I have been a fan of Jonah Goldberg’s writing and his podcast, the Remnant. His book, Liberal Fascism, is a critical comparison of the policies of the progressive era and Mussolini’s fascism (as distinct from Hitler’s). One could contend that progressivism was just fascism with constitutional restraints.
I am half way into his new release, Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying America. The title is descriptive but distracting.
Goldberg was heavily influenced by Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Equality, Bourgeois Dignity and Bourgeois Virtues, and the companion work of Joel Mokyr’s Culture of Growth. I recommend all of these, but they are thick and not on the short list of most readers. Goldberg’s volume is a great way to digest these books and many other classic thinkers, particularly Joseph Schumpeter.
The basis for the volume is twofold. The first, a point hammered by McCloskey, is that the advance of humanity in the last two hundred years is nothing short of miraculous. McCloskey and Goldberg analyze why this happened when it did and where it did. They are not seduced by simplistic answers, nor do they shy from critiquing common explanations.
Goldberg’s second point is that this path, as glorious as it is, is not inevitable or self-sustaining. Democracy and capitalism are not natural. The institutions that are a part of this miracle (only a part) served to restrain the violent and tribal impulses of man, while allowing his creative potential to flourish. To the extent that current cultural trends threaten these institutions that restrain the natural and destructive natural of man, our ‘culture of growth’ is threatened.
This is the core of modern intellectual conservatism. Romantic notions of the noble savage, corrupted by man’s institutions, and the perfectibility of man have served us poorly. It turns out that perfecting man requires considerably greater authoritarianism and tyranny than merely restraining his natural impulses.
Debate on the usefulness and proper application of current institutions will remain. Slavery is gone, socialism is declining, capitalism and democracy are rising. One’s assessment of these institutions must clearly define them. Rhetoric and clarity have never been more important.
Reform is seductive. The faults of the status quo and our current institutions are vivid, magnified in an academic media complex that considers ‘viral’ an achievement. Reform is inchoate and illusive with faults yet to be recognized, presently clear only in the minds of critics and reactionaries. In the future these faults are the subject of history.
A large part of progress is recognizing what does not work. An idea is not understood until you can articulate its faults. We can choose to reject an idea because of its imperfections or accept it for what it has to offer.
That choice determines our fate.