“On what principle is it, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, are we to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”
Thomas Babington Macauley, 1800 – 1859
In addition to my primary sources for this blog, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, I also read a fair number of new books, often reviewed by these two newspapers. I have just finished reading “Suicide of the West: how the rebirth of populism, nationalism and identity politics is destroying American democracy,” by Jonah Goldberg.
Mr. Goldberg’s main premises are:
- We are living in an unnaturally prosperous time. Our prosperity is not merely material but political and philosophical. We live in a miraculous time, by historical standards, where every human born is recognized by law and culture as a sovereign individual with inalienable rights. This is not normal in humanity’s natural environment.
- We stumbled into this miracle without intending to and we can stumble out of it.
- Human nature not only exists but it is fundamentally unchanging.
- If we do not account for, and channel human nature, it will overpower and corrupt the institutions that make prosperity possible.
Here is how I evaluate Mr. Goldberg’s argument:
- First of all, I agree with his description of our country’s many shortcomings: ingratitude for the miracle, history of slavery, the vast administrative state, the perniciousness of occupational licensing, bonfires of asininity at elite universities, the rising tide of protectionism, the family’s losing war against barbarism, Trumpian populism, government’s increasing centralization, etc., etc., etc.
- But he is too hung up on the politics of the moment, and the failures of government. The “miracle” developed out of the fundamental economic principle of specialization and exchange and will be able to withstand less intrinsic human and societal imperfections.
- There is a deep yearning for freedom and democracy around the world, see here and here. America doesn’t have to be perfect to serve as a beacon to others. We just have to avoid being complacent.
Summary. Jonah Goldberg’s “Suicide of the West” should be read and digested by everyone who values the American way of life and wants America to continue to prosper and lead the world into an even brighter future.