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Suicide of the West

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

By Jonah Goldberg
15-minute read
Audio available
Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg

Suicide of the West (2018) answers two vitally important questions: what made the triumph of Western civilization possible and how can we preserve its achievements. Tribalism, Goldberg argues, might be deeply rooted in human nature, but it can be held in check. If we want to discover how that can be done, we need to look at the two greatest examples of what he calls the “miracle” – the revolutions that put England and, later, America on the path to liberty and greatness. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. If we fail to learn history’s lessons, we’ll end up contributing to nothing less than the suicide of the West.

  • Politics buffs of all stripes
  • Anyone who’s perplexed by the rise of tribalism and populism
  • Anyone interested in the foundations of liberalism

Jonah Goldberg is an American conservative writer and pundit. He is a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times and the senior editor of the National Review. Goldberg is known for his book Liberal Fascism, a blistering attack on left-wing authoritarianism which reached number one on the New York Times best-seller list in 2008.

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Suicide of the West

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

By Jonah Goldberg
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg
Synopsis

Suicide of the West (2018) answers two vitally important questions: what made the triumph of Western civilization possible and how can we preserve its achievements. Tribalism, Goldberg argues, might be deeply rooted in human nature, but it can be held in check. If we want to discover how that can be done, we need to look at the two greatest examples of what he calls the “miracle” – the revolutions that put England and, later, America on the path to liberty and greatness. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. If we fail to learn history’s lessons, we’ll end up contributing to nothing less than the suicide of the West.

Key idea 1 of 9

Modernity is nothing less than a miracle.

Human history has mostly been a miserable affair. For a considerable portion of it, poverty and violence were the norm. In the words of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, life for the majority of our ancestors was “nasty, brutish and short.”

That is, until around 1700, when something happened that changed everything. It was nothing short of a miracle.

But before we get to that, let’s take a closer look at how humans used to live.

For most of human existence, Homo sapiens were nomadic apes – primitive hunter-gatherers who lived off what they could scavenge and catch. Then, around 15,000 years ago, agriculture emerged, kick-starting a period of rapid development. It’s not quite the miracle, but it was miraculous. At that moment, the first recognizable human “societies” took shape.

The real miracle came later – more precisely, it happened in the late seventeenth century when humanity once again revolutionized the way it organized itself.

Economic data tells a good deal of the story of just how much things changed after 1700. Before the eighteenth century, most people lived on around $1 a day; afterward, their income skyrocketed. After centuries of stagnation, global GDP per capita started rising ever higher, with no end in sight.

But people didn’t just become richer – they also started thinking differently. From the late seventeenth century onward, new ideas emerged in the West about how to structure society and government.

Take the Glorious Revolution of 1688. William of Orange invaded England and overthrew King James II. Unlike previous palace coups, however, William didn’t just cement his own rule; he passed revolutionary reforms. The Bill of Rights, for example, set clear limits on the monarchy and gave parliament a much greater say in running the country. It was one of the first times in history that the right of parliamentary representatives to govern in the name of the people was set in stone.

If we want to preserve the gains of this miracle, we need to understand it. That’s what we’ll be doing in the following blinks.

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