The Lessons of 2023

2023 was a rather bad year.

Not as bad as 2024 is likely to be, or as 2020 was.

But bad.

Nonetheless, we ought to learn from the bad as well as the good. So, in a spirit of reflection, I offer a few lessons we ought to remember from this crummy year.

Lesson No. 1: Lots of people do not think like we do. And failure to recognize the truth of this lesson leads to failures of imagination that in turn lead to suffering and death.

When Hamas slaughters infants in their cribs, rapes women in front of their husbands and takes them captive back to Gaza, and tortures and murders civilians, that isn’t because of some outsized grievance. It’s because they do not have the same values as Westerners. Pretending that members of Hamas are simply freedom-loving people who seek material prosperity, quiet family lives and tolerance for those who think differently isn’t just wrong; it’s catastrophically wrong. It’s also leading foolish Westerners to believe that appeasement of Hamas sympathizers will somehow alleviate Hamas’ evil terrorist behaviors, or that current deaths of civilians in the Gaza Strip is the result of Israeli indiscrimination rather than Hamas’ stated war objective of maximizing civilian casualties for the international media.

That’s a lie. And it’s a dangerous lie. It’s the same lie that led to 20 years of terror buildup in the Gaza Strip, funded and then ignored by the West. It’s the same lie that has led to thousands of deaths, both Israeli and Palestinian. It’s the same lie that led the West to import millions of radical Muslims into its heart, endangering both the social fabric and the future of the West itself.

Which brings us to lesson No. 2: The next generation is in serious moral peril. As a recent Harvard-Harris poll showed, 79% of young Americans (18-24) agree that white people are oppressors and people of color are the oppressed; a similarly frightening two-thirds of young people believed that Jews are part of the oppressor class and “should be treated as oppressors.” This bodes ill for the future of republicanism: If Americans can quickly be classified as oppressor or oppressed not based on behavior but based on group identity, we will revert to the tribalism that destroys nations entirely.

Lesson No. 3 of 2023: Weakness breeds aggression. From Afghanistan to Crimea, weakness in the face of America’s enemies breeds aggression. Russia moved on Ukraine not predominantly because it feared NATO’s dominance, but because it sensed Western weakness; right now, the Iranian government is flipping the activation switch on all of its proxy terror groups in the Middle East because of perceived Western cowardice; should the West fail to confront the Houthis in the Red Sea, undoubtedly China will see the West’s unwillingness to expend even minor military resources to retain open trade lanes, and will threaten Taiwan. The same is true with regard to America’s southern border: an open border breeds waves of illegal immigration, which is precisely what we have been seeing. Conversely, strength means facing hard realities and making sacrifices in order to confront them.

Lesson No. 4 from 2023: what goes around comes around. Always.

This has been true for quite a while when it comes to American politics: voiding the judicial filibuster means the other party will cram through nominees on a party line vote; militarizing the executive order will allow the other party’s president to do the same. Today, Democrats seem excited to weaponize the Department of Justice in order to target former President Donald Trump, the leading candidate to face off against President Joe Biden. What are the chances that precedent will be utilized by Democrats’ opponents in the future? Refusal to acknowledge this reality means an endless cycle of escalating reprisal that ends only with actual conflict.

One final lesson: incompetence has consequences.

We live in the richest and most powerful country in human history. That truth obscures the effects of incompetence at every level. But not for long. Eventually, the people tire of the incompetence of their leaders — and when they tire of the incompetence of leaders from all sides, they seek radical change to the systems themselves. Often, such changes are more perilous than the incompetence they seek to rectify. Which means that perhaps intermediate institutions — say, political parties — ought to flex their muscle in order to press forward competent people rather than caving to the whims of the moment.

So long, 2023.

Here’s to a better 2024.

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Ben Shapiro

Ben Shapiro, 37, is a graduate of UCLA and Harvard Law School, host of "The Ben Shapiro Show," and editor-in-chief of He is the author of the New York Times bestsellers "How To Destroy America In Three Easy Steps," "The Right Side Of History," and "Bullies."

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