In the Book of Isaiah, “the remnant” refers to a small group of Israelites who will survive the invasion of the Assyrian army and one day be returned to the Promised Land: “A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God.” A recurring concept throughout the Hebrew Bible, the remnant signifies those faithful few chosen by God to rebuild in the wake of catastrophe. The remnant are the ones who remain and keep the faith.
“The Remnant” is also the name of a podcast hosted by National Review senior editor and prominent never-Trump conservative Jonah Goldberg. The weekly interview show is a refuge for figures on the right who’ve declined the Trumpian Kool Aid—or at least only gingerly sipped it. For Goldberg, the relevant “remnant” is the one described by the libertarian essayist Albert Jay Nock in his 1936 Atlantic Monthly article, “Isaiah’s Job,” in which he outlined the task of the freedom-loving thinker in a time of rampant statism. The prophet of liberty, Nock wrote, should not tailor his message to “the masses”; rather, he should preach to that “substratum of right-thinking and well-doing” elites who will hear his message, bear its truths, and wait until society is ready to correct course, at which time their wisdom will once again be called upon.
In many ways, Nock is an ideal avatar for never-Trumpists like Goldberg. Despite the humiliating defeat of their preferred candidates in the 2016 Republican primary, the paltry public support for Paul Ryan’s austerity gospel, and Trump’s sturdy approval among self-identified conservatives, these figures nonetheless believe their vision will eventually prevail. For Nock, the absence of widespread public support for his ideas was itself evidence of their virtue. Likewise, for never-Trump conservatives, the absence of a discernable constituency for their brand of “classical liberalism” is evidence of a sickness in society—not of a problem with classical liberalism itself. Society has lost its way. But the remnant is listening, keeping the faith. One day, America will recognize its error, eschew populism, and champion the policy agenda of the American Enterprise Institute.
This is the vision offered in Goldberg’s elaborately subtitled new book, Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy. An improbable bestseller, Goldberg’s book has already been heralded as a modern classic by his conservative peers. Despite the timing of its release, it’s not exactly a book about Trump. Instead, it offers a sweeping defense of the liberal capitalist ideas that have fallen perilously out of fashion. His premise is simple: liberal democracy and market capitalism emerged miraculously in the nineteenth century because of an “unprecedented transformation in the way humans thought about the world and their place in it.” Today, that Miracle (his capitalization) is endangered by populists of the left and the right who lack sufficient gratitude for our ideological inheritance—or an appreciation for the tenuousness of the society it undergirds.
Goldberg finds the origins of the Miracle in the philosophy of John Locke. These new Lockean virtues—“the idea that the individual is sovereign; that our rights come from God, not government; that the fruits of our labors belong to us; and that no man should be less equal before the law because of his faith or class”—ignited, for the first time in history, the engine of human ingenuity. America’s founding documents universalized those values, nominally extending them to all men.