Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy
By Jonah Goldberg
453 pp.; Crown Forum, 2018
In Suicide of the West, National Review senior editor and American Enterprise Institute scholar Jonah Goldberg diagnoses America's current political, economic, and cultural condition. He aims to persuade the reader of four points:
* The citizens of the world are experiencing booming economic success.
* This success is fragile.
* "Human nature" is real and stubborn.
* Even though the dark side of human nature cannot be excised, it can be controlled. Failing to do so will doom us to cultural, economic, and political failure.
Goldberg likens democratic capitalism to a goose that lays golden eggs. He presents a graph of the world's gross domestic product from the year 0 to 2000. Viewing the graph, one cannot distinguish the world's output of goods and services from zero for the first 18 centuries. Thereafter, production grows exponentially. In numerical terms, "Global GDP has soared, from an estimated $150 billion in A.D. 1 to more than $50 trillion as of 2008" (measured in "1990 International Dollars").
Humanity's success is not just material. It also appears in human life's quality and quantity. Infant mortality is plummeting and life expectancy is rising. Although our numbers are greater, we do not live at a subsistence level. Rising productivity increases our standard of living. Goldberg relays Brad DeLong's estimate that, from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution to today, average income in the world rose "from $180 per person to $6,600 per person." Concerning global poverty, Goldberg reports, "The number of people considered poor has decreased both relatively and absolutely--an incredible feat, given massive increases in population." The book's appendix documents the many ways in which life has been improving over the long run.
The Miracle / Goldberg borrows the term "the Miracle" to refer to the Industrial Revolution and ongoing human progress. He primarily aims to convince the reader that the Miracle is happening. Why it is happening is a lower priority, though he offers two possible answers.
The first is English author and politician Daniel Hannan's view that, as Goldberg puts it, "England did it." That is, the English people's "weirdness" or "exceptionalism" produced democratic capitalism. According to Goldberg, Hannan sees five English characteristics that set the stage for political and economic progress. Of those five, "common law" is paramount. Goldberg quotes Hannan to define "common law: a unique legal system that made the state subject to the people rather than the reverse."...