According to the book of Genesis, the
first humans lived in an earthly paradise. But man’s natural state was no
Eden. Instead, it consisted of grinding poverty punctuated by horrific violence,
terminated with an early death. Yet despite the progress since our caveman days, many
think there’s something inherently alienating or unfair or just plain wrong
about the present. People long for a return to tribal solidarity, where we
were all in it together. Our inner primitive cries out, “There must be a
better way!” But there isn’t. Look around! You’re at the end of history! It’s time
to rethink human progress. Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine an alien is
assigned the task of observing the progress of humanity for the first
250,000 years of our existence, but it can only visit once every 10,000 years.
On the first visit, it would see semi-hairless, upright, nomadic apes foraging
and fighting for food. On the next visit, it would see the same thing, and again
and again, 23 times over 230,000 years. But on the 24th visit, the alien would
see that we stopped foraging, and started farming. However, in some ways, humans were
actually worse off: Our diet got worse, and tedious, back-breaking labor filled
our days .So still, life was poor, nasty, brutish, and short. But on the
twenty-fifth visit, the alien’s ship would probably be spotted by NORAD!
So how did we get to the world of today? Well, it’s a long story, but part of it is that
after thousands of generations of trial and error, we discovered some best
practices. But we also discovered or stumbled into what I call The Miracle,
which was a revolution in our understanding of ourselves. For the first
time, the individual was sovereign. Innovation was honored. Our rights came
from God, not from government. This revolution in attitude transformed the
human condition. It unleashed this explosion of wealth. With more time, more
money in our pockets, and a culture that rewarded innovation and invention,
people’s lies were no longer poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
Food improved, diet improved, health improved. Access to electricity went up.
Literacy skyrocketed, as did life expectancy, population above extreme
poverty, food supply, vaccination rates, GDP, you name it. Just about every
measurable aspect of the quality of life has flourished from The Miracle. Consider
just one story from our recent past. In 1924, the son of President Calvin
Coolidge got a blister on his foot while playing tennis on the White House lawn.
It got infected, and within a week he died! And that was the president’s son!
We’ve come a long way since then. Today, drugs as commonplace as penicillin can
wipe away infections that once killed Calvin Coolidge, Jr. But what about the
problems that still plague us today? Can’t things improve? Sure, of course they
can! We can get richer, we can solve many of these public policy problems that
plague us, but we can’t improve upon The Miracle’s core assumptions. For virtually
all our history, humans lived in small groups. Politics, religion, and economics
were all personal and tribal, defined by the group. Humans have a strong coalition
instinct that helps us forge alliances based on loyalty and reciprocity.
Every anti-capitalist political ideology believes that society should be like a
family, a tribe, a small community where everyone knows each other and works
together. Identity politics is just a subset of this worldview. It says, “My
tribe deserves more than your tribe.” The Miracle of the modern world requires
us to hold our tribalism in check. Think of it this way: Capitalism isn’t natural.
Democracy isn’t natural. Human rights aren’t natural! The only things that give
these institutions and ideas lasting power is our commitment to them. Nothing
prevents us from walking away except our own refusal to do so. Without effort,
civilization dies, because that is what civilization is: effort. That task isn’t
over, the work isn’t done, and it never will be! And anyone who wants to “improve”
upon the principles that made the miracle possible isn’t actually
interested in progress. Calvin Coolidge never got to see the technological
marvels that we have today, but he understood that the principles that made
the miracle possible were timeless. “If anyone wishes to deny their truth or
their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not
forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of
the individual, no rule of the people.” Thanks for watching. If you want to learn
more about my argument in my book, “Suicide of the West”, visit JonahGoldberg.com. Also, let us know what other topics you’d like AEI scholars to cover on
reThink Tank, and be sure to subscribe for more videos and research from AEI.