Jonah's 'Suicide': There Is a Better Way

One of the common themes you encounter in the comments section of conservative online media is the notion that conservatives are rational and liberals are emotional.  Dennis Prager does a bit of that here, and Jonah Goldberg makes the same point frequently in his new Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy.

Jonah argues for Lockean individualism and reason and against Rousseau's appeal to the tribalism of the General Will and the Romantic movement and the left that followed on.  Oh, and he also rails against Trump's tribalism of populist nationalism.  That's the way I used to think, too, until I read FSC Northrop's Meeting of East and West and this gem:

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature ... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate.

So what does that mean when it's at home?  It means that the notion that we humans are rational actors making reason-based choices about our lives, the notion championed in the Age of Reason, is all wrong.  People do not just want to know how the world works.  They want to know what it all means.

Don't get me wrong: in his Suicide, Jonah does a good job rehearsing the libertarian conservative line, updated to include the economic "Miracle" of the last 300 years proposed by Robin Fox and Ernest Gellner, and the Great Enrichment of the last 200 years proposed by Deirdre McCloskey.  And he roundly condemns the vile identity politics of the of the neo-tribalist left.

Okay, Jonah, you sold me.  But what is indisputable is that this libertarian conservative worldview has signally failed to persuade the rest of us, folks like 19th-century workers, 20th-century suffragettes, college professors, graduates in Critical Theory, '60s hippies, settled-science climate activists, good-little-girl special snowflakes...and white working-class Trump voters.

What is more, when you listen to most of the folks above, they will tell you that they are the rational ones and conservatives are superstitious twits, driven by emotion and prejudice and even flat-out evil.  You can check out a few of them in the comments to this N.Y. Times article.

Hey, NYTers: if you want to change the world, you need to persuade people to listen to you, and that means you need to start from where they are, with reality as they experience it, and not from where you are.

And probably you should not do as liberals do, calling people racists, sexists, homophobes, and what is even worse: deplorables!  Who is paying them to be such idiots?  George Soros?

Here is the truth you have all been waiting for.  It is not reason, or rational thought, or science that makes the world go round.  It is emotion, instinct – or, for you intellectual snobs, "affect."  And let us be clear: it is "affect" that got us humans where we are today, the most remarkable animal in the world, after ants, of course.

Think about it.  What drives Jeff Bezos to reinvent the retail sector?  Is it a rational analysis of product delivery systems?  What makes a man run for president of the United States?  A historical study of political movements down the ages?  What drives your average SJW?  A thoughtful exegesis of arcs of justice in Roman times?  I don't think so.

Sure, reason and science have transformed the world, but it is still love that makes the world go 'round – and hate, and ambition, and fear, and hunger, and kindness, and force, and sometimes a little rational persuasion.  The "rebirth of tribalism" against which Jonah Goldberg rails is for me merely a wake-up call.  If people are regressing from the high-toned tribalism of the nation-state to the more primitive tribalisms of race and gender, it tells me we thinkers and elitists have been falling down on the job.

What humans want to know is not reason, but the meaning of it all: life, the universe, and everything.  Primitives understood this meaning through the hidden spirits in the trees and the animals; city people for the last 3,000 years have understood meaning through a God that created the world and the divine law that ordered it.  Lefties understand meaning through the glory of activism that bends the arc of history toward justice.

I say it is high time that conservatives openly, in the face of the whole world, conjure a new God into being, one who encourages Nietzsche's "we free spirits" Beyond Good and Evil to great creative effort, but who wants the free spirits to be kind to ordinary responsible people who obey the law, go to work, and follow the rules.

Complaining about Trump ain't gonna get there, Jonah.

Christopher Chantrill @chrischantrill runs the go-to site on U.S. government finances, usgovernmentspending.com.  Also get his American Manifesto and his Road to the Middle Class.

One of the common themes you encounter in the comments section of conservative online media is the notion that conservatives are rational and liberals are emotional.  Dennis Prager does a bit of that here, and Jonah Goldberg makes the same point frequently in his new Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy.

Jonah argues for Lockean individualism and reason and against Rousseau's appeal to the tribalism of the General Will and the Romantic movement and the left that followed on.  Oh, and he also rails against Trump's tribalism of populist nationalism.  That's the way I used to think, too, until I read FSC Northrop's Meeting of East and West and this gem:

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature ... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate.

So what does that mean when it's at home?  It means that the notion that we humans are rational actors making reason-based choices about our lives, the notion championed in the Age of Reason, is all wrong.  People do not just want to know how the world works.  They want to know what it all means.

Don't get me wrong: in his Suicide, Jonah does a good job rehearsing the libertarian conservative line, updated to include the economic "Miracle" of the last 300 years proposed by Robin Fox and Ernest Gellner, and the Great Enrichment of the last 200 years proposed by Deirdre McCloskey.  And he roundly condemns the vile identity politics of the of the neo-tribalist left.

Okay, Jonah, you sold me.  But what is indisputable is that this libertarian conservative worldview has signally failed to persuade the rest of us, folks like 19th-century workers, 20th-century suffragettes, college professors, graduates in Critical Theory, '60s hippies, settled-science climate activists, good-little-girl special snowflakes...and white working-class Trump voters.

What is more, when you listen to most of the folks above, they will tell you that they are the rational ones and conservatives are superstitious twits, driven by emotion and prejudice and even flat-out evil.  You can check out a few of them in the comments to this N.Y. Times article.

Hey, NYTers: if you want to change the world, you need to persuade people to listen to you, and that means you need to start from where they are, with reality as they experience it, and not from where you are.

And probably you should not do as liberals do, calling people racists, sexists, homophobes, and what is even worse: deplorables!  Who is paying them to be such idiots?  George Soros?

Here is the truth you have all been waiting for.  It is not reason, or rational thought, or science that makes the world go round.  It is emotion, instinct – or, for you intellectual snobs, "affect."  And let us be clear: it is "affect" that got us humans where we are today, the most remarkable animal in the world, after ants, of course.

Think about it.  What drives Jeff Bezos to reinvent the retail sector?  Is it a rational analysis of product delivery systems?  What makes a man run for president of the United States?  A historical study of political movements down the ages?  What drives your average SJW?  A thoughtful exegesis of arcs of justice in Roman times?  I don't think so.

Sure, reason and science have transformed the world, but it is still love that makes the world go 'round – and hate, and ambition, and fear, and hunger, and kindness, and force, and sometimes a little rational persuasion.  The "rebirth of tribalism" against which Jonah Goldberg rails is for me merely a wake-up call.  If people are regressing from the high-toned tribalism of the nation-state to the more primitive tribalisms of race and gender, it tells me we thinkers and elitists have been falling down on the job.

What humans want to know is not reason, but the meaning of it all: life, the universe, and everything.  Primitives understood this meaning through the hidden spirits in the trees and the animals; city people for the last 3,000 years have understood meaning through a God that created the world and the divine law that ordered it.  Lefties understand meaning through the glory of activism that bends the arc of history toward justice.

I say it is high time that conservatives openly, in the face of the whole world, conjure a new God into being, one who encourages Nietzsche's "we free spirits" Beyond Good and Evil to great creative effort, but who wants the free spirits to be kind to ordinary responsible people who obey the law, go to work, and follow the rules.

Complaining about Trump ain't gonna get there, Jonah.

Christopher Chantrill @chrischantrill runs the go-to site on U.S. government finances, usgovernmentspending.com.  Also get his American Manifesto and his Road to the Middle Class.