Book Review: Suicide of the West by Jonah Goldberg

You may have heard of Jonah Goldberg. He is a commentator on several Fox News programs, and a senior editor at the conservative National Review, with a widely read nationally syndicated column. He has written several best sellers, including the book Liberal FascismHe also has the distinction, according to the ADL, to be 6th on the list of prominent Jewish-Americans attacked with virulent antisemitic invectives on social media during the recent presidential campaign. The winner of that particular challenge 511uejljkdl-_sy346_was Ben Shapiro.

Now let me give you a little background on myself before I review, Suicide of the West. I am a #NeverTrumper, and in the words of David Horowitz from Breitbart News, a #RenegadeJew. I am a registered independent that leans republican, whose father was a Presidential appointee during the Reagan administration. For the first time in my life I voted for a democrat in a presidential election when I voted for HRC. To this day, I do not think my psyche has been able to get over the shock of having to choose for POTUS between someone wholly incompetent, misogynistic, narcissistic, and immoral with the emotional maturity of a 12 year old mean-girl, or someone completely devoid of any redeeming moral character, but who would at least behave like a grown up. (Personally, I think the founding fathers are all turning over in their graves at the moment.) So this being said, I found Mr Goldberg’s book, interesting, enlightening, depressing, and yet at the same time hopeful.

For those of you who are interested, or are students of political philosophy and history, Mr. Goldberg does a good job of discussing the background, and musings, behind who we are as Americans. He begins basically at the beginning. Human society is not something that happened over night. He reminds us of our state of incivility and the truth behind much of history, which quite frankly has been ignored throughout the educational system, that we are by nature barbaric, illiberal, and self-destructive. He explains how we became who we are today, what he terms “The Miracle” of the United States.  For anyone that thinks democracy is the normal state of humankind, he details how they are simply wrong.

We are then treated to a litany of issues and problems that Mr. Goldberg views as to why the United States is so polarized, and where our nation is headed. Here is where I part company with Mr. Goldberg, even though he does an excellent job of  presenting his thesis. While I agree that these are real issues that our nation faces, not the least of which is a lack of moral leadership from any quarter, I do not see these changes as a threat to our way of life, but as a society in flux, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Society’s grow and develop, much like a person matures. The United States is a very young nation. And, as with all young, we are going through some awful growing pains right now. But it does not mean we are doomed, or careless, or have joined the boatman on his last voyage over the river Styx into Hades. On another interesting note, at the beginning of his book, Mr. Goldberg discusses how he is taking God out of the equation here, but ironically somehow found a way to embed the idea of a higher being into a later discussion. (Yes, he marvels at his own actions when he goes back on this thesis.)

In truth, the ideals that hold us together as a nation are not based upon God, or religion, even though our founding fathers were quite religious, but the US Constitution. Having endured the religious wars of Europe, those who designed our government understood that religion of all things, promotes the ideals that can, and do destroy continuity and nationhood. That is why they specifically wrote the Establishment Clause, and the first amendment prominently declares the right of religious freedom.

Meanwhile, I have found some issues of disagreement with Mr. Goldberg. While I agree, that family is important, I do disagree with Mr. Goldberg’s contention that two-parent households are always the best way to raise children. Yes, he presents statistics, and yes these statistics are not new. But, I question whether the authors of the statistics compared the realty of children living in abusive households, or where the parents, even though divorced try to raise their children amicably. And yes, I understand that “facts do not care about your feelings,” but the unknown quotient here is: if there is sufficient support for those single parent families would there be the issues with the children cited by Mr. Goldberg? Is the issue one of parental time, or one of support and care, aka, is money actually the issue in single parent families, or is it something else?

Hence, another problem facing single parenthood versus two-parent family (by the way, only a traditional family structure is discussed), is one of economic stability. Do wealthier families of divorce actually fair better simply because they have the resources to help and support their offspring when the parents are unavailable for any number of reasons?  Here we find a discussion of state versus independence with a rehashing of the nonsensical Julia kerfuffle of the Obama administration. A woman who needed no family, no husband and no support other than what the state could give her. While, I personally was offended by Julia at the time, there is something to be said for a society that helps the most vulnerable. As a taxpayer who has lived through a variety of experiences in my decades of life, sometimes having a social safety net of some kind is not a bad thing. There is an old saying, “man plans but God laughs.” You may think you will never need help in your life, but the fates may have other ideas in store for your future.

I also disagree to some extent with his parsing of tribalism, identity politics and assimilation into the American dream. Identity politics is a fascist concept. On that we do agree. Being told how to think and what to think based upon gender, race, and ethnicity is an insult to anyone’s intelligence. While for some,  identity politics lends itself to the need that people have to belong to a group, it does conjure up notions of gulags, reeducation camps, and forced human resources based seminars in the workplace. However, tribalism is something that provides support when you need it. Truthfully, the reality is that our tribe(s) is just different today than in eras past.

Now not wanting to harp on the God and religion issue, the fact is that in times past, society relied on the church, or the synagogue, or mosque, as the center of a person’s existence. The reality was that if a family needed help and support their religious brethren would step in and help. There was no need for government largesse, for your neighbor would be there when you needed care. For some in today’s world that is still a reality, an extended church family. But not for many, I might even add for most, in this country. My family’s story exemplifies this issue:

As the parent of two autistic youngmen, I couldn’t find a synagogue, or temple that would bar mitzvah them because of their special needs (we eventually did find a lovely extremely leftwing rabbi who would help them, but unfortunately other issues ensued later on after their bar mitzvahs and we left that temple). Moreover, my sons were  treated very poorly by several synagogue based nursery schools in our area. In fact, the oldest, being the more disabled one, was the more mistreated. Traditional support systems, you see, are not always the answer. We had to turn to the government for help with their education, and their right to be seen as worthwhile human beings. If it were not for the government, and the civil rights laws passed, their future would have been very bleak indeed. So yes, my tribe during their upbringing, and honestly to this day, are those within, and without the government, that work for the rights of the disabled, religious affiliation notwithstanding.

The issue we are left with then truly becomes, what does our present societal meltdown signify? How is American society changing and how can we change it for the better? How do we help those that need help, while remaining unencumbered by a burgeoning government? The government has taken over where the church no longer functions. You may want a “thousand points of light,” to lead the way, but  even in your own little sphere of the world, there is never enough time, money, or access to help all those that need help.  The truth is that our tribe has simply changed. But we still need a tribe, because we all do need help from time to time, whether we want to admit it or not.

Lastly, another area of contention is the notion of assimilation. Assimilation into the American ideal is important. But the question then becomes, how do you define what it really means to be an American? As I mentioned above, the US Constitution is what makes us who we are. The rights delineated in the Bill of Rights is the essence of our society. And while, Mr. Goldberg rues the reality that most people in the US have no idea what is in the First Amendment, I bet they know what those rights are, they simply do not know where they are enshrined. Which of course is problematic on the one hand because they will not know what to fight for if someone tries to amend the Bill of Rights per se, but, on the other hand, I suspect if any official tries to take these rights away, the overall reaction from the citizenry will not be pretty, pleasant, or calm. (I did read a poll that said 1/3 of all democrats want to do away with the 2nd amendment. I do not see this as ever becoming a reality. This virtue signaling has more to do with the democrats making themselves irrelevant to politics rather than a real threat to our freedoms.)

So  yes, we do need to go back and revamp some basics in our education system. As we have seen,  allowing the proto-marxists and neo-socialists to dominate our education system was not the best way to educate our children for the future. Moreover, while highly educated millenials, who exemplify the failure of public education conjoined by some very expensive private college educations, are butt hurt everytime someone challenges their perspectives on life,  this does not mean that we are incapable of righting that ship. While Gen-Xers think that hate speech does not fall under first amendment protections, the wakeup call for them will be when they are in fact accused of betraying their cohorts and charged with a thought crime. Society will see very quickly how these regressive leftist ideologues suddenly find the positive merits of  first amendment freedoms. You see youthful naïveté and exuberance have happened before in the history of the US. Youthful demagoguery is nothing new. (Just ask Socrates.) And, we, as a nation, have survived quite well.

But in another vein, assimilation, while important,  should not need to negate the ethnic origins of American citizens. Growing up, as a 2nd generation American, it was important that our attitudes mirror the wider American world, which was basically white-anglo-saxon-society. As we perused the American landscape our ancestors decided to do away with certain of their outward ethnic characteristics beginning with what they named their children, to not teaching their children their ancestral language, to watering down their religious observance. Being Jewish in a predominantly Christian society is not easy, and the entire point of coming to America was to succeed and prosper. It was a given that you wouldn’t be welcomed into  the hallowed halls of power wearing a kippa, or sporting payot. (Here, I recommend Paul Johnsons, The History of the American People, and The History of the Jews. )

For me growing up as the only Jewish child in my elementary school in the Bible belt was not easy. I always felt like an outsider. Someone that America did not want. But then in our history book in 7th grade, they taught about an American patriot called Haym Salomon, who along with the Jews of Philadelphia helped provide the needed monies so that the Continental Army could in fact arm itself. At that moment, I felt extreme pride in my Jewish heritage and my American heritage. I knew that yes they did combine, and that I truly did belong in this nation. I was no longer the outsider looking in, but a full-fledged member of the nation of my birth. Every American child deserves this revelation. Hence, I am glad for Jewish history month, as I am glad for Black history month, women’s history month, Latino history month, etc.

Being proud of your ethnic heritage does not, and should not, preclude anyone from being proud to be an American. Our nation is a “melting pot,” and yes, while some nonsensical children, and their indulgent professors, see using this expression as  a racist microagression, “melting pot” no longer has the exclusionary meaning that it did when it was first coined at the turn of the 20th century.  What it means today is that you can incorporate your heritage into the nation inwhich you have chosen to live. There is nothing wrong with being proud to be an American, and simultaneously being proud of the ethnic heritage you carry in your veins. There is no real bar to modern assimilation except lack of desire.

No, America is not what it was centuries ago. Heck America isn’t what it was 20 years ago, and honestly, that is not a bad thing. As Mr. Goldberg discusses at the end of his book, the absolute positive realities of technology, capitalism, and freedom of thought has brought the human race out of a dark ages into a world of untold possibilities.  Yet most people do not know this truth. For this I would cite all the negative press about our world today. The old journalism adage, “if it bleeds it leads,” practiced by the news corporations, does not lend itself to positive reporting about the truth of our world. For this, journalists, and I use the term loosely when discussing most of those who claim to be reporters, seek the most partisan, negative stories to present to the population in order to either support their own political perspectives, or even more callously, garner ratings.

Truly, our world is developing and advancing at a wonderful pace. When we think about the world in 50 years, we are hard pressed to imagine what it will be like. Yes futurists play around with predictions, that is their job. But in reality, the exponential potential of science, with the benefit for all of humankind, is unknown in the annals of human history. Without a baseline to work from there is no real way to see the future. It is all fantastical, beyond perhaps even humanity’s greatest dreams. It is really an exciting time to be alive.

For others though, they do have a different perspective.

Unfortunately, we do have to acknowledge that many at present are left behind when it comes to our global economy. Whenever there has been economic upheaval in history there have always been those marginalized by progress. It is the main reason for the rise in populism and the likes of Trump, Le Pen, the regressive Left, the “blood and soil” Right in Europe , and Islamism after the failure of the Arab Spring.  Mr. Goldberg goes into detail about the issues facing this segment of our societies.

The question we are faced with though is what to do about it. And there is no doubt that we must do something about it. If you do not want a progressive view of government’s role in society, then how do you convince people to help themselves if they have no idea what they actually need to go forward? It is as if these people are the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. They are stuck and afraid. It is easy to give them a simple answer as Trump does, but of course that does nothing for the future and is only an immediate rush. Which after the initial euphoria is over, as with any drug, in order to feel the same rush, a person needs double the opiate to elicit that same feeling of pleasure. That is in effect how populism does degenerate.

Many cite their populism as a form of patriotism. It is not the idea that we should be patriotic that is contrary to a free society. It is the idea, that populism’s absolute patriotism means your, or your country’s failure is always someone else’s fault (conspiracy theories abound); your success is someone else’s responsibility; and a zero-sum game is the only worthwhile endeavor in our global economy. Hence the talk of trade wars, winners, losers, and the need to destroy others so that you may prosper. Populists see a detriment to their lives in globalization, despite the true economic advancements that make their lives so much better.

In truth, the answer for any society is never just from the political right, nor the political left. Sometimes when you are stuck you need a helping hand from both sides of the aisle. Yes we are at a crossroads. We can either fall back into darkness, or we can strive to figure out a way that can incorporate everyone into the future that we are building. But we need to have a starting point. Mr. Goldberg’s book is a good place to begin.

Mr. Goldberg’s book goes a long way in showing what the issues are that we face as a society. He has given us a brief history from whence we came. The simple fact is that before you can go forward you really should have a good handle on who you are, what were the issues faced in the past, where you come from, how the problems were handled, and why your people chose the solutions that they did. He then goes on in detail to discuss today’s issues, and while you may not agree with his perspectives, as you assuredly see that I do not agree with him on many issues, he makes you think in a reasoned and informative way. A unique quality in today’s hyper partisan atmosphere.

So yes, I recommend this book to anyone interested in the future direction of the United States.


This book is available April 24, 2018.



About Elise "Ronan"

#JewishandProud ...
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2 Responses to Book Review: Suicide of the West by Jonah Goldberg

  1. DED says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book and your personal experiences. I saw Goldberg this morning on Morning Joe promoting this book and was curious to know a bit more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Identity by Francis Fukuyama | Journaling on Paper

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