‘Suicide of the West’ Review

 

I just finished Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West last night. Overall, I think it’s a very good book and one that people on both the Left and Right will benefit from reading. The book is not full of pop-culture references and humorous or snarky asides, which may disappoint regular readers of his G-File newsletter. It’s definitely a serious book, more in the style of his first title, Liberal Fascism, than his second, The Tyranny of Cliches. While I generally agree with the overall premise and conclusions, I do have a few quibbles about some of his writing decisions. Before I get into those, here’s a quick summary.

The basic premise is that we have reached a pinnacle when it comes to finding a way for humanity to prosper, and that if we aren’t careful we will throw it all away. He starts by observing that for most of human existence, life has been pretty miserable. We first appeared about 250,000 years ago, and for 99 percent of that time nothing changed. He points to about 300 years ago, when what he refers to as “the Miracle” happened, that life really started to improve drastically. The values of the Enlightenment combined with the economic benefits of capitalism combined in a place where they were allowed to develop (England) and then were given a true home here in America where they have flourished and changed the world. But the “Miracle” goes against human nature. We didn’t evolve in such a way to ensure the “Miracle” happened and if we let human nature take its course, we’ll lose what we have gained.

In fact, Goldberg makes a good case that we’ve already dropped below the pinnacle. The progressive movement of the early 20th century damaged the balanced structure that the Founders designed by letting an administrative state transform into a shadow government unchecked by the formal system defined in our Constitution. In that sense, I found the book to be kind of depressing. At this point, it would take a new revolution to free ourselves from the bureaucracy that we’ve allowed to take over so much of our formal government, and there’s no sign that people have the slightest interest in doing anything of the sort. Unfulfillable promises to “drain the swamp” aside, the administrative state is here to stay.

This biggest critique I have with Suicide of the West is the way Goldberg chose to start it. He explicitly states “There is no God in this book.” He makes his case without arguing that rights are “God given” or that the “Miracle” was predestined. I can understand why he wants to avoid the fallacy of appeal to authority, but that sentence is not true. God definitely is in the book. He admits as much in the conclusion, pointing out that without the societal changes wrought by Judaism and even more so by Christianity, the “Miracle” would not have been possible. Given that, the decision to start the book with a statement that will rub many evangelical Christians the wrong way seems an odd one.

Goldberg goes into great depth to support his arguments, and backs up his conclusions with considerable research. Some of it, such as the analysis of the positions of Burnham and Schumpter, can get a little dry. Like Sahara-Desert dry. And there is the point where Goldberg says that the “list [of Human Universals] is too long to reprint here,” followed by two solid pages of the list. Those missteps aside, the book is well done. Overall, the tone is a scholarly one. This is not a fiery tome that lends itself to sound bites and memes.

The second half of the book focuses on the fact that the “Miracle” isn’t self-sustaining. Just like capitalism has creative destruction, the “Miracle” allows ideas to flourish that are detrimental to the success it brings. It doesn’t change human nature, and if we lose our sense of gratitude for all the factors that led to the “Miracle” we’ll go back to our natural states of tribalism and authoritarianism. The identity politics of the left are incompatible with the “Miracle,” as is the authoritarian nationalism showing up in Europe and already exists in most of the non-western world. No one will even accuse Goldberg of being a MAGA-hat-wearing Trump supporter but the book isn’t an attack on Trump. (He started writing it before Trump even announced he was running for president.) He’s pretty clear in saying that he doesn’t see Trump as being a positive factor in all this but he does point out that Trump isn’t causing the problems. He’s just symptomatic of them.

I’m going to have to read the book again to clarify some of the ideas and where those lead. For example, it struck me early on that there is a tension between the idea that the “Miracle” increased freedom by allowing us to have profitable interactions with strangers, to not put friends and family first or give them special favors, and the conservative idea that the disintegration of the nuclear family has been bad for society. Goldberg does spend time talking about the importance of the family and other moderating institutions. There’s clearly a balance that needs to be established and better maintained. One interesting omission (in my mind anyway) is Federalism. He makes no mention of any level of government outside the Federal one. I think that might be part of the balance we need to restore to help keep the effects of tribalism at bay.

As I said at the beginning, I recommend this book for people across the political spectrum who are interested in serious discussion of the big picture issues today. I’m looking forward to hearing what other Ricochet members have to say.

There are 195 comments.

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  1. Misthiocracy, Joke Pending Member
    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending
    @Misthiocracy

    Nick H: We didn’t evolve in such a way to ensure the “Miracle” happened, and if we let human nature take its course we’ll lose what we have gained.

    Hmm…

    The primary problem with the failed political ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries is that they ignored and/or sought to reshape human nature.

    Failing to make allowances for human nature is what leads to totalitarianism.

    Nick H: And there is the point where Goldberg says that the “list [of Human Universals] is too long to reprint here,” but then follows two solid pages of the list.

    That seems like an odd thing to do if he’s so contemptuous towards human nature. What’s the difference between “Human Nature” and “Human Universals”?

    • #1
  2. Nick H Coolidge
    Nick H
    @NickH

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    Nick H: We didn’t evolve in such a way to ensure the “Miracle” happened, and if we let human nature take its course we’ll lose what we have gained.

    Hmm…

    The primary problem with the failed political ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries is that they ignored and sought to reshape human nature.

    Failing to make allowances for human nature is what leads to totalitarianism.

    Nick H: And there is the point where Goldberg says that the “list [of Human Universals] is too long to reprint here,” but then follows two solid pages of the list.

    That seems like an odd thing to do if he’s so contemptuous towards human nature. What’s the difference between “Human Nature” and “Human Universals”?

    I don’t think he’s contemptuous of human nature at all. Just the opposite. He argues that what makes the Constitution successful is that it does take human nature into account. It uses human nature against itself to balance the powers between branches of the government. Human universals are expressions of human nature, behaviors that we have in common across different times and cultures.

    • #2
  3. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    Nick H: And there is the point where Goldberg says that the “list [of Human Universals] is too long to reprint here,” but then follows two solid pages of the list.

    That seems like an odd thing to do if he’s so contemptuous towards human nature. What’s the difference between “Human Nature” and “Human Universals”?

    I did wonder how the long the original list was.

    I think the list is of characteristics that exist in every known human society, so the characteristics are symptoms of human nature but do not describe human nature. But that is just my guess.

    • #3
  4. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Sounds like a good read. I shall have to pick it up. 

    I do think Goldberg, in the past, has been overly harsh on nationalism, but with this I can see the point. 

    I do not think we can pull the effect of Christianity on the West out and have it self sustaining. The idea that each of us is special comes from religion, despite what the atheists want to believe. Goldberg is right, the West is unusual. Christianity is a huge part of it. 

    • #4
  5. Could Be Anyone Member
    Could Be Anyone
    @CouldBeAnyone

    Nick H: He points to about 300 years ago, when what he refers to as the “Miracle” happened, that life really started to improve drastically. The values of the Enlightenment combined with the economic benefits of capitalism combined in a place where they were allowed to develop (England) and then were given a true home here in America where they have flourished and changed the world. But the “Miracle” goes against human nature. We didn’t evolve in such a way to ensure the “Miracle” happened, and if we let human nature take its course we’ll lose what we have gained.

    This Burkean formulation, while good in spirit, fails to accurately detail what something is. Just because human nature is not forcefully directed by its nature to something does not mean it is logically speaking opposed to it. Human nature after all allows for freedom of thought, speech, etc. (they are characteristics of being human, only you have total control over what you say or think) and this logically is necessary for free exchange (like person x telling person y about A information for B information).

    Human nature can also allow for violence and forcing people to give someone something for nothing. We have seen humans use both free exchange and force for a long time. It is a choice more than anything. Important institutions, that have been beacons for human goodness (like the family, the market, and church), predate the “Enlightenment” by thousands of years.

    The main thing that happened relatively prior to and during that period of the “Enlightenment” was that geographical barriers were being overcome, thanks in part to prior progression in technology, which allowed for greater trade which is greater coordination of increasing pools of both material and immaterial resources.

    Whether we keep or lose a free nation is based on our own freedom and not on some disposition.

    • #5
  6. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Nick H: The second half of the book focuses on the fact that the “Miracle” isn’t self-sustaining. Just like capitalism has creative destruction, the “Miracle” allows ideas to flourish that are detrimental to the success it brings. It doesn’t change human nature, and if we lose our sense of gratitude for all the factors that led to the “Miracle”, we’ll go back to our natural states of tribalism and authoritarianism.

    Especially without God or some other transcendental, this is just another name for politics. People differ regarding what it means to flourish, what is success. and what is beneficial or detrimental to those goods. Or, importing similar loggerheads from some of our Ricochet discussions on libertarianism, anarchocapitalism, and conservatism: people differ on what is just, on what is harmful. Jonah has a viewpoint and I probably agree with most of it, but not even the enlightenment or the founding was immune to what he’s critiquing. Hell, these questions predated the enlightenment – without any real answer.

    Seems to be that the enlightenment murder of God (according to Nietzsche and others) has actually resulted in a blossoming of tribalism rather than a tamping down of those things and has run concurrent with much terrible authoritarianism and as Whittaker Chambers argued in his critique of Atlas Shrugged, “right reason enjoins it”. It’s just deconstructed tribes instead of broad based tribes. Tribes based on competing visions of justice, good, harm, utility in addition to the usuals of geography or dna. Are tribes centered around these things any less tribal in effect and method than tribes centered around geography or dna? 

    Our Founding didn’t eradicate these differences or tribes. First, at the time our population was uniquely homogeneous and uniquely rugged – we didn’t need to be tribal in that regard since most already belonged to the tribe (unless you belonged to some Indian tribe in which case good old tribalism was alive and kicking in all directions). Second, the great miracle of the Founding was in devising a system for peaceful and even productive resolutions of these differences as long as the differences were within a certain standard deviation of each other. Again, Indians, slaves, Catholics – not so much a cease fire on the tribalism or the authoritarianism.

    • #6
  7. Could Be Anyone Member
    Could Be Anyone
    @CouldBeAnyone

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Our Founding didn’t eradicate these differences or tribes. First, at the time our population was uniquely homogeneous and uniquely rugged – we didn’t need to be tribal in that regard since most already belonged to the tribe (unless you belonged to some Indian tribe in which case good old tribalism was alive and kicking in all directions). Second, the great miracle of the Founding was in devising a system for peaceful and even productive resolutions of these differences as long as the differences were within a certain standard deviation of each other. Again, Indians, slaves, Catholics – not so much a cease fire on the tribalism or the authoritarianism.

    I agree that we didn’t eliminate differences on everything, but as a nation America was not uniquely homogeneous (which by the definition of the word implies lack of difference). There is a reason that within less than a hundred years of the founding that the nation endured a bloody and long civil war. Some differences from the start were well beyond one standard deviation. The formulation and ratification of the Constitution is another example, there is a reason why it mentions creating a more perfect union in the preamble as a goal (hint there was not some uniquely perfect union). In fact the preamble kind of recognizes the fact that America is a project to work on and not very homogenous.

    • #7
  8. Nick H Coolidge
    Nick H
    @NickH

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Nick H: He points to about 300 years ago, when what he refers to as the “Miracle” happened, that life really started to improve drastically. The values of the Enlightenment combined with the economic benefits of capitalism combined in a place where they were allowed to develop (England) and then were given a true home here in America where they have flourished and changed the world. But the “Miracle” goes against human nature. We didn’t evolve in such a way to ensure the “Miracle” happened, and if we let human nature take its course we’ll lose what we have gained.

    This Burkean formulation, while good in spirit, fails to accurately detail what something is. Just because human nature is not forcefully directed by its nature to something does not mean it is logically speaking opposed to it. Human nature after all allows for freedom of thought, speech, etc. (they are characteristics of being human, only you have total control over what you say or think) and this logically is necessary for free exchange (like person x telling person y about A information for B information).

    Human nature can also allow for violence and forcing people to give someone something for nothing. We have seen humans use both free exchange and force for a long time. It is a choice more than anything. Important institutions, that have been beacons for human goodness (like the family, the market, and church), predate the “Enlightenment” by thousands of years.

    The main thing that happened relatively prior to and during that period of the “Enlightenment” was that geographical barriers were being overcome, thanks in part to prior progression in technology, which allowed for greater trade which is greater coordination of increasing pools of both material and immaterial resources.

    Whether we keep or lose a free nation is based on our own freedom and not on some disposition.

    That’s something to consider. What specific technology are you thinking from 300 or so years ago that allowed for greater trade? The sextant was developed around that time, and I could see that being a factor. Of course that could lead to a chicken and egg argument about whether the improved navigational ability increased trade, or that the need for improved navigation due to increased trade provided the impetus for the development of the sextant. Probably both. Is there some other development you think is relevant?

    • #8
  9. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Our Founding didn’t eradicate these differences or tribes. First, at the time our population was uniquely homogeneous and uniquely rugged – we didn’t need to be tribal in that regard since most already belonged to the tribe (unless you belonged to some Indian tribe in which case good old tribalism was alive and kicking in all directions). Second, the great miracle of the Founding was in devising a system for peaceful and even productive resolutions of these differences as long as the differences were within a certain standard deviation of each other. Again, Indians, slaves, Catholics – not so much a cease fire on the tribalism or the authoritarianism.

    I agree that we didn’t eliminate differences on everything, but as a nation America was not uniquely homogeneous (which by the definition of the word implies lack of difference). There is a reason that within less than a hundred years of the founding that the nation endured a bloody and long civil war. Some differences from the start were well beyond one standard deviation. The formulation and ratification of the Constitution is another example, there is a reason why it mentions creating a more perfect union in the preamble as a goal (hint there was not some uniquely perfect union). In fact the preamble kind of recognizes the fact that America is a project to work on and not very homogenous.

    Ok, right. I should have been more precise. Of course there were differences. The one big one you mention was so far outside the acceptable standard deviation that it led to war. Followed immediately by homogeneity in that regard and a return to acceptable levels of deviation instead of dissolution into separate tribes.

    I’m not articulate enough to achieve the precision you’re looking for, so when I say homogeneity here I don’t mean “lack of difference” I mean something much closer to unified on the major points. Christian, English, Protestant, formerly oppressed/persecuted, rugged enough to make a go in new land across the sea. Sometimes, depending on time and places, what qualifies as one of the major points can change.

    • #9
  10. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Nick H (View Comment):

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Nick H: He points to about 300 years ago, when what he refers to as the “Miracle” happened, that life really started to improve drastically. The values of the Enlightenment combined with the economic benefits of capitalism combined in a place where they were allowed to develop (England) and then were given a true home here in America where they have flourished and changed the world. But the “Miracle” goes against human nature. We didn’t evolve in such a way to ensure the “Miracle” happened, and if we let human nature take its course we’ll lose what we have gained.

    This Burkean formulation, while good in spirit, fails to accurately detail what something is. Just because human nature is not forcefully directed by its nature to something does not mean it is logically speaking opposed to it. Human nature after all allows for freedom of thought, speech, etc. (they are characteristics of being human, only you have total control over what you say or think) and this logically is necessary for free exchange (like person x telling person y about A information for B information).

    Human nature can also allow for violence and forcing people to give someone something for nothing. We have seen humans use both free exchange and force for a long time. It is a choice more than anything. Important institutions, that have been beacons for human goodness (like the family, the market, and church), predate the “Enlightenment” by thousands of years.

    The main thing that happened relatively prior to and during that period of the “Enlightenment” was that geographical barriers were being overcome, thanks in part to prior progression in technology, which allowed for greater trade which is greater coordination of increasing pools of both material and immaterial resources.

    Whether we keep or lose a free nation is based on our own freedom and not on some disposition.

    That’s something to consider. What specific technology are you thinking from 300 or so years ago that allowed for greater trade? The sextant was developed around that time, and I could see that being a factor. Of course that could lead to a chicken and egg argument about whether the improved navigational ability increased trade, or that the need for improved navigation due to increased trade provided the impetus for the development of the sextant. Probably both. Is there some other development you think is relevant?

    As the technology has improved many times over, have we gotten more free or less free? More tribal or less tribal? In which ways? Have we traded some tribal memberships for others? Do we really have a surplus of metaphorical hermits with no affiliations, a bunch of Platos all escaping from the cave and managing to avoid merely stumbling into next larger chamber of the cave and thinking it’s the new reality instead?

    • #10
  11. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Nick H (View Comment):

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Nick H: He points to about 300 years ago, when what he refers to as the “Miracle” happened, that life really started to improve drastically. The values of the Enlightenment combined with the economic benefits of capitalism combined in a place where they were allowed to develop (England) and then were given a true home here in America where they have flourished and changed the world. But the “Miracle” goes against human nature. We didn’t evolve in such a way to ensure the “Miracle” happened, and if we let human nature take its course we’ll lose what we have gained.

    This Burkean formulation, while good in spirit, fails to accurately detail what something is. Just because human nature is not forcefully directed by its nature to something does not mean it is logically speaking opposed to it. Human nature after all allows for freedom of thought, speech, etc. (they are characteristics of being human, only you have total control over what you say or think) and this logically is necessary for free exchange (like person x telling person y about A information for B information).

    Human nature can also allow for violence and forcing people to give someone something for nothing. We have seen humans use both free exchange and force for a long time. It is a choice more than anything. Important institutions, that have been beacons for human goodness (like the family, the market, and church), predate the “Enlightenment” by thousands of years.

    The main thing that happened relatively prior to and during that period of the “Enlightenment” was that geographical barriers were being overcome, thanks in part to prior progression in technology, which allowed for greater trade which is greater coordination of increasing pools of both material and immaterial resources.

    Whether we keep or lose a free nation is based on our own freedom and not on some disposition.

    That’s something to consider. What specific technology are you thinking from 300 or so years ago that allowed for greater trade? The sextant was developed around that time, and I could see that being a factor. Of course that could lead to a chicken and egg argument about whether the improved navigational ability increased trade, or that the need for improved navigation due to increased trade provided the impetus for the development of the sextant. Probably both. Is there some other development you think is relevant?

    As the technology has improved many times over, have we gotten more free or less free? More tribal or less tribal? In which ways? Have we traded some tribal memberships for others? Do we really have a surplus of metaphorical hermits with no affiliations, a bunch of Platos all escaping from the cave and managing to avoid merely stumbling into next larger chamber of the cave and thinking it’s the new reality instead?

    We are more free in many, many ways. The whole concept of privacy is anti-tribal. 

    • #11
  12. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen
    @tommeyer

    Nick H:

    This biggest critique I have with Suicide of the West is the way Goldberg chose to start it. He explicitly states “There is no God in this book.” He makes his case without arguing that rights are “God given” or that the “Miracle” was predestined. I can understand why he wants to avoid the fallacy of appeal to authority, but that sentence is not true. God definitely is in the book. He admits as much in the conclusion, pointing out that without the societal changes wrought by Judaism and even more so by Christianity, the “Miracle” would not have been possible.

    I follow your point, but I disagree with it’s implication.

    It is entirely possible for Christianity and Judaism to have had extremely positive and profound effects on civilization without being metaphysically or theologically correct.

    This analogy is imperfect on several levels, but I think there’s wide consensus among non-Mormons that — in its modern form — Mormonism is a force for good in the world even if they disagree with its theology.

    A secular/atheist/agnostic conservative might say that of Christianity.

    • #12
  13. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Nick H (View Comment):

    …..

    That’s something to consider. What specific technology are you thinking from 300 or so years ago that allowed for greater trade? The sextant was developed around that time, and I could see that being a factor. Of course that could lead to a chicken and egg argument about whether the improved navigational ability increased trade, or that the need for improved navigation due to increased trade provided the impetus for the development of the sextant. Probably both. Is there some other development you think is relevant?

    As the technology has improved many times over, have we gotten more free or less free? More tribal or less tribal? In which ways? Have we traded some tribal memberships for others? Do we really have a surplus of metaphorical hermits with no affiliations, a bunch of Platos all escaping from the cave and managing to avoid merely stumbling into next larger chamber of the cave and thinking it’s the new reality instead?

    We are more free in many, many ways. The whole concept of privacy is anti-tribal.

    I’m not sure I’d agree with either of those propositions. I’ll have to think on it. My reaction is that we have privacy alright, but only within the context of memberships in several overlapping tribes. And even that intra-group privacy is under attack. 

    • #13
  14. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Perhaps what I’m getting at more is that I don’t think the term tribal captures what’s really being critiqued. Obviously grouping is good; is “tribal” really synonymous with “unthinking” or “blind” or “unquestioning” or “unwilling to change” or something like that?

    • #14
  15. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Nick H (View Comment):

    …..

    That’s something to consider. What specific technology are you thinking from 300 or so years ago that allowed for greater trade? The sextant was developed around that time, and I could see that being a factor. Of course that could lead to a chicken and egg argument about whether the improved navigational ability increased trade, or that the need for improved navigation due to increased trade provided the impetus for the development of the sextant. Probably both. Is there some other development you think is relevant?

    As the technology has improved many times over, have we gotten more free or less free? More tribal or less tribal? In which ways? Have we traded some tribal memberships for others? Do we really have a surplus of metaphorical hermits with no affiliations, a bunch of Platos all escaping from the cave and managing to avoid merely stumbling into next larger chamber of the cave and thinking it’s the new reality instead?

    We are more free in many, many ways. The whole concept of privacy is anti-tribal.

    I’m not sure I’d agree with either of those propositions. I’ll have to think on it. My reaction is that we have privacy alright, but only within the context of memberships in several overlapping tribes. And even that intra-group privacy is under attack.

    you do not have privacy in a tribe where everyone is known by everyone else. Your business is known. 

    • #15
  16. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):

    Nick H:

    This biggest critique I have with Suicide of the West is the way Goldberg chose to start it. He explicitly states “There is no God in this book.” He makes his case without arguing that rights are “God given” or that the “Miracle” was predestined. I can understand why he wants to avoid the fallacy of appeal to authority, but that sentence is not true. God definitely is in the book. He admits as much in the conclusion, pointing out that without the societal changes wrought by Judaism and even more so by Christianity, the “Miracle” would not have been possible.

    I follow your point, but I disagree with it’s implication.

    It is entirely possible for Christianity and Judaism to have had extremely positive and profound effects on civilization without being metaphysically or theologically correct.

    This analogy is imperfect on several levels, but I think there’s wide consensus among non-Mormons that — in its modern form — Mormonism is a force for good in the world even if they disagree with its theology.

    A secular/atheist/agnostic conservative might say that Christianity.

    Often, however, they don’t. The atheist movement seems to disown any positives brought by Christianity in general. At least the libertarian side of things that I have seen given. That is not all of them, of course.

    • #16
  17. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Perhaps what I’m getting at more is that I don’t think the term tribal captures what’s really being critiqued. Obviously grouping is good; is “tribal” really synonymous with “unthinking” or “blind” or “unquestioning” or “unwilling to change” or something like that?

    It is how “tribal” is being used, much as “nationalism” now means something bad too. 

     

    • #17
  18. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Do tribal loyalties or tribal rules outweigh individual rights? As much as we may be loathe to admit it, sometimes the answer is yes. It isn’t always yes, thank God, and IMO should rarely be the case, and we lucked out to be in the US where those individual rights are explicit and put on a pedestal. But there are important civil and tribal points where that is the case. Being subject to the laws – we can’t just make up our own and expect the rest of society to accept that. Ceding resolution of justice to the tribe, in some respects, in most respects – if you’re not a police officer you don’t get to go around detaining people, if you’re not a judge you don’t get to go around passing sentences on people, if you’re not a jailor/executioner you don’t get to go around well executing sentences. You don’t get to poison the community water source just because it might benefit you somehow, you don’t get to speak for your tribe unless duly authorized to do that, etc.

    • #18
  19. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Perhaps what I’m getting at more is that I don’t think the term tribal captures what’s really being critiqued. Obviously grouping is good; is “tribal” really synonymous with “unthinking” or “blind” or “unquestioning” or “unwilling to change” or something like that?

    It is how “tribal” is being used, much as “nationalism” now means something bad too.

     

    Probably. I think the more balanced term is more useful, though, and more descriptive of reality. The idea of individual ties based primarily on ideas or where those ideas are the highest on the pecking order is one I reject in libertarianism the same way I’m skeptical of the notion of consciousness being able to be downloaded to a computer as if the substrate didn’t matter. The ideas are important, of course. Equally important to other factors. They all must be balanced somehow, and there is no objective answer to how best to do it.

    • #19
  20. Nick H Coolidge
    Nick H
    @NickH

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):

    Nick H:

    This biggest critique I have with Suicide of the West is the way Goldberg chose to start it. He explicitly states “There is no God in this book.” He makes his case without arguing that rights are “God given” or that the “Miracle” was predestined. I can understand why he wants to avoid the fallacy of appeal to authority, but that sentence is not true. God definitely is in the book. He admits as much in the conclusion, pointing out that without the societal changes wrought by Judaism and even more so by Christianity, the “Miracle” would not have been possible.

    I follow your point, but I disagree with it’s implication.

    It is entirely possible for Christianity and Judaism to have had extremely positive and profound effects on civilization without being metaphysically or theologically correct.

    This analogy is imperfect on several levels, but I think there’s wide consensus among non-Mormons that — in its modern form — Mormonism is a force for good in the world even if they disagree with its theology.

    A secular/atheist/agnostic conservative might say that Christianity.

    I don’t disagree, and that’s his point too. It’s more a question of tone and style than substance. I wouldn’t have put it as the very first sentence in the book is all. You want the opening sentence to catch people’s attention, and in that sense this works. But the rest of the book doesn’t have that same “God is never a factor” tone as the opening, because (obviously) Jonah doesn’t think that God is never a factor. So why start the book that way?

    • #20
  21. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Do tribal loyalties or tribal rules outweigh individual rights? As much as we may be loathe to admit it, sometimes the answer is yes. It isn’t always yes, thank God, and IMO should rarely be the case, and we lucked out to be in the US where those individual rights are explicit and put on a pedestal. But there are important civil and tribal points where that is the case. Being subject to the laws – we can’t just make up our own and expect the rest of society to accept that. Ceding resolution of justice to the tribe, in some respects, in most respects – if you’re not a police officer you don’t get to go around detaining people, if you’re not a judge you don’t get to go around passing sentences on people, if you’re not a jailor/executioner you don’t get to go around well executing sentences. You don’t get to poison the community water source just because it might benefit you somehow, you don’t get to speak for your tribe unless duly authorized to do that, etc.

    What you are getting at is the contract with each other. It is more than tribal, because the agreement is open to discussion. usually Tribal laws are not.

    • #21
  22. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Do tribal loyalties or tribal rules outweigh individual rights? As much as we may be loathe to admit it, sometimes the answer is yes. It isn’t always yes, thank God, and IMO should rarely be the case, and we lucked out to be in the US where those individual rights are explicit and put on a pedestal. But there are important civil and tribal points where that is the case. Being subject to the laws – we can’t just make up our own and expect the rest of society to accept that. Ceding resolution of justice to the tribe, in some respects, in most respects – if you’re not a police officer you don’t get to go around detaining people, if you’re not a judge you don’t get to go around passing sentences on people, if you’re not a jailor/executioner you don’t get to go around well executing sentences. You don’t get to poison the community water source just because it might benefit you somehow, you don’t get to speak for your tribe unless duly authorized to do that, etc.

    What you are getting at is the contract with each other. It is more than tribal, because the agreement is open to discussion. usually Tribal laws are not.

    Hmm, I think there is discussion in the lodge around the council fire, then a decision is made. We have debates then we vote (and then our representatives pass laws). Tribes aren’t inherently authoritarian. 

    • #22
  23. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):

    This analogy is imperfect on several levels, but I think there’s wide consensus among non-Mormons that — in its modern form — Mormonism is a force for good in the world even if they disagree with its theology.

    A secular/atheist/agnostic conservative might say that Christianity.

    To believe that, an atheist would have to believe that A) Human nature lends itself towards tribalism rather than human rights. and B) Humans will eventually fail to treat other decently and ignore the rights of their fellow man without having any higher motivation or philosophy than modern niceness. 

    Steven Pinker and Sam Harris are atheists that have made the scientific case that man has a very problematic and tribal nature. However, both of them think that it is pretty easy to do away with G-d and and keep human rights. 

    Douglas Murray is an atheist as well but he is a Christianist and respects Christianity gifts to the west and Christian culture. 

    • #23
  24. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Do tribal loyalties or tribal rules outweigh individual rights? As much as we may be loathe to admit it, sometimes the answer is yes. It isn’t always yes, thank God, and IMO should rarely be the case, and we lucked out to be in the US where those individual rights are explicit and put on a pedestal. But there are important civil and tribal points where that is the case. Being subject to the laws – we can’t just make up our own and expect the rest of society to accept that. Ceding resolution of justice to the tribe, in some respects, in most respects – if you’re not a police officer you don’t get to go around detaining people, if you’re not a judge you don’t get to go around passing sentences on people, if you’re not a jailor/executioner you don’t get to go around well executing sentences. You don’t get to poison the community water source just because it might benefit you somehow, you don’t get to speak for your tribe unless duly authorized to do that, etc.

    What you are getting at is the contract with each other. It is more than tribal, because the agreement is open to discussion. usually Tribal laws are not.

    Hmm, I think there is discussion in the lodge around the council fire, then a decision is made. We have debates then we vote (and then our representatives pass laws). Tribes aren’t inherently authoritarian.

    No, the rules of tribes are set by tradition and hand me down. They do not change over time. Tribal societies are very stable. They are the natural “bottom”. They are also very much not free. A male can be Hunter, Chief, or Shaman. The woman is Gatherer and Babymaker. That’s it. There is no room for dissent, and the abnormal are shunned, which is death at that level. 

    That is tribes as our minds understand them. All of civilization has been a move away from that. But, most city-states and nations before the last 300 years, really took more tribal rules and upscaled them. 

    • #24
  25. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Nick H: For example, it struck me early on that there is a tension between the idea that the “Miracle” increased freedom by allowing us to have profitable interactions with strangers, to not put friends and family first or give them special favors, and the conservative idea that the disintegration of the nuclear family has been bad for society. Goldberg does spend time talking about the importance of the family and other moderating institutions. There’s clearly a balance there that needs to be established and better maintained.

    Without a family or other moderating institutions, your political identity becomes everything. That is why politics is tribal right now. People lack tribes in their real life. Goldberg really doesn’t get into this is as much evidence as I would like as it is an incredibly important point. 

     

    • #25
  26. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Nick H: For example, it struck me early on that there is a tension between the idea that the “Miracle” increased freedom by allowing us to have profitable interactions with strangers, to not put friends and family first or give them special favors, and the conservative idea that the disintegration of the nuclear family has been bad for society. Goldberg does spend time talking about the importance of the family and other moderating institutions. There’s clearly a balance there that needs to be established and better maintained.

    Without a family or other moderating institutions, your political identity becomes everything. That is why politics is tribal right now. People lack tribes in their real life. Goldberg really doesn’t get into this is as much evidence as I would like as it is an incredibly important point.

     

    I think this is a pretty good idea. We need some sort of replacement for our tribe. Nationalism is now off the table. Americanism is off the table. Religion is off the table. 

     

    • #26
  27. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen
    @tommeyer

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):

    I think there’s wide consensus among non-Mormons that — in its modern form — Mormonism is a force for good in the world even if they disagree with its theology.

    A secular/atheist/agnostic conservative might say that [of[ Christianity.

    Often, however, they don’t. The atheist movement seems to disown any positives brought by Christianity in general.

    Agreed. That said, most non-theists are progressives and, IMHO, their refusal to credit Christianity with anything positive has more to do with their leftism than anything else.

    In my experience, most secular conservatives do not share or engage in the same kind of animus against religion that you often find among secular leftists.

    • #27
  28. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Do tribal loyalties or tribal rules outweigh individual rights? As much as we may be loathe to admit it, sometimes the answer is yes. It isn’t always yes, thank God, and IMO should rarely be the case, and we lucked out to be in the US where those individual rights are explicit and put on a pedestal. But there are important civil and tribal points where that is the case. Being subject to the laws – we can’t just make up our own and expect the rest of society to accept that. Ceding resolution of justice to the tribe, in some respects, in most respects – if you’re not a police officer you don’t get to go around detaining people, if you’re not a judge you don’t get to go around passing sentences on people, if you’re not a jailor/executioner you don’t get to go around well executing sentences. You don’t get to poison the community water source just because it might benefit you somehow, you don’t get to speak for your tribe unless duly authorized to do that, etc.

    What you are getting at is the contract with each other. It is more than tribal, because the agreement is open to discussion. usually Tribal laws are not.

    Hmm, I think there is discussion in the lodge around the council fire, then a decision is made. We have debates then we vote (and then our representatives pass laws). Tribes aren’t inherently authoritarian.

    No, the rules of tribes are set by tradition and hand me down. They do not change over time. Tribal societies are very stable. They are the natural “bottom”. They are also very much not free. A male can be Hunter, Chief, or Shaman. The woman is Gatherer and Babymaker. That’s it. There is no room for dissent, and the abnormal are shunned, which is death at that level.

    That is tribes as our minds understand them. All of civilization has been a move away from that. But, most city-states and nations before the last 300 years, really took more tribal rules and upscaled them.

    I disagree with the immutability of tribal traditions and rules. Of course they can and have changed. Not all rules are of that nature anyway; some are new problems for which discussion is had. 

    On the other side: even within our non-tribal system of the Founding we also had similar seemingly immutable roles based on tradition and shunning of the abnormal, from gender roles to racial roles. So why were we not tribal but others were?

    • #28
  29. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen
    @tommeyer

    Nick H (View Comment):

    I don’t disagree, and that’s his point too. It’s more a question of tone and style than substance. I wouldn’t have put it as the very first sentence in the book is all. You want the opening sentence to catch people’s attention, and in that sense this works. But the rest of the book doesn’t have that same “God is never a factor” tone as the opening, because (obviously) Jonah doesn’t think that God is never a factor. So why start the book that way?

    Stipulation: I’ve not (yet) read the full book, but only the excerpt on NRO.

    That said, my understanding is that Goldberg’s aiming the book at people who aren’t yet convinced of the Miracle and its goodness and who tend to disengage when they encounter arguments that require them to accept religion and specific theology.

    Basically, that he’s trying to reach people who go “Why should I pay attention to conservative arguments when they all seem to require me to believe in God?”

    • #29
  30. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen
    @tommeyer

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

     

    To believe that [Christianity can be good while being incorrect on important points], an atheist would have to believe that A) Human nature lends itself towards tribalism rather than human rights. and B) Humans will eventually fail to treat other decently and ignore the rights of their fellow man without having any higher motivation or philosophy than modern niceness.

    Steven Pinker and Sam Harris are atheists that have made the scientific case that man has a very problematic and tribal nature. However, both of them think that it is pretty easy to do away with G-d and and keep human rights.

    Douglas Murray is an atheist as well but he is a Christianist and respects Christianity gifts to the west and Christian culture.

    Largely agreed. I disagree with Pinker or Harris, in that I don’t think it’s easy — or even really worth it — to dispense with religion. FWIW, I like Washington’s line on this (emphasis not original and somewhat purposely misread):

    And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle

    • #30

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