tv After Words Jonah Goldberg Suicide of the West CSPAN July 2, 2018 9:33pm-10:35pm EDT
next on booktv "after words" syndicated columnist jonah goldberg argues traveler argues, populism and nationalism are threatening american democracy. he is interviewed by editor of commentary magazine. "after words" is a weekly program that interviews guests hosts interviewing top nonfiction authors about their latest works. >> host: in your book you say everything we take for granted, every freedom that we have, every economic advantage that we possess as americans and people of the west, all of these are a
radical new development in the history of humankind, number one, and number two, are unnatural, that the western civilization as we understand it or with th the contemporary wesn democratic civilization is unnatural. what do you mean by that? >> first of all, great to see you. following the brian lamb model acting as if we never met each other and have no preliminaries even though we are old friends and do a podcast together and constantly exchange insults on twitter and all that. part of what i'm trying to do in the book isn't so much to say i have all of the right facts and
the perfect version of what happened in human history and all that, i'm not claiming all that, but i'm asking people to tilt their head a little bit and take a step back and look at the world around them with fresh eyes, sort of alien from others. a big part of my argument is to simply say that human nature is a thing. it is a constant. one of my definitions of human nature has been history. if you take a baby from today, take a baby from new ruechel and send it back a thousand years to be raised by vikings that will grow up to be a viking and it will go to the countryside. you take a viking baby and they will grow up to be an orthodontist. they said every generation that civilization is invaded by
barbarians we call them children. so the place children are born into first is the family that symbolizes them into a kind of culture and other institutions play that role. for 250 or 3,000 years where they are fighting for food, killing each other with spears and rocks we were not even predators until fairly recently and if you take a jar of pants and dump it on the soil on some alien planet or continent with something, they will instantly start behaving like ants, they will set up colonies, whatever they do. if you take humans and you clear them of all of civil
organization we put them in an environment we wouldn't be having conversations about books or between podcast. we would be teaming up into little troops, setting ourselves up against animals and other bands and troops. that is what our natural nature is. it's sort of the point of lord of the flies. you have these kids before the pinnacle of the western civilization and almost instantly they start becoming superstitious conduct humanity. if capitalism were natural, property rights and individua ne if democracy were natural, they would have showed up a little bit earlier in the record and a 300 years ago because that is the only time they actually show up in a sustainable way is basically in the late 16 hundreds england and then coming to america.
>> you make the point that all, for thousands of years according to every serious economic student of human history for thousands of years there was 0% of economic growth on planet earth and people lived on the equivalent of two or $3 a day every where subsistence is what it meant to be a human being if there would be creativity and moments of intellectual creativity and this was the fact. >> we have all this history about rome and china and all that. they left a stuff but they were
living off of the wealth and it was a small portion of this. then as you see in the 17 hundreds basically if you were to draw a chart showing human progress at least economic progress, the charts like this, it goes like this and then it goes like this 96% of people are living on $2 a day or $3 a day and that number is 9% on earth today so we have 90% and it's now three or four times more than there were in the 1750s.
so we have this and we think this is what it means to be humans with free speech you have a certain level of income even if you are poor i and all this stuff about how the poorest person in america today it isn't clear the richest person in america in 1900 would want to change places because he could get an infection and just die where that is unlikely to happen just walking down the street and that isn't what it's like now. but we think that this is the natural order of things where in fact this thing come of this period of 300,000 years is what people are and it's been built
to undergird our wealth and freedoms and its precarious in part because it is new and also because it is a construct of ideas and within it and against it is a construct of ideas that looks at this and this is as yoo this is on natural. you call that romanticism and you want to lay out this conflict. >> one of the people i am indebted to is the historian she runs in her book, there's several of them she runs through
all of the theories about where what we call a miracle happened. one of the first sentences of the book is to say part of what i'm trying to do is to persuade people and the art of persuasion is being lost in the political discourse these days so i'm trying to model the behavior. you can't say we have all this great stuff. we have it because god wanted us to have it and among other things, the appeal to authority when everybody agrees, so much of the left or the progressives or liberals, so much of their
touchstones are secularism and if i make an argument from god i don't need to listen to you. the income inequality, the condition of the material, they care about things like tolerance, inclusivity, litera literacy. things they really care about and say this is why they are a liberal. and i am trying to make this point that all of these things get better because of the capitalism not just because we get richer but we live longer, literacy goes through the roof and we are much taller and if so part of my problem with the part
of my analysis here is that because first of all we take this miracle for granted as you were saying before, we assume that it's the wav way the foldes for this to work so we take it for granted and then we do not defend it. but also because capitalism is unnatural. it angers our primitive and if you read the intellectual history going back even further, this complaint about capitalism and the enlightenment into the commercial order is a constant one but takes new forms of the generation that the same episode of the twilight zone. it appears in different ways over time. the services the swiss french
philosopher whose work begins to take shape around the 1750s and he is responding in great measure to the philosophical tradition that kind of begin around 1650 and was revolutionized. so it was the idea that there were natural liberties and that the purpose of civilization in the civil society is to protect the individual's rights. this is a new idea that comes along and says that is not the purpose of society. the purpose of the society is to enrich and allow people to live authentic natural lives.
>> he described himself where he is on his way to visit his friend who is in jail and sometimes the translations are different but it's like the advertisement for an essay competition have they improved morals in the state of man -- manner. it is like finding an essay competition saying does diversity make us stronger. of course you are supposed to come up with a clever way of saying yes. hkenya looks at this and has basically a solemn road to damascus moment. he passes out and wakes up drenched in his own tears it
occurs to him all of a sudden. it's very much inspired by his upbringing in christianity. he's got a sort of classic religious tale that was started in the golden age. and the society has corrupted us and science corrupts us in peace at the first person to put up a fence protecting his property saying this is mine is the first witis the original sin of manki, very different and so his whole orientation, and i think there are other people you can call the father of romanticism that he deserves as much as anybody else's for that whole argument s
about arguing his own personal feeling and my feelings are more authentic than your facts and the personal authenticity is the highest bar and emotions tell us so much more. it was embracing this wild side of the nature o that was being pushed away tha but then he maks another leap that says we can only be realized when everything is in perfect harmony. the contrast is very strong. it comes from god not government comfortgot the fruits of the lar belong to us. rousseau believes the private property is evil and the fact morality can be determined by
the group. i bring this up because i reject this idea of the intellectual history because we don't get these ideas. they represent soap from the very beginning of the miracle which is the term you haven't quite defined but it's a term that describes the bizarre fact that adores that something happens in the late 17th century's where a door opened to get into the human possibility creation and 300 years later we are flying to the moon, we've invented a worldwide communication system. the things we can do, how long we live, our health and all that would be unimaginabl unimaginaby before the door was open.
that is where the miracle starts and the counter argument happens almost simultaneously because these are the two sides of humankind. >> the difference is the divide that runs straight through the heart. we all want a sense of belonging to a. we want to subscribe to things that give us meaning beyond our own individual reality. we all want to be recognized as a unique person in the universe that makes contributions in this free to pursue happiness and this is an inherent intention in our heart and civilization.
so part of this is i think romanticism never really went away. this compulsion to say all of this is unnatural and doesn't feel right we need something more authentic and it comes up in every generation in different forms. it can take the form of populism, radicalism, these are all various kinds of tribalism is in the sense that they try to restore that sense of social solidarity that we missed and this is a fundamental flaw of capitalism that is fundamental because it is the greatest system ever created for peacefully improving the state of mankind in a cooperative way with just one drawback. it doesn't feel like it.
it's so efficient and the cooperation that we just don't notice the cooperation of some of my favorites is by leonard read and it's written from the perspective of a pencil. the two takeaways are every college kid should read and take away from it number one, he says first of all i think comes from wherever it is and all these people, different languages, different customs, heritage working seamlessly all around the world to produce a pencil on the fraction of a penny and then the second point you should take away from it is no one knows how to make it in all, even pencil
manufacturers. they put together the last debate of ingredients. there was a guy who was exhibited in england a few years ago where someone made a toaster from scratch. it cost a couple thousand dollars. that is the beauty of capitalism but it doesn't feel like it's so they talk about the alienation. it can only work if you have institutions of civil society and the family that can provide that kind of meaning for people because if they are not there we
start yearning to look for meaning in other things like politics, tribalism. so we came to call these in the postwar sociology mediating institutions. so there's the government and that the individuadoes the indie sort of massive site of the individual and then if there is nothing between them, the government will either inherently drive to restrict and tyrannize the individual and then if the institutions exist to create both richness of and involvement in connection and to prevent you from being swamped by the mass or the tyrant and those institutions, the one perceiveproceeds to society in e senses the family. then you have the church
communion, communal organizations, bowling league, whatever. so the suicide of the left that you lay out has a lot to do with the weakening of these institutions, partially as a result of some of the effects of capitalism, partially as a result of an ideological assault on them that is oddly from the perspective of the crazed romantic authenticity affects who say it is these institutions who are robbing us of ourselves. the family abuse abuses of som e church abuses us or does these terrible things to us. you go after them and some
pretty lousy thing is going to happen. so essentially have an autoimmune syndrome in the country where the antibodies are attacking all of our healthy organs and the great economist who projected capitalism because he protected the children of the industrialists and capitalists become intellectuals and dedicated to destroying capitalism and he turned this on his head but he got closer. they make the point that capitalism is the relentless efficiency of capitalism is kind of like water seeking its own level. it doesn't stop with just these bad institutions, it erodes all of the institutions. but i think that the other part
that comes from his prediction is this romantic thing where the way we teach western civilization today, american history today is just all this negative stuff. >> it is the most assigned and widely used. it is a deliberately ideological meaning of the united states that suggests that from its very origins the government was more oppressive than it was liberating. writing my history from the perspective of the carolinas, from the coal miners to the irish, and it's always these
guys. i have no problem teaching that stuff. but here's the thing about collecting people's perspective. it's important to talk about how we have slavery in the organization. it's not actually natural in the sense that we talk about. it comes after the agricultural revolution because when we live in the tribes, the sleeves were a heavy resource you took the women and children may be that there wasn't a lot of slavery when you couldn't put them to work. it comes to the agricultural revolution. but since then, there've been a lot of slavery and what people don't seem to understand is the reason we should be horrified and teach about slavery in america is because of the
grotesque hypocrisy we preach to all of us being equal in the eyes of god all men are created equal and so the reason we should teach about it is that hypocrisy illuminates the idea and instead what we did today is the argument that the ideal is self was oppressive and this idea that there are lots of people who think it is somehow racist to quote martin luther king but we should judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. so in my telling, the amazing things about the founding is that they drop these algorithms and put them in writing that the
logic of this idea of human equality and dignity that is inherent took time to work its way through american consciousness and that lincoln and gettysburg he rewrites the understanding of the country to be living up to those ideas and martin luther king essentially later says the founders worked as a country on a promissory note that all men including white and black men are created equal and deserve to be treated equally. ..
>> and they say as simulation is evil and the essence of enemy politics with a diverse population of people and that is to me that i found fascinating find all the things with more continuity today and this identity politics that people say you have to be taught to hate but no. you have to be taught not to hate we have an inner distrust of standard industrial and babies almost instantly like
people of their own race like there. there has been amazing work just with babies of basic moral that they are wired for friend versus foe so identity politics really is a variance to form aristocracy because what the founders did that is taught anymore they got titles of nobility they got rid of the notion of the blood aristocracy even though they fought it they didn't think just because of the actions of your earth you are considered better than anybody else so simply just by your birth they are more deserving or less deserving than other people
and that is deeply pernicious to the core principles that makes the miracle wonderful. >> though the suicide is the overlay base that's of ideas that you and i to think they are destructive on top of the system that is an extraordinary achievement that is 253 years old that is a long time. that is amazing. or you could say 250 years old? if you took all of humankind and their lifespan that all
human civilization over the last 14 hours, that isn't a lot of time so my presumption is that are the most ideological with the romanticism. that is one of the reasons people believe it is okay and america can take it. but they don't think it is fragile that they could keep their spot from the revolution.
so they are for the chopping block but this is the interesting ideas that come of off -- come up we don't say that this you have that people at a certain point in time to see how life could be constituted and then inevitably to disintegration or it is okay. so we will come out of this and i think that we balance a
little bit or there is a horror story that somebody beats up charles murray on the college-age campus and so we can speak freely anymore but this is amazing i agree with that. and they feel odd talking about judaism. and for these thousands of years because it's really hard to keep memories alive and it is thousands of years later for delivering and gratitude
as part of my argument. >> conservativism is gratitude. and you can preserve and serve to your children so that seems to be having trouble these days. so deirdre deals with people and she is overwhelmingly persuasive and that they have bought into her explanation but better than anybody else so the way we talk about ourselves with this rhetoric
for almost all of human history, innovation because economics was dominated by the monarchy and by the church. so the establishment of nobility and church did not like any of the uber of europe innovation so this starts to emerge where innovation is celebrated with the fruits of the labor and it happens in england there have been places with property rights the
chinese have printing presses into shutdown innovation so whatever reason with an authoritarian monarch and so the way we talk about themselves and for their that if they don't talk about this that isn't translated as honor it is and recall the what you have to physically do and we don't get any of that right
now. >> and with your point how recent this is, think of it this way they were born oliver wendell holmes is on the supreme court he was on the civil war under lincoln and lincoln was on a farm in indiana when adams is president that he was a boy who heard the gunfire of george washington commanding and then born that is five lifetimes and then born in 169414 years past the average life expectancy. even then it was just getting started. and then to point out in material terms is no better
than the average roman citizens there are bars in oxford so that striking thing that comes up with those 2016 elections and that question of the current political situation tells us to have these two narratives with the tromp narrative and largely because because it centers itself on the trump narrative
because america is lost. all these people that were left out you have nothing and your cultural dominance has been taken away and then you have hillary clinton who remarkably in my first lifetime from the democratic convention i like to hear donald trump running down my country michelle obama eight years later and now it is like
merle haggard don't run down my country okay. so trump makes this tribal appeal to white america and democrats become universalist that they are the party of identity politics with a proportional representation at the political convention so trump is effectively the first successful national identity politics but it's what they never expected so if the
majority or the plurality decide that it will act as a minority there is no telling. >> and it is amazing everybody thinks they are oppressed right now. [laughter] there isn't a group that doesn't feel that they are not oppressed or demeaned or set upon by the other people. and historically i have considerable sympathy for a lot of the people in the tromp coalition and the way in which popular or campus culture is relentlessly denigrated the
flyover people for lack of a better word, the gun owners, the guys with their good and hunters and i think some of those things of cultural resentment are legitimate that they are looked down upon you can make fun of those people from that coastal elite culture. but i also think this is very controversial with the left these days that whenever you talk about the left having some responsibility from the backlash of donald trump they get furious this is a test this is you and there is some truth to that. but you can't go around saying
yes all white people are racist or is amazing how the white working class the blue-collar guy, joe lunch bucket is part of that coalition up until the day before yesterday. just like joe biden but the second day vote for donald trump now they are all champions of white supremacy increases. but the day before the 2016 elections electoral college the blue wall that they had democrats touted that and celebrated now it is an institution of white supremacy but the point that i'm getting at is you cannot demonize
people forever and expect them to say you're right i'm horrible. they say my dad was a pretty good guy about world war ii my great-great-grandfather fought for this w1 -- civil union and they did some good things in that is a normal human response. so now we see increasing numbers of white to say their core identity comes from the white with this not the case 30 years ago when this candidacy arose in 1992 i started to hear in certain precincts working at the washington times that there was people on staff would end up working for buchanan and
they started talking about the year. american and it was like this is chris was going to say you are an american jew? 2% of the population that isn't a characteristic in my life to say im just as american but also i do that because that then they were attempting to don the mantle of the oppressed minority well-being majority and that was the forerunner to what is happening now.
>> but the idea is somehow the only way you get standing in society is to retreat. >> writes. and this is a huge problem and again i am all for calling them out but this is a cultural problem and the last that commands our culture to say they have no role i think it is bizarre and now i'm trying to persuade them. and actually do want to say one thing because i hear this from a lot of people on the left the subtitle as populism
and nationalism in identity politics all the liberals agree they are with me on the tribe elizabeth furious with identity politics so you will never get rid of ethnic politics. from ben franklin to pennsylvania to the irish of tammany hall that isn't necessarily always a good thing but it is very different from the identity politics which essentially traits to create the abstraction that i can tell all i need to know about you by some abstract and one of the things that makes
modernity great to have different identities so all politics was personal international environment our nation and our family and politics and to already on -- and spirituality. and it had a downside that instead of stacking up the meaning we spread that out soon one moment you are in church then the next moment you are with your job or your family and split up the sources of meaning because it is complicated but to buy in of different institutions you
are willing to create an open space for other people to have different points of view in the tribe you have to agree on everything and we are losing that. >> so what america should be and can be again is the definition to be american so your tribe can be part of a larger tribe which tends not to be the rule if you are an israelite you actually want to kill them also but the problem here talking about the spreading of the institution to understand to remain
healthy you cannot coach on the other guy because then you have permission so it is a mutual defense agreement that if you don't attack me then i don't attack you so the question that your arguments is teaching history and creating space that we both have teenage children so we are going through this. that we need to give them the tools even if they don't want to accept it on that basis but just to say go back to 1600 how many minutes you could
survive. and i do stress this but anything that can be created by word can be destroyed by words and you can talk yourself out of it. and we seem to be doing a pretty good job and the reason why it's fragile the only thing that differentiates us from our institutions that were born into and those are in bad shape. starting with the family. >> so what do you do about it? i don't do a lot of policy in here but i do say that i firmly believe that we need to shove as much power to the local level as possible but
primarily first so much of this resentment of tribalism has its roots in politics and media that there are people out there controlling my life i have no power people are making decisions for me and conspiring against me and the system is rigged. some of then paranoia some of that is totally legitimate but the way that you fix it is if you send it power to the most local level possible you know who the powers that be are cemented baseball game or at church. there is that accountability in their you cannot claim the
powerful unseen forces of globalism sometimes they make it sound at age 13 is every bar mitzvah but there are still culture war fight but we don't have to look those losers in the eye the next day and that creates a certain amount of melody -- humility. and people don't live in united states of america americans to in united states of america they live in this neighborhood in cleveland or in san diego or whatever.
so there is the number of limits of connection people that you know and that is where all of real life happen not communities. there is a way to list faith, family, friends, experiences genes, some people are just born miserable pastors -- pastors but sometimes it is a feeling to make contribution the government can increase your network but not your self-worth only to people who love you or care about you and respect you and that has to be done at the ground level with
resources to find out where they live is really the only answer and it has to start with family and there is a piece how identity politics is the offshoot of the family to feel like it is a part of something that doesn't go away to get that feeling to be satisfied in your family or community and that is really can see those idiots on the right think they will find meaning or whatever and then it is an actual human being. >> you begin to say this is a book without god but just to conclude this seismic
intellectual event is a miracle to say a miracle is a supernatural event otherwise it would not happen but it is interesting because what it suggests even though it is not easy long -- aps what you're supposed to do with the miracle is realized that gratitude is one thing but a miracle is awesome but to layout the fact of what happened to mankind over the last 250 or 300 years for
whatever reason had they not had these ideas we would not be here. i don't know where we would be. [laughter] so there is that aspect to this as i read the book and i did read it twice it is just hot firing at the cathedral and you think i cannot believe they did all that. they didn't even have power tools so even though it is an
extremely depressing title but that's how it made me feel that we are the living witnesses to assume that it is without precedent in the world. >> and i appreciate that. the miracle part for me is the divine intervention but what we call miracles and part of my is nobody intended this miracle to happen it was an accident by virtue of the fact it is an accident and created not through human will that a weird convergence we should be all the more grateful for it our reaction should be i don't want to mess up like the story
of the goose that lays the golden age but the story of gratitude to matter what version it is it is an unbelievable treasure and then either out of her rage or entitlement or arrogance they kill the games that we should be protecting it from everybody. back off. and we don't do enough of that and that's what i'm getting. the maxi you are building the cage around the goose. >> exactly it would take eight years to build that cage with 200 artisans and we will get mexico to pay for the cage. [laughter] thank you