Jonah Goldberg, political analyst and author of The Suicide of the West, claimed that what society could use is a little bit of gratitude during his talk in Klarman Hall on Thursday.
As for what to be grateful for, Goldberg made it a point to show that society as it is now is the best it has been in all of human history.
“We live in this moment the greatest moment in all of human history of poverty alleviation … because of a series of ideas and concepts that emerged that have long prehistory with Christianity, Judaism, and all that stuff,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg further detailed what exactly these ideas and concepts are.
“There’s this thing that happened three hundred years ago which I call the Lockean revolution …,” he said, referring to the ideals of John Locke. “Something clicks and these ideas in the Lockean revolution boil down to our rights come from God, not government; we are citizens, not subjects; the government works for us, we don’t work for it; the fruits of our labor belong to us.”
The modern American society that these values have created, which Goldberg called a “liberal, capitalist democracy,” is at the “top of the mountain” in terms of what a society has been like throughout history.
Goldberg emphasized that since society is already at its peak, any discussion of moving politically farther left or right actually implies discussion of society moving downward.
“There is a lot of problems left to fix and we can have robust arguments about the world economy, but the people who say we need to move left towards socialism or right towards nationalism, what they’re really saying doesn’t matter in terms of those labels,” he said. “When you’re at the summit, you can talk about going left or you can talk about going right, but the real direction you’re talking about is going down.”
Goldberg noted that despite what society has achieved so far, issues such as divisiveness still run rampant, which he attributed to a clash between human nature and society’s ideals.
“If you could take human beings, shored of all their civilization and culture, and put them in a native environment, they would not start coming up with iPhone apps that deliver weed,” he said. “They would turn into semi-hairless apes foraging and fighting for food.”
Goldberg explained that the modern American, capitalistic, democratic society clashes with this tribal human nature.
“Capitalism is unnatural. Democracy is unnatural. Humans rights are unnatural,” he said, so people’s human nature tries to reassert itself.
The ways in which these ugly elements of human nature express themselves are through what Goldberg believed are Romantic influences.
“The Romantic era never really ended,” said Goldberg. “Because what Romanticism really is is the passion inside the human soul reasserting itself against perceived oppression from too much reason and too much control … it’s the product of feeling over facts, of passion over reason,” he said. “And we live in a remarkably Romantic period where all of our culture is deeply romantic.”
It is from these Romantic influences that Goldberg believed society’s issues such as a growing negative polarization in politics and general tribalism arise.
As a result of this clash, Goldberg believes that “so many of our problems today stem from the fact that we are not civilizing.”
Goldberg posits that a little gratitude is crucial in changing society.
“If you have a little gratitude for the good we have and the opportunity we have, then it opens your heart to empathy for people who disagree,” he said.