Interesting stuff. An excerpt:
Goldberg does not dwell much on the significance of the loss of transcendence but all through the book the clear implication is that it is this loss that is responsible for the high-handed social engineering that has led to disasters like the Holocaust and the famine in the Ukraine, not to mention many other 20th century horrors. The eugenics revolution, which C. S. Lewis characterized as the attempt to master nature, including human nature, that inevitably degenerates into the attempt of some men to master others, is picking up where the Nazis left off. Without a sense of transcendence, who is there to say “No” to whatever is possible?
Although this book is about politics and does not have much to say about theology, I think it is clear that Goldberg, consciously or unconsciously, is operating out of a basically Augustinian worldview. He does not trust human nature; nor does he believe that all human problems can be solved by education, government programs and money. He sees the State as ambiguious and not infallible and citizens as needing something to protect them from State power when it goes off the rails, as it not infrequently does.
One of the most illuminating aspects of the book, for me, was how clearly Hillary Clinton’s politics of meaning are rooted in her liberal Methodist social gospel background. Her touchingly naive faith in human nature and the benign nature of the “Nanny” State is frightening, especially when laid beside her realistic and cynical desire for power.
Overall, the book is well-written and entertaining. Although it is refreshingly unabashedly polemical, it maintains a civil tone throughout. Liberals won’t like it because it challenges their conventional wisdom and, more importantly, because it challenges their bedrock Pelagianism. My main criticism of the book is that Goldberg’s faith in classical liberalism (which, confusingly, is known today as neo-conservatism) is misplaced. Classical liberalism has evolved from the Enlighenment teachings of Locke, Burke and company to the extreme individualism of post-Nietzscheanism. As Goldberg himself seees, the seeds of totalitarianism are already there in Rousseau’s notion of “the general will.” It is all well and fine to say that classical liberalism is better, but the truth is that classical liberalism has failed. (Goldberg’s book provides all the proof needed for this assertion.) The idea of freedom as freedom from constraint is as much a part of the classical liberal tradition as the later nihilistic tradition and this notion of freedom is itself the nub of the problem. The modern experiment is a wager that humanism can be preserved without God and it looks like that wager is lost. What this book get right is that contemporary political liberalism is an inadequate anchor in this kind of storm.
Update: From a reader:
Jonah, I think Carter’s assertion of your misplaced faith in classical liberalism is… misplaced. I am thinking of the GFile you wrote (and recently linked to) on the occasion of NR’s 50th anniversary. You wrote: “Buckley understood that anyone, even barbarians, can be “individualists.” Individualism, properly understood, requires a larger moral and political context to work. The liberalism of the American founders was formed with a moral and metaphysical superstructure, which had been eroded by industrialization, urbanization, and the steady flotsam of various statist ideologies washing up on our shores. I don’t think that classical liberalism has failed, it has waned, but I think conservatives have done yeoman’s work repairing the moral and metaphysical superstructure to which classical liberalism/conservatism is anchored. The eventual exposure of the moral bankruptcy of all that flotsam helped too.