VIDEO: Bill Krystol interviews Jonah Goldberg, author of ‘Suicide of the West’
The Miracle was not a deliberate creation. It resulted from an unplanned convergence of events and ideas in the northwestern corner of Europe, and its success did not change human nature. We are the same as we were before it, and basically the same as we were before civilization.
Thus, for all of its obvious benefits, the Miracle often feels unnatural to us. Unless we strive to remember this, we will forget how much the Miracle has done for us and destructively indulge our inner tribal primates. We may commit cultural suicide out of ignorance and ingratitude.
This is the story Jonah Goldberg tells in his new book, Suicide of the West. It is a good tale, presented with an appealing blend of political theory and popular punditry, and it offers many salutary lessons and reminders of the blessings we enjoy and the need to actively preserve them (and yes, he really does call the advent of liberal democratic capitalism “the Miracle”). The book’s weaknesses are that it is too besotted with modernity and does not address the ways liberalism sabotages itself. The individualistic pursuit of happiness does not actually seem to make us very happy, and it threatens the civil society liberalism depends on.
Goldberg begins by reminding us of the remarkable epoch we live in. He writes that 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.” The creation of agriculture and the beginnings of civilization did not change this very much for most people, though it did allow the human inclination toward violence to get organized enough to provide the basis for government. Human nature had not altered. People were still tribal primates, and human life still tended to be poor, violent, and short.
Although the ills of pre-modern human life were undoubtedly legion, the soil in which the Miracle grew was enriched by centuries of human effort and achievement. However, Goldberg’s emphasis on the Miracle as “an unplanned and glorious accident” sometimes makes him unappreciative of the accomplishments of the pre-Miracle past. Indeed, he has a tendency to libel the past, as illustrated by his poorly sourced claim that medieval Europeans were particularly inclined to inventive tortures. In fact, many purported medieval torture devices, including the infamous Iron Maiden, are later creations produced for sensationalist “torture museums.”
This article continues at [The Federalist] Is Jonah Goldberg Right About Why We’re Committing Cultural Suicide?