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Summary

William F. Buckley, Jr., perhaps best described the importance of this seminal work when he said, "James Burnham has written a book about Liberalism for which the world has been aching. It is worth more to the West than the year’s gross national product, more than all the planes and bombs…."

Through studious research into past civilizations, Burnham diagnoses the 20th century and finds it afflicted with destructive, even "suicidal" tendencies - all of which arise from the “Liberal syndrome” and its inherent applications.

The book explores several important questions, including why Liberalism clashes with Christianity and how Liberalism is a root cause of race riots and the rapid growth in crime. For James Burnham, who died in 1986, this book is certainly one of his greatest legacies.

©1985 1986 by James Burnham (P)1988 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic reviews

"This somber, brilliantly written book attempts to fix the blame for the suicidal ‘contraction of the West’ over the last fifty years upon Liberalism, chiefly in the United States…It is at the same time a venture into the philosophy of history and an indictment of those responsible for the present disastrous plight of once triumphant Western civilization." ( National Review)

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What listeners say about Suicide of the West

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I cannot listen to anymore

The author's argument is one-sided and dubious. He creates a syndrome called the liberal syndrome, which has both left and right leaning tendencies. He blames the syndrome for giving all without calculation while at the same time restricting liberty and destroying foundations of value. He gives statements of fact which are either disputed, inaccurate or untrue. He did use examples which explained clearly how he saw ideology. This was terrible book

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Thoroughly dated and quite frankly, not very good

As others have pointed out, it is very one sided, and doesn't really seem to know where it is going. Should we be going left? Should we be going right?
Several assertions are easily disprovable, and laughable that they were asserted in the first place.

The performance of the narrator was top-notch though.

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Dated by both analysis and overt racism

James Burnham has some interesting phrases and and articulates his point of view well, but as a view in the year 2022 it’s repugnant, full of lazy biases, misplaced assumptions (we will never be able to generate enough food to feed the world) and post colonial/civil rights era fear of erosion of status that borders on fascistic.

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Absolute eye opener

This book is simply a must read. It brilliantly demonstrates how the dominance of liberal notions and ideas are the root of practically everything that is wrong with the modern west, and how it will ultimately lead to it's suicide. Well written, in language which is clear and easy to understand, Burnham manages to simplify the complex issues into something perfectly digestible. Regardless of your personal ideological position, do yourself a favor an read this book. Especially if you are in fact a liberal. If so, this book is like helping a fish realize the nature of the waters within which it swims. A nature that it never noticed before. READ IT!!

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Out of date but still prescient.

I thought this had been published in 2013 but it is decades old. Still prescient though.

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  • G.W.
  • 19-11-20

Woefully outdated and uncomfortable

As a conservative I found this painful to listen to and not at all prescient about the future. He has a few good points mixed in, but his repeated returns to racism as a conservative value are extremely uncomfortable and his fear that the Soviet Union would bury the West was long ago disproven. He seemed to believe the West was only strong when it had political and military control over a growing segment of the world. He fails to see that it is western ideology that is its strength and that as this spreads, the West continues to benefit. In the end, he wore the same blinders he accused the liberals of wearing.

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  • John
  • 12-11-12

The Future is Now!

What made the experience of listening to Suicide of the West the most enjoyable?

Suicide of the west should be looked at by Western Free market Libertarians as Nostradamus's quatrains. Look at the world events we see now, the collapse of European parliamentary democracy’s crumble under the weight of debt created by the liberal policies of social idealism.

What did you like best about this story?

The book was written in 1964 a year before I was born and this great book has been out there all this time. I glad I found it and thanks to Audible for having it.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Jonathan Swan
  • 06-10-18

Cogent analysis of liberalism that remains relevant today.

Burnham’s Suicide of the West presents a cogent argument for liberalism as one of the expressions of the contraction (“suicide”) of the west. He presents his analysis of liberalism in its essential attitudes and beliefs from a variety of angles and with compelling prose.

While the book was written in 1964, it is still relevant in explaining the phenomenon of liberalism, what many would now call “leftist progressivism.” The present political situation in America is largely a result of the “liberal ideology” Burnham so expertly exposits in this book.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Timothy M.
  • 18-09-20

amazing

the examples are dated but the themes are timeless
I enjoyed it greatly
I need 15 words

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  • Dan Greene
  • 23-01-18

A message from the past explaining why we are here

A must read if you want to understand why and how the US (and the West) is being destroyed by a demented ideology called Liberalism. Get it!!!

2 people found this helpful

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  • Seth T
  • 27-08-21

The Truth is simple: isn't that a double lie?

If you are a stalwart communist or progressive, you very well may be off put by this author's anti-idealism.

Furthermore, his race and ethnic realism, though not explicitly racist, may be uncomfortable to some.

However, you cannot deny his lucidity and accuracy regarding what it means to be a liberal, and how such a belief affects the mind of one who believes in such ideals. He even chronicles the transition from classical liberalism to modern progressivism.

Overall, if you are a conservative, classical liberal who dislikes progressivism, or a culturally conservative realist libertarian, this is a must listen. And for those of you who are otherwise politically: it might be useful to listen to a critique of you viewpoints from the standpoint of an agnostic realist and former communist.

For those of you who are centrist or undecided politically, I'm sure there are a handful of better books, but this is a decent listen and definitely worth your time. You will appreciate the agnostic viewpoint and independent nature of his commentary -- especially near the beginning.

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  • John M Bryant
  • 31-03-21

Straw man argument crying over loss of old-style power

Fails to define liberalism (von Mises, does not appear), setting up straw man argument. Valid complaints about the contradictions of liberalism (I’m no fan of the version he attacks) and other shortcomings of particular liberal views, but no alternatives, no relation to the founding principles of the enlightenment, or argument why those should be abandoned.

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  • Katherine
  • 11-02-21

Militant Racism

We would not have to worry about WWIII any more if men with beliefs like this author infected our morals and ran our country we'd be fighting WWIV with sticks and stones.

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  • I am No Expert
  • 21-05-18

A little dated, still very good ref. point

As the title mentions this is a very good reference point. However is a bit dated and needs to be updated with current examples. On the other side, this is one of the few factual documents about the left vs right discussions going on in the world.

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  • Jamie Lamb
  • 16-06-22

Very important

If you could only read one book this whole year, read this one. 1970’s and Burnham already sees that the train has jumped the shark.