by Rachel McPherson

Last week, the Goldwater Institute and the National Review Institute hosted syndicated columnist, commentator, and bestselling author Jonah Goldberg for a special event in Phoenix. Goldberg’s recently released book Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy, is garnering significant attention in political circles, and a packed audience filled the Newton to hear Goldberg talk about his new book.

Interviewed by Goldwater Institute President Victor Riches, Goldberg began by explaining the title of his new book. While he conceded that the title is a bit of an homage to James Burnham—who authored a 1964 essay by the same name—Goldberg also said that a major motivator for the title was the idea that suicide is a choice. Goldberg explained:

“As a culture, we are making choices that need to be reversed. We know how to turn these ships around, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not hard. The answers are all in front of us–we simply choose not to take the path that is hard. That’s why I decided to call it Suicide of the West.”

Goldberg’s Suicide of the West argues that the emergence of liberal democratic capitalism around 300 years ago was truly a miracle: Indeed, he calls it “the Miracle” throughout the book. However, he also argues that democratic capitalism is unnatural—that’s why it has only occurred once in human history and took hundreds of thousands of years to emerge:

“Until 300 years ago, poverty was the natural state of almost every single human being on the planet. Democracy, capitalism, and human rights—if all of these things were part of our basic programming, you would think they would’ve appeared a little earlier in the evolutionary record. They are things that we’ve either discovered or created remarkably recently. We stumbled into this thing on accident and created these concepts.”

Today, people are no longer taught to appreciate the fruits of democratic capitalism, Goldberg said. They are instead reverting to human nature by turning to tribalism, populism, and nationalism. Goldberg predicts that American democracy will continue to decay unless the people of the West develop a sense of gratitude for the values that sustain freedom and prosperity:

“Anything made by man must be maintained by man or it will be reclaimed by nature. Anyone who has owned a boat knows that if you don’t maintain the thing, nature will reclaim it. The same goes for human institutions. We constructed democracy out of Lockeanism and the English Revolution, turned it into law, and created these institutions. It requires upkeep. The key ingredient of upkeep for democratic capitalism is gratitude and we don’t teach gratitude in this culture anymore—we teach resentment and entitlement.”

Watch the full event below:

Rachel McPherson is a Ronald Reagan Fellow at the Goldwater Institute.