Suicide of the West by Jonah Goldberg (2018, Crown Forum)
You don’t need this book on your shelf, but you’ll feel much better if it’s there. Goldberg’s purpose in this book is to examine the reasons why tribalism and identity politics are corrupting influences on the American system. It’s a simple core, from which dozens of other related issues are examined and dissected.
Goldberg’s form is argumentative but not combative. Rather than assail the enemy – those forces which are undermining the foundation of our republic – he simply recognizes that such forces exist and seeks to expose them. This is not an exercise in blame, it is an honest attempt to convince people to choose a path he promotes, one based on the principles put forth at the country’s founding.
He lays out his position methodically, first explaining – with evidence – the benefits which have been reaped by the world due to what he refers to as the American Miracle. He presents it as a fundamental repudiation of the tribalism which is ingrained in human behavior; by doing so, he concurrently begins his analysis of human nature. The remainder of the book follows these twin paths of analyzing behavior and applying that analysis to events in the national body politic.
Goldberg’s strengths are in full display. His writing style is breezy yet informative, an easy read for nearly any age but informative enough to keep the well-educated engaged. He includes copious references and quotes – often whole paragraphs – from them; in so doing, he presents a springboard to a slew of other interesting titles. Any attentive reader could create a small library – and fill a year’s worth of reading – with only the volumes cited here.
The book is crafted both as a rallying cry for those who wish for a return to founding principles and as an argument to lure people away from populism of all political stripes.
There is little new about the premise. Arguing for founding principles is the equivalent of comfort food for any Americans who have ever claimed the mantle of “conservative”, and for many self-avowed liberals as well. This is comfort food prepared by a master chef. It is thoughtful, it is challenging, and it is intensely satisfying.
If you have a father on your shopping list who isn’t so calcified in their thinking that they would reject the premise out of hand, and you’re scrambling for a last-minute gift, I can think of few contemporary books which approach the quality of this one.