Friday, June 8, 2018

Let's Hang On to What We've Got. Don't Let Go, Because We've Got a Lot

Before I begin, I should recap the argument of this book: First, the rust of human nature is eating away at the Miracle of Western civilization and the American experiment. Second, this corruption is nothing new; nature is always trying to reclaim what is hers. But this corruption expresses itself in new ways at different times as the romantic spirit takes whatever form it must to creep back in. Third, the corruption can only succeed when we willfully, and ungratefully, turn our backs on the principles that brought us out of the muck of human history in the first place. The last point, which is the subject of the next chapter, is that the corruption has now spread, disastrously, to the right, not just in America but throughout the West.

— Jonah Goldberg, Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy

Louis C.K. did a funny bit about how our pettiness and short-sighted selfishness keeps us from enjoying conveniences which would have been considered utterly miraculous only a few generations ago. "Everything is amazing right now, and nobody's happy!" he exclaimed. Winston Churchill famously said that democracy was the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried. Jonah Goldberg has essentially combined those perspectives into a book-length meditation on our current political environment, pleading with us to recover a spirit of gratitude for what he calls the Miracle; i.e. Western democratic capitalism and the release it has granted us from the hardship and want of the pre-industrial age.

Goldberg, though a religious believer, presents a case designed to appeal to skeptics and atheists. There is no God to save us from our mistakes and tragedies. Life is a constant struggle against material and cultural entropy. The Miracle, though successful, is highly unnatural, forcing us to adopt new habits of living which defy all the tribal instincts ingrained through eons of evolution. The Miracle was only achieved through good fortune, and can easily be lost again with no guarantee of return. Various forms of what Goldberg groups together under the rubric of "romanticism," from left-wing utopianism to right-wing blood-and-soil nationalism, all promise to heal our alienation and make us whole again; all of them are pernicious lies.

An earnest plea for psychological balance and sanguine perspective will no doubt seem like a pitiful thing in a melodramatic, hyper-political age, but hopefully the seeds of Goldberg's argument will find receptive ground among the bystanders. Having long since come to the same tragic perspective on my own, I didn't need any additional convincing, but nonetheless, it was good to read an eloquent expression of it. Sometimes, there's nothing more that needs to be said beyond hear, hear.