Reat material wellbeing but in many respects cuts against our tribal biological programming Although he gives some bare minimum lip service to people not being too thrilled when they get creatively destroyed by our present form of unrestrained neoliberal capitalism he never takes seriously the idea that anyone has a serious criticism of the current way of doing things Everything is chalked up as some ind of psychological failing of people wishing to revert back to a lower form of life People do sometimes falsely see conspiracies and structural failures where they don t exist Yet anyone with two eyes can see that an unregulated economic system over time has accreted an undeserving aristocracy not to mention the terrifying destruction of common goods like the natural environmentGoldberg makes some good points about the role of elites in society who often purposely make things as complex as possible to create barriers to entry to various fields for the lower orders The intelligentsia feeds people s desires for a certain form of reassurance in a world defined by constant flux by selling resentment of the way things are He gives far too much credit to pure liberal ideas for creating modern prosperity than the brute force discovery of fossil capitalism But it is true that there are some great miracles we live with today that are taken far too much for granted Amid a predicted excoriation of political correctness Goldberg even makes the sensible point that some of these debates are simply about the need for manners which believe it or not are actually a good thingThis book reads like an apologia for a worthwhile political order of which people have tired but the actual reasons for this disenchantment are almost totally occluded Goldberg rightly extolls the necessity of intermediate institutions in society between the individual and state But while sort of acknowledging it he never takes seriously that our Social Darwinian economic system may have ruthlessly destroyed these necessary social bodies He raises the flag of a disembodied liberalism which is not a bad thing but the order he is extolling seems to be uite distant from the material realities of how many live in the present day Aside from some true facts about how life is better today than it was in 1700 there are not a lot of numbers in this books talking about the relative immiseration of people over the past few decades and the inevitable social conseuences of that including the destruction of the family which he correctly devotes a chapter to as an important social bulwark This ind of unreflective analysis is part of why I suspect that Never Trump conservatives are unpopular on the right they don t actually conserve anything Goldberg actually seems like a decent person and I can see very clearly why he recoiled from Trump who very clearly embodies the uncivilized man that liberal democracy was supposed to prevent from ever emerging I just disagree on the reasons for why it failed to do so According to Goldberg human societies are naturally tribal greedy violent and uneual It is only in the recent history of the human animal that ideas such as universal human rights cooperation across borders for commerce and science and the euality of all people became widely held in the West Since these notions are not natural Western society will revert to what is natural unless these values are carefully safeguarded and cultivated In both the politics of Obama and Trump Goldberg sees clear evidence of such devolution The antidote is promulgation of capitalism the flourishing of the free market and the protection of small government At times I felt as if the tone of this book was rather condescending but I suspect that it was simply an attempt to eep his arguments accessible and engaging to a popular readership I do not share his conclusions I am far liberal politically than he is His conclusion that capitalism and small government alone can counteract the pull of greed fear of the outsider intolerance and other base impulses is not the conclusion that I draw But I did appreciate the opportunity to hear a rational voice outside the echo chamber that I often find myself in I found here that despite different political leanings we share values and aspirations than the current political conversation would have us believe This is one of those times when a GoodRead book group pick caused me to read something I would not have picked up on my own and I am richer for the experience Really enjoyed it apart from hanging inalienable rights from somewhere in the stratosphere Just to clarify this is not a review but notes I ve written about the reasons I want to read Goldberg s book and my expectations Baysian priors if you will The book s publication date isn t until 24 April 2018Jonah Goldberg is attacked from the right as a RINO Republican in name only not because he is a liberal in disguise but because he is disloyal to and willing to criticize members of the GOP who advocate the exercise of power in ways he considers antithetical to conservative principlesI m a liberal but I ve spent the last few years studying the trap of partisan tribalism which has Captured Political Discourse In The political discourse in the States That has led me to disassociate myself from either tribal party If pressed to be precise I ll admit that I still caucus with the Democrats as a voter but I despise eually the hatred and unthoughtful anger that both tribes use to excite the base and push their agendaI read Goldberg s weekly G File column to get the perspective of a thoughtful critic of his own tribe but I m usually somewhat disappointedDespite his critics he s still firmly a member of the conservative tribeHow can I tellBecause while he is uite careful in the use of logic when criticizing his own party he throws out any subtlety when criticizing the enemy It really doesn t take long to find evidence just look at any of his references to the Democrats and you ll find him painting with a brush a continent wide Of course if he admitted that some liberals weren t cretinous miscreants and are actually both smart and well intentioned he d lose the rest of his credibility and probably his careerI continue to read him despite the sizable volume of monetary solicitations that encourages the National Review to send me because his attacks on the tribalism of the right are enlightening And frankly reassuring But I m doubtful that he will prove to be a useful contributor to the profound debate on how the cognitive instinct towards tribalism is a general societal poison He is viewing the problem through an ideological lens just look at the bullet points he and his publisher chose for his blurb and you ll find a strong statement of politically conservative axiomsAs a counter to the individual is sovereign bullet point for example the recent How Democracies Die What History Reveals About Our Future discusses how the Enlightenment emphasis on individualism is in contradictory tension with our species evolutionary instinct towards tribalism Note that all of Goldberg s other bullet points emphasize the societal we instead of the sovereign I and you should be reminded of the contrast between libertarianism and various other forms of conservatismStill an important part of the solution to the general problem reuires a careful consideration of the arguments one might not agree with and might even find threatening to one s cognitive identity So it goes on the to be read shelfAnd then Goldberg was interviewed on KED Forum in May Jonah Goldberg on How Tribalism is Threatening American Democracy I shouldn t have been surprised that he sounded reasonable than I expected but I was I suspect there were two reasons for that First he s speaking to a broad audience and doesn t want to alienate potential readers book buyers so he is going to tone down the partisanship But the second is that his day job as it were is mostly preaching to his own church Yeah he s famous for being critical of Trump but that doesn t mean he isn t going to play to his audience and be scathing towards the real opposition But the book is again to a broader audience so there s no rationale for entertaining the troops sorry for the mixed metaphors So maybe the book will be better than I d hoped The chapter on Trump deserves Five Stars and then some Jonah not only nails all of Trump s bizarre obsessions and character flaws which are too well nown to be enumerated here but provides a brilliant analysis of how the Republican party fell apart and why the Conservative movement was unable to resist him The rest of the book is barely worth one star There s all the usual Goldberg filler cheap shots at Franklin Roosevelt horror stories about the French Revolution condescending pop culture references amateur anthropology forced attempts at humor and hipness and on top of that the most obseuious nauseating sentimentality about powerful institutions like the Catholic
Church Two moments stuck out for me as being especially creepy The first Two moments stuck out for me as being especially creepy The first very early on where Jonah breaks from an extended tribute to the glorious Founding Fathers including Honest Abe Lincoln and George I Cannot Tell A Lie Washington and delivers a stirring defense of the value of hypocrisy That s right hypocrisy Just like dear old David Brooks in that other oily conservative masterpiece The Road To CharacterWhat is it with Conservatives and hypocrisy I read this whole book trying to figure it out Finally I noticed that Jonah made some stupid off hand remark about not liking crowds and feeling very suspicious of demagogues and the mob That means Trump I suppose and his supporters But it also means anyone who doesn t accept the authority of the elites It means people who serve in the military instead of going to college And the funny thing is Jonah Goldberg s understanding of who the elites really are and why they deserve their position isn t really all that different from Katha Pollitt s or Anna uindlen s His cultural tastes and labored scholarship make it clear that he s loyal to his class over his party and that it s only privileged college educated people he takes seriously Deep down Jonah doesn t like or respect working class people and that s why he hates the idea of populism so much What makes Jonah different from people like Anna uindlen or Katha Pollitt is that unlike them he understands that his position depends on the sacrifice of people beneath him on the social scale In order to eep what he has he has to continually praise people he has no intention of ever imitating combat soldiers above all of course but also cops firemen teachers and so on He has to pretend he s on their side when he really doesn t care what happens to them one way or the other It s the only way to eep us working And that s where the virtue of hypocrisy comes inSpeaking of combat soldiers it s very interesting that in his entire analysis of why millions of angry embittered poor whites endorsed Trump there s no mention of either the Ira War or the still ongoing war in Afghanistan Fifteen sixteen seventeen years of war and no end in sight Jonah has all day long to talk about the Reign of Terror and what it did to France and the tragic suffering of the aristocrats and priests who got dragged to the guillotine but he can t spend five paragraphs on the human suffering of disabled veterans and their families Did they feel betrayed by Bush By Obama By you Our boy doesn t care But they re still out there Jonah and they vote The other moment that creeped me out was when Jonah suddenly started grooving on how much he loves THE EXORCIST a really disgusting and violent horror movie from back around 1973 This whole movie is about how a preteen girl gets possessed by the Devil and she starts talking dirty and spitting up and a couple of celibate male Catholic priests have to moan and chant and sprinkle Holy Water all over her dirty sinful female body and then finally the righteous male priests beat hell out of her with their fists and the Devil goes away Jonah evidently thinks this is what civilization is all about virtuous men making war against the beastliness of human nature What I think the movie is about is hatred of the human body fear of female sexuality and the connection between repression and sadism Jonah s a smart boy but he would have been better off riffing on THE GODFATHER because the 2016 election was just like the famous final scene where Michael s goons close the door in Kay s face But at least that was a halfway decent movie If by chance you weren t aware that Jonah Goldberg is not exactly a Donald Trump fan you will discover the magnitude of his disdain for the President in the latter chapters of this book However don t let that cause you to burn the author in effigy or pass out from excessive glee whichever may apply to you This book is a broad well researched survey of centuries of history emphasizing how unlikely it was that any nation would ever enjoy the freedoms rule of law free market economy and other blessings of liberty that have been the American experience Goldberg pointed out on several occasions that the original manuscript of Suicide of the West was twice the size of the final published version That s a staggering thought because I found this book to be lavishly rich occasionally distractingly so in historical details covering a multitude of topics at length with a rabbit trail here and there The current enemies in Goldberg s eyes of the miracle of capitalism and democracy enjoyed in American and the western world are summarized in the title tribalism populism nationalism and identity politics He goes to great lengths to provide historical background and connections to help the reader understand how in his view these four sub topics have become so dangerous to freedom and democracyThis uote from the book is a good summary of his thesis Capitalism is unnaturalDemocracy is unnaturalHuman rights are unnaturalThe world we live in today is unnatural and we stumble into it or less by accidentThe natural state of mankind is grinding poverty punctuated by horrific violence terminating with an early deathIt was like this for a very very long time Whatever your view of his politics may be I very much think Jonah Goldberg s Suicide of the West is worth reading You will gain considerable insight into history politics Economics Culture And Much And Will Have A Renewed Appreciation culture and much and will have a renewed appreciation the miracle that he writes about so well. Aditions as a system of oppression exploitation and white privilege the principles of liberty and the rule of law are under attack from left and rightAt a moment when authoritarianism tribalism identity politics nationalism and cults of personality are rotting our democracy from within Goldberg exposes the West's suicidal tendencies on both sides of the ideological aisle For the West to survive we must renew our sense of gratitude for what our civilization has given us and rediscover the ideals that led us out of the bloody muck of the past or back to the muck we will goSuicide is painless liberty takes wo. .
I finished this by sheer force of will I came across Jonah Goldberg in an NPR interview and followed him on Twitter in my uest to try to see the other side aka conservatives He seems like a smart decent human being But I m rethinking that after subjecting myself to this slog of a book The main argument that society progressed rapidly after millennia of brutal ineuality and we could do well to appreciate that we aren t wallowing in the medieval muck any is salient but can also be made in about fifteen pages This book is bloated meandering and frankly boring With such brilliant insights as white men passed the Civil Rights Act111 it reads like a ridiculously long Reddit post from someone who thinks they re really smart because they read a lot of Breitbart I appreciate that he gives credit where credit is due and I suppose I learned a few things but this book didn t need to be written and you probably don t need to read it Read something that makes you yell at the audiobook every now and then Saw the author on The Daily Show and he had some interesting thoughts in promoting his book so I downloaded the audiobook Positive Interesting historical recitation including relating several schools of philosophy to his thesis that the current state of American democracy is active decay Interesting juxtaposition of some social psych research which I have read in my academic career However He has a MASSIVE habit of conflating unsubstantiated thoughts he has about the world with certain research and making sweeping generalizations and even contradicting himself Heavy on the good old days were better for the world rhetoric again good for whom And the traditional family structure 1 man 1 woman raising children is better for society He compares statistics from 60 years ago to the status of the family etc now He rests on numerous assumptions as to what should be considered better I don t wholly I hope readers see this as a serious book Mission accomplished It is the most serious book I have read among the abundant crop of recent books on political economy But if the original manuscript was twice as long as the author claims my thanks to the editor As happy as I am that I read the book I was ultimately satisfied to put it downGoldberg is a conservative Enlightenment liberal capitalist Neither an admirer of Trump and the alt right or the progressive left some will think of him as a traditional conservative and as such a rather devout constitutionalist He rejects both tribal populism and progressive identity politics although he sees tribalism and the need for identity as hard wired into our DNAIt is always dangerous to summarize another person s thoughts but that s what a book review is Goldberg argues that true human progress only began with the Enlightenment and that it flowed from the adoption of considered thought that runs contrary to all of our natural instincts It began organically with John Locke and the Glorious English Revolution of 1688 and continued by choice with the Declaration of Independence the US Constitution and the founding of the USThe challenge facing every student of life but particularly acute among historians is the fact that reality is complex It can be sliced into a large number some believe infinite number of dimensions and interconnected variables Historians as Goldberg points out fall prey to only connecting the dots they expect to seeScience and empiricism both help and hinder the process They help because they provide an objective methodology for isolating variables They hinder because they reuire the successful isolation of variables that are causal and not superficially contributory or coincidentalThe ey to understanding anything therefore is context Is it truly nowable Or are we destined to scratch away at the surface And the answer of course depends on whom you ask what I don t refute Goldberg arguments but I do refute some of his conclusions And the difference in our two views is in my words one of context Ultimately Goldberg s arguments while powerful strike me as unnecessarily binary He divides the world of political economy into Locke and Rousseau and as a result you are either an empiricist him or a romantic admittedly me And he doesn t mince his words on how he feels about eachThat s a bit unfair and I am falling into the same trap although to no degree than he does created by the limitations of language Language is a human convention after all and tends in the interest of efficiency toward binary expression Something to always eep in mind when reading any bookGoldberg makes several ey points that seem unassailable including the importance of earned success to human fulfillment It is also indisputable that we have witnessed a decline in what he calls mediating institutions eg family those formal and informal institutions that have historically provided a buffer between the individual and the state and that this has contributed to our political and social decay And his repeated contention that maintaining the benefits of liberal democracy takes constant care and attention He uses the gardener metaphor freuentlyI would also agree with Goldberg that neither political party has defined a productive way forward I must take exception however perhaps out of wishful thinking with his conclusion Because when you are at the top of a mountain any direction you turn be it left toward socialism or right toward nationalism or in some other clever direction the result is the same You must go down back whence you came I d like to believe that there is a third way other than the conservative bare nuckle Locke ism that he seems to favor or the progressive politics of identity alone To me the problem is not the celebration of the individual as much as it is the current emphasis on me Me ism is much selfish than individualism and flows as Goldberg points out from the ignorance of data overload served up through closed loops and a certain ingratitude or forgetfulness for what we do haveOne of the omissions that I believe contributes to Goldberg s ultimately binary way forward is his perceived lack of the impact of the rise of the corpocracy He fully acknowledges that capitalism is impartially disruptive but he never really takes exception with the asymmetric power currently assigned to the elite multi national banks hedge funds and corporations that have taken over the political process due to the latter s reliance on funding for its power He devotes an entire chapter to lamenting the lack of accountability in The Administrative State the so called shadow state but gives virtually no space to demanding the same accountability among our corporate nobles who have gone to far as to give our private information away let the Russians reach into the electoral process and incentivize their employees to forge fake accounts without our consent much less to collapse the global economy 2008 all without anyone ever being held accountable It is not that capitalism or free markets are bad but they are perverse when power is applied asymmetrically because of a lack of regulation or an over concentration of monopoly powersThere has to be a way forward the draws the best from both Locke and Rousseau and Marx and Smith among others And to me it has to do with overcoming the ultimately irrational lust of me with some acceptance of the value of we Having said that yes this is a very serious book superbly written and it deserves to be read by all I think this book is meant as a NeverTrumper manifesto an attempt to create intellectual backbone for that wispy band of conservative holdouts who crouch behind the crenellations in their National Review fastness wondering why the final assault on them has yet to begin not realizing it is because everyone has forgotten about them Strictly speaking though I have no idea what the point of this book is because it s a jumble of thoughts anecdotes and superficial facts strung together with no clear audience and only the most simplistic of analysis It s a boneless mess And I m very conservative so I should have liked this book But I didn tThe miniscule hard core of Goldberg s argument is clear enough to be fair mostly because it is repeated like a prayer on a Buddhist prayer wheel It is that we the West have created a world that is a Miracle and we are in danger of losing it by our actions From there though chaos promptly enters Jonah Goldberg s writing blurring it to incomprehensibility One of the major problems with this book shows up immediately a miserable failure to precisely define or even to try to define every crucial term starting with the Miracle The second major problem also rears its head uickly constant bootstrapping and begging the uestion For example on the very first page we are told that the highest form of argument in a democracy is one based on facts grounded in reason and decency Why is this limited to democracy More broadly why is this true What is decency in this context and what is it doing here especially since in the prior sentence Goldberg rejects any role for religious belief in his analysis Who nows Not the reader certainly at any point in this bookLet s start with the most simple uestion what is this Miracle At first the reader intuits it is the material progress made in the modern world represented at its core by GDP per capita globally and within certain regions and countries This is well trodden ground covered recently by everyone from Angus Deaton in The Great Escape to Gregory Clark in A Farewell to Alms Even this simple because wholly derivative discussion of material progress is obscured by hurried denial of all causes other than ideas by which Goldberg means Enlightenment political ideas having rejected in all of five words that the Scientific Revolution had any relevance and not having addressed a single one of the vast number of competing theories advanced to explain this material progress Not happy to limit himself to one facile claim at other repeated points Goldberg without discussion also directly euates the Miracle with being the same thing As Liberalism And As Capitalism liberalism and as capitalism none of these terms are ever defined leaving aside for now that under any definition these ARE INDIRECTLY RELATED TO MATERIAL PROGRESS indirectly related to material progress best Liberalism seems to be shorthand for Enlightenment ideas as embodied in John Locke though it is also casually and ludicrously euated with the rule of law with an implication that pre Enlightenment such a thing did not exist and could not have existed Capitalism seems to bear some relation to the free market but is often used in a sense so broad as to have nothing to do with the market and is sometimes tied to the Enlightenment or to certain political ideas sometimes not Interspersed with all this are various simplistic conclusory statements such as a claim that until the West magicked up the undefined Miracle all governments were solely and entirely devices for the elites to exploit the masses and a wide variety of other non seuiturs and claims advanced without any evidence or reasoningThe second step of the Goldberg analysis is that assuming we agree that in the West we have gotten ourselves a Miracle we are in danger of committing suicide a very different suicide from that James Burnham identified in the book from which Goldberg steals his title For Goldberg suicide is any retreat from liberal democracy the apogee both of our civilization and of any civilization that can ever exist a height from which no further advances are possible Suicide is any slipping back down can ever exist a height from which no further advances are possible Suicide is any slipping back down mountain which necessarily means a total reversion to a nightmare of tribalism Goldberg says after thousands of generation of trial and error we discovered best practices out there in the world like prizes in some eternal scavenger hunt He says explicitly there is no better way You re standing at the end of history What that means is opaue although he is very much aware that Francis Fukuyama is widely ridiculed for a similar but at least clearly presented claim but it appears to mean mostly that we re rich since no other system creates wealth And so on There is a danger though That is backsliding which means corruption decay a turn to the reactionary giving in to the drumbeats of our primate brains rot and putrefaction all in the space of one page and all meaning choosing anything different than take your pick liberalism capitalism or liberal democracyLeaving aside its mental confusion we ll return to it don t worry Suicide of the West is a common type of modern hack political book the narration of cut rate and cut down history masuerading as analysis For after all narrating history is a lot easier than analysis so spreading a thin layer of thought on a slanted rehash of history is an easy way to push out a book And although Goldberg cites a variety of mostly modern though all secondary works that revolve around modernity a lot of his footnotes are to lightweight material blog posts newspaper articles the Encyclopedia Britannica and so forth and those that are books often cite to Kindle location a miserable practice that should be forbidden by any decent pressSo Goldberg begins the substance of his book by regurgitating Steven Pinker to demonstrate that human nature exists and that it is tribal and mostly unpleasant as shown by that we tend to ill each other and primitive man Walled killed at a massive rate His point seems to be that if we don t cling tightly to the Miracle of liberal democracy we ll all immediately startilling each other with spears in dawn raids For the limited point that human nature exists Pinker is correct enough but since Goldberg is a huge Pinker fanboy he immediately slides from this relatively narrow point into lecturing us that bad people are leading a rebellion against the unnatural nature of the Enlightenment and all of the Enlightenment s offspring capitalism democracy natural rights and science This claim of the Enlightenment being the source of everything good in the modern world of course a constant and ludicrous trope of Pinker which I already dissected and refuted in my review of Pinker s most recent book so I will not repeat that demolition here though at least Pinker writes clearly and precisely Goldberg is trying I think to establish that if anyone dares attack the Enlightenment or claims that the West made any moral progress prior to the Enlightenment that person must want us to go back to the torture practices of the Aztecs an. With his trademark blend of political history social science economics and pop culture two time NYT bestselling author syndicated columnist National Review senior editor and American Enterprise Institute fellow Jonah Goldberg makes the timely case that America and other democracies are in peril as they lose the will to defend the values and institutions that sustain freedom and prosperity Instead we are surrendering to populism nationalism and other forms of tribalism Only once in the last 250000 years have humans stumbled upon a way to lift ourselves out of the endless cycle of poverty hunger and war that.