Book of the week
Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy
Jonah Goldberg has written the book of the year, said John Podhoretz in the New York Post. Odd as it is to say this of a work with such a title, Suicide of the West is “an exhilarating call to arms in defense of what is highest and best in our civilization.” Goldberg, a veteran National Review editor, has taken it upon himself to call out members of both the Right and Left whose descent into tribalism threatens to destroy democratic capitalism—and the unprecedented bounty the system has generated since arising out of Enlightenment thinking some 300 years ago. Goldberg’s proposed remedy for tribalism’s rise is at once simple and “so difficult it seems unachievable”: He wants to resuscitate gratitude for our peculiar political economic inheritance, an inheritance so special he calls it the Miracle.
Mere preaching actually could make a big difference, said Adam Keiper in The Weekly Standard. As Goldberg’s “big, baggy,” but “often brilliant” treatise makes clear, it was talk and debate that gave birth to capitalism and the liberal democratic order. If John Locke and other 17th-century thinkers could erect the system with words, we can talk our way to preserving it now. But exactly which counterimpulses Goldberg would like to see defeated never becomes clear, said Nathan Robinson in The Washington Monthly. In a bid to present this book as a work of serious political philosophy, Goldberg decries both identity politics and Trump-style populism, and roots the warring ideologies in 18th-century romanticism and its faith in instinct and individualism. At times, though, Goldberg’s reasoning is “so slapdash as to be comical.” After warning against tribalism, nationalism, and populism, he winds up endorsing mild forms of each. He even reveals that he supports every aspect of President Trump’s policy agenda; apparently, he simply prefers that defense of the elite and disregard for the poor be wrapped in less boorishness.
Policy matters aside, Goldberg’s “epic, debate-shifting” book slightly misdiagnoses just what ails America, said David Brooks in The New York Times. Excessive individualism is our problem, not romanticism, and history lessons alone won’t be the cure. Edmund Burke understood something Goldberg’s conservatism misses—that individuals in a democratic society need to feel bonded to one another through networks of association that begin at the level of family and community. Today, excessive individualism has weakened those social units, leaving people feeling distrustful and alone. We must, therefore, rebuild families and communities first; “gratitude is too weak a glue to hold a diverse nation together.” ■