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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.

1 person found this helpful

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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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  • 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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  • 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.

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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!!!

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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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  • 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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  • Joshua
  • 21-07-21

Could have been written today, but were too dumb

A modern diagnosis with this much clarity is not possible because on the whole were far dumber today than the original intended audience and author.

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  • Pattif27
  • 23-04-21

Wow!

Prophetic damnation of many current American policies.Concerning critique of liberal democracy and its ideological foundations.

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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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  • Alex
  • 27-03-21

Very interesting, but also a bit out of date

I read this after listening to Burnham's fascinating book 'The Machiavellians', from which I barely got the sense that he is conservative (perhaps a classical liberal). I did not expect a polemic against (modern) liberalism based on the title.

There are some very interesting and original ideas in the book. The book was written in 1964, but the author remarked on the sense of guilt that liberals have. We now see this in new forms, but originally it was based on class and in attitudes towards the Third World. A lot of things that people think are new, are not really new, but have just really spread, while manifesting itself in new ways.

Another very interesting idea is that liberalism is an ideology that reconciles people to the decline of their civilization, by reframing it in a way that can be seen as positive.

Now, some notable issues on which it may be out of date. Some people view this work as racism. But that is being blinded by presentism. Burnham did not say that no change was necessary on racial issues, only that this change should not be sudden and revolutionary, but steady and in a way that allows people to adjust. That was a perfectly legitimate point of view, in fact, the conservative point of view in 1964. In fact, he takes a very empirical stance on racial issues, and attacks both people who exclusively attribute racial differences to one race being worse, as well as people who exclusively attribute them to victimization.

What has aged most poorly is the attitude towards the Cold War. The Kennedy administration is criticized in the book for having been soft on communism. In retrospect, we knew how close we came to a nuclear war over the Cuban Missile Crisis, so I would say it was just soft enough. All the more reason for historians to stick to history, instead of trying to comment on current events.

All in all, an interesting listen, and not just for its historical value. But realize that it is a critique. It focuses almost exclusively on the negative. It does not even pretend to be even-handed, objective or to give liberalism credit for the good things that it has done.