Unfrozen Caveman Intellectual: Jonah Goldberg's Strangely Dark Enlightenment
[The Federalist] "There is no God in this book." So begins "Suicide of the West," Jonah Goldberg’s contribution to the recent flurry of discussion about the legacy of the Enlightenment. Unfortunately, there’s not much of the Enlightenment in the book, either.
If Steven Pinker’s "Enlightenment Now" treated the philosophical movement of the 18th century as if it were just a precursor to the contemporary center-left consensus, Goldberg’s defense of the Enlightenment ends up being mostly a rehearsal of boilerplate 20th-century American conservatism, including the fact that God does not actually stay out of the book.
The comparison is a more interesting one than I expected, because much of the book reads like an answer to the question, "What if Steven Pinker were a conservative?" Goldberg relies to a surprising degree on modern anthropology and on evolutionary psychology’s speculative parsing of the mentality of the cave man. This is reminiscent of Pinker’s reductive "scientism," but Goldberg gives it a somewhat different twist. He concludes that anthropology and evolutionary psychology reveal human nature to be inherently tribal, irrational, violent, cruel, obsessed with status, and oriented around rule by a strongman. Basically, it’s all "Lord of the Flies" ‐ which is, in fact, one of the examples he cites. In that novel, he explains, "The beast is not ’something you could hunt and kill,’ because the real beast resides inside all of the children themselves. That internal beast is human nature. It cannot be killed; it can only be tamed. And even then, constant vigilance is required."
This insistence that primitivism is natural and civilization is unnatural leaves Goldberg occasionally sounding like the Unfrozen Caveman Intellectual: "Beneath the layers of outward civilization lurks our more primal self, who finds the world around us complicated and artificial." Your modern ways frighten and confuse me.
Posted by: Besoeker 2018-08-26