Skip to comments.Jonah Goldberg’s "Suicide Of The West"
Posted on 04/16/2018 3:17:44 PM PDT by DeweyCA
Jonah Goldberg has a new book coming out next week and today National Review published a lengthy piece adapted from the book. Theres a tremendous amount to unpack in this piece so I wont even try to do it justice in a single blog post, but there is an idea here that really struck me as insightful and worthwhile: Conservatism is a form of gratitude.
Theres a foundation to this idea. According to Goldberg, were living through a historical miracle brought about by the triumph of liberal-Democratic capitalism. On any longer time scale, Goldberg points out, our current lives are a recent invention and almost indescribably different from most of human experience. The important thing about the miracle is that there is no sense in which it had to happen, nor any guarantee that it must continue. In fact, Goldberg writes that there are forces at work which are already intent on bringing it to a swift end.
Why stress that the Miracle was both unnatural and accidental? Because Western civilization generally, and America particularly, is on a suicidal path. The threats are many, but beneath them all is one constant, eternal seducer: human nature. Modernity often assumes that weve conquered human nature as much as weve conquered the natural world. The truth is weve done neither. We simply restrain each from generation to generation. If youve ever owned a boat, car, or house, you know that nature needs only time and opportunity to reclaim everything. Rust doesnt sleep. Termites respect a grandfather clock no more than an outhouse. Abandon a car in a field, and all nature requires to turn it back to the soil is time. Preventing decay and entropy from reclaiming everything built by human hands requires vigilant upkeep. As Horace said, You may drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she will keep coming back.
Nearly all of our laws and customs, from marriage and prohibition of murder to the concept of merit, restrain human nature. For instance, nepotism and favoritism are natural. People prefer family and friends in every society that has ever existed. Westerners often consider developing countries such as Afghanistan corrupt because their political systems proceed from tribal reciprocity. But Afghans and others argue that their ways are ancient and natural. And theyre right. Our system of merit, contracts, blind bidding, etc. is whats unnatural.
The story of Western civilization, and really civilization itself, is the story of productively sublimating human nature.
Goldberg doesnt use this metaphor but the idea hes presenting is that the modern world is really dancing on the head of a pin and always in danger of going over one edge or the other simply because our current environment is so far from our natural state. The force most likely to send us over the edge is tribalism, our tendency to seek group identity. If were no longer getting that identity from home, from church, from the local community, most people will seek it in something else.
People learn virtue first and most importantly from family, and then from the myriad institutions family introduces them to: churches, schools, associations, etc. Every generation, Western civilization is invaded by barbarians, Hannah Arendt observed: We call them children. Civil society, starting with the family, civilizes barbarians, providing meaning, belonging, and virtue
Because the Miracle is unnatural, unless were properly civilized to understand and appreciate it, we look to restore what instinctively feels natural. As individualism feels more atomizing and alienating, the siren song of the group, the tribe, or the gang becomes increasingly seductive. We evolved to hate inequality because group survival required sharing resources. But envy is a deadly sin for a reason, and when a civilization surrenders to it, the Miracle dies.
And its with this understanding that the future of liberal-Democratic capitalism is not guaranteed that Goldberg comes to his point about the importance of gratitude in keeping it going.
It seems axiomatic to me that whatever words can create, they can destroy. And ingratitude is the destroyers form. We teach children that the moral of the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg is the danger of greed. But the real moral of the story is ingratitude. A farmer finds an animal, which promises to make him richer than he ever imagined. But rather than nurture and protect this miracle, he resents it for not doing more. In one version, the farmer demands two golden eggs per day. When the goose politely demurs, he kills it out of a sense of entitlement the opposite of gratitude.
The Miracle is our goose. And rather than be grateful for it, our schools, our culture, and many of our politicians say we should resent it for not doing more. Conservatism is a form of gratitude, because we conserve only what we are grateful for. Our society is talking itself out of gratitude for the Miracle and teaching our children resentment. Our culture affirms our feelings as the most authentic sources of truth when they are merely the expressions of instincts, and considers the Miracle a code word for white privilege, greed, and oppression.
I like this image of conservativism as gratitude. This seems like a good way to frame the fundamental nature of the outlook animating various conservative views. The image of the conservative standing athwart history yelling Stop! is one were all familiar with, but this outlook suggests a reason for doing so: When youre entire society is dancing on the head of a pin, it makes sense to urge a bit of caution and keep in mind that the way forward (as the left is fond of claiming they represent) is not always the way up. Sometimes its just a quicker way over the edge.
You can see a pretty good example of how all of these things are connected (individualism, democracy, capitalism) in the ongoing collapse of Venezuela. A populist leader transformed himself into a socialist and not even two decades later one of the richest nations in South America is full of people starving to death. As socialism took hold, capitalism was the first victim, but democracy soon followed. Now the nation is a dictatorship run by a gang of revolutionary thugs. The miracle is dead.
And you can see it happening on Americas college campuses where a minority of far left students have embraced silencing their opponents and demanding conformity to their group identity. Theyre still a small minority at the moment but the same impulses, identity politics over individualism, is at work.
I havent read Goldbergs book (it comes out next week) but this preview of the themes certainly has me interested in seeing more.
America's Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview, and realized that nobody was all-wise, incorruptible, or had unlimited resources. As a result, they constructed a government that sought to check and balance anyone's attempt to put themselves in a position to be an authoritarian ruler. Leftists and Progressives believe that they are better than the rest of humanity, both morally and intellectually, and so they should be given authoritarian powers. Their proud egos don't believe in the doctrine of total depravity and original sin. As a result, they are bitter that they don't yet have complete power to impose their will on people and create a utopian heaven on earth. They are ungrateful for the current American system of governance and want to "fundamentally transform" it.
Goldberg and Sexton are close when they talk about ingratitude, but the underlying problem is sin and Leftists' proud inflated sense of self. Leftists are inordinately proud and thus are ungrateful people. That is also why they have no problem engendering envy, resentment and hate in order to motivate more of their voters, even though Leftists know that promoting these vices is harmful to America and to the individuals that they stir up. Leftists, Progressives, Elitists, Democrats, whatever you want to call them, truly are satanic in nature and in their methodology. Saul Alinsky was correct to dedicate his Rules for Radicals to Lucifer.
And the Never Trumper Goldberg - a product of nepotism and who apparently has never seen a bathtub or shampoo in his life - has contributed to the suicide of the west.
James Burnham wrote the same book back in the early 60s or late 50s
future of liberal-Democratic capitalism
It has no future.
Representative republic, theocracy, or fascism. Take your pick.
I’ve been reading his columns when they appear in Townhall for the last year and it is all “I hate Trump”.
I seem to recall that Jonah has been fine in the past with gay marriage. Not a very conservative or “preserve Western civilization” view.
Yep, Goldberg has championed amnesty and non-enforcement of borders and laws.
Nothing will subdue US faster than losing our country from the flood of foreigners.
I wonder how much Goldberg borrowed from James Burnham’s essay called Suicide of the West from more than 50 years ago:
Probably as much as he lifted from Mark Steyn
Goldberg turned out to be a real disappointment.
is his mother’s board, lucianne still alive?
Bingo. I wonder if Goldberg gives a hat tip or not.
Goldberg's viewpoint is that we live in a miracle about to be unwound by base, tribal, human nature. Your stance that we live in godless times with our Judaeo-Christian heritage being systematically suppressed, while accurate, doesn't seem out of line with Goldberg.
If I had read Goldberg's words without knowing the author, they would still ring a note of veracity, even though they were scripted by a disingenuous Never Trumper.
Fifty years ago, National Review founding editor James Burnham wrote Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism, a book that brilliantly examines the role of modern liberalism in reconciling the West to its geopolitical retreat. Like all of Burnham's books, Suicide of the West combines elegant writing, historical insight, unsentimental political analysis, and an unmatched understanding of power in all its forms. It was Burnham's last book (other than a collection of columns entitled The War We Are In, published in 1967), and it deserves to be remembered as one of the 20th-century's great works of political analysis. ...
Burnham labels liberalism a Weltanschauung, or worldview, a system of belief based on what ought to be instead of what is and has been. At its most fundamental, liberalism is based on an abstract, rationalist view of human nature. Liberals hold that human nature is not fixed but changeable, that humans are perfectible and their potentialities unlimited, that reason can govern the affairs of men, and that human progress is inevitable. In the liberal worldview principles, customs, and religion are obstacles to human progress, not evidence of human nature's essence and limitations. For liberals, there is no evil, no social problem, no disagreement or conflict that cannot be overcome by their enlightened ideology.
I highly recommend Burnham's work. Can't say the same for Goldberg's.
Mass immigration = suicide of the West. Tribalism is just the natural product.
America is a product of Protestantism. As Protestantism has been undermined and supplanted so has America and the entire West.
I agreed with Sexton’s and Goldberg’s overall analysis, but think that they did not discuss the underlying cause of the ingratitude. That cause is the Leftists’ inordinate sense of self and their out-sized sinful pride. That is what causes them to be ungrateful. Their self-centered ego makes them think that they are entitled to more than what they have been given, and so they are ungrateful. They do not believe in the fallenness of mankind, and especially not of themselves being fallen, sinful, corruptible individuals.
Leftism, at its heart, is the denial of God. Man puts himself on God’s throne and then destruction is inevitable.
Well said DeweyCA! I’d rather read your book.
I’ll second that !
I’ve always disliked Goldberg. I did like this mother at one time.