April 28, 2018


The key factoid animating “Suicide of the West” is this: For 2,000 years, everywhere on earth, the large mass of humanity lived on the equivalent of $1.90 a day. “Near subsistence living,” Goldberg writes, “defined human habitats for almost all of human history.”

Then something happened. In the 18th century. In Great Britain. It was a complex phenomenon [Jonah] Goldberg [in Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy], calls the Miracle — a new way of thinking about humanity and human achievement and personal liberty that unlocked a hidden door in the possibilities of the species.

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The political liberty we were granted by the Miracle has freed humankind to pursue individual achievement — and it’s a series of unbroken individual achievements that have led the world to unprecedented bounty. But these achievements involve harnessing nature and improving on it. And it’s this aspect of the Miracle that creates a cognitive dissonance in us. It’s not so easy to transcend humanity’s hard-wired pre-modern drives.

As Goldberg says, we’re tribal creatures, intensely social and innately hierarchical, and we find greater meaning within groups. The great ideological fight in the Age of the Miracle is between those who see the rise of the West as a fulfillment of humankind’s potential and those who cannot reconcile themselves to the ways it seems to go against what they think is natural.

The problem is that the rejecters are themselves creating unnatural constructs to try and restore the existence that seems most real to them. They’re building fake tribes through the vehicle of what we now call “identity politics.” And these fake tribes and the demand that we adhere to the arbitrary rules they establish for who is in and who is out are the true drivers of the West’s suicidal impulses.

I’m about a third of the way through the Kindle edition of Suicide of the West and greatly enjoying it. Adam Keiper of the Weekly Standard dubs the book “a big, baggy, sometimes brilliant case for gratitude and perpetuation,” which seems apt.

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