The Ben Shapiro podcast Sunday Special Ep 5 interviews Jonah Goldberg on his recent Suicide of the West, a worthy read. I also recommend Jonah’s Podcast, The Remnant. He is erudite, but witty.
The essence of Goldberg’s book is that the great advances from the last 250 years that Deirdre McCloskey covers so well in Bourgeois Equality, Bourgeois Dignity, and Bourgeois Virtue, did not come from natural developments. Goldberg distinguishes the Enlightenment view of John Locke from the Romantic view of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Locke recognized the imperfections of man, his naturally selfish and violent nature and the need of institutions to constrain his negative impulses, while still allowing his creativity and better self to flourish.
The Romantic school of Rousseau perceived that man is basically good and is corrupted by the same institutions that Locke values to constrain his faults. In Rousseau’s world man can be perfected, returned to his natural goodness through actions that challenge our institutions. We would not expect this effort to return man to his natural self to be the more tyrannical form of government, but historically that has proven to be true. There is not unanimous agreement of the value of human goodness or the means of reaching it. One man’s view ends up being forced upon another.
By failing to recognize man’s natural faults we are more likely to fall victim to them. By recognizing them we can create institutions that either mutes them or channels them to a greater good.
The essence of conservatism for Goldberg is to accept man in his natural and imperfect state and moderate the negative impulses. By controlling the negative impulses, his better side can flourish. Goldberg’s conservatism is a respect for the institutions that caused this exponential growth in human betterment. He ends the book calling for gratitude for these institutions. The opposite of gratitude in his view is entitlement.
The left views Conservatism as blanket ideologic support for all institutions. Clearly some institutions outlive their usefulness, and some, like slavery, just merit moral rejection. The usefulness of limiting institutions can escape casual observation, but their function will be missed when the institution is gutted. Even when reason is used to extinguish institutions, as was the case with Rousseau and the French Revolution, the results can be quite the contrary to intentions.
Conservatives may appear reluctant to accept new institutions. Our constitution was more radical than we realize, but the acceptance of human imperfection in its ideology made it conservative by Goldberg’s standard.
Capitalism’s success for Goldberg is not the morally neutral natural evolution of spontaneous order, independent of a legal or political framework. It is the result of institutions that channel individual action and self interest to the greater good. It requires the protection of property, but not the decision on its allocation and development. This clarity and distinction on the proper limits of government action defined the objectives of the conservative progressives like William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover. When the government crosses from protecting property and individual rights to managing and granting these rights, it crosses the line from progressivism to socialism.
In the interview Goldberg equates nationalism with socialism. Both call for state direction of resources. Nationalism is commonly but wrongly associated with conservatism. This explains why nationalism and socialism are commonly joined in the titles of political movements. Fascism is just the marriage of the two.