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Join Mr. Peter Kirsanow and Mr. Vivek Ramaswamy in the latest installment of our Talks with Authors series to discuss Ramaswamy’s newly published book: Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam. A description of the book originally published here and republished below follows:
A young entrepreneur makes the case that politics has no place in business and sets out a new vision for the future of American capitalism. There’s a new invisible force at work in our economic and cultural lives. It affects every advertisement we see and every product we buy, from our morning coffee to a new pair of shoes. “Stakeholder capitalism” makes rosy promises of a better, more diverse, environmentally-friendly world, but in reality, this ideology championed by America’s business and political leaders robs us of our money, our voice, and our identity.
Vivek Ramaswamy is a traitor to his class. He’s founded multibillion-dollar enterprises, led a biotech company as CEO, became a hedge fund partner in his 20s, trained as a scientist at Harvard and a lawyer at Yale, and grew up the child of immigrants in a small town in Ohio. Now he takes us behind the scenes into corporate boardrooms and five-star conferences, into Ivy League classrooms and secretive nonprofits, to reveal the defining scam of our century.
The modern woke-industrial complex divides us as a people. By mixing morality with consumerism, America’s elites prey on our innermost insecurities about who we really are. They sell us cheap social causes and skin-deep identities to satisfy our hunger for a cause and our search for meaning at a moment when we as Americans lack both.
This book not only rips back the curtain on the new corporatist agenda, but it also offers a better way forward. America’s elites may want to sort us into demographic boxes, but we don’t have to stay there. Woke, Inc. begins as a critique of stakeholder capitalism and ends with an exploration of what it means to be an American in 2021—a journey that begins with cynicism and ends with hope.
- Vivek Ramaswamy, Author, Woke Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam
- Interviewer: Peter Kirsanow, Partner, Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP
As always, the Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker.
Dean Reuter: Welcome to Teleforum, a podcast of The Federalist Society’s practice groups. I’m Dean Reuter, Vice President, General Counsel, and Director of Practice Groups at The Federalist Society. For exclusive access to live recordings of practice group Teleforum calls, become a Federalist Society member today at fedsoc.org.
Dean Reuter: Welcome to The Federalist Society’s special webinar, “A Talk with Authors.” I’m Dean Reuter, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Director of Practice Groups at The Federalist Society. I’m very pleased to welcome two guests to our program today, Peter Kirsanow and Vivek Ramaswamy. We’re very pleased to have both of them with us today.
A reminder to our audience that this is being recorded and will be posted on the website of The Federalist Society as a podcast. Also, all expressions of opinion today are those of the speakers and not necessarily The Federalist Society. We will be hosting questions near the end of the program, so be alert to that. We’ll be using the Q&A function on Zoom today for questions.
But as I mentioned, very pleased to welcome two guests today. I’m going to introduce our interviewer/moderator, Peter Kirsanow, who’s going to conduct an interview of our other guest, the author of Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam. We can have a contest, Peter, as to who can say the book title the most today. That’s one of the benefits of these programs.
But Peter Kirsanow — a longtime member of The Federalist Society’s Civil Rights Executive Committee, so I’ve known him for years, had the pleasure of working with him. He is a partner at Benesch’s Labor & Employment Practice Group in Northeast Ohio, where he’s been for quite a while. He is in the midst of his fourth term on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He served as a board member of the National Labor Relations Board. So he comes to us with a great deal of experience — nearly a lifetime member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Peter, at this point. But congratulations on that. He’s also past chair of the Board of Directors of the Center for New Black Leadership and is a member of Benesch’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee.
With that, I’m going to turn it over to Peter Kirsanow and I will fade into the background. But again, my thanks to both of you for joining us today. Peter?
Peter Kirsanow: Thanks very much, Dean. It’s my pleasure to be interviewing, or at least having a chat, with Vivek Ramaswamy on his new book, which I commend heartily. I devoured it in about four-and-a-half hours, and I’m not that fast a reader. But it was insightful, informative, and, I think, very, very timely. Vivek, for those of you who don’t know him — may have seen him on television — has an amazing resume. He was valedictorian of, I think — was it St. Francis in Cincinnati?
Vivek Ramaswamy: St. Xavier.
Peter Kirsanow: St. Xavier.
Vivek Ramaswamy: St. Xavier. It was pretty close.
Peter Kirsanow: Both of those are football powerhouses, yeah. Some of my college football teammates came from Cincinnati, and it seemed to be Elder, Francis, Xavier — I can’t remember the others.
Vivek Ramaswamy: There’s Ignatius, as well – a lot of Jesuit schools.
Peter Kirsanow: Well, Ignatius here in Cleveland – that’s where I’m from. Made in Cleveland, Ohio. Yeah. St. Ignatius — purportedly number one from time to time. But in any event, after being valedictorian — and the only Hindu and Brahman, too, that graduated from that Jesuit high school, correct?
Vivek Ramaswamy: The composition of the school has changed a lot over the years, but I think back then it was a little bit different. Yeah.
Dean Reuter: But after being valedictorian, he went to Harvard to study molecular biology and graduated near the top of his class, then he joined a hedge fund where he became the youngest partner, and then three years later decided that his resume wasn’t impressive enough, so went on to Harvard Law while he was still at the hedge fund, and then started Roivant Sciences Biotech firm. At the time, he had the largest biotech IPO. And then he has founded other tech companies since then.
So he has written this wonderful book. You may see it behind me, along with a lot of alcohol bottles. That shouldn’t be a commentary on me or my practice. But nonetheless, he wrote Woke, Inc. Again, I commend it to everybody. I’d like Vivek to give a little bit of an introduction as to what his book is all about and what caused him, what prompted him, to write it at this time. And by the way, it’s timely. There are references to the January 6 so-called insurrection. It is something that goes all the way to the present. So it is very, very timely. And it is something that, as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, we have seen over the last number of years. And we’ve been predicting this kind of thing for at least 20 years. Vivek, go ahead.
Vivek Ramaswamy: So, thank you for that kind introduction, Peter. And I’d love to make this more of a dialogue than a speech. But what I’ll do is I’ll take the opportunity to tell folks on the call a little bit about the book, a little bit about what motivated me to write it, lay out the central thesis, and then really open it up to dialogue with yourself and other members of the audience. And thank you for the opportunity.
So, I was a biotech CEO. I was going about my day-to-day of building a company. But I had done something — I had kept a practice for myself that had served me well. It actually began when I first took a course in stand-up comedy a while ago when I was in New York City. And the thing they taught me was, you write down something when it annoys you. And if something really annoys the hell out of you, then you’ve got to make sure you write it down in your notebook and you come back to it. Maybe there’s a joke there. Maybe there’s a different idea there.
Well, it turned out it didn’t serve me that well in stand-up comedy. I was mediocre at best. But it’s actually what led me from my career, first as an investor, to an entrepreneur. I wrote down all the things that annoyed me about the biotech industry. That led me to leave my job as a biotech investor and start a biotech company in my own right. But I kept up the practice. And in about 2019, one of the things I jotted down in the notebook was — all of the business leaders in corporate America were suddenly — all of a sudden, in unison, with uniformity, saying the exact same things at the exact same time—the exact same kind of things that involved serving their stakeholders, rather than serving just their shareholders. The business roundtable revised the corporate purpose of the corporation in late 2019.
And suddenly, everyone was really following suit in a way that just smacked of a certain inauthenticity to me. And so I wrote a one-and-done Wall Street Journal op-ed. I had never really done that kind of thing before. But I sent it in offering a critique of stakeholder capitalism, not on the grounds that Milton Friedman might have critiqued stakeholder capitalism—that it was going to make these companies run less efficiently—but on the opposite grounds that, actually, the use of corporate power to advance social agendas was going to really violate a certain principle of American democracy by concentrating not just market power, but moral power, in the hands of a small group of executives and investors that wielded power in the market. That was supposed to be a one-and-done.
That ended up generating some bit of controversy that led me to — a book agent approached me and one thing led to another. And that led me to write a book that expounded on that thesis. And so that’s really what Woke, Inc. ultimately is. And fast-forward a year-and-a-half later. The topics I was writing about were sufficiently controversial that I had to step down from my job as a CEO to really be able to speak with candor as a citizen. So that’s what I did this January. I’m still chairman of the company. But when I speak, I’m not filtering it through a lens of evaluating whether or not it’s going to benefit my company. It’s really something that reflects my candid views as a citizen.
So, the central thesis of the book is that we need to keep business and politics apart from one another, not just to save business from politics, but to save our body politic from corporate overreach. And the thing that I describe in the book is a recent arranged marriage borne between a newly nascent progressive left in the United States and big business in this country, which is a curiosity because historically, actually, the progressive left was at least hostile towards the interests of big business at large. And what I lay out in the book is the thesis that explains how that’s not a coincidence but actually a causal relationship that began with the 2008 financial crisis.
So I got my first job at a hedge fund in New York City right on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis in the fall of 2007, and I had somewhat of a front-row seat to watch what played out. And what I watched play out was a newly ascended movement in Occupy Wall Street that wanted to challenge big business in this country, that wanted to challenge wealth distribution in this country, and make the claim that we needed to redistribute money from those wealthy corporate fat cats to poor people for the benefit of poor people. Agree or not, that’s what the old left had to say.
But what you saw right around the same time was the emergence of a newly woke — I define woke as obsessing over race, gender, and sexual orientation—the shorthand definition of woke — the longer-form definition is a theory of social relationships that posits empowerment and disempowerment in relationships based on one’s inherent characteristics — that the newly progressive woke left had a slightly different theory of the case than the old left. And what they said was, actually, the real problem and source of injustice wasn’t economic injustice or poverty. No, it was racism and misogyny and bigotry.
And one of the theses I advance in the book is, that actually presented the opportunity of a generation for big business in America. To go from being the bad guys in the eyes of the old left—their old adversaries—to becoming the good guys, if they leverage their corporate power in the right ways; applaud diversity and inclusion, put some token minorities on your boards, muse about the racially disparate impact of climate change after you fly on a private jet to Davos, whatever it is you do. This actually proved to be a convenient new arranged marriage where big banks on Wall Street, for example, were happy to lend not just their money, but their legitimacy, to this newly ascendant wing of the progressive movement.
But effectively, the implicit bargain was that they didn’t do it for free. They expected that the new Democratic Party, increasingly composed of this nascent wing of the progressive left, look the other way when it came to leaving their corporate power intact. So as I joke in the book, what ended up happening was a bunch of big banks got in bed with a bunch of woke millennials. Together they birthed woke capitalism. And that’s what allowed them to put Occupy Wall Street up for adoption.
And the same thing, then, I argue, happened in Silicon Valley where, effectively, a bunch of concentrated technology firms determined that they could become the good guys in the eyes of the left if they used their power, for example, to moderate content that the newly-ascendant left did not want to see online. But they didn’t do it for free. They expected that the new democratic party looks the other way when it comes to leaving their monopoly power intact. And so the story goes. The rest of corporate America follows suit.
Coca-Cola can issue statements about new voting laws in Georgia, or trainings for their employees on how to be less white, to avoid a conversation about the impact of their own products on the nationwide epidemic of diabetes and obesity, including in the black community that they profess to care so much about. And in fact, Coca-Cola was one of the targets of ire from the old left for a lot of their acts of polluting in the developing world—their reliance on supply chains that violated their principles. United Airlines, Nike, Disney, the list goes on.
And so that’s what I lay out in the book is this arranged marriage between the progressive left and big business in our country. It’s not really an arranged marriage of love. It’s more like mutual prostitution. Each side gets something out of the trade, but the net result of that act was the illegitimate birth, in my view, of what I call the woke industrial complex—a new hybrid of big government and big business that’s far more powerful than either one alone because this new hybrid can do what neither government nor big business can do itself. And that’s really the essence of the problem that I lay out in the book, which is, the new version of crony capitalism in America involves not just government bribing — excuse me — big business bribing big government to gain competitive advantages. That was crony capitalism 1.0. It still exists today.
But there’s a new part to the trade, which is crony capitalism 2.0, that involves big business being bribed in return by big government to do what government cannot directly do through the front door, to delegate big business to do it through the back door. And nowhere, I think, more explicitly do we see that than in the realm of big tech censorship today, where the government cannot directly censor content that it doesn’t want to see online — hate speech, misinformation, as defined by the government. But what the government has decided that it is able to do is to use private parties like technology companies to do, through the back door, its dirty work that it cannot accomplish directly through the front door under the Constitution. And one of the central arguments that I make in the book, and one that I think can be the topic of conversation with this audience in particular, is the new theory that isn’t really all that new, but new as applied to this situation — that if it is state action in disguise, then the Constitution actually still applies.
If you take the Obama administration after the ’08 financial crisis that settled tens of billions of dollars — to the tunes of tens of billions of dollars with big banks for alleged ills heading into the 2008 financial crisis—their sins that led to the crisis—what ended up happening was actually very little of that money got paid to the public fisc — another story that I lay out in the book. You might wonder why. And the reason was that the Obama administration actually wanted to use public funds to fund non-profits like the National Urban League and La Raza and other newly progressive non-profits that represented that nascent progressive movement. And the Republican Congress happened to say, “No.” Agree or not, maybe that’s obstructionist, maybe it’s not, but it’s life in a two-party system.
What the Obama administration began to do was, actually, to use the settlement dollars that the DOJ was supposed to collect from parties like big banks that it had privately settled with to make backroom deals to say that, “Actually, what we’re going to do is give you guys a two-for-one offset — sometimes a three-for-one dollar for dollar offset — if you donate one dollar to one of these non-profits that Congress refused to fund. Then we’ll give you three dollars off to what you owe the DOJ in your settlement, what you owe to the public fisc.” And, by the way, banks love not only keeping more money, but a press release that says that they donated to the National Urban League or La Raza rather than a press release that said that this was the sum that they gave in a settlement with the DOJ.
And so that practice now has become a regular practice for government, where, today — fast forward eight years later — you have a Climate Czar, a Climate Change Czar, in John Kerry, in the present Biden administration, that recognized that there was a certain Green New Deal — so-called Green New Deal that couldn’t pass through Congress. Well, what we can do instead — and all of this is public information, he even boasts about it — leans on his relationships with banking CEOs to be able to get them to commit to a climate pledge that involves all banking institutions in this country refusing to lend to certain projects that government would have rather banned, but could never have banned through the constitutionally ordained process of lawmaking through the front door of Congress. So one of the things I — among other goals in the book — I lay out, is this new form of reverse crony capitalism where government is able to use private enterprise as a Trojan horse to accomplish, through the back door, what it can’t through the front door.
And I think that really lays out a question, for this group in particular — that as I’ve gotten to know The Federalist Society — you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe one of the founding creeds of The Federalist Society, you know, four decades ago, was the idea that the State exists to protect liberty. And I find that statement profound, actually, because it also goes to the heart of the solutions that I grapple with in the book that begin with the question of exploring whether we, by definition, believe that the threats to individual liberty today originate in big government, as many of us may have in generations past. Or do we think the threats to liberty could be plural today in the new post-modern world that we live in, and if so, what the role of the State ought to be, if any, in protecting against those threats to liberty that originate from sources that extend beyond the State itself.
And I think that at the heart of the book, if you double-click a couple layers deeper, is the distinction between what it might mean to be a modern libertarian and what it might mean to be a modern conservative — the question of whether limited government is a tactic or whether it’s a first principle. And there’s no right answer to that question, but seeing that question with clear eyes, I think, begins the process of debating what it means to be a member of the right, what it means to be a conservative, what it means to be a defender of liberty in the modern era. It may mean something very different today than it did in 1980. And though Ronald Reagan was one of my personal heroes because he did what he needed to do in his era to protect liberty, I think that the — to borrow from Abraham Lincoln, “The dogmas of a quiet past,” he once said, “are inadequate to the stormy present.”
One of the arguments I make in the book is that the dogmas of 1980 may be inadequate to meet the unique challenges to liberty that we face in the year 2021. And I think the defining challenge of our time is watching the way in which the castle of capitalism which classical conservatives so diligently defended from the front door against the advances of big government — how the castle of capitalism came to be invaded, not through the front door, but through the back door, from forces ranging from the newly ascendant woke movement in America to the Chinese Communist Party. And the real defining challenge going forward is how we sterilize that castle, but without burning the whole thing down, and recreating the original 1.0 monster in the form of an empowered big government itself. And I think that that problem will be easier to solve than it is to identify.
But one of the things I do in the book is, at least, identify it — to lay out, at least, the first step to what one version of a set of solutions could look like. And to do so in a way that recognizes that the State’s relationship with big business isn’t just limited to the United States government but, actually, now extends to foreign governments as well, revealing, I think, the progressive folly of stakeholder capitalism for what it is, namely the idea that once corporations become vectors to advance progressive agendas, they then become vehicles to really advance, in principle, any agenda. And nobody has mastered that art more effectively in recent years than the Communist Party of China who has recognized that once a corporation is a multinational corporation, but one that’s based in America, if that corporation has a social commitment to relentlessly criticize the United States as, effectively, the woke brand of stakeholder capitalism demands, but doesn’t say a peep in China because we’re able to build a great Chinese wall that says you don’t enter the Chinese market if you criticize the CCP — in fact, you get a favor if you praise the CCP.
What you then have is the new geopolitical vector to create a false moral equivalence between the idealistic United States and the nihilistic CCP which actually erodes our greatest geopolitical asset of all, our moral standing on the global stage. And you see that when Disney criticizes the state of Georgia for passing an anti-abortion statute but praises the CCP for allowing it to film Mulan in the Xinjiang Province which is literally ground zero of the Uighur human rights crisis — over a million Uighurs enslaved in concentration camps in one of the worst human rights atrocities committed, I think, by a major nation, at least, since the Third Reich of Germany. That is something that you see from the NBA, from Disney, from Nike, from BlackRock, from leading institutions in the United States.
The parties who are known to criticize injustice no longer criticize injustice in China, creating a moral equivalence that China then exploits. Listen to what Xi Jinping or Yang Jiechi, their top diplomats, say when they’re pressed by the U.N., when they’re pressed by the E.U., when they’re pressed on every global stage, when they’re pressed by our own leaders at the Alaska Summit earlier this year. The first thing they now say is that the Black Lives Matter movement shows that the United States is no better than China, which would ordinarily be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that the new class of self-appointed international arbiters of justice, private multinational companies, are lending credence to their claims, implicitly, however advertently or inadvertently.
And one of the other theses I lay out in the book from a geopolitical perspective, is laying out the folly of the so-called project of democratic capitalism from the 1990s which posited that we could effectively send Big Macs and Happy Meals to places like China and think that would spread democracy, and have slowly and gradually watched that philosophy turned on its head as they have, instead, sent Nike sneakers and Disney movies back, embedded with their values that create that false moral equivalence. We made the mistake of thinking that we could use our money to cause them to be more like us and instead watched them turn that on its head by using their money to get us to be more like them. And one of the things I lay out in the book is a painstaking account of how that has worked masterfully for the Chinese Communist Party that got in on the arranged marriage between big business and the woke progressive left and turned that bilateral affair into a three-party affair whose consequences we struggle with today.
And so I do offer — it’s not all doom and gloom. I do end the book with the beginnings of a package for solutions that I think could revive a new conservative movement around the ideas and a clear identification of the problem that I lay out. I think a lot of those are legislative solutions. I can bore you with some of them — maybe I’ll save some of them in the Q&A — ranging from 230 reform, to making political belief and political expression a protected class alongside race, gender, and sexual orientation — open to the possibility that we actually get rid of protected classes altogether, but recognizing that, actually, now we may live in the worst of all worlds where the notion of protected classes and civil rights statutes led to the creation of administrative bureaucracies in corporate America — what I call deep corporate — the equivalent of the deep state in corporate America — that administers those so-called anti-discrimination statutes, inadvertently creating the very conditions for rampant political discrimination that we see today, that we ought to either get rid of those protected classes altogether or apply those standards even-handedly. Those are the kinds of solutions that I sort of lay out in the book.
But I think the real solutions aren’t just those forms of symptomatic therapy, but, really, the revival of a cultural cure that I think involves generating a shared American identity that actually runs so deep that it dilutes this woke agenda to irrelevance — not to simply co-opt the methods of the other side by practicing cancel culture — cancel culture, I define as the use of force as an alternative to free speech and open debate to settle political questions. That’s the definition of cancel culture that I use in the book — not to practice cancel culture in reverse, but to instead practice and extend to the other side — the increasingly illiberal left — the values — to embrace the value of liberalism itself to be able to dilute its project to irrelevance. And I think that will be easier said than done. It will involve, I think, some bold solutions that will cause us — I presume many people here identify on the right — will cause us on the right to have to reflect on what it even means to be on the right today.
And I think that’s the debate that we ought to have that I don’t see a lot of leaders on the right — who appear particularly willing to engage in that debate—hiding behind paper-thin critiques of the democratic party or hypocrisies on the left without actually doing the hard work of defining, constructively and from the bottom up, what an alternative vision actually entails. And at the heart of the book is, I think, the beginning of that vision—something that I hope to build on through the course of conversations like this one that continue to iterate on my own views for what I think can be the kernel of not just the future conservative movement in this country, but what I think of as a much-needed American revival, an American movement, that ultimately builds the fortitude that’s going to be required to stand up to the threat of, for example, Chinese nihilism that threatens us externally and from within as we watch it in slow motion today.
So with that said, I’d be happy to, as was promised at the beginning, turn this into more of a conversation than a speech, and would love, Peter, to engage with you and other members of the audience.
Peter Kirsanow: Well, thanks very much for that, Vivek. That was an excellent summation. I’d like to go a little bit big-picture for a moment. You have a couple of chapters in the book. One is that “Wokeness is Like a Religion,” and then you have another one that says, “Wokeness is a Religion.” Can you expound on that a little bit? What do you mean by that?
Vivek Ramaswamy: Yeah. So I was, obviously – you know, where you’re speaking a little bit tongue in cheek with the book. And I should say, I wrote a version of the book that was ready in November, actually. And it was quite academic. And I thought that it was going to — nobody was going to read it, really. And so what we did is, we tore that up and we made it a much more casual read. I’m glad — I was really pleased to hear you say you made it through in four-and-a-half hours, because that was the goal. The goal was, really, to reach as many people as possible without changing the heart of the message, but without being, you know, overly academically boring either. So, yes, you’re right. One chapter is “Wokeness is Like a Religion,” and the next chapter is, “Actually, Wokeness is Literally a Religion.” By literally, I actually mean, legally.
So, I’ll get to the heart of it. So what I have described is the ways in which the features of modern wokeness and the demands of modern wokeness actually meet — not only the colloquial definition of a religion, but indeed, the Supreme Court’s test for what counts as a religion or a religious belief. There are certain clothes you can’t wear, certain words you must not say, certain apologies you must issue, that even after you go through those apologies, there is a process for ex-communication. There is the content of what that ex-communication entails. You can’t just buy into one of the acronyms of the LGBTQ commandment, just as you can’t pick your favorite five Commandments of the Ten Commandments in the Bible.
I lay out all of the ways colloquially and borrowing some of the Supreme Court’s tests for religion, including tests in cases that found that — Secular Humanism meets the Supreme Court’s test for what counts as a religion for the purpose of Title VII protection — or the ways in which, say, a religion called Creativity, in a case called Peterson, meets the Supreme Court’s test for what counts as a religion. Creativity is a religion that I don’t particularly subscribe to. It’s a religion that professes white supremacy as its core tenet. If that qualified under Title VII protections under Supreme Court doctrine for what counts as a religion, then certainly, anti-white supremacy — which is, on the face of it, what wokeness itself claims to be — ought to count as a religion, too. So I lay that argument out more rigorously in the book.
But what are the consequences of that? One of the consequences is a counterintuitive one which is that, actually, Title VII, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protects not only against religious discrimination against employees for their religion, it also prevents an employer from forcing an employee to bow down to the employer’s religion. That’s actually well-established in the case law. Well, I think, then, the consequence becomes apparent of where I’m going with this which is that if wokeness really meets the Supreme Court’s test for what counts as a religion, that gives not only protection to certain employees to prevent them from being discriminated against on account of their woke beliefs — which I accept. Just because somebody says that America is a systemically racist country, I don’t think that ought to be a legal grounds for their firing, at least, taking our legal doctrine as given. Okay.
But it also means that an employer cannot force that religion down the throats of their employees at behest of continued employment, or at behest of having an equal opportunity in their own unique workplace. And so I actually lay out a case that I hope many take up in court — a novel legal argument that I developed with a former law professor of mine that I lay out in the book, which actually provides a path for legal recourse. And I think — more than just being a clever legal argument, I think it actually captures, as I’ve seen it — the essence of what’s actually happening in corporate America today is corporate America has signed up to this new religion as part of a Faustian bargain that ultimately gave corporate America what it needed in return.
But the people who are really suffering are the everyday citizens who are employed by corporations, that are voters in our democracy, that have their will and their voice suppressed by new actors who are able to use economic muscle — muscle in the marketplace of products — to be able to flex their muscle in the marketplace of ideas. And I think that’s actually one of the most dangerous transgressions of our democratic principles of all. And that’s at the heart of those couple of chapters.
Peter Kirsanow: In terms of — you made reference to the involvement, the kind of Trojan horse of government, the symbiotic relationship between government these days and big tech and other big corporations, and how big tech is doing the bidding and the work of government in, kind of, a surreptitious fashion. Given that prevalence — and I think it’s pretty plain that that is happening right now — we see the censorship that only seems to be going in one direction, and the censorship occurring at propitious times for one party — is there some remedy — for example, Section 230, I think you made reference to, of the Communications Decency Act — is there some remedy that might forestall that type of advancement or Trojan horse with respect to woke ideology?
Vivek Ramaswamy: Yeah. I think it would be pretty easy, actually. So, I think we should make Section 230 an opt-in statute that makes really clear to companies that says, “Look, there’s a special form of federal immunity that’s available as — effectively, a form of a federal subsidy. Okay? And what the subsidy does is it protects you from tort liability in states — including under state anti-discrimination statutes — that says you can’t be sued for taking down content that you find objectionable.” Great. You can do that with this special blanket of immunity. But then you’re an agent of the State because we’re immunizing you to do, indirectly, what federal government can’t do directly. You’re bound by the same constraints as the federal government, including the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. So either you get that special form of immunity — and there’s strings attached — or you don’t and you get to operate as a real private company with all of the attendant consequences of being a private company.
But right now, we live in the worst of both worlds where you can have it both ways. I’m opposed to repealing Section 230 only because I think it would empower the very actors who are able to better withstand liability than their upstart competitors. I think that a much cleaner solution is to amend Section 230 to reflect the essence of what’s happening today, which is that government’s effectively using that to dispatch private companies to do what it can’t do directly and immunizes them for doing the same thing.
You know, I think that there’s a lot of interesting analogies that go into the book. I’m trying to debate how many of them I want to include here because they get complicated quickly. But I guess one way to think about it is, just look at the actual history. What did the government want to get out of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act? It wanted, effectively, to remove soft-core porn from the internet—the kind of pornography that was still deemed to be, under existing doctrine, constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.
And what they said was that, effectively, the statute, Section 230(c)(2) includes a unique phrase I’ve never seen in another statute — “Whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.” It reflects a legislative intention to create an incentive for private companies to do what government couldn’t do. And if there was any doubt that that was their intention, they really wanted to put a fine point on it and said, “Whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
We can debate whether or not that’s desirable from a policy perspective. We can debate whether or not that was constitutional, even as passed. I have my views on it. But the irony is that today — actually, you could read this in a news story earlier this year — YouTube’s algorithms actually now tend towards, at the margin, directing people towards highly sexualized content. But actually, what they’re using Section 230 immunity to do is to take down the very kind of political speech, or speech that they characterize as misinformation, that our founders, as a country, envisioned being part of the marketplace of ideas in public discourse along the principle that the best way to deal with bad speech isn’t less speech. It’s more speech.
And so it’s a misuse of even Section 230 — even if you didn’t love Section 230 when it was passed — especially 230(c)(2). Ironically, it’s being misused in ways that even go beyond the originally questionable legislative intent of its own, in its own right, to achieve an intent that even went far beyond what the legislators in 1996 never imagined it being used for.
So, you know, I lay out in the book what I think are some really simple policy fixes. I don’t think it would be hard to get there intellectually or legally. I think, from a political perspective, it might actually be hard to get there, which is why I go the extra step in the book of offering other doctrines under existing law that, without a change in the law, could really be used to advance a case in court — namely state action doctrines which draw from other cases in which the government immunized conduct — for example, in a case involving railroads, said that they immunized the railroad from liability for being sued for conducting drug tests that the government couldn’t directly conduct under the Fourth Amendment.
Well, the Supreme Court, unsurprisingly and properly, found that, actually, that was a misuse of a form of federal immunity to say that you can’t dispatch a railroad to do your dirty work just because they’re a private company. If the government has a hand in immunizing certain conduct to make that so, it’s still state action. And arguably, with big tech, it’s actually not even a hard case on these state action doctrines. There’s a case called — what’s the name of the case — Brentwood — which effectively says that any of the following prongs could be a basis for finding state action. Either governmental threats or willful participation in a joint activity in coordination with the government or immunizing liability for conduct that the government couldn’t carry out directly — any of those, individually, could be the basis for finding state action. There’s good cases involving all three of those.
In the case of big tech censorship, we actually see all three. There’s threats to the companies to say that if you don’t censor hate speech or misinformation as we, the party in power, define it, we’re going to come after you. We’re going to regulate you. We’re going to break you up. Ironically, we might even repeal Section 230 protection, which brings the whole thing full circle. There’s willful participation in a joint activity. Just listen to Jen Psaki on a given day. She’s boasting about it at the White House press conferences — about how the White House is flagging, for Facebook, the kinds of things that need to be removed as it relates to Covid misinformation, for example. And then, of course, you have Section 230, which is the form of immunity, itself. So, the good news is, even without that policy fix, I think there’s legal doctrines that could have this solved in the courts much sooner.
Peter Kirsanow: You know, Vivek, the State grants to corporations a certain form of immunity — and to the directors and officers — to maximize shareholder value. They’re insulated, to some extent, from lawsuits where they may have made some mistakes. In your book, you talk about social justice pursuits of corporations that may not maximize value. And maybe the business judgment rule might be amended or curtailed. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Vivek Ramaswamy: Yeah. So, I think we’ve got to be really precise about what we mean here. And I think that a lot of what I offer in this section of the book, in contrast to everything I’ve talked about before — wokeness as a religion, I think, the Section 230 amendments, the State action doctrines. That, I would like to see actionable today and taken action upon today. In contrast, we’re going to talk about a couple of topics that I think are mostly intended, on my own admission, as a provocation for conversation around what the right policy response ought to be because I will be the first person to say that I can imagine a lot of misuses of the solutions I’m about to offer if they’re not really pursued in the right way.
So there’s a pair of solutions that I offer. So, one addresses the problem of what I call, “the woke executive” — the executive who uses his or her seat of corporate power to be able to misuse shareholder resources to be able to advance a goal that has nothing to do with advancing the profit interests of those shareholders—the managerial class that’s charged with running corporations being able to do what they wouldn’t be able to do if they weren’t appointed as executives of the corporation.
And here, the solution’s really simple. So there’s something called the business judgment rule. It’s a doctrine in the corporate law of most states which plainly says that an executive or director can’t be held liable for making a bad business decision as long as they’re making a business decision. And it makes good sense because if you’re running a business, you take risks. Sometimes those risks play out. Sometimes they don’t. In the cases of you personally being liable for every time one of those risks doesn’t play out to a shareholder — nobody good would want to serve as a director or an officer of a company — exists for good reasons.
Now, there’s an exemption to the business judgment rule — which also makes really good sense as an exemption — which is that if you have a conflict of interest — if you have a personal conflict of interest, and you make an alleged business judgment, which is a business judgment to, let’s just say, pay another company that you personally own a good thick fee in consulting, for the business that you’re hired to run as a CEO, well, the business judgment rule no longer applies. No one says that that’s illegal on its face. It might have been the right business judgment. But what a court will do is say that we don’t automatically give you deference to say that you have a business judgment. That’s going to be litigated on its facts as to whether or not the court can substitute for your judgment whether or not that was the right judgment. So that’s when you roll back the business judgment rule. When there’s a conflict of interest at play.
But what I argue is that there’s often a conflict of interest at play. It may not be a financial conflict of interest, but still a conflict of interest at play, when corporations or a corporate CEO may decide to make a donation to a particular non-profit that he or she has a liking towards—to write a multimillion-dollar check to Black Lives Matter, as the case may be. And the argument I make is, “Well look, nobody would argue that the CEO of a public company wasn’t doing something a little fishy if he uses the corporate piggy bank to make a multimillion-dollar donation to his high school — to St. Xavier High School, okay?” I’m proud to say I’ve donated to St. Xavier High School. I didn’t use my corporate account to do it. I used my personal account to do it — okay — or a charitable account to do it, or whatever the right purpose may be, there’s accounts you can use to make those donations. You can’t use your corporate account to do it — there’s just something amiss about that — or your temple, your local temple, or your church, or wherever you worship. Most people would agree that there’s something amiss about that.
What I argue is, there’s also something amiss about making a multimillion-dollar donation to a different temple that you might subscribe to — the woke temple of the Black Lives Matter movement, or whatever. Yet, that’s become normalized in corporate America. And so what I argue is that, when there’s that kind of conflict of interest at play — even if it’s not a financial conflict of interest which existing legal doctrines recognize, we ought to recognize conflicts of interest that go beyond financial ones, to say that when you’re not making a business judgment, when you’re making a social judgment, then the business judgment rule no longer applies. That doesn’t outlaw the behavior. It doesn’t say that you can’t do it, it’s illegal if you do it, it just means that a court, then, will no longer give you the presumption of making a business judgment and will adjudicate on the facts whether or not that worked in the best interests of shareholders.
Now, what I predict you’ll see in response to that rule, if adopted, is that — actually, many people would say that, “Actually, I was making a business judgment, and this just accrues to the long-run benefit of shareholders.” I’m okay with that — if people are forced to make that case, because it at least does something different in response, which is to, effectively, at least, force corporations to really be clear about why it is they’re doing what they’re doing. They can’t have it both ways — both saying that, “We’re actually opposing a voting law in Georgia because we think it’s the right thing to do for society,” or, “We’re opposing a voting law in Georgia because it actually makes us more profitable because it placates the left that, ultimately, would regulate us in a different way if we didn’t oppose this new voting law in Georgia.” It, at least — it prevents corporate leaders from being able to talk out of both sides of their mouth at the same time which I think goes towards rekindling an institutional trust that we’ve long been missing in our country.
So that’s a bit of where I’m coming from with respect to that proposal. There’s a flip side to it where, actually, now what you would hear in response is a lot of investors would say, “No, no, no. We want you, executive, to be advancing in using your corporate platform to advance a particular social agenda, and you’re not doing your job because you owe a fiduciary duty to us. You work for us. And we, the investors, are telling you that that’s what we want to see.” That’s what BlackRock might say. Small note — double click on that. That’s not actually the investor saying it, then. That’s Larry Fink, who manages money for other people, using other people’s money as a social platform to be able to advance his agenda. It’s actually just the problem of the woke executive all over again in many of those cases.
But let’s say an investor did say it — a true investor. What I say is that that is, in some ways, arguably an abuse of the original grand bargain at the inception of the corporation which said that investors get a special package of benefits, including limited shareholder liability –perhaps the greatest benefit of all, that spawned a lot of corporate innovation that we see today in corporate formation—the benefit of limited liability — but in return for a grand bargain — which was to say that those corporations owe a fiduciary duty to pursue profit for those shareholders — not just to protect those shareholders, but to protect the rest of society, including American democracy, from corporate overreach — to say that we didn’t want the Dutch East India Companies born here in the United States — companies that exercised state-like power.
Well, what I say is that — to the extent that an investor is forcing a corporate CEO or a corporation to use the shielded status of being a limited liability corporation to accomplish more than what was proper for a corporation to accomplish, according to the original vision of the corporation — then, so long as it pertains to that limited scope of activities, that shareholder would lose the benefits of limited liability and would bear the consequence of their action just like any other social activist would, too — to really level the playing field of social activism. And it’s not that unfamiliar of a notion that we would do that in American law, where, if a non-profit goes – a 501(c)(3) exempt non-profit goes beyond the scope of activities that society envisioned when endowing the tax-exempt status to a non-profit — as applied to that scope of activities, you lose your tax-exempt status. I kind of view the same rules at play with respect to limited liability of corporations that go beyond pursuing the production of profit and services for profit.
Peter Kirsanow: Talk about Roivant a little bit. You had some interaction, I think, with some of your employees and maybe some investors with respect to — after the Black Lives Matter movement took off, after the George Floyd incident, there was pressure on you to denounce systemic racism, etc. But even before that, wasn’t there some pressure — or at least, maybe not pressure, but there was some discussion about increasing diversity. And you looked at diversity, not so much as somebody’s skin color or gender or any other kind of immutable characteristic — but how did you go about expanding diversity at Roivant?
Vivek Ramaswamy: Yeah, sure. So, look, I think that our case was not unique. I think this is something that most companies across America were going through, which is a reckoning about what their role ought to have been in fighting systemic racism in the United States in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death. And I had, for years, actually done something unique in the pharm industry, which was to go to campuses across the country, and we recruit the smartest minds of the next generation that might have gone to Google or Facebook or a quantitative hedge fund.
Actually, my pitch to these Gen Zers, was that, actually, if you really want to have impact, you want to go work at a social media company that allows you to click on an add a microsecond faster, or do you want to use a quantitative algorithm that allows your order to get to the New York stock exchange a microsecond faster and work at a quant hedge fund, or at a high-frequency trading firm, you’re free to do that. But if you want to apply your talents towards developing medicines for people who really need them, this might be a good place to go do it. That actually worked. We got a lot of really bright people that came to our company because they wanted to have a positive impact in the world. And it’s one of the things I’m proud of.
I think with that though, came a population that had a different expectation of what came of — what a corporation was and wasn’t supposed to do. And one of the things they felt a corporation was supposed to do was to come out on the right side. The question of how you determine what the right side of a social question is a real pesky detail that we might leave to one side — but the right side of history when it came to weighing in on important social debates of the day. And that was something that I really wasn’t — that would have, at least, betrayed my own authenticity as a leader to really issue the same carbon copy statement in solidarity with Black Lives Matter that whichever PR consultant peddled that to the rest of corporate America succeeded in doing. I don’t want them to be successful in doing that at our corporation for a fee either — or even for not a fee, for that matter.
So, I had to think about things a little differently. And I think one of the things that we did do, and have always prized at Roivant, was the ethos of thinking big and staying scrappy. And I think one of the things that I was challenged by leaders who both understood the demands of the moment, but also understood me authentically — and this is actually — one of the things that I learned was having a team that really understands you as a leader is, I think, one of the greatest gifts you could ask for.
And a team that’s honest with you, as well, when they think you’re doing something that’s harmful to the organization you’re leading, really helped me open my eyes to something that I could have been doing that I wasn’t doing to, sort of, meet the moment which was to recognize and question all of the ways in which we may have been falling short of our own creed of thinking big and staying scrappy and recruiting people with actual diverse experiences and thought, but in ways that still stayed true to my own reluctance to want to do that on axes that resorted to race and gender or sexual orientation or other native corporate attributes that I — – excuse me — genetic attributes that I didn’t think a corporation should be purposefully taking into account when hiring and promoting people.
So what we did was, we implemented a new program, that survives to this day, which said that, “Actually, if you come to this company through the same hiring process as everybody else, but you self-report — and we’ll really trust you on this — that you came from a family background that had you coming from –” it was initially less than 25th, we’ve since expanded it to a 50th percentile of household income, median household income in this country at that time – “we would, if you stayed here for four years, assume any remaining outstanding student debt you had up to $100,000.”
That, I think, actually, was something that unified the company around something that both, I think, obviously, would make us a more diverse company by way of diversity of experience, including in our campus recruiting efforts, but in ways that didn’t bend the knee to the new racialized religion of the woke progressive dogma. Did it satisfy everybody? Probably not. Is it going to be a perfect policy for selecting for diversity? Probably not. I mean, I think that there are — there’s a lot of ways to select for diversity of thought. And to say that this is a perfect method is almost certainly false. But it was something that — and I’m not sure — and I can’t say it was a neat little solution that did exactly the right thing, but it was an example of how, at least last year, I found a way to navigate through, I think, a complicated set of challenges that I faced as a CEO. And I think many leaders across the country did, as well.
And I think the choice that many leaders had to make was whether they were going to say something they didn’t mean, fundamentally, or didn’t really care about while pretending to care to — which I think many of them did — or whether they were going to authentically share — take a course of action that left their business in a strong place, but without compromising on their personal ideals. And that was a challenging and trying experience for me — one that I talk about in the book. One that also strengthened my resolve to follow through with writing a book that, I think, doesn’t really write as a journalist per se, but writes from first personal experiences that I’ve had on the inside. I wasn’t born into elite America, certainly. But I have lived it for the last 15 years. And I think one of the things I wanted to do in the book was to really lay out a lot of the personal experiences that I’ve had in navigating some of the challenges that I think the new post-modern world raises for leaders of every stripe.
Peter Kirsanow: Vivek, I have a question from a member of the audience that goes, “Given that universities have become increasingly more radicalized over the last 20 years, and more recent graduates are sent to positions of power in corporate America, along with the drastic shift in voting patterns of wealthy suburbs, what proportions do you allocate of the recent wokeness of big business to expediency as opposed to genuine ideology?”
Vivek Ramaswamy: Yeah. That’s a good question. I think it’s about a 75/25 split, if you put me on the spot. I think 75 percent, I’ll put in the scammy inauthentic kind. I think 25 percent is actually authentic. And one of the things that I realized over the course of writing the book is that while I began with a principal concern about the former kind of so-called stakeholder capitalism — the scammy kind — by the end, actually, the part that I left most worried about was actually the authentic kind. And the reason is that I think that if you just take someone like a Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, for example, I don’t think he needs another buck. I don’t think he thinks he needs another buck. He has plenty of bucks. He has tens of billions of dollars of wealth.
Whether or not Twitter registers an extra dollar in its next round of earnings doesn’t really make a difference to him. He doesn’t need more dollars. The thing that limits his influence on our society isn’t the number of dollars that he has. It is the scope of what money itself can buy. And I am concerned about the ever-expanding scope of what money can buy. I’m fine with multi-billionaires in this country buying their sixth private jet, or their fifth yacht, or their fifth home. I could care less because that’s in the realm of material things that are in the scope of what we would imagine money buying—things in the marketplace of products.
What I worry about is when that money is then being able to use to determine what ideas do and don’t get aired in the marketplace of ideas—the use of economic power — power nonetheless — as a mechanism for substituting free speech and open debate, as a mechanism for settling political questions. And that, to me, is, I think, a far more troubling trend that allows authentic CEOs to determine that, actually, they are not bound by constitutional constraints. They’re not bound by pesky constitutional limitations that allow them to use the muscle in the market to be able to flex power in the marketplace of ideas.
And I think that’s actually the most dangerous form of corporate power of all. And it was an unexpected learning for me in reflecting on it over the course of the book that if the defense of democracy is actually what I care about as opposed to, say, consumer protection, then actually, the authentic version of creating a monarchical corporatocracy in this country that settles our questions, rather than our democratic mechanism, that that might actually be the greatest threat of all, and something that I think is very real and may even be authentic. But just because it’s authentic doesn’t mean that it’s going to be healthy for the body politic in America at large.
Peter Kirsanow: And to kind of follow up on that, with respect to that 20 percent or 25 percent that would be motivated generally by ideology — for example, you state that the antidote isn’t to fight wokeness directly. It can’t be because that’s a losing battle. You’ll be canceled before you even stand a chance. The true solution is to gradually rebuild a vision for shared American identity that’s so deep and so powerful that it dilutes wokeness to irrelevance — one that no longer leaves us susceptible to being divided by corporate elites for their own gain. How do we get to that point?
Vivek Ramaswamy: Yeah. Look I think it actually does start with the new generation, with the next generation. I’m a big fan of incorporating and weaving civic service into primary education, civic education into primary education. Look, I think that — I kind of worried, initially, that corporate America’s DEI training sessions might racialize employees against one another. Actually, the real problem in corporate America isn’t that. Nobody really views their employees differently, views their peers differently, as a consequence of going through some sort of anti-racism training session. For most of them, it goes in one ear, it comes out the other.
The real problem there is a different one. It fosters a crisis of institutional mistrust where we have now become acclimated by habit to recognizing that people who are in positions of authority or power — not just in government, but even in our own organizations and in the private sector — literally don’t mean what they’re saying. And you’re accustomed to not listening to what they have to say because everybody implicitly recognizes that it’s all nonsense.
That’s a different issue than, I think, in our schools, where I do think that the woke ideology does have the potential to change how one generation views their respective peers on the basis of being saddled with the characteristics they inherit on the day they’re born. And so, look, I think that creating a shared American purpose, shared vision for identity, through, I think, a controversial proposal for really weaving non-optional civic service into primary education — that’s just one of many proposals that I offer — I think are the kinds of policy solutions. I think many of the solutions aren’t even going to be in public policy. They’re going to be in our culture, which I talk about a little bit later on in the book.
But those are the kinds of, I think, solutions we’re going to have to think about to revive an American decade that centers its attention — its cultural attention — not on our diversity, and obsessing over our diversity as we did in the diversity decade, the 2010s, but rather, the 2020s decade that re-invigorated — that re-vitalizes the few things that bind us together across our diversity because if all we have left to celebrate is our diversity without something greater that binds us together across our diversity, we’re nothing more than a group of different-looking, higher mammals that occupy a common geographic space. And to me, that is not America. That’s just any other country through human history.
America is defined around this set of ideals that bind us together across our diverse attributes; the American dream—the idea that no matter who you are, or where your parents came from, or what your skin color is, you can achieve anything you want in this country with your own hard work, your own commitment, your own dedication. That’s the American dream—free speech, open debate, the idea that we could still disagree with one another but cohabit a common space as fellow citizens of a country that agrees to abide by the decisions that we reach democratically, even if we disagree with the content of those decisions. We have a mechanism for working them out. Capitalism, democracy, free enterprise, faith, the ideals that brought together a polyglot-divided group of people 250 years ago, that’s what we’ll need to revive as a country to be able to dilute, as I said earlier, the woke agenda to irrelevance.
And that will be easier said than done. It’s not just in our politics. It’s in our culture. And I think that a lot of these revolutions are driven by leadership—by first-person leadership. And that doesn’t just mean the president of the United States. It means leaders in every community and leaders in every setting across our country. And one of the things I hoped to do, especially with the end of the book, was to provide a call to action that could provide just the beginning of what I think could be a hair’s trigger, a domino effect, that then follows that allows courage to spread as infectiously over the next decade as fear has spread infectiously over the last. And it’s easier said than done, but I hope the book makes a contribution towards helping that happen.
Peter Kirsanow: A final question before our time’s up. You know, we’ve been subjected to, I think, an avalanche of commentary about the presumption of systemic racism in this country. Personally, on the Civil Rights Commission for the last 20 years, the systemic racism I see all goes in the opposite direction of what we are traditionally told is the systemic racism. In other words, it seems like most institutions favor brown and black people. Admissions, for example, at elite institutions; corporations bend over backwards to hire black and brown people and females, so on and so forth. You’re a brown person in good standing. How did you become successful?
Vivek Ramaswamy: Well, you know, my parents came to this country with one north star, which was the combination of education and hard work. And that — if they taught us – well, they didn’t come with much money, but they came here with a value set that put education and hard work at the top of the list. And that’s probably the most valuable thing that I actually inherited, was that philosophy. And I think there’s something to be said for the role of immigrants and first-generation Americans in keeping that American fire alive because I think you only value something that you have a stake in building, not just something that you inherit.
And I do reflect a little bit in the book about the fact that we’re actually in the middle of the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in American history where my generation — the generation of millennials — is on the receiving end of that generational shift. And I think that that has played a role in making our culture a little bit more effete as a culture that dispenses with the American ideals that you value. Just as you may not value your financial inheritance if you didn’t play a role in creating it, you don’t value your civic inheritance either if you didn’t have a stake in building it. And I think a lot of the cultural solutions, I think, have to begin with that recognition of the creation of an effete generation that ultimately had two ways to be superior to a prior generation—one was on their own terms—that’s hard work—another is to be morally superior. I think that’s the route that my generation has chosen.
But I think there’s a good side to it, too, which is recognizing that I’m also part of a generation that, in a healthy way, is hungry for a cause, is hungry for a sense of purpose. We’re hungry for identity. We’re hungry for the same thing human beings have been hungry for, for all of human history—hungry for meaning. The only difference is I think we live in a moment where the kinds of things that may have filled that moral hunger in generations past in our country — ideas like faith, and patriotism, and hard work, for that matter — are now absent in ways that leave a moral vacuum in its wake.
And when you have a vacuum that runs that deep, that’s when darker philosophies, post-modern philosophies like woke-ism, begin to fill the void. So it allows corporate America to prey on our moral insecurities in the way that a Virginia slims manufacturer might have preyed on the adolescent insecurities of a teenage girl in the 1990s. That’s what corporate America is doing to an entire generation today—preying on our moral insecurities, feeding our moral hunger with fast food instead of more substantial fare.
And what I think we really need is a revival of the kinds of ideas that may have filled that moral hunger with more substantial fare and, I think, shared American identity. I think faith could be an answer. It could be, perhaps, the most promising, but difficult, answer. I don’t really reach that in the book. But what I do reach in the book is a shared American identity, a revival of Americanism—a civic Americanism—that really fills a moral starvation that an entire generation’s hungering for today, that I think could — could, I think, really lead us to a different place, as — not only in a woke capitalism, or in our civic institutions, but in our culture itself — that really binds us together across our diversity in ways that we’ve failed to do over a prior decade where we have tried to fill the moral hunger by mixing morality with commercialism, which I think is the wrong way to go. So, I say more about it in the book, but that’s a bit about it at a high level, as we get to the top of the hour here.
Peter Kirsanow: Good. Well, we are at the top of the hour. This has been extraordinary. I think I speak for the audience members and their commentary here. It’s been extremely informative. I heartily commend the book to everybody. As I said at the outset — or maybe I said it to Vivek — that I read it four-and-a-half hours, not because I’m a fast reader, but because I was just absorbed in it. And I looked up, and I said, “I’ve finished the book.” It is informative, it’s entertaining, it’s insightful. Tell all of your friends to buy it. I don’t commend books like this. I commend my books like this, but this is an extraordinary book, well worth your time.
Vivek Ramaswamy: Thank you. I appreciate that. And if I do make any personal profit from it — which, you know, I’m told most books don’t really do — but if I net any personal profit out of it, I’m really just putting it back into the underlying agenda—donating it to the underlying agenda of the book itself. So I appreciate everyone’s support with it. Thank you so much.
Peter Kirsanow: Evelyn, I think we’re up. Aren’t we?
Evelyn Hildebrand: Yes. So, thank you. Thank you both very, very much for this presentation — completely fascinating. Thank you to our audience for participating and sending in questions and comments. We very much appreciate it. If you have any comments for us, we welcome feedback at [email protected]. Thank you so much to our participants and our speakers this afternoon. We are adjourned.
Dean Reuter: Thank you for listening to this episode of Teleforum, a podcast of The Federalist Society’s practice groups. For more information about The Federalist Society, the practice groups, and to become a Federalist Society member, please visit our website at fedsoc.org.