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Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy

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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 250,000 years have humans stumbled upon a way to lift ourselves out of the endless cycle of poverty, hunger, and war that defines most of history--in 18th century England when we accidentally discovered the miracle of liberal democratic capitalism.

As Americans we are doubly blessed that those radical ideas were written into the Constitution, laying the groundwork for our uniquely prosperous society:
- Our rights come from God not from the government.
- The government belongs to us; we do not belong to the government.
- The individual is sovereign. We are all captains of our own souls.
- The fruits of our labors belong to us.

In the last few decades, these political virtues have been turned into vices. As we are increasingly taught to view our traditions as a system of oppression, exploitation and "white privilege," the principles of liberty and the rule of law are under attack from left and right.

At 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 go.

Suicide is painless, liberty takes work.

Audio CD

First published April 24, 2018

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About the author

Jonah Goldberg

24 books338 followers
Jonah Jacob Goldberg is an American conservative syndicated columnist and author. Goldberg is known for his contributions on politics and culture to National Review Online, where he is the editor-at-large. He is the author of Liberal Fascism, which reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.

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Profile Image for Charles Haywood.
496 reviews719 followers
May 3, 2018
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't.

The 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 quickly—constant bootstrapping and begging the question. 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 knows? Not the reader, certainly, at any point in this book.

Let’s start with the most simple question—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 equates the “Miracle” with being the same thing as “liberalism” and as “capitalism.” Again, none of these terms are ever defined (leaving aside for now that under any definition, these are indirectly related to material progress at best). “Liberalism” seems to be shorthand for “Enlightenment ideas as embodied in John Locke,” though it is also casually and ludicrously equated 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 sequiturs and claims advanced without any evidence or reasoning.

The 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 the mountain, which necessarily means a total reversion to a nightmare of tribalism. Goldberg says “[a]fter 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 opaque (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 democracy.

Leaving 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 masquerading 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 press).

So, 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 kill each other, and primitive man 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 start killing 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 and the Assyrians, which he narrates in great detail in case we miss the point, footnoting mostly to Pinker. Then Goldberg solemnly tells us, “But few societies put more time, energy, and ingenuity into the practice [of torture] than medieval Europeans.” His evidence for this? Nothing, which is not surprising, considering it’s wholly untrue, since the use of torture by medieval Europeans has been exaggerated for propaganda purposes for centuries—something of which Goldberg seems unaware, because he (like his hero, Pinker) seems to know zero history other than that history “everybody knows,” mostly gleaned from surfing the Internet.

On and on the silliness goes. Thus, we are told, with a straight face, that “Slavery was destroyed by capitalism.” For this bold and radical claim, which ignores the social movements (found only in Christianity) that actually destroyed slavery, as well as many other sophisticated (and unsophisticated) arguments about the interplay of capitalism and slavery, along with the inconvenient fact that slavery existed in the West long after the Enlightenment was in full flower and without real objection from its leading lights, we are directed to a blog post at “Cafe Hayek.” That ten-line, 2009 post states that “Slavery and capitalism are opposites.” For proof, or rather to “challenge the notion that slavery is or ever was essential to capitalism” (not the same claim at all, and in fact there are three distinct claims about slavery now being made) a link to a 2005 column is provided. That link is dead. Oh well—I guess we will remain in the dark. Then Goldberg tells us that “we needed a war to end the institution.” Huh? I thought capitalism destroyed it. Then we are told that “the very notion that humans can sell their services or labor in a free market is a remarkably recent idea,” which would have been news to the medieval artisan and the ancient Greek farmer. We are also told that “the child of a [Roman] slave did not inherit that status,” which is flatly untrue. And that’s about the level of facts, reasoning and backup that is found throughout the book. Your mileage will not vary.

This ends Part I. Next, in Part II, Goldberg steps back to give us his not-very-deep thoughts, in separate chapters, on “the State,” Capitalism, Reason, and the “American Miracle.” As far as the State, we get a second Cliff Notes version of the Enlightenment, in which John Locke is again the only person who matters and all other political thinkers of the time, not to mention modern thinkers, are ignored. And, certainly, anybody who sees any value to pre-Enlightenment societies, from James C. Scott to Christian integralists, or who sees any problem with liberal democracy or the ever-expanding sphere of unhinged personal autonomy and emancipation from non-chosen ties that is the Enlightenment’s real gift to us, from Ryszard Legutko to Patrick Deneen, does not appear. Offerings are burnt at the altar of the supposed social contract. Much rambling about Hammurabi, Gregory VII and Henry IV, and chaotic discussion about monarchy, aristocracy and father figures, ensues. We are then abruptly offered a cheesy conclusion about the State, which has little to do with what preceded it: “[E]very effort to do away with liberal democratic capitalism is reactionary, because they all attempt to restore the unity of purpose that defines the premodern or tribal mind.” Leaving aside the breathtaking hubris, bad history, and total falsehood of this claim, it illustrates Goldberg’s main method of “analysis,” which is repeating his pre-baked conclusion at random places, hoping it becomes ever more fixed in the reader’s mind.

Then the focus turns to Capitalism, where the talk is again mostly about modern prosperity, and again ignores competing theories about the Great Divergence, and also ignores that it indisputably began long before the Enlightenment. We are treated to endless confusion, along with near-continuous channeling of Deirdre McCloskey, of whom Goldberg is also a fanboy, as he is of the amazingly stupid Matt Ridley. I know a great deal about this topic, and I cannot fathom most of what Goldberg says, since it is incoherent, but it apparently revolves around claims that until the Enlightenment, for both Catholics and Protestants, we had no progress, because “Notions of betterment, innovation, and improvement were seen, literally, as heresy. . . . [C]uriosity was a sin, and the innovator [was] a heretic.” Thus capitalism, which is undefined, but is also the Miracle, and also the Enlightenment, created the Scientific Revolution, of which Thomas Edison was a part. To narrate these claims is to refute them.

Grinding on, Reason began with John Locke, whose only opposition was Rousseau, who was a romantic and a reactionary, which are the same thing. Rousseau’s descendants still fight reason with ignorance, though (and presumably want to torture everyone). Then the American Founders channeled Locke, giving us the best government ever (although, of course, every time he mentions something good about the Founding, Goldberg also hastily offers pre-emptive apologies for everything bad of the time, such as slavery and the supposed bad treatment of women, since he does not want to become persona non grata on the DC and New York cocktail party circuits). James Madison invented separation of powers out of whole cloth, in an improvement on Locke. (The names Polybius and Montesquieu do not appear.) Thus, we got the “American Miracle,” which bears an undefined relationship to the “Miracle,” but must be good, given its name.

Goldberg again and again tells us variations on that any deviation from the “liberal order of the Miracle” are both “fundamentally romantic” and “reactionary.” Those are not compliments. By “romantic,” he seems to mean in the Rousseau and Goethe sense, and by “reactionary” he means “a return to some form of tribal solidary where we’re all in it together.” Again with the pre-baked, and ludicrous conclusions; the basic contention seems to be that the hive mind was everyone’s goal until 1750. For Goldberg, with no exceptions, all political ideas since the Enlightenment that are not the Enlightenment are both romantic and reactionary. Communism? Yup. Nazism? Yup. Bernie Sanders? Yup. Trump? Yup. Environmentalism? Yup. To accomplish this neat division, he seems to define “romantic” as “any of the stupid illogic that disagrees with John Locke.” And he defines “reactionary” not with its proper meaning, the creation of a new political order by reference, at least in part, to the past, but with the puerile and simplistic meaning of “wholesale return to some imagined Golden Age”–that of forced unity, or the Borg, or something. In other words, he creates imaginary meanings and then uses those meanings to shunt all other political analysis into a siding, in which he can ignore it. This, if one can be chosen, is the besetting failure of this book. It refuses in any way to engage with the thinking of anyone else. Not for Goldberg a grappling with those many modern conservative thinkers who reject the Enlightenment in whole or in part. Not for Goldberg a grappling with the struggles of Americans living under “liberalism” and “capitalism” that led to the rise of Trump. Not for Goldberg any attempt to see why progressives think what they think. No, all of them are simply knuckle-dragging tribalists, eager to destroy the Miracle and cast us all into the pit.

Then the reader is frog-marched through Part III. We are told how aristocracies are natural, and because they are always bad, they are always trying to destroy the Miracle, for which claim a thumbnail history of Venice is offered. Following we get a long (but good) explanation of the Progressive Era, summarizing Goldberg’s earlier Liberal Fascism. Then the administrative state, which is a form of elitist aristocracy, and therefore a form of anti-Miracle “corruption,” cribbed (with attribution, as always) from Charles Murray and Philip Hamburger. Then a screed on “Tribalism Today,” which you would think would focus on white nationalists or some other undesirables, but mostly talks about leftist identity politics. We get bonus stupidity, though, such as the claim that “the struggle for gay marriage [succeeded] because it appealed not to radicalism but to bourgeois values about family formation.” And, on a more personal note, Goldberg talks glowingly of Hungarians escaping from Communism in 1956 as saying they are going to America, not because they were forced into exile by the evils of Communism, but “Because, son, we were born Americans, but in the wrong place,” which, as the child of a Hungarian refugee from Communism, I find offensive and disloyal, and not likely something a real Hungarian would say. Finally, though, we do get a nod to the problem that identity politics on the Left may create the same on the Right, immediately followed by the claim that economic protectionism of any sort is a manifestation of tribalism.

To end the book, we get a chapter on “The Trumpian Era,” which does touch on Trump (highly negatively), but is mostly an attempt to draw a magic circle around “democracy” and to claim that no democracy, no Miracle. Not that any evidence for this is offered, except pointing out that much the world is still crappy, and most of the world is not democratic, so it must be that crappiness is caused by lack of democracy. We also get snark about Michael Anton. (On a side note, Goldberg claims Anton is a “multimillionaire hedge fund partner,” a claim he has repeated, if you search the internet. I had never heard that, so I went hunting. The only job Anton has had that meets that description is “Managing Director” of BlackRock, from October 2015 to February 2017. According to his federal financial disclosure forms, he was paid a base of $200K a year by BlackRock, and got a bonus of $150K one year and $170K in the second year. Those are pittances by New York hedge fund standards. There is no indication of any ownership or partnership status, and no assets other than retirement accounts, plus a bank account with around $100K. I conclude Goldberg is spreading a falsehood, though I suppose it’s hardly a slur to say a man is rich.) And we get the cliché-named chapter “Things Fall Apart,” saying that because, as Charles Murray has demonstrated, the family has fallen apart, and Trump is a jerk, the flood-tide of tribalism is about to sweep over us all.

None of this is even remotely convincing, even if some of the facts adduced are not totally wrong. One problem, I realized after getting to the end, is that Goldberg just can’t write. Page after page bounces around from idea to idea, usually roughly related to whatever the basic focus of the chapter is, but rarely tied together in any coherent way. Ideas bleed from chapter to chapter, uncertain where their home is. It does not help that typos abound (Phil Gramm is introduced in one sentence, and called “Graham” in the next), and that the book features a total lack of consistency as to the generic pronoun (sometimes “they,” sometimes “he” or “her”). And even Goldberg’s attempts to show his pop culture chops backfire—he talks constantly about Game of Thrones, the nihilistic fantasy TV series, such as quoting a character, the “Mountain,” as saying “a man has to have a code.” But it is not the Mountain, Gregor Clegane, who says that. It is his brother, Sandor Clegane, the “Hound,” and this is an bush-league error, since the brothers are utterly different characters and hate each other. The Mountain only says a few words and is quickly killed and turned into a zombie, while the Hound is a cynical motor mouth with a heart of gold. These are small problems (if irritating), compared to the rambling of the book, which could be boiled down to a short and punchy (if mostly wrong) pamphlet by a competent writer (like me). (And if I were constructing a counter-argument to that pamphlet, I would demonstrate that, in the material realm, the Enlightenment, a movement of political ideas, had nothing to do with the creation of the modern world; and that in the political realm, there are many, and probably better, alternatives to the pass that the Enlightenment has led us, none of which involve tribalism or barbarism, or, for that matter, rot and putrefaction. Another day, perhaps.)

[Review finishes as first comment.]
Profile Image for David Huff.
153 reviews47 followers
June 8, 2018
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 democracy.

This quote from the book is a good summary of his thesis:
“Capitalism is unnatural.
Democracy is unnatural.
Human rights are unnatural.
The world we live in today is unnatural, and we stumble into it more or less by accident.
The natural state of mankind is grinding poverty punctuated by horrific violence terminating with an early death.
It 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 more, and will have a renewed appreciation for the “miracle” that he writes about so well.
Profile Image for Carol Storm.
Author 28 books182 followers
July 26, 2022
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-known 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 obsequious, nauseating sentimentality about powerful institutions like the Catholic Church.

Two moments stuck out for me as being especially creepy. The first was 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 Character."

What 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 Quindlen'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 Quindlen 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 keep 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 keep us working. And that's where the virtue of hypocrisy comes in!

Speaking 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 Iraq 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!
Profile Image for Douglas Wilson.
Author 282 books3,524 followers
June 28, 2018
Really enjoyed it, apart from hanging inalienable rights from somewhere in the stratosphere.
Profile Image for Gary Moreau.
Author 9 books235 followers
April 26, 2018
“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 down.

Goldberg 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 DNA.

It 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 US.

The 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 see.)

Science and empiricism both help and hinder the process. They help because they provide an objective methodology for isolating variables. They hinder because they require the successful isolation of variables that are causal and not superficially contributory or coincidental.

The key to understanding anything, therefore, is context. Is it truly knowable? 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 each.

That’s a bit unfair and I am falling into the same trap, although to no more 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 keep in mind when reading any book.

Goldberg makes several key 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” (e.g. 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 frequently.)

I 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-knuckle 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 more 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 have.

One 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 powers.

There 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 more 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.

Profile Image for Murtaza .
664 reviews3,401 followers
July 26, 2020
To the extent that there is a vibrant political discourse in the United States today, it resembles an inconclusive screaming match that never progresses towards any culmination. Because of changes in information technology the room where that screaming match takes place has gotten louder and more crowded, as barbarians from the periphery such as myself have managed to penetrate the entrances in some small way. In my own view, the reason that public debates over the best nature of ordering society are so inconclusive – despite the massive amount of time and energy poured into them – is because people are arguing from fundamentally different and irreconcilable notions about the origins and inclinations of human nature. These originating differences are seldom acknowledged or even explained. But they are lurking there in the background, exerting their decisive influence.

From the title of this book I was braced for a very hysterical and pessimistic polemic about the state of life in the United States. In reality, it was like a milquetoast popular version of Francis Fukuyama's two volume series on the origin and decay of political order. Goldberg reasons, correctly, that human nature has to be shaped and molded in certain directions by various institutions, including families, guilds, religious communities, schools and in the worst case states. In the absence of any kind of molding we simply revert back to a state of nature, which, contra Rousseau, is not a good thing. The reasons for why we evolved the institutions we did are open to debate and Goldberg gives his own version here. But the uncontroversial point is that they are simultaneously very important and under perpetual threat from a naturally regressive human nature. For the most part this is simply a restatement of the underlying debate between people who are either very optimistic or very pessimistic about what people are ultimately like and whose political preferences are downstream from this core difference. (Personally I have a hard time reconciling "humans are fundamentally animals" with "humans are fundamentally good and altruistic" but these two beliefs held together seems to be a common baseline belief for people.)

Goldberg is a conservative, but the thing that he is actually interested in conserving is liberal democracy. He is hostile to romantic movements of both the left and right that he sees as undermining "the Miracle" of American freedom and prosperity. He sees romanticism very flexibly as a driver of all types of assaults against the liberal democratic order, which has provided great 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 kind 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 environment.

Goldberg 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 thing.

This 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 quite 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 consequences of that, including the destruction of the family which he correctly devotes a chapter to as an important social bulwark.

This kind 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.
1,587 reviews86 followers
January 2, 2019
According to Goldberg, human societies are naturally tribal, greedy, violent and unequal. 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 equality 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 keep his arguments accessible and engaging to a popular readership. I do not share his conclusions; I am far more 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 more 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.
Profile Image for Lynell.
29 reviews
May 4, 2018
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.


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 disagree with everything he says... I mean after all, he is clearly obsessed with Game of Thrones (haha... SO MANY GOT references!)

Profile Image for Richard.
1,139 reviews1,026 followers
Want to read
May 21, 2018
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 2018.

Jonah 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 principles.

I’m a liberal, but I’ve spent the last few years studying the trap of partisan tribalism which has captured political discourse in the United 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 equally the hatred and unthoughtful anger that both tribes use to “excite the base” and push their agenda.

I read Goldberg’s weekly G-File column to get the perspective of a thoughtful critic of his own tribe, but I’m usually somewhat disappointed.

Despite his critics, he’s still firmly a member of the conservative tribe.

How can I tell?

Because while he is quite 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 career.

I 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 more 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 axioms.

(As 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 conservatism.)

Still, an important part of the solution to the general problem requires 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 shelf.

And then: Goldberg was interviewed on KQED Forum in May: Jonah Goldberg on How Tribalism is Threatening American Democracy. I shouldn't have been surprised that he sounded more 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.
Profile Image for Erin Cohenour.
107 reviews
July 11, 2018
I finished this by sheer force of will. I came across Jonah Goldberg in an NPR interview and followed him on Twitter in my quest 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 inequality and we could do well to appreciate that we aren’t wallowing in the medieval muck anymore- 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 Act!!!111” it reads more 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.
Profile Image for John Martindale.
746 reviews81 followers
June 1, 2018
I really appreciated Goldberg's tone and approach, this book was much more in the spirit of Jonathan Haidt, than that of more resent works of Dinesh D'Souza. Goldberg of course has strongly held opinions and beliefs, but the work didn't seem polemical.
He held my interest throughout the book, and had very interesting reflections on why there seems the perennial pull towards tribalism, and this even after the west fortuitously stumbled upon ideals and ideas that have tempered our tribal inclinations, encouraged civility, tolerance and prosperity.
Profile Image for Bob Nichols.
889 reviews292 followers
December 21, 2018
Goldberg’s book wanders through a lot of territory, but I think his basic argument is this: He pushes Lockean liberalism. His book is a celebration of individual freedom and a dislike of the state. While he is critical of Trump for not being in line with these values, he is particularly critical of the new liberalism – the “progressives” who love government and its regulations to perfect society.

Goldberg lodges this argument in a deeper context of political and biological theory. The debate now in the West has its roots in Rousseau and Locke, he says. Get government out of the way and humans will flourish and everyone will benefit. This is American-Western Exceptionalism. Rousseau’s benign state of nature is a myth. It’s really more like Hobbes said it was –not very nice back then. In contrast, Lockean liberalism has created a prosperity “Miracle,” which is now under attack by progressives and liberals (the modern version). While Bernie Sanders is the modern-day Rousseau, Woodrow Wilson set up the “administrative state” one hundred years ago that now pervades government. It is the fourth branch of government or the “deep state” (not Goldberg’s words). It’s a collection of the best and brightest, those who know best, those who want to remake society into what it was in the perfect past, and those who are accountable to no one, really.

The Rousseau-progressive types are, Goldberg says, tribal types of old. They are reflections of an old human nature that continues to pull our strings unless we take control over our animal side. As opposed to this, Goldberg says we need to guide our primal impulses toward more universal ends that transcend such primitive particularity. In government, that’s the impartial rule of law to be sure. More importantly, the state needs to give way to the impersonal operation of the market, which cares not at all about tribal identity. The “unseen hand” of the market benefits all. It “repels” Malthus’ “law of population.” The Lockean capitalists transcend all things tribal. Or, to put it another way, they belong to “The Tribe of Liberty,” the original working title for this Goldberg book. The danger posed by Democrats – by liberals, by progressives, by Sanders – is that they want to revert to the worst side of human nature, a giving-in to our innate tribal tendencies where it’s us versus them, with each group vying for advantage vis-is-vis the other. This, I suppose is what Goldberg means by titling his book, “The Suicide of the West.”

At the end of the book, Goldberg turns in an unexpected direction. The Christian God brought humankind out of self-absorption and into the realm of the transcendent, but now the West suffers from the loss of belief in God. Without God, we revert, he argues, to our worst selves – the pampered, entitled self, preoccupied with identity, rights, and all of that. It’s self-worship. We must, he says, rededicate ourselves “to the glory of God.” Rather than looking down and soothing ourselves in the “culture of feeling,” we must look to God for fulfillment and meaning.

Goldberg’s ability to weave erudition and argument together is impressive. But some of his words sneer or drip with disgust. He dismisses the Rousseau types as hopelessly and dangerously (“suicidal”) Romantics who endanger the Western Lockean Miracle (yes, Miracle is capitalized throughout like a secular Jesus). How could anyone oppose a Miracle? Those who do are committing hari-kari, and “The Suicide of the West.”

It’s likely that today’s Right, and today’s Left, the modern-day versions of Locke and Rousseau, reflect deep impulses — the need for freedom and the need to keep in check that freedom (order). Locke is about unleashing the self to do those good things that Goldberg admires. But of course, self-interest unchecked runs amok. That’s the corrupting side of society that Rousseau so objected to. Keep that in check and the better parts of human nature rise to the fore. It’s Darwin’s tribalism at its best. It’s says to group members that everyone is in this together, and cheaters, self-promoters and aggrandizers, as well as slackers, need to get with the program.

But Goldberg will have none of that. The Rousseau type he sees as is human nature at its worst. It’s tribalism that is at odds with globalism. It’s a romanticism that glorifies the tribe and identity, at the expense of the whole, and justifies state power to promote tribal rights, tribal identities, tribal notions of perfection and “goodness.” It’s about those who have their tribal truth and those who would impose on individual liberty and market values that benefit everyone.

Goldberg thus takes a Trump tactic and applies it here, to those who have a different point of view. He brands his opponents with the same iron that should be applied to himself. It is the Lockean types that epitomize a tribalism that takes from those of lesser talent, those with less “merit,” the lower classes who don’t do so well with capitalist competition. Elites are natural, Goldberg says. Jeffersonian elites are iconic. These are the individuals who know how to succeed in the capitalist world. These are distinctly not the “cognitive elites,” the Rousseau types who are “good at tests.” Goldberg’s elites are the well-endowed, the well-connected, who succeed and leave the non-elites behind or who succeed by taking by seeking advantage of them. Goldberg wants the Rousseau folks to step aside so that the Lockeans can flourish. But isn’t this itself the suicide of the West? Isn’t the Lockean notion of unchecked liberty itself based on a romantic idea, that somehow it will all work out to everyone’s benefit. Isn’t his Lockean liberty a dangerous idea? Isn’t this Social Darwinism in Lockean guise?

Before, Goldberg says that the gods reflected our own image. Then the Hebrew god changed all that, “flipped it around,” and made us worship Him. Well, I suppose a strong argument can be made that the Christian god itself is distinctively tribal. For Goldberg, Lockean liberty comes from God. No, not really. It comes from our biological need to be free to do what we need to do to survive and live well. The trick is how to do that in a way that is compatible with the freedom of the other. The Golden Rule is not a Christian idea, as Goldberg would have it. It appears across time and cultures because it reflects a logic that is built in our biology, as freedom-loving, self-seeking beings: it’s in the interest of everyone to respect the freedom of all. Otherwise, we have the reversion that Goldberg, Fukuyama, and Huntington and others fear – a disordered state where no one benefits, or to a disordered state where only the elites or the authoritarian leader prevails.

To have concerns about what Goldberg puts forward does not mean that his argument about what the problem with state power, an unaccountable administrative state, identity politics, and all of that do not have merit. There are problems. But Goldberg tosses checks and balances and gives free rein to unregulated liberty. That steps not only on compassion, but also on the interest of the whole where everyone participates, everyone contributes, everyone is valued for what they do, and no one is left behind. The “Miracle” that Goldberg touts is the capitalist equivalent of Marxist communism as described by Djilas. It’s a New Class of tribal haves. It’s a New Class of capitalist haves, void of soul, who have left, far behind, the tribal have-nots.
Profile Image for Karen A. Wyle.
Author 23 books210 followers
July 11, 2018
I'm rounding up a bit due to a bit more repetition than absolutely necessary and perhaps an extra tangent or two.

This is a hugely, desperately important book. The subtitle sums up its main point, except that what it hails as humanity's "miracle" and seeks to defend is not just American democracy, but the liberty, prosperity, and scope for individual achievement that grew from the Enlightenment, of which American-style political and social freedoms provide the supreme example. It is a warning and a call to action. I can only hope it will be heeded.

The Introduction is the best and most essential part of the book, but the rest provides useful explanation, history, and examples. I would sum up the book's thesis as follows: human evolution necessarily lags far behind our accomplishments. Humans remain essentially tribal, which means we long to be part of communities led by strong leaders, view resources as limited and subject to zero-sum calculations, and are essentially xenophobic. The ability to understand and appreciate any other way of life, no matter how much better, how indisputably better, the quality of that way of life, must be trained into us, constantly renewed, actively appreciated, and defended. But that training, appreciation, and defense is falling by the wayside, and we are in serious danger of reverting to our natural condition.

One key line: "Capitalism is the most cooperative system ever created for the peaceful improvement of people's lives. It has only a single fatal flaw. It doesn't feel like it."

Goldberg is an anti-Trump conservative, and his discussion of Trump, of Trump's effect on the conservative movement, and of his potential longterm impact on our ability to defend our society will give conservatives and libertarians who have become tolerant of Trump's presidency some disturbing food for thought.

In perhaps an excess of caution, I will avoid "spoiling" the last line of the Conclusion, but it left me profoundly affected by its concise and lingering power.
Profile Image for Samuel.
305 reviews5 followers
May 25, 2018
In a nut shell, for the vast majority of human civilisation (and before civilisation) the vast majority of humanity lived in abject poverty and in the last 200-300 years we stumbled upon the miracle which has pulled humanity out of abject poverty. Today a lower class American lives better than did Louie IV, the sun king.

We aren't quite sure how we stumbled upon the miracle, but we do seem to be actively trying to destroy it. We are forgetting the lessons the last 200 years have taught us and are trying to bring back the tribalism of the past. This will end badly.

And last, have a little gratitude... You don't know how good you have it.
Profile Image for Kris.
1,295 reviews175 followers
December 21, 2022
Goldberg admitted that the first draft of this book was twice as long. You still could have cut another 20% from the final word count, and it would have helped even more. He gets repetitive, especially toward the ending chapters about Trump. But overall it's a good read, albeit meandering. Goldberg is an atheist, and he tries to skirt around religion. But you can't have your cake and eat it too -- he still builds upon the foundation of morality, values, and human dignity that you can't get without a Judeo-Christian belief system. So ultimately he's an atheist who still likes to say that, you know, decency exists and being decent matters.

Later edit: Apparently I missed the sentence where Goldberg says he believes in God.

I would recommend this one over Goldberg's other book Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.
I still want to read Goldberg's The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.

Read David's 5-star review of Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg:
Profile Image for Anthony.
32 reviews
May 5, 2018
National Review and AEI's Jonah Goldberg tackles the past 300 years of human history, citing the growth and spread of capitalism as "the miracle" that has been singularly responsible for our progress as a species. As he concludes however, all this progress is tenuous in the West especially, as we are largely bound by tribal identities that threaten fracture (and have fractured) civil society. While his scathing indictment of populism and identity politics excoriates Donald Trump, it is not the crux of his argument.

Trump remains the symptom of a larger disease, whose adherents actually believe in a principle of opposing "the powerful" to fix the world's problems. The Donald uses it as a cynical ploy. Goldberg spares neither camp, while balancing his criticisms with highlights and indeed a validation of the causes of our current political predicament. While he does toss in the occasional red meat, he remains nonetheless focused on the historical case for the conditions that set (and may be prelude to) a populist movement.

This is a must read for traditional conservatives who feel their alleged coalition no longer understands them (if they ever did). It easily ranks as one of the seminal works of the contemporary conservative movement as we seek to reclaim our roots. Every Buckleyite will be enjoy it. (less)
Profile Image for Kat Coffin.
231 reviews21 followers
February 14, 2020
The one good thing I can say about this book--it's a good book to give to conservative loved ones who are supporting Trump. Conservatives need Jonah Goldberg. They need his criticisms of Trump, they need his criticisms of their movement being seduced, and they need his disgust towards their abhorrent behavior.

But here is where my goodwill ends. Not only was this book a chore to read, it was condescending and poorly cited. Goldberg has an annoying habit of making loud claims, citing the claims, but when you actually look at the citations, you find that what he is referencing has nothing to do with the point he is making. Even worse, he looks down his nose towards feminism and LGBTQ rights, refuses to do any real study of both, and then has the gall to complain that progressive scholars don't do enough research. It is bizarre to me that he's willing to callout his own movement for their embrace of antisemitism, but dismisses the same charges of racism or homophobia. It appears that bigotry is only bigotry when it actively affects him.

I don't recommend it to anyone with common sense, but considering Trump supporters have none, this might be a good book to give to them.
Profile Image for Cami.
383 reviews115 followers
February 11, 2019
I wish Jonah Goldberg's book titles were less incendiary to more accurately reflect the calm, reasoned tone of his content and be more inviting to moderate readers. Unlike the angry political rant the title implies, this book is an intelligent and academic comparison of conservatism and progressivism; democracy and populism; romanticism and rationalism; Locke and Rousseau; capitalism and socialism, British and French Enlightenment; 1984 and Brave New World. As a conservative, Goldberg has been consistent in his opposition to Trump and this book outlines the reasons why. Make sure you read the appendix to end your reading on an optimistic note.

Favorite quotes:

"The American founders believed that the enemy of liberty was arbitrary power. They rejected a line of thought that stretches from Plato’s Republic through Rousseau’s social contract to any number of modern ideologies that men—the right men, disinterested men—could be trusted with unchecked power."

"If you start from the assumption that people are too stupid to understand what’s in their interest, and then you proceed to make society a byzantine maze of hurdles, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to claim you’re right... Modern progressives have not only helped set up a system that millions of Americans believe is dedicated to making their lives more difficult and their path to success more daunting; the progressives also heap scorn on them for complaining about it."

"Identity politics has always been about the politics and psychology of power...Dissent from the orthodoxy is now the equivalent of violence or complicity in it. The war on tolerance has become an effort to make room for a new intolerance."

"The tragedy here is that liberalism—in the classic Enlightenment sense—is the only system ever created to help people break out of the oppression of identity politics."

"By any measure, the most important mediating institution in any society is the family. Healthy, well-functioning families are the primary wellspring of societal success. Unhealthy, dysfunctional families are the primary cause of societal decline. The family is the institution that converts us from natural-born barbarians into, hopefully, decent citizens. It is the family that literally civilizes us. The healthy family is also the keystone of civil society."

"Many critics of bourgeois morality are indeed right when they say that the nuclear family—one man, one woman, married to another—is not natural. Combatants on both sides of the intellectual wars of the family often commit the naturalistic fallacy: assuming that if something is “natural” it is right or good. But whether it is natural or not misses the more salient point: The nuclear family works."

"Some mothers can do it all. But that is a lot to ask of them, and not the best way to organize a society."

"Trump’s ideological commitments are similarly inchoate. Over the last thirty years, he has been consistent about only a handful of ideas—protectionism, the wisdom of “taking the oil” from Middle Eastern countries we invaded, and some fairly vague platitudes about cutting back regulations—but, beyond that, he’s been all over the map on guns, immigration, abortion, taxes, health care, etc. Unlike traditional American conservatives, his lodestars have never been limited government, the Constitution, individual liberty, or, needless to say, “traditional values.”
There is little reason to believe that he has anything more than a thumbless grasp of such concepts."

"Donald Trump did not cause the corruption on the right; he exploited it. And, having succeeded, he is accelerating it. If civilization is just a conversation, then Donald Trump is already a very consequential president, because he has profoundly changed the conversation of our democracy."

"Earned success is the secret to meaningful happiness. The government can improve your net worth with a check, but it cannot improve your self-worth."

"How will conservatives decry “crony capitalism” in Trump’s wake? Who will have the nerve to say the government shouldn’t be “picking winners and losers” in the market after Trump has jawboned one company after another into giving him political victories? What standards of presidential decorum, honesty, and rhetoric can survive four years of Trump’s Twitter tirades and petty insults?"

"The only thing that gives the Constitution real lasting power is our commitment to it, and there’s nothing preventing us from walking away from it other than our refusal to do so.
Decline is a choice. Principles, like gods, die when no one believes in them anymore."

"Capitalism is the greatest peaceful cooperative endeavor for human enrichment ever created—by orders of magnitude. The catch? It doesn’t feel like it. It doesn’t feel cooperative. It doesn’t even feel peaceful. It is full of uncertainty and tumult. Capitalism cannot provide meaning, spirituality, or a sense of belonging. Those things are upstream of capitalism. And that’s okay. Capitalism is an economic system that is fantastic at doing what we claim we want from economic systems: growth and prosperity."

"Meaning comes from family, friends, faith, community, and countless little platoons of civil society. When those institutions fail, capitalism alone cannot restore them. As a result, human nature starts making demands of the political and economic systems that neither can possibly fulfill."
Profile Image for Brice Karickhoff.
513 reviews31 followers
March 25, 2022
Undoubtedly this rating is subject to some recency bias as the conclusion was the best part, but on the whole, I thought this book was an incredibly insightful diagnosis of the state of our country and civilization. I must add the cliche disclaimer, “I didn’t agree with everything”, but it almost feels wrong to say because I did agree with a lot. And more importantly, this book presented a lot of new ideas (especially about history) that I’d never heard before but took a lot of value from. An intellectual gap-filler for sure.

The single biggest flaw with this book was its lack of a clearly communicated structure. I think that whenever an author writes a book as dense and heady as this, that covers so much ground, it’s on them to constantly remind the reader where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going. I have a lot of practice reading books like this and still I was lost at times. There were many paragraphs and pages where I thought “that is so good, but I don’t really see how it fits in”. By the end of the book, things came together nicely and the haze lifted a bit, but the fact remains that I spent at least 50% of this book unsure of why the author was discussing what he was discussing.
1,296 reviews
June 21, 2018
This book is a lot meatier than I might have expected. It is not merely a screed against "liberals these days." Instead it is a consideration of the last 400 years of western civilization. How did we arrive at a point where the free market was valued, individual rights were protected, and private property was sacrosanct? And how have we maintained these characteristics these past several centuries? And how are they now in peril?

Goldberg goes to great length to show how miserable poverty was the lot of the vast majority of mankind for 10,000 years. But then, starting somewhere in the 1600 or 1700s, suddenly large portions of the west were rapidly growing out of subsistence poverty into much higher standards of living. And we have now exported these values around the world, so that even places as far-flung as Singapore or South Africa are enjoying many of these same benefits.

Goldberg traces the political and moral developments that have made this world possible. He pits Locke against Rousseau, showing how it is the inheritors of Locke who have secured the liberty of the masses, while it is the inheritors of Rousseau who are threatening to pull it all down. It is at this point that one would normally consider the impact of Protestant Christianity, and of the God it espouses, but Goldberg is quite loath to do so. He from the start admits that this will be an atheistic account, even though he himself is not an atheist. He sees faith as an important story we tell ourselves that impacts how we behave, but is unwilling to go much further than that. He certainly does not want to discuss the Christian ethic and its impact on, say, private property or entrepreneurialism. I recommend Douglas Wilson's critique of Goldberg on this point.

The second half of the book transitions from this historical discussion to a look at the state of America's political landscape today. Here Goldberg hits many well-known points: the need for mediating institutions, the dangers of populism, the weakness of the modern family, the insidious rise of progressivism, especially under Wilson and FDR, etc. Goldberg also points to how the middle class tends to produce offspring deficient in gratitude for what has come before. The children of the middle class go off to fancy colleges that badmouth everything that allowed the student to have the sort of background to attend the pricey university in the first place. Goldberg stresses again and again the need for gratitude, even if he lacks the proper recipient for said gratitude.

I would recommend this work to anyone. The first half is more philosophical that some might welcome, but it is worth pushing through in order to understand the underpinnings of much of western civilization (despite his royally screwing up the religious aspect--and it's a lot more than just an "aspect") and how we must work hard to shore it up. Beyond the Ben Sasses of the world, I'm not sure anyone in Washington is paying attention. But that's no excuse for the other 99.99% of the country. We will be held responsible for how we handle the incredible privileges we have been given. Let us not we found wanting.
Profile Image for John Devlin.
Author 21 books71 followers
January 2, 2019
Suicide is a distillation of much of conservative thought in today's America.

Capitalism is great, the family is great, community is great, and the State's rise is killing all the former.

And I wholeheartedly agree.

The grander assertion is that the West is failing bc the folks are ignorant, oblivious, easily distracted, and given over to a Oakland Raider like sensibility towards their team against all the others.

And I wholeheartedly agree.

Goldberg goes onto discuss Trump and his rise, and like him i was a NeverTrumper bc I bristled at the cult of personality that seemed to arrive with him. After all, factually, Trump was a golden spooned, draft avoider, four time bankrupted philanderer, who said ludicrous and grandiose nonsense at a herculean rate.

Also, I didn't believe he would do the things he ran on. After all, he had been Republican, Democrat, unwilling to state, and the Independence Party member.

But he has done much of what he promised, and furthermore, a media, I knew to be Leftist, has been revealed to be far more malignant than I would ever have imagined. An analogy I used elsewhere was I thought the Media was a serious rash on the body politic, but the fourth estate has actually been revealed to be a stage 3 cancer. Trump is an antidote to a Media that went from reporting the news, to deciding what was news, to deciding what the folks should think about the news they decided on.

But if Trump is an antidote he's not a palliative but a purgative. Vomiting is never pretty and either is the Donald, but in this case I question whether any other prescription would've worked.

Nevertheless, I don't disagree that the US and the West are in decline. Shrug, all great empires fall. The question becomes will capitalism and the technology unleashed allow for a greater quality of life for the humans on this planet or will the West's demise augur a steeper breakdown into something unseen since Constantine's vision of Christ.

Profile Image for Willy Marz Thiessam.
152 reviews1 follower
February 6, 2018
Jonah Goldberg justifies inequality and a myriad of global problems as the price for Freedom, as if it existed as an absolute, almost like an object with physical dimensions and qualities. The object of freedom is to make a commitment in one way or the other. The massive inequality that Goldberg justifies minuses out any aspect of change. Capital and its accumulation above every other consideration is not about stuff or maintaining the ability to maintain "freedom", its about power commoditized and numerical which only has meaning in relation to the interests of the other holders of capital. And what is that interest, the control of price and the market. That society creates the space for this struggle to take place is of course something Neo-liberals barely understand, its not merely the existence of night-watchmen, monetary policy and prisons that make "capitalism" possible. The advantages Goldberg accrues to Capitalism were derived from a mixed economy where control of the business enterprise was as essential to ensuring those in positions of power would remain in power as it did secure the needs of society as a whole.

Goldberg would do well to remember the maxim of Machiavelli when he pointed out that men are always ready to overthrow their masters. Its transplanting it with something that works that is the rarity. The Neo-liberal Revolution is over and it was never the sweet words and complex ideology of policy wonks such as Goldberg that made that revolution possible. The world gave it a try and found it wanting, the age is over, the magic incantation of Neo-liberal mantras about freedom have come to an end. Goldberg seems intelligent so I'm sure he can come up with something new that might find a receptive audience, this however is not it.
Profile Image for Jeff Raymond.
3,092 reviews180 followers
May 15, 2018
I don’t know what it will ultimately take for Jonah Goldberg to be taken seriously as a historian of political movements. Liberal Fascism remains an important and instrumental text, and Suicide of the West, with its equally-bombastic title and premise, provides a detailed and solid outlook into how our past is dictating our present and, more importantly, how we’re losing it.

The overall messaging may be the only stumble here, as Goldberg spends more time explaining this from his point of view rather than a sober analysis leading him there, but this is a tome with a lot to chew on. It’s difficult to read this and not feel a little bit like a lot of what is detailed here gets lost in modern times, especially in the Trump era, but it also has an inspiration and aspirational feel to it where the overall premise shows a way out in spite of how we got in.

Much like Liberal Fascism, this should be required political reading right now. Little of what I’ve read in the last few years really encapsulates the moment (or, unfortunately, how we got to this moment) the way this book does, and I would hope that it gets a wide play on a whole.
Profile Image for Vannessa Anderson.
Author 1 book170 followers
July 8, 2018

The humans in this story are animals who evolved from other animals who in turn evolved from even more embarrassing animals and before that from a humiliating sea of ooze, slime, meats, and vegetables in the primordial stew. We pulled ourselves out of the muck, not some Garden of Eden. Indeed, if the Garden of Eden ever existed, it was a slum. We created the Miracle of modernity all on our own, and if we lose it, that will be our fault too.


Author Goldberg didn’t bite his tongue when writing Suicide of the West! He wrote in brutal honesty.

I really enjoyed author Goldberg’s unapologetic style of writing using modern examples to make his point: goose who laid the golden egg, software, basic programming, add-ons, movies, etc.

I found author Goldberg’s take on human nature and society structures straight-on and not indulgent at all. Suicide of the West is a worthwhile read.
Profile Image for Joseph Stieb.
Author 1 book132 followers
September 8, 2021
Read this for research into a book that involves conservative ideas about decline/decadence. More of a 2.5 for me, but that rounds up. Goldberg is an anti-Trump conservative and a senior editor at National Review. I'm sympathetic to the book's central argument, which is rooted in classical liberalism, but I found significant ideological and historical problems with his argument.

Goldberg argues that human societies face a constant battle against decay and entropy that always takes us back to our tribal natures. In the last few centuries, however, he argues that the West has come up with new institutions that channel and contain our tribalism and make it possible to have prosperity and government by consent. These include individuals rights, tolerance, the market, and teh rule of law. While he doesn't say these institutions can't function elsewhere, he argues that they all came together in modern Western civilization. However, we are now facing a regression toward tribalism and romanticism, an anti-rational human emotion that seeks to draw us back to the nostalgic past, the small clan, and nationalist mythologies. Civil society is breaking down, we are engaged increasingly in meaningless, self-centered pursuits, media fragments our attention spans and tribalizes our identities, the left and right have developed their own versions of identity politics, and too many of us are so ignorant of our civilization's values and achievements that we won't defend or appreciate them. Trump he sees as someone who both embodies these trends and took advantage of our vapidity, isolation, andignorance to rise to power.

At times Goldberg does fairly well with the history behind his argument, which takes up about half of the book. Still, he draws on a somewhat selective (and pretty old) body of research, and this gets him into trouble at times. Most of the time, he makes qualified claims and backs up his claims with at least some evidence. He drastically downplays the importance of racism and violence/poverty in U.S. history, which leads him to see social justice movements and political reform movements as overblown for challenging an unfettered conception of individual liberty that is precious to conservatism. Like many conservatives, Goldberg detests conservatives but misrepresents them by portraying them out of context: sure, they had dark and even authoritarian aspects, but fundamentally they were trying to address real problems and real human suffering, all mostly within existing American traditions of rights and governance. This is a frustrating aspect of conservatism and this book to me: the tendency to ignore that founding ideals often have to be adapted, within important bounds, to changing conditions and crises, and those who seek to adapt them are often more focused on addressing real world problems than proffering philosophical arguments. Goldberg subscribes to the sunny view of history in which founding principles of the US, or on a deeper level, Christianity, play themselves out in the world to doom oppression, inequality, and prejudice. Of course, I believe, as Lincoln did, that founding documents established principles that in and of themselves favored freedom and equality, but the dominant parts of our society were more than happy to simply not apply those principles for hundreds of years to numerous marginalized groups until those groups and their allies found ways to compel change. In a weird sense, this is a Whiggish view of history in a book that is all about imminent decline; an odd combo.

I will give Goldberg a lot of credit for his moral, political, and intellectual critiques of Trump. I'm sympathetic as well to many of his critiques of the modern left. However, he makes indefensible moral equivalencies btw Obama and Trump, saying that they both had equal cults of personality and equal abuses of executive power (this claim was slightly less absurd when this book was published in 2018). He also has an overly rosy view of the Tea Party: instead of seeing it as a white backlash movement with a thin commitment to small gov't principles, he sees it as a last gasp of the good kind of conservatism. The best research on the Tea Party has shown the centrality of conspiracies, racism, paranoia, and reactionary attitudes in the TP; this doesn't mean their beliefs on gov't don't matter but that we have to go well beyond those beliefs to understand them. The Tea Party paved the way for Trump by bringing back paranoia, nativism, and white rage, embraced him fully, and drove the GOP into truly insane territory. This is one of the many areas of this book where it's clear that Goldberg didn't bother to read beyond the sources that support his presuppositions about a given topic.

This has been a mostly critical review, but I don't want to make it seem like this book is terrible. It is often reasonable and interesting. I tend to see conservatives like Goldberg as sort of second cousins: I'm a liberal but not "on the left" or a progressive, so Goldberg and I think very similarly about tribalism and human nature. There's a sort of ideological second cousin type relationship in our shared classical liberalism, although I see that classical liberalism as a foundation on which other ideas must be debated, weighed, and added as history changes while he sees it as an untouchable, sacred foundation. Anyways, this is a good read for someone looking for a conservative perspective on contemporary life and politics and/or someone like me who is studying decline/decadence as a historical theme of conservative thought.
Profile Image for Forrest.
220 reviews7 followers
December 30, 2018
We have all heard the story about the goose that laid the golden egg. By the same token if we tax the wealthy and businesses to the point to where it is no longer beneficial or advantageous to them to produce wealth, then the contributing source will disappear and the state will be left with nothing.

The worst thing about American slavery is that happened. The best thing about American slavery is we put an end to it. At the expense of hundreds of thousands of lives. Those who today now demand some sort of compensation for slavery that they have neither witnessed nor endured represent the most despicable form of ingratitude and greed imaginable

In this world of prudish personal restraint where image and self-promotion is everything (at work, school, church, etc) social media is an Avenue by which we can be ourselves and speak our mind within a controlled setting.
Therefore, if you post something that a "friend" cannot tolerate and that friend subsequently "unfriends" or "unfollows" you, you will know that your friendship with that person was never genuine and was irrelevant to begin with. It's a great social filtering mechanism by which we can weed out the fake friends in our lives, the type we are forced to interact with in other more professional settings.

Locke vs Russo: at the beginning of chapter 5 he makes a great comparative analysis between the philosophies of Locke and Rousseau. John Jack Rousseau had several mistresses one of which bore several of his children. After they were born he demanded that each one be placed in an orphanage. Russo was very immoral and very hypocritical

Woodrow Wilson had contempt for the Constitution and coined the term of a living document in reference to the Constitution. He was a Statist and a huge fan of Charles Darwin.

Many people lost their jobs during the Industrial Revolution when machines took over mass production. It wasn't a positive thing for them at the time, but in the end everyone mutually benefited. We shouldn't discourage innovation just because of a few growing pains.

Author openly admits in the book that he holds Trump in contempt but then admits that if he had the deciding vote today in the election between Hillary and Trump that he would "probably" vote for Trump.

(my opinion)Even if you were to take Donald Trump's very worst scandals and character flaws and multiply them by 10 it would still not even come close to the depravity and sheer evil of that of Hillary Clinton. I would not vote for Hillary any more than I would Mao, Stalin or Hitler. So, for the author to suggest that he would "probably" vote for Trump tells me that there is a fair amount of ignorance on the authors part regarding Hillary Clinton.

I feel like the last few years have taught us that for every Yin that comes from the left there is a Yang that comes from the right. Through their actions and hostility towards whites and conservatives and Christians the left is literally paving the way to a another Trump election

Towards the end of the book the author claims that most conservatives voted for Trump because or primarily because he was so entertaining. But I strongly disagree with the author. The entertainment value is probably what attracted the most attention from the media and both sides of the political Spectrum but it was by no means how he won the presidency. After so many years of government waste and government corruption, particularly after the Obama presidency, but also much further before then is how Trump won the presidency.

Our country is not managed by Congress and the president. It is it is plainly obvious that America is being run by such groups as unions and big business such as Goldman Sachs. Only the most stupid and naive people would truly believe that there nationally elected leaders are serving in their constituents best interest. The biggest thing that set Trump apart from other candidates and from previous presidents is simply that Trump is no politician. Trump is by and large a business man and a very successful one at that.

Many of his voters were sick and tired of never ending war that did nothing but put our soldiers lives at risk and waste billions of taxpayer dollars on rebuilding countries that in the end led to absolutely no real Improvement. We were sick of our country being abused by exploitative trade agreements by countries such as China. We are sick of the new social justice warrior class and political correctness and progressive ideology that is polluting our universities and our society. We are sick of the propagandizing nature and the bias and sensational news media that has been a plague since the Bush Administration. We are absolutely thrilled that Trump is taking them on like the roaches they are. We are sick of our once low health insurance rates Rising ever since the Obamacare Fiasco. We are sick of the nationally run education system that is failing our teachers and failing our students. We are sick and tired of the thousands of regulations and taxes that are harming our businesses. We are sick and tired of the swamp our pathetic congressional representatives who do little to nothing more then ensure their next election. We are sick and tired of company bailouts and government propping up and rewarding failing big businesses. The last four presidents that this country has had have all been unsuccessful in handling each and every one of these topics. Finally with all of her lies, deceptions, secrets, and Scandals, Hillary Clinton was arguably the most evil and despicable serious Contender for president since our nation was founded.
How can the author argue in light of all of this, that Trump is a threat to our nation just because he is a cocky bullheaded potty mouth. I'd be the first person to admit that Trump has a poor character. But I would much rather someone who could effectively run a massive institution like our country as successfully as he has his corporate Empire and win. And for the most part from what I have seen I am happy with what he has done, and I am more optimistic about his leadership than I have been in years of establishment presidents.

I believe at this time, Trump was exactly what our nation needed. We needed a a president who could lead and who knew how to win, not just another polite,  well-groomed scmoozola like Obama was. There was no real progress of any kind under the Obama Administration. Only lots of pretty photo-ops of Obama with his family which was the only thing that the public really took notice of.
The author paints very bleak, pessimistic, and nostalgic portrayal of the Trump Administration, and the author also seems to completely ignore the defining skills and positive attributes of the president.

The author also erroneously claims that some of the very same conservatives who support Trump wanted Clinton impeached for his adulterous Behavior. Clinton was in fact impeached on two charges, those being perjury and obstruction of justice. Most of the country, Republicans and Democrats alike were disgusted by Bill's immoral Behavior but this in of itself had nothing to do with his impeachment.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,578 reviews400 followers
June 10, 2022
See Kris's review. (Though, dear friend, I think you are wrong about him being an atheist. He says the opposite of that in the conclusion.)

Listened to this one on audio while recovering from COVID so I am rounding up under the assumption that I am being more negative than the book deserves. My biggest frustration can be summarized by his line about how we've reached the top of the mountain and whether we lean authoritarian or statist, we're just going downhill.

Now, I don't think the future automatically means better and he brings up quite a few good critiques in this book. But bottom line, it rather reads like: "We had something great, a miracle, and now Trump ruined it for everyone. Obama probably helped. But TRUMP."

Perhaps during the Trump presidency these multi-chapter rants went over better. I don't recall thinking so at the time (and I'm no Trump apologist), but I definitely don't think so now.
Profile Image for Sam Reaves.
Author 20 books65 followers
August 1, 2018
Not to be confused with James Burnham's 1964 book of the same title (or for that matter with Oswald Spengler's reactionary screed from 1918, The Decline of the West), this is a defense of classical liberalism by a contemporary conservative who is appalled by the rise of Donald Trump but sees him as a symptom of a larger problem, namely the erosion of the classical liberal values on which the unprecedented rise of Western Europe (and its extension North America) is built. Goldberg calls this rise out of millennial poverty into prosperous modernity "the Miracle", because he says the things that propelled it are contrary to human nature and coalesced in a corner of Europe more or less by accident. These include the ideas of natural rights, the rule of law, limited government, and so on. These are liberal values in the classical sense, the values of the Enlightenment, and Goldberg says that all of them go against our natural human tendency to band together into tribes and war with other tribes. He sees the current world-wide swing back toward authoritarian nationalism as a return to our natural instincts, and it scares him. He stresses that there's nothing inevitable about tolerant, open, democratic societies; they require constant maintenance and ideological confidence.
Notwithstanding a few digs on Goldberg's part at contemporary liberalism (as opposed to the classical sort), there is much we can all agree on here. If you are a plain old liberal rather than a classical liberal, you may frown in a few places, but be grateful: here's a conservative calling out the malign nature of Trumpism. It would be nice if there were more of them.
Profile Image for Christopher Blosser.
153 reviews17 followers
December 7, 2020
In the course of the Trump presidency I developed an appreciation for the positions taken by Jonah Goldberg and David French who from the National Review and subsequently in The Dispatch mounted a conservative resistance to the GOP's maddening embrace of Trump's blend of populism and tribalism.

In light of which, I really wanted to like this book much more than I did. In fact, all the way through the book, I had the peculiar experience where every time I encountered Goldberg expounding upon this or that topic, I found myself reminded of earlier books that I had read and other authors who were far more engaging.

For example, Goldberg certainly mounts a persuasive defence of the merits of capitalism and liberalism, but I simultaneously found myself harkening back to the witness of Michael Novak's The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism read so many years ago and wanting to pull it off the bookshelf.

John Locke figures heavily in Goldberg's history of our nation's founding (relative to Jacques Rousseau) and again, this was ok as far as it went -- but again it served to remind me of the benefit of reading Thomas G. West's The Political Theory of the American Founding: Natural Rights, Public Policy, and the Moral Conditions of Freedom (2017) or Bernard Bailyn's The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1992).

Goldberg devotes the better part of a chapter to rock and roll as the manifestation of of romanticism reasserting itself in contemporary life -- but again, it was all to reminiscent of (and made me long to re-read) Alan Bloom's philosophical treatment of the same in The Closing of the American Mind (1987), which I read two decades ago but can recall as if it were yesterday.

That being said, if there was anything I enjoyed or took a guilty pleasure in, it was Goldberg's concluding chapters characterization of the rise of Trump as a right-wing manifestation of American populism and tribalism mirroring the "identity politics" of the left, in much the same manner as the cult of personality surrounding Obama's rise was subsequently echoed by Trump's followers. In making his cogently argued case against Trump, Goldberg covered all the reasons why I find Trump so revolting myself -- from Trump's ambivalence towards (or fundamental opposition to) conservative principles to the moral abdication of Evangelical Christians in their realpolitik embrace of Trump himself.

All things considered, it was a book that left me wanting something more. Good, but not great.

p.s. I am sympathetic to the following excerpts from a review in The New Chicagoan :

Suicide of the West is an excellent diagnosis for the issues facing the foundations of Western civilization, but it stops short of providing much direction for the way forward. Goldberg endorses the idea of “earned success,” or finding fulfillment because an individual’s contributions to civil society are valued by civil society. Civil society, too — that web of institutions between the individual and the state — is also endorsed as a way to reinforce underlying first principles. But as Goldberg notes, civil society is itself in a frayed state and will need to be resuscitated if it is to serve its purpose. The conclusion that ingratitude is at the heart of the “suicide of the West” is also not entirely convincing, although not entirely wrong either. Gratitude does not guarantee stability, as he argues, but it does make the defense of civilization an easier task.

Ultimately, the liberal democratic capitalist order only works if the people are virtuous, because virtue more than any other factor can stave off the entropy inherent in human nature. This is a point that Goldberg largely skips but also (implicitly) rejects with his ingratitude-based conclusion.

“There is no God in this book,” he declares on page one, and for the most part that holds true. Organized religion, the engine of most virtues, is mentioned in passing, as he writes much, much later: “If you believe that man has a strong religious instinct, if I’ve convinced you that nature — including human nature — abhors a vacuum, then you have to believe that God’s absence creates an opening for all manner of ideas to flood in.”

This point, that the absence of widespread belief in God creates chaos, seems to explain more of the decline of the West than ingratitude does. The hollowing out of institutional values is one of the worst self-inflicted wounds that could have been committed, and one of the most difficult to reverse. Rebuilding civil society and creating a process that helps people earn success are goals with difficult but clear-cut methods of achieving. But how does the Catholic Church, for example, get people back into the pews? How does it rebuild its credibility after almost 20 years of sexual abuse scandals? And what are the consequences if it can’t find the answers? Because fixing that is not quite as clear-cut, and yet the ramifications will be just as large.

Contra Goldberg’s points about civil society and earned success, organizations like bowling leagues, Meals on Wheels, and fraternal clubs don’t create virtue. They can reinforce it, but creating virtue takes two institutions: the family, and organized religion. Goldberg goes into detail on the role of the family and how it is under attack by certain political and cultural forces. But organized religion is just as important at forming values that will create a healthy, even grateful, society, and it deserved more space than it received in the book.

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