose, and that it can regain this sense of purpose by restoring its embrace of Judeo-Christian values and Greek rationality … what Shapiro yearns to do above all things: retroactively cancel the Enlightenment. Glowing fitfully through the fog of his book’s windy pronouncements and half-digested undergrad history nuggets is Shapiro’s dead-set conviction that the Enlightenment, with its spirit of scientific inquiry, its prizing of repeatable, testable observations, and its groping toward intellectual freedom, is right where humanity’s train went off its tracks ... This abhorrence runs through almost every page of The Right Side of History. In it, Shapiro pines for the good old days when the worship of a God was the primary act of society and the primary definition of its white, male, married householders.
As ... a writer, at least in The Right Side of History, [Shapiro's] vague, dull, and self-contradictory. The book is loaded with spurious arguments, and from cover to cover Shapiro evades the most difficult—and often most obvious—questions that arise from his theory ... The book is also filled with casual cheap shots more befitting a five-minute TV segment than a serious work of history or political philosophy ... While it’s possible that Shapiro’s more hardcore fans will end up mistaking the book’s shallow philosophical analysis for intellectual profundity, less gullible readers will find its argument crumbling, fragment by half-baked fragment.