Review, Top Stories

Charlie Kirk’s Campus Battlefield—A Review

A review of Campus Battlefield: How Conservatives Can WIN the Battle of Ideas on Campus and Why It Matters by Charlie Kirk. Post Hill Press (October 2018), 160 pages.

Charlie Kirk, founder and CEO of Turning Point USA, campus court jester, and pro-Trump parvenu, has written a new book, Campus Battlefield: How Conservatives Can WIN the Battle on Campus and Why It Matters. As evinced by the title, Kirk purports to expose how colleges have become “leftist echo chambers” and explain what conservatives can do about it. It is a bad book, both in style and substance, failing as much on its own terms as any others. It’s not a book I expect too many to read, either, being a less-than-average offering in the already oversaturated, worse-than-average genre of nonfiction punditry.

Nevertheless, I do consider it a relatively useful book, at least insofar as what it augurs for conservatism, at present and going forward. Like it or not (and, I’ll disclose upfront, I do not), Charlie Kirk is a rising star within the GOP and American conservatism writ large. And he’s got the numbers to prove it: though only 25 years old last month, Kirk is a staple of right-wing nightly news and morning shows (“I’ve appeared on cable news shows more than five hundred times,” he brags in the book); boasts over 814,000 Twitter followers as of this writing (“I’m the second most powerful tweeter in conservative politics”); and, more importantly, he enjoys impressive access to the White House (“I have met with President Donald Trump more than fifteen times”) and first family—particularly Don Jr., who wrote the foreword to Campus Battlefield. Turning Point USA, the on-campus activism network Kirk founded in 2012, claims to reach over 130,000 students on more than 1,100 high school and college campuses and has raked in more than $30 million since its inception. Those curious about the next cohorts of conservatives—right-leaning students currently being reared in the age of Trump—should begin with Kirk and his organization.

What they find should concern them. Fundamentally unserious, unburdened with self-awareness, and gleefully engaged in stoking the fire of tribalism, Kirk is, above all things, a performer, peddling his own personal brand in the guise of training young conservatives and resisting liberal indoctrination on campus. It’s an act that’s had unsettling success in conference halls, on cable news, and on social media. But like most performances, it doesn’t work quite so well on paper. Campus Battlefield’s flaws are as apparent as they are numerous, and the book lays bare just how few clothes adorn Turning Point and its emperor.

*     *     *

It should not come as a shock to those who follow him on Twitter when I say Kirk’s is a poorly written book. There are so many grammatical errors and incoherencies—never mind the logical or factual ones—that it would be kinder to assume the editing process was skipped entirely than that someone at Post Hill Press actually reviewed the manuscript. These errors begin immediately, with Kirk misusing “alliteration” in place of “rhyme” on the very first page of the introduction, and carry through to the end. Particularly notable, for instance, is the inconsistent formatting of “ex cathedra”: a Latin phrase meaning “from the chair,” which is italicized the second time it appears but not the first. One error among many, the scholastic Latin nevertheless stands out among Kirk’s otherwise prosaic diction.

Counting its brief introduction, the book runs only about 150 pages. No fewer than 19 of these prominently feature block-quotes pulled from Kirk’s Twitter account (all of which are helpfully sourced: “—@charliekirk11”), further reducing the already risible amount of effort evidently put into the work. That Kirk, proud as he is of his presumed online influence, included his tweets is largely unremarkable. More surprising, however, is that from the nearly 42,000 tweets he had to choose from, he selected for his book one widely mocked tweet wherein he quotes himself quoting a hoary proverb misattributed to George Orwell. Even so, it’s a revealing moment—combining intellectual laziness, unoriginality, and Kirk’s characteristic tendency to spout erroneous banalities as if they were philosophical profundities. It’s a tremendous, meta-textual “self-own,” something Kirk does with more frequency than perhaps any other public person, with the possible exception of Chris Cillizza.

Though short, Campus Battlefield is far from concise. Of persistent annoyance are the gratuitous interjections and rhetorical questions Kirk peppers throughout—sometimes both at once: “…a conservative faculty member (how rare is that?)…” Even some of his interruptions have interruptions: “Here I’ll break in to say that apparently, these college professors are so ignorant of history—not surprising these days—that they don’t know…” The incessant repetition is worse. Irony is an ever-present motif, for example, appearing nearly a dozen times in the slim volume. And like a poor comedian needing to explain his punchline, Kirk constantly reiterates lest the reader miss his insights: “How ironic that all those lectures about the desperate need for campus safe spaces and trigger warnings…come from the Left. It’s ironic because liberals are most often the aggressors.”

Habits like these would be easier to forgive, of course, if Kirk had anything to say. As he writes in his introduction, the nominal purpose of Campus Battlefield is twofold: to “examine how the Left has pulled…off” their institutional dominance of colleges and universities, and to explain “how we can resurrect the heart and soul of our universities as—yes—safe places for the teaching and expression of all ideas” (Kirk’s emphasis). Neither one of these goals is accomplished; in fact, the former is hardly even attempted. In place of causal analysis, Kirk offers perfunctory sentences like, “How this leftist escapism took root is lost in the fog of time.” Kirk prefers simply to list instances of “leftist intolerance” documented by others and to promote Turning Point and its websites. There is a whole chapter dedicated to extoling the virtues of TPUSA’s neo-Orwellian “Professor Watchlist,” for example, in addition to the book’s final chapter—dramatically titled “Join Us in Our Fight for America’s Soul”—which is the literary equivalent of exiting through the gift shop.

Indeed, contrary to aiding his argument, the continual asides, pleonasms, and nakedly self-referential marketing attempts all serve to illustrate Kirk’s lack of substance. To say this book even has arguments is itself being generous. What it has instead are statements—piled up, one on top of another, variously adorned with clichés, and presented as if the heap constituted something with persuasive force. Perhaps my favorite example of Kirkian tautology occurs early in Chapter 5, where a single thought is repeated in five successive sentences:

Notably absent from [colleges’] idea of inclusion, however, are conservatives. Inclusion for so many college does not mean tolerating or welcoming anything that does not pass the muster of the liberal inclusion patrols. Inclusion only admits to the sacred circle the products of liberal, progressive, or socialist thinking. Colleges claim the high ground of inclusion, but it’s only lip service. Only liberal views are worthy of being fostered and nurtured. It is high-level hypocrisy.

Assuming this point has been proven, he asks in the next sentence, “How has this happened?” In another book, written by another author, this would be a question worth raising; for Kirk, it’s throat clearing. His answer is not an explanation but a syllogism: “Because higher education administrators have allowed it to happen.” Well then, case closed.

This is Kirk in a nutshell: say a lot while saying nothing, turn the subject with a rhetorical question or non sequitur, and cap it off with a quip or platitude. Kirk fancies himself a debater; but while he’s cribbed Ben Shapiro’s style, he’s lifted none of the underlying intelligence. His Twitter account is filled with slick, branded clips of him “DESTROYING” an opponent—most often, a liberal college student or professor ignorant enough to think they could ask a question and get a straight response. Typically, what happens is that Kirk—perched on stage, armed with a microphone, headlining the event in question (not dissimilar to the “power relationship” between liberal professors and conservative students he decries in the book)—faces down some audience member and interrupts, pivots, or mocks until he’s able to deliver a line that plays well to his friendly crowd or on social media. A perfect example of this occurred last month in a “must watch!” video posted to his Twitter account, wherein a Reconstructionist rabbi attempts to ask Kirk a question during a Turning Point event. I say attempts, because the rabbi never makes it to his query. Instead, Kirk tries first to feint with an obvious set-up question, and when the rabbi sidesteps the bait, Kirk proceeds to interrupt him with shouts, profanity, and mocking statements about his interlocutor’s religion—all to laughter and scattered applause. (“[A]t Turning Point USA,” Kirk writes in Campus Battlefield, “civility and respect are as much a part of our approach as is a command of facts.” Indeed.)

What the book makes clear, by virtue of its medium if nothing else, is just how few rhetorical tools Kirk has at his disposal—and how evidently they’re employed to distract from how little he knows. In a speech or question-and-answer exchange, the deflections, ripostes, and barrage of empty logic can be easy to miss if you’re not looking for them; written down, the patterns are obvious to the point of condescension. Even if you broadly agree with Kirk’s points (many of which I do, generally speaking), as a reader you can’t help but feel disrespected: Just how stupid does he think I am?

Quite, I’d wager. Or, at least, Kirk understands that his audience is not really paying attention. He’s probably right—or those who are don’t seem to care. Like the president whose wave he has ridden to national prominence, Kirk has a rather tenuous relationship with the truth. A quick scan through Kirk’s Twitter feed will manifest nearly as many factual errors as there are tweets, and Campus Battlefield is hardly an improvement on this front. Many of these are minor—Kirk anachronistically writes in Chapter 1 that the American founders “struggled to find a better way to govern than…the anarchy of [France’s] bloody Reign of Terror,” for instance. This error, like the apocryphal Orwell quote, could have been avoided with a simple Google search. Others—such as his unsourced claim in Chapter 3 that “professors have no problem with the standard practice of students grading their teachers on their colleges’ websites”—are perhaps less obviously wrong, but remain untrue nonetheless. What’s worse is how Kirk marshals these errors. For example, he ludicrously presents that last assertion as if it somehow invalidates academics’ criticism of TPUSA’s “Professor Watchlist” or justifies the list’s creation by an organization purporting to uphold “free speech” and the sanctity of the academic classroom, “the very heart of intellectual inquiry.”

Indeed, Kirk is repeatedly disingenuous to the point of mendacity. The most obvious example of this is his repeated obfuscation of TPUSA’s campus reach. He boasts in Chapter 2, for instance, that he hears often “from our more than one thousand Turning Point USA campus chapters”—only to clarify in Chapter 16 that, “We have launched more than 350 TPUSA chapters and provided 750 like-minded students groups with resources.” In reality, these “like-minded student groups” are not actually TPUSA groups at all, but rather independent campus organizations like the College Republicans and other student free-speech groups who simply accept TPUSA-provided products. Which is why Kirk is elsewhere careful to use dissembling phrases such as “having representation on over 1,100 high schools and college campuses” when describing TPUSA’s reach.

While he otherwise avoids telling outright lies, Kirk is as unreliable a narrator you’ll find. At one point, he chides the president of Marquette University for referring to a graduate student who taught classes as simply a “student,” calling it “disingenuous.” Fair enough. Yet, not four pages later, Kirk does the same thing in reverse—referring to a then-University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate student who taught classes as a “faculty member” and “professor.” In the introduction, Kirk valiantly writes that cancelling an event in the face of protests “and letting down the students who came to hear me with open or supportive minds was not an option.” Naturally, he doesn’t tell you of the time in May when he and Candace Owens, TPUSA’s communications director, bailed out of an event hosted by the TPUSA student chapter at Virginia Tech at the last minute so the pair could hang out with Kanye West instead.

Examples abound. “How often do conservatives harass liberals as they try to recruit students to their causes?” Kirk asks in another passage. “Not often, if ever.” Except that on April 16, 2016, Kirk himself joyously announced on Twitter, “Next semester Turning Point USA will be doing a nationwide ‘violate a safe space’ day. Bring it campus liberals!” Similarly, Kirk writes of the “nastiness, dishonesty, and silliness that infects the campus left-wing establishment.” He’s right that those things exist within the campus Left, of course (something I have written about extensively). Nevertheless, it takes an impressive level of hypocrisy for Kirk to accuse someone else of “silliness” when one of his TPUSA chapters hosted a rally last October, at which members wore diapers to protest safe spaces—to say nothing of the “nastiness” and “dishonesty” that flows near-daily from Kirk’s and, particularly, Owens’s Twitter accounts.

An illustrative episode of Kirk’s self-serving facade occurred recently with DePaul University. Kirk and Owens were set to speak to the DePaul TPUSA chapter on October 16 as part of their “Campus Clash Tour” (a title just dripping with civility), but were prohibited by the university from holding the event on campus. On October 9, the pair criticized DePaul for the move, accusing the university on Twitter of cancelling the event over concerns of “potentially violent” language. “The Left hates the idea there are other ideas,” Kirk wrote. “Hey DePaul, your fascism is showing.” Owens went further, tweeting that “DePaul is enslaving black minds.”

According to DePaul’s student-run newspaper, The DePaulia, however, what actually happened is far less suitable to their narrative. While the official decision letter sent to DePaul’s TPUSA chapter did mention concerns over the potential use of “hate speech,” the event was primarily cancelled due to ticketing and marketing concerns. “There was nothing unfair in the [DePaul administration’s] processing or the deadlines or the timelines. I just want to make that clear,” DePaul TPUSA’s vice president Ema Gavrilovic told The DePaulia. “The primary concern was Turning Point’s headquarters started issuing tickets and advertising for an event that was never originally even confirmed.” In fact, Gavrilovic explained, her campus chapter “really had no control or no say for what headquarters at the national level was doing,” stating, “We understand the DePaul administration’s reasoning for this exclusion because this was a primary concern that was voiced in the rejection letter.” Further, The DePaulia’s reporting makes clear, “DePaul TPUSA was made aware of the event’s cancellation in mid-September,” despite the fact that Kirk and Owens’s statements about it were not until October 9. Campus Battlefield was released October 10.

*     *     *

A favorite recent conceit among the more self-satisfied portions of the Left is that campus free speech, academic free inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and the like are simply McGuffins, and those trading in such issues nothing more than grifters. By and large, this notion is obtuse and scurrilous, often cynically employed by those wishing to avoid discussing the issues themselves. But those that do care about these issues—about free speech, the pursuit of truth, and the vitality of academe—would be wrong to ignore the evidence that grifters walk among us. For conservatives concerned about the decline of American education, doubly so.

Well-meaning or not—and I genuinely think he may be—Charlie Kirk is one such grifter. Leveraging his youth, talent for public speaking, and access to the White House, he’s fooled conservative donors into thinking he’s helping the cause of freedom on campus. Likewise, he’s fooled restless high school students and undergraduates into thinking performative victimhood and petty partisanship are epistemologically satisfying. Neither is true. Whether due to ignorance or indifference, Kirk and, by extension, his organization are hypocrites, and childish ones at that. And this petulant hypocrisy undermines not just legitimate indictments of higher education, but the intellectual development of young conservatives. The great irony of Campus Battlefield is how thoroughly Kirk paints this picture in his own words.

It’s evident that Kirk envisions himself as some grand general, leading his troops into the culture war. In reality, Kirk is a band director: his thoughts unoriginal and motions rehearsed, he trains his ensemble to play along to the tune of the day—currently, that of “owning the libs.” After all, the band’s job is to help cheer the team on to victory—a role Kirk performs with relish. And so he goes from campus to campus, conservatism’s fresh-faced Harold Hill, peddling his siren’s song to the kids in town until something better comes along.

In his brief, day-after review, the Weekly Standard’s Adam Rubenstein wrote sardonically, “the book may not be Kirk’s best work.” With respect to my friend Adam on this point, he could not be more wrong. On the contrary, I would contend that Campus Battlefield is Charlie Kirk’s best work, because it makes abundantly clear that this is the best he can do. More than that, however, it exemplifies just what it is that he is doing. Whether written by Kirk himself or an idiosyncratically talented ghostwriter, the monograph is a true expression of Kirk’s shtick—the shallow, facile affectation that lies at the heart of TPUSA’s most puerile ministrations. It’s an act to which conservatives—and their allies in the fight against academe’s decline—should no longer give any credence.

 

Grant Addison is the program manager for education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and a former chairman of the University of Arkansas chapter of the College Republicans. (The views reflected herein personal and do not reflect positions of AEI.)  His work has appeared in both scholarly and popular outlets, including National Affairs, the Wall Street Journal, National Review, RealClearEducation, and The Hill, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @jgrantaddison

80 Comments

  1. Sean S says

    For the first time, that see Quillette published a bad taste commentary article. I wouldn’t surprised if leftist propaganda machine NYTimes published something like this. Quillette, remember, reputation matters.

    • codadmin says

      Let’s give them some credit. I would never have heard of the guy before this article.

    • Quillette has a great reputation because they don’t fall for charlatans like Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens. If Kirk didn’t want the criticism, he could have written a better book.

    • Dr Professor Aloysius Ashley Bissonhouse-Preck, PhD, M.BS, JD, MVP says

      “Kirk misusing “alliteration” in place of “rhyme”….”

      What? WHAT?! WHAAAAAT!????? HEAVENS TO MENDACIOUSNESS! Aaaaaccck…. 😩

      *Falls to his mauve plush fainting couch in his hardwood, book-lined office … arm draped over his offended eyes … nouveau-post-anticontextualist sensibilities overwrought … comparative thesaurus dashed to the floor…*

      • Rick Rolld says

        Oh yes. Yes indeed. Quite. Most shocking. Simply will not stand.

        We must pen a letter of consternation and discombobulation to the Demi-Dean of Wordizingness (I happen to play squash ball with him Thursdays) and have this Kirk interloper put in the Chair of Censure, pointy hat and all. Such villains must be dealt with. Dealt with, I say!

        You know I heard a certain someone say “accusative” in place of “accusatory” a fortnight ago?

        Don’t know what it’s all coming to these dark days…

        • Thad G. (@thadgummit) says

          Letter to the Dean? Pish and phsaw. Much more is needed, surely.

          I overheard someone say in the Upper Tutor’s Lounge that the word butcher Kirk has also used *simile* when *metaphor* was called for. There are also credible accusations Kirk does unnatural *Scottish* acts with sheep, and eats croutons sans salad, if you can imagine such a thing.

          All that aside, this so-called Kirk (if that is his real name, which I doubt) admits to voting for a blaggard who capitalizes words that under no circumstances ought one capitalize; and said “shithole countries” when everyone knows it’s “Schitholde countries” (after the Austrian socio-economist Hans Friedrich von Schitholde, who categorized these emerging nations).

          The LAW! THE LAW UPON HIM!

        • Dr Giselle Hunter-Cox, Ed.BullSh. - Demi-Dean of Wordizingness, Safety and Diversity 🏛 Corbyn College of Jewish Studies says

          Dear Colleagues:

          Your safety concerns have been heard. I have formed an exploratory committee to examine the possibility of empaneling a tribunal to sit in judgment of a disciplinary hearing regarding author Charlie Kirk’s alleged use of “alliteration” for “rhyme.”

          If true, Mr. Kirk’s language may constitute hate speech and sheep assault under the Universal Worldwide Human Rights Speech Code established and passed by the Canadian Parliament, under which all universities in the UK fall. It is never okay to call a rhyme an “alliteration” when it wants to be called a “rhyme.” We take such accusations of violence very seriously.

          Whether true or not, this incident is incontrovertible proof that The Jeremy Corbyn College of Jewish Studies lacks diversity and practices sexism and misogyny in its hiring. JCCJS is committed to fairness, equality, opportunity, diversity, opportunity, equality, and fairness for everyone regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, sexual disorientation, gender, anti-gender, pornographic preference, age, chosen age, disability, lack of disability, height, weight, self-perceived weight, religion, non-religion, national origin, immigration status, or taste in hats. Until further notice, JCCJS will no longer hire men, following the policy enacted by our colleagues in Ireland to correct the misuse of words by authors whose books exist and contribute to erasure of marginalized groups on campus.

          JCCJS is committed to freedom of expression, open dialogue, and unfettered exchange of ideas. For those who don’t already have one, find attached a .ZIP file containing the list of words presently deemed unacceptable in order to make sure all feel safe expressing themselves completely and openly. Please note the addition of 37 slur pseudo-homonyms such as “niggardly”, “frigate”, and “runt”. A finalized hard copy will be compiled by the committee soon and delivered by forklift to faulty and staff. Any faculty wishing to contest additions to the list may meet at the sandbox behind Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Hall, and please bring your own pounding mallet, as none will be provided.

          Sincerely,

          Giselle Hunter-Cox, Ed.BullSh.

          Demi-Dean of Wordizingness, Safety and Diversity
          Jeremy Corbyn College of Jewish Studies

          • Circuses and Bread says

            @Dr Giselle

            Well played, thoughtcriminal, well played.

            You’ll be happy to know that for your safety and the safety of The Children, you’ve been reported for re-education.

          • Peaky says

            THANK YOU.

            I was ready to weep about all the nonsense and contradiction knocking about. This made me laugh until I cried. Sooooo much better.

            I think somebody is feeling resentful at his university job. 😉

          • THANK YOU. I am still laughing. Your comment brightened my day.

      • Michael Joseph says

        In all fairness, the article is a literary criticism of a book trying to explain why conservatives should have more sway at universities. Really, the first rule of criticizing intellectuals with a book should probably be to follow the simple rules of writing said book. Obviously the book is aimed at ignorant under graduates and not at the liberal administrators running the institutions.

        • Michael Joseph says

          Replying to the initial comment regarding the misuse of alliteration and finding it is under a barrage of sarcasm, I am left wondering if you all read much more than the opening paragraphs. I don’t begrudge you your laughs at the expense of the Academy; however, don’t expect they pay attention to you. And isn’t that what you are all after? Having universities move to the right might be argued logically but expecting them to come your way by mocking their insistence that words be used according to the meanings presented in the dictionary and books follow guidelines that foster clarity will fall on deaf ears.

          When a conservative laments that universities are too liberal, I remind them that they could always take a break from making money and teach. Folks, universities are liberal because they are run by people who have no other agenda than to seek the truth and make logical arguments.

    • Doug Deeper says

      Much thanks to Dr Giselle Hunter-Cox, Ed.BullSh. and all who have taken this article as seriously as is appropriate.
      It is now clear to me why the Kirk critics are complaining. He is winning over students, and they are losing students.
      So he is not Edmund Burke or Milton Friedman. He is simply a charismatic, very smart 25 year old who causes students to question the leftist orthodoxy, and exposes them to conservative and classical liberal ideas.
      Coward grammar experts line the hallways of the ivory tower, and are routinely run over by the left.

    • Graham Kelly says

      Kirk’s perspective seems unlikely, given the fact that progressive opinions dominate on college campuses. There are a number of reasons progressive voices dominate on campuses. One of the most significant is that teachers on college campuses earn significantly less than their privately employed cohorts with equal level of education, and the willingness to accept lower levels of compensation in order to educate the young seems to be predominately a liberal trait.

      In addition, many students think they might have the ability to regulate their own fertility, which sets them apart from conservatives who think this role should be allocated to old men in Washington or in their state capitals. Similarly, many students do not see why the richest country in the world cannot provide health care to everyone in the country, when many poorer countries can do so for far less money. For whatever reasons, ignorance or idealism, liberal ideas seem to predominate among the young, and as long as conservative candidates do not adopt such ideas, the most productive approach for conservatives will be to continue to support laws and policies which make it difficult or impossible for them to vote.

      • Bobby Jack says

        “In addition, many students think they might have the ability to regulate their own fertility, which sets them apart from conservatives who think this role should be allocated to old men in Washington or in their state capitals.”

        This is exactly the opposite of conservative ideals (limited government) and the ACTUAL goal of liberal organizations (big government).

        “Similarly, many students do not see why the richest country in the world cannot provide health care to everyone in the country, when many poorer countries can do so for far less money”

        We have state-run clinics in every state, all free, for basic health care and gov’t insurance for the poor. There are gov’t programs that pay for doctors and nurses education costs for a time-based repayment to these centers. What is doesn’t cover, much like these “poorer countries” you speak of, is higher cost-prohibitive procedures like knee-replacements, cardiac stents, cancer treatments, etc. None of which are thrown out like candy in any of your healthcare utopias. The problem of health care is simple in that getting people to actively pursue the field of medicine over gender studies is losing ground because it actually takes one to read a book.

        “For whatever reasons, ignorance or idealism, liberal ideas seem to predominate among the young”

        I shouldn’t even have to articulate a response to this ridiculous statement as it is as obvious as pointing at rain. As people mature, educate and become part of the real world and see for themselves how things are made, earned and paid for they become less liberal and more conservative. When they buy their own things and see the fruits of their labor shared with those who do not they tend to change their ideals rather easily. Their youth, lack of self-esteem and ignorance also dwindles and they no longer feel the need to profess to the earth that they are one of the “good people” to gain access to the “In-Tribe” of the moment.

        Give it time young one, when you come out of your parents basement, you too will want to be left alone and enjoy what you’ve worked so hard for. And then you can choose with whom to donate your surplus of earned funds to and at your discretion, not someone else’s or the Government. Until then, enjoy Fortnite

    • I think Kirk is basically a charlatan. I don’t think he has much useful to say.

      That said, this article does reek of elitism. Which only serves to empower Kirk, who made his name as an anti-elitist.

      I have to admit what Kirk has done is impressive at such a young age. I guess my hope is that he can serve as a gateway drug to conservatism and his followers will graduate to more thoughtful pundits.

  2. codadmin says

    You missed out a couple of obvious smears…Kirk is clearly pulling an illuminati style hand gesture on the cover of his poorly photoshopped book.

  3. Doug Deeper says

    Gee, do I detect a slight anti-Kirk, anti-Trump bigotry in this article? The author is part of a Rhino country club establishment that delivered the campuses and now nearly all of America to the tyrannical left. To listen to this author is to Complete the left’s takeover.

    • crutchie says

      I checked the writer on Google. He’s appears to be very much conservative. And a National review writer. You have to criticize your own side some of the times. At least try to make them do better

      • AEI is a white shoe GOP, neo-con, globalist, open-borders, perpetual war think tank. Given Addison’s focus on education at AEI, it might be observed that he and his kind probably bear some of the responsibility for the way higher education has developed over the last 25. Clearly, AEI is the last place Kirk or Turning Point could look to for assistance or even a kind word.

        This is like a Pharisee criticizing an Essene or a Presbyterian calling an Independent sectary an ignorant parvenu mechanic preacher and heretic.

        Conservatives of Addison’s ilk are as much a danger as are progressive SJWs.

    • Blasphemer says

      Sorry Doug. That word, bigotry. I don’t think it means what you think it means. Here’s a tip. If you are going to criticize something, then you need to actually provide a counter-point. Otherwise, you sound like someone having an emotional reaction to having their worldview challenged. Don’t know much about Kirk, but I’ve heard Candace Owens speak, and I am all the dumber for it.

      On a positive note, I like your films. Didn’t I see you in something with Jenna Jameson? Or is that a different Doug Deeper?

      • Greg Maxwell says

        Sorry, Blasphmer, if you’re going to call out the misuse of a word you might want to provide the meaning (at least the one you think.) I’ll give you a head start – Bigot; a person who stubbornly refuses to examine his prejudices. There’s plenty of anti-Trump bigotry around if you use the real definition.

        • Peter from Oz says

          Well said, Greg.
          The problem is that the new puritans (who call themselves progressives) have determined that true bigotry is something that is only practised by those who are prejudiced aagainst people who have different characteristics. In fact the puritans are now looking for bigotry so they can control the people.

    • Gnarly Gurk says

      There’s that performative victimhood the author was talking about. Any criticism of Charlie Kirk or Trump must be “bigotry”.

  4. Based on the videos I’ve seen of Kirk, I’m inclined to believe the accuracy of this review. I’m not the least bit surprised to find the reviewer describing Kirk as a “grifter” (or huckster or charlatan). Not that I doubt Kirk’s sincerity, but he unfortunately does strike one as shallow, crass, and desperately in need of a dose of humility. Which is unfortunate; the younger generation *needs* some leadership in this direction. It’s so frustrating that this is what they get.

    How can the resistance to “The Resistance” (and the rest of the Progressive Hard Left’s bad ideas) merit any credibility when it puts forth self-appointed “leaders” this slipshod and shallow? Admittedly, it may be asking a little much to expect a 25-year-old to exhibit the wisdom, thoughtfulness, and gravitas of, say, a Jordan Peterson. But then, look at Coleman Hughes, who if I’m not mistaken isn’t yet 22. He exhibits a maturity, thoughtfulness, and dignity that Charlie Kirk would do well to emulate.

    I fear that self-promotional zealots like Kirk who put out work as apparently sloppy as this do little more than feed the flames of rabid partisanship. If this review is indeed accurate, then it would seem Kirk is little better than those he would oppose in terms of his dedication to doing the hard work required to actually construct and present carefully thought-out arguments for his positions. If the book is no more than a litany of the sins of the far left on campus, how is that any better than the mindless groupthink of the ideological sheep whom Kirk sets out to pillory?

    Lastly, I personally cannot take seriously any book for which the author and publisher did not think it worth taking the time to proofread and copy-edit scrupulously. Such a degree of carelessness is not only insulting to one’s readers, but it conveys an arrogance that immediately calls into question the sincerity and credibility of the content.

    Here’s to hoping that Charlie Kirk matures and learns to couple his zeal for opposing the far left with a healthy dose of self-discipline and humility. Perhaps then he may become a credible force to be reckoned with. Until then, as Addison notes, I fear his bombastic immaturity “undermines not just legitimate indictments of higher education, but the intellectual development of young conservatives.”

    • Doug Deeper says

      I have met Kirk twice, and heard him speak both times. I found him to be a very impressive young man, intelligent and articulate. He displayed none of the qualities the author complains of, and boy does the author complain.

      It takes a very strong person to stand up to the left on campus. Very few have the courage or rhetorical strength to do so with any success at all. Charlie Kirk does. The likes of author Grant Addison simply have had little to no effect on campus. Their ilk have failed miserably to move the needle with young people.

      I believe Kirk is building a real movement more powerful than any conservative campus movement to date. He and his message resonates because he is someone students can relate to. If Kirk fails, the campus is likely completely lost. I do hope readers will learn far more from Kirk himself than rely on Addison’s horribly slanted review.

      • If you think Charlie Kirk is impressive, intelligent, or articulate, you need to follow better conservative speakers. Ben Shapiro shows that you can engage young people with conservative ideas while still being thoughtful and logically consistent. On the other hand, Kirk’s watered-down version of conservatism is cliched and vacuous. He just repeats the same catchphrases and soundbites over and over. Conservatism can’t win on college campuses if it’s not intellectually rigorous.

        • Doug Deeper says

          I follow all of them. However, outside of Peterson and Shapiro, no one reaches students as Kirk and Candace Owens do. Give Kirk just a little break, the guy just turned 25!

        • Conservative speakers are a dime a dozen. What is lacking are young constitutional democratic republican activists and organizers.

          As Cromwell said: “I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else.”

          As for AEI, another observation by Cromwell is on point: Your troopers are most of them old decayed servingmen and tapsters. . .” That seems to describe AEI’s cadre very well.

          • But that’s the problem. Charlie Kirk can’t demonstrate that he knows what he fights for. His version of conservatism is all about reacting to the left. Once you get beyond that, there’s no there there.

          • Peter from Oz says

            Jay
            I think we need all sorts in the great debate for conservatism. Those whose only true skill is debunking the left are what I call the attack dogs of the right. Yes, they are often silly and a biot crass, but they serve to distract the left’s attack dogs and entertain those in the middle who might start thinking about the right with more sympathy if they see someone standing up to the boring old platitudes served up by the left.

    • Strange Bedfellow says

      “shallow, crass, and desperately in need of a dose of humility” – sounds like a familiar description of Kirk’s hero in the White House. I do however support both of them in their brave efforts – and sincerely hope their energy offsets their obvious weaknesses.
      But critical essays like this are perhaps necessary for Kirk to sharpen his skills.

    • Christopher says

      I just wanted to the thank the Alchemist for saying exactly what I was thinking.

      The writer levels very serious accusations against Kirk that are backed up by every video of Kirk I’ve ever seen. While “Dr. Giselle Hunter-Cox’s” comment was hilarious (bravo), having a well-researched and edited book is a PREREQUISITE to be taken seriously. If you can’t be bothered to do that than you haven’t really written a book.

      While Kirk is only 25 and we can all hope he grows in maturity and wisdom, his current “leadership” is both intellectually shallow and purely reactionary. As others have said, if this is the leader of the campus right they are in trouble.

  5. Circuses and Bread says

    The program manager for education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute penned this review of a book written by the head of Turning Point USA?

    Well I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that he panned the book then, huh? 😂

  6. Farris says

    This review reads like someone with an axe to grind. It is difficult to ascertain if the author is more contemptuous of Kirk or his audience.

    “Perhaps my favorite example of Kirkian tautology occurs early in Chapter 5, where a single thought is repeated in five successive sentences:”

    Here the pot is calling the kettle black. The author spends 20+ paragraphs saying he considers Kirk an egotistical lowbrow who is adored by the deplorable class.

    When writing a book review it is perfectly acceptable to dislike the book. However this review is polluted by the writer’s dislike of the book’s author. After reading the review one learns little about the book but plenty about the reviewer’s distaste for the author. The article reads like a name calling cat fight on Facebook. Personal detachment is something this article’s author may wish consider in the future.

    • augustine says

      Thanks, that was my impression also. All I recall from the review is that young conservatives are “unserious”. That is a serious assertion worth pursuing and the reviewer would have done well to follow that idea instead of vomiting excessively all over Kirk.

  7. Quillette does a wonderful job tearing apart vacuous leftist ideas. It is disconcerting to see people here resist Quillette doing the same to vacuous conservative ideas.

    Bad ideas are bad ideas, and I hope Quillette is able to remain neutral enough to criticize any bad idea from any ideological area as well as those who propagate bad ideas. The service is more needed than ever.

    • Likewise glad to see Quillette turn it’s gaze onto the right too. I’ve listened to both Kirk and Owens at turning point speak and, to borrow a well known meme, they appear as much NPCs as your average leftist. It takes about 15 seconds of listening to them speak on one matter before being able to predict what they think on almost everything.

      • Peter from Oz says

        I have to say that Owens is definitely correct about one thing, which is that blacks have done very poorly out of being solid supporters of the Democrats.

      • Circuses and Bread says

        @CJ

        I’d rather see Quillette turn it’s gaze, and it’s ire on the anti political as well. Yes, there is a self serving aspect of that which I’ll happily owe up to. But there is another reason: at least a plurality and usually a majority of eligible voters in the US and other western countries don’t participate. They abstain. What about them? Saying they don’t matter and can just be ignored is a very convenient and (probably) inaccurate point of view. That some group is hard to study and defies easy characterization makes it all the more interesting.

    • Sean S says

      Wrong, Will. It is great to criticize someone or something based on content, not based on sides. This article is a smear not a book review. A lot of the writing is toward the person, not the book. The article is a disgrace.

      • Buy the book, then, and come back and tell us what you think of it. I think the review did a good job of demonstrating why it’s a bad book. There’s no reason to pay money for a reprint of Charlie Kirk’s tweets.

    • Likewise glad to see – don’t want to see Quillette just become another example of tribalism. Bad ideas and shitty writing are bad ideas and shitty writing.

    • Peter from Oz says

      I agree with the idea that it is good to see ideas scrutinied. But surely it is also useful to test the ideas of the critic as well.

    • augustine says

      Tearing apart vacuous conservative ideas? Quillette turning its gaze onto the Right? How does this happen when this reviewer says essentially that Kirk has no ideas to speak of? Anyone can be a jerk. Do we really need to be reminded of this in essay form?

  8. John luck says

    An accurate portrayal of Kirk. There is something to be said for the shallow on-campus exposure that kirk provides. For instance, I enjoyed a young Steven Crowder when i was in college, and well before he was as known as he is now. It made me feel good to see someone my age open about their views. Kirk is different though, with Crowder i knew this was no intellectually challenging thinker, he was a prankster who was on the right. Kirk is an extension of the Trump right that thinks winning is all that matters, and battering your oponent with misused rhetoric is the same thing as presenting ideas to change minds. He has reach, i just hope those hes reaching will move beyond kirks vacuous, inane, and insulting portrayal of conservative ideas and spend some time reading the real ones, and learning the history behind them.

  9. Ray Andrews says

    I suppose it is an eternal dilemma that because most contests tend to have two sides, one is sorta stuck with the problem of having allies that one would rather not have. Thus Dr. Peterson is cursed with the inevitability that he will be associated with the likes of Kirk if only because both of them are ostensibly opposed to the neo-Marxist hegemony on campus. Death and Taxes.

  10. Greg Thrasher says

    Nothing new here worth spending any money or time to read this garbage …At some point even conservative readers and followers are going to have civil rights fatigue waiting on some new innovative and authentic thinkers emerge

    What a bore of the boo and theme

    BLM

    • Circuses and Bread says

      @Greg Thrasher

      Do ‘tiresome themes’ also include the idea that politics achieves worthwhile ends?

      We spend a whole lot of time pushing one political philosophy over the other without asking ourselves a more basic question: “does this politics thingy even work?” Clearly I’m of the HELL NO IT DOESN’T! viewpoint. But I would welcome people who are far smarter than I am to to look.

      • Peter from Oz says

        C&B
        You are correct. Very few people seem to follow up to see if government programs actually work and whether they have any nasty unintended consequences.
        Being anti-political is in essence truly right wing.

  11. D-Rex says

    So, we expect a 25 year old to have attained perfection in both ideas and prose before he can have an impact on students in higher education. There are countless much older persons of high intellect who nevertheless spout banalities and partisan drivel (Michael Eric Dyson anyone?) and have no impact on the political thought of college conservatives. I’ve only seen Kirk and Owens a couple of times, most notably on the Rubin report, but found both of them to be passionate, sincere and articulate. So you don’t agree with everything they say? OK, but at least they are out there trying to change things for conservative students, imperfect as their attempts may be. Much as I like Shapiro, he is a fly in fly out type of speaker on campuses and doesn’t seem to have the ongoing investment in “the cause” that TPUSA does.
    Having said all that however, seriously WTF? We’ve just had an interview with Camille Paglia no less, surely a high point in most reader’s week, to a trashy hit piece on a low brow book by a relatively unknown guy with his first(?) foray into writing. This is beneath Quillette in my opinion. Even if you just compare this rubbish with the other book reviews here, it stands out in it’s “beneathness”(I just made up a new word, sue me).
    Please Quillette, if this is the standard you accept, I’m going to start submitting reviews of the latest comics that I’ve read (don’t judge me, try reading a comic called Saga, you’ll see).

  12. The earlier comments on this article are the most entertaining I’ve yet read on Qullette. Bravo to all you imaginary multi-hyphenated academics!

  13. As a new reader here, I appreciate the efforts by some to help us all avoid either the sin of vilification or deification. I am amused by the failure of some to understand the major crime of the left when it comes to language that is hijacked and weaponized. To quote Lewis Carroll “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” Choosing language to cause the most damage to the target, racist, sexist, or choose your phobic, or interpreting the words of the other so as to make them appear evil, stupid or shall we say , deplorable, seems to me to be unworthy of what we would like to see as intellectual honesty.

  14. Jules Sylver says

    Those contributors who are the most disdainful of this book review seem actually to have enjoyed it the most. Those of you criticizing the observation of Kirk’s misuse of “alliteration” seem more fixated on that point than is Addison. Those of you criticizing his excursion into Kirk as a public figure instead of just reviewing the book are doing quite a bit that yourselves.

    I don’t know much about Kirk. I only know that Candace Owens writes like a high school student. Can’t blame Addison for being distracted by petulance in print.

  15. What is Kirk’s intended audience for this book? Is it possible he nailed it for them? Don’t think the reviewer understands that.

    • Michael Joseph says

      I assume you’re talking about undergraduates who plan to memorize, regurgitate, and forget their studies as head out to lucrative careers. That’s fine but it won’t convince liberal administrators to higher more conservatives. Not that there should be a political litmus test for professors. I wonder how people would feel about affirmative action for conservative college professors?

  16. Not everyone is intellectually capable of (or interested in) digesting, comprehending, reiterating, and challenging complex political, psychological, and sociological concepts. Even simple ones, for that matter. There is a market for pop culture conservatism and while that product may leave some unquenched, I’d wager it’s all most can handle. It’s also great jumping off point for young people with whom something about the opposing ideology feels off and are interested and able to delve further into the substance.

    It’s because of poor branding and lack of sex appeal that conservatism has suffered its unpopularity among young folks over the last 40-50 years in my opinion. A little flash and sizzle to attract more eyes is hardly going to hobble thought at the deeper level.

    The question, “Is Kirk substantive?”, is fair, but so is the question, “Is Kirk effective?”. No and yes respectively, I’d follow with,”Who cares how you sell tickets? Just sell out the show.”. Conservative academia should abandon the idea that only those chosen with superior intellect, education, and access are deserving of championing ideas. Dumb people have the right to an opinion too, better they be exposed to ideas that have some moral and practical merit behind them than none.

    I understand my opinion is cynical and the prognosis for continuing this “war” on the current campus battlefield looks like a stalemate at best. I appreciate this site and the examination of ideas here. I wish public discourse were this civil, that ideas and beliefs were not held so sacred as to be unquestionable…but let’s be real, the table has been set by those opposed to the foundations of classical knowledge as oppressive and all that’s being served is wet cat food. Let’s not get choicy when some fancy lad pours out a bag of kibble and the dogs who’ve been starving come woofing up to “git some”.

  17. Jonathan Nilsson says

    Mr. Addison. You can’t accuse Mr. Kirk of wordiness, or ‘pleonasms’ as you put it, when your writing has many unnecessary adjectives itself. There are good moments in this review but it could be a lot better if you didn’t over-write so much. Trim those hedges. Get precise. Occam’s Razor.

    Also, I do wish you had focused more on criticizing Kirk’s actual ideas rather than his grammatical errors and irrelevant faux-pas. Anyway… good luck on the next one.

  18. Benjamin Perez says

    Kirk is the right-wing equivalent of an “NPC.” It’s bad enough that there are left-wing NPCs—right-wing NPCs don’t bring discursive balance, just more dumbing down of discourse. If one’s conservative, then stick to reading George Will, Sir Roger Scruton, and Heather Mac Donald—if one’s progressive, then start reading them (and never stop). And if one is dumb and conservative, then please, please stop “helping.”

  19. Jacques says

    Not at all surprised by this, and it makes even more sense given his working relationship with Owens, another divisive opportunistic charlatan. With that said, I did enjoy Kirk a lot on Rubin Report and found him to be intelligent and charismatic. He’s a savvy guy and I’m interested to see where he ends up in life. He’ll become a politician or a Fox News host.

    By the way, isn’t the campus craziness a little passé now? For one of the biggest stars of the new class of online political pundits, Kirk is surprisingly behind the times with this one.

    • codadmin says

      Owens is divisive in the same way Captain Picard is divisive to The Borg. She wants diversity of opinion among her community. Only a leftist, scared of losing that block vote, would call her a divisive charlatan.

  20. Jules Sylver says

    Jacques: “Kirk is surprisingly behind the times with this one.” Agreed, but I find it actually quite common. People who earn their living promoting a certain world view don’t usually realize when they are no longer ahead of the pack.

  21. This is the third review of Charlie Kirk’s book that I’ve read, and they all seem to be along a similar line that the book is rather sub-par. No great surprise there, most books are sub-par. This didn’t really surprise me either considering the few times I’ve seen Kirk speak.

    The first was his appearance on The Rubin Report, a program I’ve appreciated for the hands off style of interview that lets me get acquainted with the individual. As an aside, its also immensely helpful that Rubin does not simply bulldoze and interrupt his guest, a frustrating tactic when it’s employed. But, back to the topic at hand. Kirk came off to me as earnestly believing what he was saying. I do believe that he has good motives, and its obvious that his organizing and promoting skills are fantastic.

    However, what you, and this reviewer here noted, is that it seems Kirks grasp of what he is talking about is rather shallow. He believes what he says, but it left me feeling as if in that interview he had spoken the entire breadth of his knowledge, and that there was nothing further behind it.

    While many are tempted to use “NPC” as a way to describe this phenomena, I would prefer something more akin to a well intentioned Potemkin. He has the surface of his ideological structure on display, but were we to open the door there would be scarcely a load bearing wall, pillar, or even a proper set of four walls to be seen.

    This feeling of intellectual void is hard to shake when I hear Kirk speak. I do not feel it when I hear Shapiro speak, I am rather certain that he has a well furnished ideological house complete with facts not feelings table cloths.

    Candice Owens is a different matter, one I will not address at length. But, I do not get the same feeling from her when she speaks, her edifice at least has a few walls and a roof.

    This whole state of affairs is disappointing, but not unsurprising. Conservatism is harder to understand than Liberalism is. It takes far more reading, of a wider and greater variety than Liberalism to grasp what Anglo-American Conservatism is. There are more variants, and, at least in the best conception, many branching paths.

    He is young, but not that young being only 3 years younger than myself. There is time yet that he could tire of sophistry and rank punditry and begin truly completing his understanding of conservative thought in a more thorough manner. But, considering how lucrative those tactics have been, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    Kirk serves a function, a gateway, in a similar way to what another commenter said about Steven Crowder. He can energize a younger crowd, one that is not yet ideologically committed to one way or the other. While I don’t want new zealots formed, this time on the right, what I see is that they are at least introduced to the right earlier than I was.

    • chowderhead says

      This is the problem – conservatives have no spokesperson with any weight. I keep hearing Shapiro and Jordan tossed about here and elsewhere, yet I find them as compelling as Glenn Beck was. They all sound like petulant children demanding their toys back, constantly point backwards to the good ol’ days while shitting on all those nasty progressives. Now we have Trump’s protege, Kirk. All bitch and bitch slap with zero inertia.

      Yeah, let’s go backwards. Sounds good. You go ahead, I’ll meet you there.

      You can’t win because you have no message that’s future tense.

      • codadmin says

        A drug addict was never always a drug addict…so is the drug addict looking backwards or forewards in time when they envision a better, drug free, life for themselves?

  22. Michael Joseph says

    Sadly, Trumpism is the natural evolution of conservative ideas. Kirk is just a demidemagogue following a path that will be rejected by the people. Freedom from government and rugged individualism leaves you a hunter gatherer subject to disease and famine. There is the rub. You really don’t believe in those things cause you like your healthcare and your central heat. Now you’re just a tribe setting up parameters around the division of resources. Thus opening yourself self up to accusations of bigotry. You may deny the accusations but one look at Trump’s rally audiences belies 40 years of Republican lip service to inclusivity.

    • R Henry says

      Your comments indicate you do not fully understand the philosophical fundations upon which the American concepts of liberty are constructed. To remedy this, I heartily recommend investing ten hours of your time to absorb a free, high quality video college course on the subject here:

      freeconstitutioncourse.com

  23. R Henry says

    Kirk is the personification of Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message.”

    The Internet generally, and Social Media specifically, have gestated a new manner of thinking, and communicating. When twitter will only provide 140 characters to express one’s brilliance, both expression and brilliance itself are compromised. The compromises yield Kirk.

  24. codadmin says

    Now that I’ve listened to a few of Kirk’s interviews, this book ‘review’ is even nastier than on first reading.

    Kirk is essentially on the front lines. What he needs is allies and not pedantic, spiteful, character assassinations from his own side.

    This ‘review’ could have been written by a rabid SJW and published in the Guardian. The fact it was written by a conservative is an absolute disgrace.

    If you think Kirk is too rough around the edges, then give him a email and help him out…put him in touch with a better editor, a better graphic designer…tell him, respectfully, how you think he can sharpen his arguments…be an ally.

    Leftists would never, ever, cannibalise their own in this way. It’s why they dominate the means of cultural production and conservatives don’t.

    Shame.

  25. Ethel in Eden Prairie says

    I have to admit. I got about 8 paragraphs in before I realized I was reading a Tweet by someone with 43 followers in response to a Kim Kardashian Tweet that went to 20 million followers.

    Look..these books are put out by publishing houses. The authors get paid up front and they agree to a PR tour and they hope people read it.

    But reading this book report by the author was like watching my 13 year old critique Catcher in the Rye…a C- effort at best if I’m grading…on a curve.

  26. Greg Thrasher says

    This guy is a classic example of the underdeveloped White intellectuals in America ….Nothing new nor profound here ..No new wave, verve or anything close to an authentic perspective

    What a Boring person…

    BLM

    • R Henry says

      Methinks “this guy” simply operates on the opposite side of the aisle from Matt Yglesias and Jimmy Kimmell. Those two lefties are certainly NOT introducing anything new or profound to the world of ideas…..

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