Suicide of the West continues
A book I can't recommend enough is James Burnham's excellent Suicide of the West. It is not just timeless (he wrote it in 1964); it is dumbfounding in its contemporariness. Burnham, an original editor at William F. Buckley's National Review, was a former Trotskyite back in the 1930s who found his way to conservatism and later became a leader of the American Conservative Movement. Suicide of the West so brims with dead-on insights that it can be read over and over, quoted, and absorbed even after you feel you have a firm grasp of the liberal mindset. For me, it is one of those pick-a-page-any-page books.
Often, as I mull over leftist thinking or strategies, I'll say to myself, that is a perfect example of what Burnham was talking about. Burnham's style is eloquent and accessible, but he was the philosophy chair at New York University, so some paragraphs take extra thought.
Let me offer some timeless Burnham quotes from fifty-seven years ago.
Liberals are prone to speak in terms of problems — of war, unemployment, poverty, hunger, prejudice, discrimination, crime, disease, racial conflict, automation, the population explosion, urban renewal, recreation, underdeveloped nations, unwed mothers, care of the aged ... and what not.
I have to ask, has the liberal animating obsession with "problems" changed one iota? Have their decades of progressiveness mitigated these problems? If anything, liberals claim that things are worse than ever. Otherwise, why the 2020 summer riots?
The next quote is a brilliant expression of why Prius liberals have yard signs and rear-window stickers.
The more significant achievement of liberalism, by which it confirms its claim to being considered a major ideology, is its ability to handle the problem of guilt for large numbers of persons without costing them undue personal inconvenience.
Especially for the 2021 liberals, they harbor an obsessive guilt with a "penumbra" of original sin they themselves can't shake. Take Christian liberals who profess a belief in Christ's atonement — they too seem driven to shoulder burdens impossibly expansive for their sphere of influence even in a social media era. Yet, are not virtue-signaling yard signs, window stickers, and social media posts a perfect pseudo–wailing wall for super-convenient public penance? Liberal guilt is self-reinforcing which is its purpose.
The next Burnham quote also rings with currency in light of Kyrsten Sinema's recent bathroom troubles.
But all wings of liberalism unite in finding that the main enemy, the preferred enemy, the enemy that one enjoys coming to grips with, is to the Right.
Even with Sinema's Democrat female bisexual credentials, the fact that she identified to the right of her colleagues on the Democrats $3.5-trillion social price tag shows that liberals never have enough clay pigeons on the right side of the skeet shoot.
One might conclude that James Burnham in Suicide of the West is prescient as his insights just pile up, but what Burnham illuminates is the timelessness of really bad ideas and the basic human nature that synthesizes them into an intoxicating worldview that doesn't work and won't.
Spruce Fontaine is an artist and retired college art instructor.
Image: Regnery Publishing.
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