Suicide of the West

By James Buckley   |   September 20, 2018
Commentator and author of Suicide Of The West; How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy Jonah Goldberg is scheduled to speak at UCSB on Sunday, October 7

National Review editor, Los Angeles Times columnist, speaker, Fox News commentator, author, and teacher (for nearly a year he taught English to Czech citizens after the breakup of the Soviet Union), Jonah Goldberg is a product of Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Jonah’s father was Jewish; his mother Christian; Jonah was brought up Jewish. Some may remember his mother, Lucianne Goldberg, and her presence on newscasts in the early ’90s as the woman who encouraged Linda Tripp to record Monica Lewinsky’s conversations, as well as being the person who advised Ms Tripp to warn Monica to keep the blue dress.

Mr. Goldberg is scheduled to speak at Campbell Hall on Sunday, October 7. The following is a severely edited version of our hour-long-plus conversation via cell phone: I in Saint-Malo, France, and he in Washington, D.C., where he lives. 

Q. You were born in 1969 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. How did a nice Jewish boy end up a conservative rather than an Upper West Side liberal?

A. My parents were conservative, and I didn’t think of myself all that political until I got to college. My dad was a journalist, and one of his favorite things to do was to take his sons out for long walks and tell them how bad communism was. So, I got a lot of education out of him. He gave up grad school in Eastern European History, but he was a voracious reader.

You’re one of the few conservative speakers who remains relatively unmolested on campuses. You can give a talk without students (and others) breaking windows and setting police cars on fire. What explains that?

I used to arouse more hostility from people, but I’ve tried to move away from that kind of stuff. The Ann Coulter-Milo Yiannopoulos method of [confrontational speaking] I just feel is counterproductive. You get people who start arguing that anything is justifiable as long as you get the right people upset. I think conservatives have moved away from trying to convince people and that’s a real problem,

When National Review ran its anti-Donald Trump screed during the Republican primary season, I believe you lost a lot of readers. The writers seemed to imply that the nation would be better off if Hillary were elected. Did you feel that way? Do you still feel that way?

With all due respect, I think you are completely wrong. That issue appeared before the Iowa caucuses. We were, in effect, endorsing the field against Trump. It’s been retroactively turned into a Never Trump issue, but it wasn’t. If you look at the contributors to it, lots of those people went on to endorse Trump and support him and defend Trump to this day. Some don’t, but the problem at the time… and I’m very proud of that issue. I think that the gist of it was absolutely right. I didn’t write for it, because most of the senior editors didn’t; we let the editorial speak for all of us, but there are people at National Review who are pro-Trump and there are people at National Review who are anti-Trump. I would say most of them are Trump skeptical. But I don’t think anybody has written in the National Review the words “Better to vote for Hillary.”

I didn’t vote for Hillary. I didn’t vote for Trump either. I said in “Suicide of the West,” that if it came down to my vote, I would have voted for Donald Trump. But, what I wasn’t going to do was endorse his character or his tactics or lie about him.

Is there any way you would or could support President Trump? Is there anything he could do or say that would garner your support?

Support him? What does that mean?…

…Say something nice or approve of something he’s done?…

I’ve approved lots of things that he’s done. I like, I think literally, every judicial appointment he’s made. I like the tax cuts, certainly on the corporate side, less on the personal side, but I still like them; I like the deregulatory stuff; I like moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; I like defunding the PLO. I mean, I can give you a very long list.

But, what I will not do is say that he is the world’s greatest negotiator; I will not say that he is a decent man or a man of good character; I will not say that he hires the best people; I will not say that he acts presidential, because he does not. And, I will not say that he is 6-3 and 230 pounds, which is what he claims. (Editor’s note: For the record, Donald Trump is six-foot-two and weighs, well, probably considerably more than 230 pounds.)

You made some great points in your earlier book, Liberal Fascism, published some 10 years ago. Do you feel the observations you made at the time have been substantiated in light of what has developed – Black Lives Matter, Antifa, Democratic Socialism, for example – over the past decade?

 I think I was absolutely right on the history and on the political taxonomy. That said, I also think the book was something of a spectacular failure in that part of my point was to get people to stop using the word “fascist,” because they were using it wrong; they were pointing it in the wrong direction and if anything, people have been hurling the “F” word more, not less, since that book came out.

The thing that breaks my heart about the current moment we’re in is that my point was that in the Anglo-American tradition of what it means to be a conservative isn’t a blood-and-soil conservatism, the likes of which they had in Europe. We conservatives are defenders of a radical revolution in terms of the Enlightenment and in terms of the American founding – so therefore, what we are conserving is something very different than what someone who wants to restore or maintain the monarchy, or clericalism, or whatever. One of my concerns these days is [certain conservatives] are embracing the old European model of what it means to be a conservative in the first place.

Another thing I’m unhappy with about the book (Liberal Fascism) is that I’m one of the people who elevated the importance of Saul Alinsky to conservatives. I did it to point out what a bad influence he was on American politics and how dangerous his ideas were. What happened was that in the ensuing 10 years, a lot of conservatives started to develop what you could call “Saul Alinsky Envy” and began using Alinsky-like tactics themselves. 

But isn’t the reason for using what you call “Alinsky-like tactics” to fight fire with fire, to use political tactics that have proven effective?

Maybe, but one of the reasons I have a higher standard for the right is that the modern American conservative movement is the only reliable faction in American politics – with the exception of some libertarians – that as a matter of dogma, fundamentally defends the American founding, our founding principles, free-market capitalism, and all the rest.

Let’s talk about your book, Suicide of the West; How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy. What is it you hope to impart to your audience at UCSB when you speak there?

One of the things I’ll stress is that, while I had lots of differences with Barack Obama, one of the things he was right about was that if you could pick a time to be born, and you didn’t know if you were going to be born black or white, rich or poor, you would want to be born right now, in the United States of America. One of the core arguments I make in the book is that we don’t appreciate how unbelievably fortunate we are to be born in this country in this time.

For thousands of years, the average human being lived on less than $3 a day everywhere around the world. We only started to get rich once, in terms of the average person, in all of human history, about 300 years ago. It started in one place: England. It moved to Holland, then the United States, and right now we are living in the greatest moment of poverty alleviation in all of human history. And we should have some gratitude for this.


Jonah Goldberg is scheduled to speak at Campbell Hall on the UCSB campus beginning at 7:30 pm, Sunday, October 7. Tickets are $25 for the general public, $5 for UCSB students with ID. Tickets are available by calling (805) 893-3535 or online at This speaking engagement is sponsored by Montecito residents Susan and Craig McCaw.


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