David Brooks

A Link And Some Thoughts: Phillip Blond At First Things-Politics After Liberalism

Blond reviews this book by John Milbank & Adrian Pabst: ‘The Politics Of Virtue: Post-Liberalism And The Human Future‘ (PDF here).

Is it necessary to reclaim secular idealism from many secular idealists?  Or at least, might it be necessary to provide an alternative to much unthinking liberal idealism which has come to govern many of our institutions?

Blond has ideas for conservatism in Great Britain, anyways:

‘Among the ideas that compete to determine the world’s future, one can count Catholicism, Islam, and (until recently) Marxism. But only one is dominant, hegemonic, and all-pervasive—liberalism.’

Blond’s apparent challenge to this form of liberalism is a return to the Catholic Church (if it ain’t exactly a neoclassical return to Platonic idealism):

Hmmmm….:

‘The Catholic Church must reenter the political fray, not as a chaplain to left or right but as the herald of a new order.’

As an American, let me offer a brief family anecdote:  I was raised by lapsed Catholics (Irish-Catholics mostly, thoroughly American, a little cynical, often skeptical and suspicious of authority).  In that spirit, perhaps the below offers some insight into why many Boomers might have drifted away from the Catholic Church if not always towards secular humanist ideals:

There’s a Catholic girls’ high-school weekend retreat with the nuns, and the girls and the nuns are having a decent time of it.  One of the girls is epileptic and starts to have seizures.  The situation gets pretty serious, and, unfortunately, the nuns don’t handle it too well.  In the telling, there’s much fear and diddling-around.  Confusion sets-in.  Time passes.  The girl with epilepsy is halfway-abandoned for a bit.  Although the poor girl eventually recovers, there’s a deeper suspicion of medical advancements lurking somewhere in the background.  The nuns manage to impress a parochial mediocrity; a lack of calm, actionable knowledge and understanding.

Frankly, many people are happy to hit young girls in the knuckles in order to reinforce metaphysical ideas and correct behavior, the truth or falsehood of the ideas long ago internalized and no longer questioned.  As long as many people get some kind of standing, purpose and security in the world, they’re happy to pay it forward.

As for me, I can’t say I don’t see a lot of parochial mediocrity and a lack of calm and knowledge in many federal bureaucracies these days (people with real power and authority over our lives, supposedly well-meaning).  This is to say nothing of corporate HR departments and amongst many academics and the media. Pay insufficient tribute to the latest moral idea, and become a member of a clear minority.   Refuse to gather around the high ideals and the increasingly complex rules that come with them (climate change, multiculturalism, diversity, human rights etc.) and be seen as morally suspect.

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This is why I tend to welcome critiques of liberalism, but also continued satire when it comes to the Catholic Church, too (it’d sure be nice to have equal application and some backbone when it comes to Islam, especially when cartoonists get murdered for cartoons).

That’s what satire is for.

It doesn’t seem like much has changed regarding human nature, either, least of all within the Church (nor the increasingly predictable, increasingly pathetic Boomer vilification of the Church).  Perhaps ‘love’ isn’t all you need.

Imagine critizing the radical discontents of the Left, which often drive the latest moral ideas within high-liberal thought; standing-up to some obviously contradictory and true-believing rightesousness?

***Beyond ‘strategic’ politics and philosophy, there are plenty of reasons like the rapid technological advancements and change going-on in our lives (genuine progress and a lot of choice in matters we haven’t always had).  There are many downward pressures from global marketplaces, supply chains and mobile labor, too.  Perhaps it’s harder to be local these days, and decent and derive the meaning one needs from friends, neighbors, and the kinds of constraints and rewards one has while living in the same place.

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Possibly related on this site:

Ken Minogue framed it thusly, and he believes there’s going to be some authority in your life, but you’ve got be particularly careful about which kind, and which rules govern that relationship with authority:

Full piece here:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

And:

‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and other forms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion.‘

From Fellini’s ‘Roma.’  Fellini presents a kind of sinister and surreal Papal fashion show.

At least it isn’t a ‘bunga-bunga‘ party (maybe don’t leave models of governance to modern Italy?).

David Brooks here.

On Blond:

“Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.”

Are we really in a Platonic decline, the kind of which required The Republic?:  Are you a gold, silver or bronze medalist?

That’s a little scary.

A Podcast From Britain: E30 | Dreaming The Future | Natalie Bennett, Phillip Blond, Roger Scruton

Quote found here——Kraut, Richard.  The Cambridge Companion to Plato. New York, NY:  Cambridge University Press, 1992.

“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis.  Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure.  In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup.  In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest.  Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.

Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides.  Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world.  This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”

Related On This Site:  Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Is there a causal connection between a move away from religion and the moral structure it provides….and a bigger state?From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes:  From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?

Some Anti-modernism:  From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington

 

Repost-Will Wilkinson At Forbes: ‘The Social Animal by David Brooks: A Scornful Review’

Full post here.

Wilkinson found the book lacking:

“The story of Harold and Erica does not really illustrate a new, coherent, science-based theory of human nature. It is a bowl hammered from Brooks’ philosophic predilections into which a jumbled stew of scientific anecdotes is poured.”

and:

“Brooks’ characters are constantly saying and thinking the sort of thing Brooks says and thinks in his opinion columns. They’re constantly made to express what are quite clearly elements of the author’s conception of human nature, sociality, and political life. But this stuff often has little or nothing to do with the “revolutionary” discoveries Brooks says he’s attempting to pull together into a coherent conception of human nature, sociality, and political life”

and:

“I suspect Brooks really does thinks thumos is an essential part of the best big-picture theory of human nature and the good society. But that’s an idea he took from the science-wary Allan Bloom and Harvey Mansfield, not Robert Trivers or David Buss or Geoffrey Miller.”

As before, perhaps it’s worth pointing out that the way in which Brooks goes about analyzing and understanding culture, our relationships to one another, our interior lives etc….is ostensibly through the lens of his understanding of the social sciences.  Perhaps he adds nothing new to the debate?

Charlie Rose has a full interview with Brooks and his new book.

A debate with Milton Friedman, a long time ago, and perhaps not so long ago:

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Also On This Site:  Part of a larger move away from religion…toward social liberalism…libertarianism…liberaltarianism?:  Will Wilkinson And Jonah Goldberg On Bloggingheads: Updating Libertarianism?…A hip, more diverse conservatism?: RealClearPolitics reviews Grand New Party here….From Will Wilkinson-A Response To Kay Hymowitz: ‘The “Menaissance” and Its Dickscontents’

Harvey Mansfield At Defining Ideas: ‘Democracy Without Politics?’

Morals have roots in emotions…neuroscience toward Hume?:  Jesse Prinz Discusses “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” On Bloggingheads

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

-Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

How Many Techno- And Bureaucrats Are Enough?-David Greene At NPR: ‘Rochester Focuses On A New Piece Of American Manufacturing’

Full piece here.

We’ve got holes where the jobs are and will be, holes where the people looking for jobs and passing through our education system can’t/aren’t able to fill some of the new jobs being created, and automation is going to make fewer manufacturing jobs in many fields, pound for pound.

Greene on the new business in an old manufacturing town:  Rochester, New York.

‘That said, this picture is far from perfect. You look at this factory: making incredible things with machines both old and new, but there’s almost no one here. The factory has more than 16,000 square feet, but only 80 people work here.’

Imagine some process with which you involve yourself daily:  Driving, for example.  Right now teams and teams of people are designing the hardware and software to automate that process, and some will make a healthy dollar doing so. Think about how important your mobile device has likely and/or could become in your life.

Now, imagine our founding fathers getting around:  Bumping over rough, dangerous roads over a period of many days, weeks and months, hearing of important news through the grapevine and horseback.

Activities in our lives which already consume much time, sweat and labor, or with which we often engage mindlessly/habitually etc. will continue to be made easier or simply done for us by new technology. That rate of change is pretty high at the moment.

New jobs are gong to come out of that process, but not always where and how many we think.

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As to NPR and keeping the activists from putting techno- and bureaucrats in charge: NPR has great production values, but their particular ideological preferences lead to less overall wealth and dynamism in the economy; an over-promising, under-delivering American government, or some Americanized version of European-style Statism sold as ‘private/public partnerships’ coming with lots of bloat, byzantine laws and bad incentives.

We can do better than that.

Warmed-over 60’s activism and Left-liberal populism often drives the car, and those along for the ride can be blind to how local politics actually functions, especially in our cities, and to many abuses of power and corruption that go hand-in-hand with politics across the political spectrum.

Often, I suspect that many NPR listeners are there for the culture, the quality of reporting, and the lack of advertisements.  Many listeners probably don’t pay particular attention to the deeper way in which events are being interpreted for them; the possible contradictions between their commitments and the activist, ideological base which often drives the next issue for debate.

Instead, there’s a lot of literature and poetry, an exposition of secular humanism and a rather modern liberal worldview, softly material, usually pushing environmentalist, feminist, and multicultural causes.

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Larry Summers via the Democracy Journal has an easily-accessible review of Piketty’s ‘Capital In The Twenty-First Century‘, called ‘The Inequality Puzzle.’

Among other interesting thoughts, there’s this.  Globalization is at play, as well:

‘…there is the basic truth that technology and globalization give greater scope to those with extraordinary entrepreneurial ability, luck, or managerial skill. Think about the contrast between George Eastman, who pioneered fundamental innovations in photography, and Steve Jobs. Jobs had an immediate global market, and the immediate capacity to implement his innovations at very low cost, so he was able to capture a far larger share of their value than Eastman. Correspondingly, while Eastman’s innovations and their dissemination through the Eastman Kodak Co. provided a foundation for a prosperous middle class in Rochester for generations, no comparable impact has been created by Jobs’s innovations’

Eastman Kodak is going through Chapter 11, as those Kodak innovations have been surpassed as well (I remember family gatherings around the slide projector, holding strays up to the light).

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The idea of Singapore is bandied about in the piece.

David Brooks-style NPR house conservative praise for authoritarian Singapore is at least a step in the right direction:  At least it isn’t Mao nostalgia but it’s still…pretty top-down and authoritarian.

You won’t buy or sell gum in Singapore, damn it.  And you’ll only chew it under doctor’s orders.

David Brooks got in on that action:

‘In places like Singapore and China, the best students are ruthlessly culled for government service. The technocratic elites play a bigger role in designing economic life. The safety net is smaller and less forgiving. In Singapore, 90 percent of what you get out of the key pension is what you put in. Work is rewarded. People are expected to look after their own’

Let’s be a little more autocratic, America, at least at the national level.  It’s just so we can compete and plan for the future.  Someone’s got to take hold of the meritocracy.

Get on board!:

‘The answer is to use Lee Kuan Yew means to achieve Jeffersonian ends — to become less democratic at the national level in order to become more democratic at the local level. At the national level, American politics has become neurotically democratic.’

That’s the father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.

We need to restrict freedoms in order to get more freedoms, you see.

We are getting a good look at the kinds of people NPRites are putting in power, and it ain’t pretty.

We can do better than that.

David Brooks, We Hardly Knew Ye-One Nation Under The Best & Brightest Long-Term Planners

Amongst many folks in the West, usually liberal, there’s been a healthy respect for top-down solutions to problems that some far-East authoritarian, paternalistic governments can impose on their generally less individually free populations. Climate-change knocking at your door?  Here’s high-speed rail. You’re welcome. Don’t ask questions.  You’re in post-Communist China.

Extra income floating around? Well, we liberalized the economy for you, so now you’re going to invest in real-estate until the bubble pops. You don’t know any better.

You won’t buy or sell gum in Singapore, damn it.  And you’ll only chew it under doctor’s orders.

David Brooks gets in on that action:

‘In places like Singapore and China, the best students are ruthlessly culled for government service. The technocratic elites play a bigger role in designing economic life. The safety net is smaller and less forgiving. In Singapore, 90 percent of what you get out of the key pension is what you put in. Work is rewarded. People are expected to look after their own’

Let’s be a little more autocratic, America, at least at the national level.  It’s just so we can compete and plan for the future.  Someone’s got to take hold of the meritocracy.

Get on board!:

‘The answer is to use Lee Kuan Yew means to achieve Jeffersonian ends — to become less democratic at the national level in order to become more democratic at the local level. At the national level, American politics has become neurotically democratic.’

That’s the father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.

We need to restrict freedoms in order to get more freedoms, you see.  The system’s broken.  American democracy is sick. The cure for too much democratic neurosis is putting the right people in charge and browsing at the buffet of global ideas.

We’ll be strong and healthy in no time.  It’s just for a little while.

I’d like to thank David Brooks for staying relevant to Times readers by synthesizing many of the authoritarian, technocratic and paternalistic impulses of Left-liberal sentiment into his national column (where everyone’s an ‘elite’, of course, in a purely democratic way). Brooks is doing a public service by showing us where many of those ideas can lead. The illiberal impulses which can’t be channeled through activism, ‘executive’ actions, and one-party rule can be redirected to autocratic solutions in a global marketplace.

Thanks Brooks, we hardly knew ye:

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Repost-Cass Sunstein At The New Republic: ‘Why Paternalism Is Your Friend’…At least with religious conservatives, they’re clear about moral claims to authority.  Sunstein’s got to create some space between the Bloomberg backlash and the totalitarians on the Left: Daddy’s Gonna Make You Do It

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Delving Into The Mind Of The Technocrat’

Anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian socialist and sometime blind supporter of lefty causes:  Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

 

Some Tuesday Political Links Heading Towards A Theme

Walter Russell Mead-‘News From Obama’s Home State

‘American liberalism today is in an advanced stage of intellectual decline. Cynical and short sighted interests wrap themselves in the increasingly tattered mantles of sacred ideas.’

David Brooks-The Upside Of Opportunism

‘The bottom line is this: If Obama wins, we’ll probably get small-bore stasis; if Romney wins, we’re more likely to get bipartisan reform. Romney is more of a flexible flip-flopper than Obama. He has more influence over the most intransigent element in the Washington equation House Republicans. He’s more likely to get big stuff done.’

Victor Davis Hanson-Why Liberals Think The Way They Do.

‘In short, twenty-first century elite liberalism has become a psychological condition, not a serious blueprint on how to solve real problems.’

Our politics are extremely contentious right now.  Does it follow that if liberalism is in decline then America is in decline?

Camille Paglia is a child of the 60’s, wants better art education and is suspicious of the liberal Statist turn, and the ease with which many liberals are comfortable with authoritarian solutions and groupthink from her perspective:

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Some Other Links:

California’s anti-immigration, anti-union Democrat: Full video and background on Mickey Kaus here.

Joel Kotkin on California’s demographic decline-Full post here.

Has the ground shifted beneath our feet…are we in decline and our politics can’t keep up….or just a period of rapid change?: Francis Fukuyama And Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘None Of The Above’

Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy’s entry On Liberalism.  I’m sure many liberals see matters differently.

Addition:  As a reader points out, liberalism may not be in decline.

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Related On This Site:  Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working.  Check out his series at The American Interest.  Technology is changing things rapidly, and maybe, as Charles Murray points out, it’s skewing the field toward high IQ positions while simultaneously getting rid of industrial, managerial, clerical, labor intensive office jobs.  Even so,  we can’t cling to the past.  This is quite a progressive vision but one that embraces change boldly.

Paglia and Nietzsche: Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss…relativism, multiculturalism and nihilism: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.New liberty away from Hobbes?: Repost-From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’  Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

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David Brooks At The NY Times: ‘Party Of Strivers’

Full piece here.

‘But there is a flaw in the vision the Republicans offered in Tampa. It is contained in its rampant hyperindividualism. Speaker after speaker celebrated the solitary and heroic individual. There was almost no talk of community and compassionate conservatism. There was certainly no conservatism as Edmund Burke understood it, in which individuals are embedded in webs of customs, traditions, habits and governing institutions’

Well, there’s the matter of battling against the current administration and its constituencies which generally seek to vastly increase the size and scope of government, bending the social contract toward collectivist ideals as well as their own interests.  Political favoritism, expanding bureaucratic control, and cronyism will naturally come with the territory.

A Burkean return to conservatism would be nice, but the rise of libertarianism in the U.S. usually coincides with the rise of particularly liberal administrations out of necessity.  Most of this administration’s defenders wish to define individuals as free from those customs, traditions, habits that are religious, or even practically conservative.

I do recall Ross Douthat floating the idea of getting back to basics for conservatives, away from individualism and the libertarians, which was likely preparation for the upcoming election (E.J. Dionne also suggested a return to community, but mostly to protect the current administration and “community” of the secular and Statist variety).

Libertarians and liberals share a broad swath of the same turf of liberty as a guiding ideal, and both mostly wish to drive change toward themselves and their ideals as seems natural to the human condition.  Libertarians, in my experience, think of themselves as the true classical liberals.  They see current liberals having gone down the path of excessive individualism and collectivism (liberals believing that institutions will guide and perfect the individual and they will run the institutions, thus increasing liberty….and for which they always promise more equality…at some point in the not too distant future).

Brooks finishes with:

‘Today’s Republican Party may be able to perform useful tasks with its current hyperindividualistic mentality. But its commercial soul is too narrow. It won’t be a worthy governing party until it treads the course Lincoln trod: starting with individual ambition but ascending to a larger vision and creating a national environment that arouses ambition and nurtures success.’

Fair enough, but for whom is David Brooks writing?

*** Food for thought:  A girl from Kansas makes her way to Seattle, then Hawaii, then Indonesia, on a trajectory away from the customs, traditions, habits and governing institutions for various ideological and personal reasons.   The Republican ticket promises to restore a government that works for the customs, traditions, habits from which she was likely running.

Related On This Site: Does all that sociological analysis naturally lead towards a more liberal political philosophy?: Will Wilkinson At Forbes: ‘The Social Animal by David Brooks: A Scornful Review’…Charlie Rose has a full interview with Brooks and his new bookDavid Brooks At The NY Times: ‘Why Our Elites Stink’From Darwinian Conservatism By Larry Arnhart: “Surfing Strauss’s Third Wave of Modernity

William Saletan and Ross Douthat At Slate: ‘Liberalism Is Stuck Halfway Between Heaven And Earth’…Douthat’s The Grand New PartyRoss Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Yes, Edmund Burke opposed the French Revolution: Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution..

Still reliving the 60’s?: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal:  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

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David Brooks At The NY Times: ‘Why Our Elites Stink’

Full piece here.

Brooks is responding to Chris Hayes’ book, which claims that our current crisis in leadership is due to the fatal flaws of meritocracy (to which Hayes’ cure is to lessen the income equality that results from the meritocratic arms race…with… more equality and more progressive policy solutions).   Here’s Brooks:

‘Through most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Protestant Establishment sat atop the American power structure. A relatively small network of white Protestant men dominated the universities, the world of finance, the local country clubs and even high government service.”

So, with what have we replaced that old boy network?  A meritocracy?  Identity politics and balkanized groups and incentives for politicians to stir those groups up? On Brooks analysis:

‘Today’s elite is more talented and open but lacks a self-conscious leadership code. The language of meritocracy (how to succeed) has eclipsed the language of morality (how to be virtuous).’

If so, you probably can’t get the virtue back with popular social science, or it would be a less religiously defined sense of virtue.  Hayes probably wants to define the social contract as one that will enshrine positive rights (equality, justice and the dread social justice).

Perhaps as a writer appealing to a popular audience at the Times, Brooks is realizing there is a lot of popular discontent with the current leadership and Hayes provides a platform with which to view it.

Other factors potentially at work:

  • On some analyses, we are working toward the end of a period of unique American economic dominance.  Global competition is putting downward pressure upon us all, to some extent. We’re still adapting and better suited than nearly everyone to do so, however, as long as we don’t copy Old Europe and stagnate our economy.
  • The rise of the tech industry (which is not necessarily run by the old boy’s network, but shares some of its ethos) and the move of quants to Wall Street.  We’re undergoing what is essentially a technological revolution.
  • The end of a period of excessive American individualism, which has put great strain upon our institutions as we the people become increasingly skeptical of any rules, authority and the basic requirements and duties democratic institutions require of we the people, as Brooks points out.

My two cents on this Sunday.  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

**This reminds me of Louis Menand’s analysis of American higher education a while back.  Ever more inclusion until we can’t any longer.  On this site, see: Louis Menand At The New Yorker: ‘Live And Learn: Why We Have College’

**Progressive policy goals typically end up with a class of elites, a dependent class in their wake, and usually less equality as eventually you run out of other people’s money to fund the state that oversees all of the equality-making.  Less freedom for greater numbers of people is usually the result, meritocracy or not ((and in a true progressive paradise…definitely not)).

Also Related On This Site:  Charles Murray trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People…Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…

Don’t get Borked, at least if you’re openly religious and aiming for higher office:  Bork had his own view of the 1960′s: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Walter Russell Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working.  Check out his series at The American Interest.  He has a big vision with some holes in it, but it’s one that embraces change boldly.

Fareed Zakaria BBC Interview: America In Decline?…Richard Lieber’s not necessarily convinced:  Richard Lieber In The World Affairs Journal–Falling Upwards: Declinism, The Box Set.

Will Wilkinson At Forbes: ‘The Social Animal by David Brooks: A Scornful Review’…Charlie Rose has a full interview with Brooks and his new book.

Will Wilkinson At Forbes: ‘The Social Animal by David Brooks: A Scornful Review’

Full post here.

Wilkinson finds the book lacking:

“The story of Harold and Erica does not really illustrate a new, coherent, science-based theory of human nature. It is a bowl hammered from Brooks’ philosophic predilections into which a jumbled stew of scientific anecdotes is poured.”

Well, Brooks is a fairly conservative (moderately, as I’ve heard it put by those who no longer read his pieces at the NY Times) cultural critic with an interest in the social sciences.  Wilkinson continues:

“Brooks’ characters are constantly saying and thinking the sort of thing Brooks says and thinks in his opinion columns. They’re constantly made to express what are quite clearly elements of the author’s conception of human nature, sociality, and political life. But this stuff often has little or nothing to do with the “revolutionary” discoveries Brooks says he’s attempting to pull together into a coherent conception of human nature, sociality, and political life”

and:

“I suspect Brooks really does thinks thumos is an essential part of the best big-picture theory of human nature and the good society. But that’s an idea he took from the science-wary Allan Bloom and Harvey Mansfield, not Robert Trivers or David Buss or Geoffrey Miller.”

As before, perhaps it’s worth pointing out that the way in which Brooks goes about analyzing and understanding culture, our relationships to one another, our interior lives etc….is ostensibly through the lens of his understanding of the social sciences.  Perhaps he adds nothing new to the debate?

Charlie Rose has a full interview with Brooks and his new book.

Also On This Site:  Part of a larger move away from religion…toward social liberalism…libertarianism…liberaltarianism?:  Will Wilkinson And Jonah Goldberg On Bloggingheads: Updating Libertarianism?…A hip, more diverse conservatism?: RealClearPolitics reviews Grand New Party here….From Will Wilkinson-A Response To Kay Hymowitz: ‘The “Menaissance” and Its Dickscontents’

Morals have roots in emotions…neuroscience toward Hume?:  Jesse Prinz Discusses “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” On Bloggingheads

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

-Does Leo Strauss effectively offer a way around what he saw as an uncessary removal of religious thinking from moral philosophy…do you need the esotericism?:  Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’

-Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

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David Brooks At The New Yorker: ‘Social Animal’

Full essay here.

“Over the past few decades, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and others have made great strides in understanding the inner working of the human mind. Far from being dryly materialistic, their work illuminates the rich underwater world where character is formed and wisdom grows. They are giving us a better grasp of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, predispositions, character traits, and social bonding, precisely those things about which our culture has least to say. Brain science helps fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy.”

Brooks, aside from being termed moderately conservative, is deeply interested in the social sciences, and I think that last sentence in the quotation displays one of the deeper underlying currents at play.  The piece, while thoughtful, seems a bit overdone in places.   Theology is not necessarily in vogue, and I’m not sure what he means by philosophy not filling the hole, other than that he thinks it is not a major influence on the public mind.  Is there a larger move afoot now, away from organized religion, and does it inexorably pull people away from religious morality and toward social liberalism?

Related On This Site:  Repost-From The NY Times: David Brooks On Simon Schama’s New Book-’Mirror On America’

-Leo Strauss argues that this value free hedonism was a from of gentle nihilsim inherent in waves of modernity in Western thought, and we need anchors against it:  Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’Via An Emailer: Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss?

-Jesse Prinz argues that morals too, have roots in emotions, and argues that evo-psy/cog-sci should get back to British Empiricism, with some Nietzsche thrown in, among other things-More On Jesse Prinz. A Review Of “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” At Notre DameJesse Prinz Discusses “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” On Bloggingheads.Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”

Natural Law philosophy has another take on individual responsibility, economic liberty and morality: From Bloggingheads: Robert Wright And Robert P George Discuss Natural Law

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Repost-From The NY Times: David Brooks On Simon Schama’s New Book-‘Mirror On America’

Full piece here.

Schama’s book ‘The American Future:  A History‘ here.

Brooks places the book in a long line of “brilliant books,” which by his definition would be:

“…the sort of book written by a big thinker who comes to capture the American spirit while armed only with his own brilliance.”

Or more precisely:  intellectually ambitious if not pretentious, and doomed to failure in dealing with the scope of its subject.   Only Alexis De Tocqueville perhaps reached the bar he set for himself in Brooks’ opinion.  This hasn’t stopped others from trying.

There’s some run-of-the-mill left-bashing here, as Brooks is casting Schama’s in the mold of Bernhard Henri-Levy’s ‘American Vertigo’ (review here at the NY Mag Of Books, the “anti-anti”American).

Also:

In the 1980s, Jean Baudrillard came armed with Theory and set the modern standard by dropping puerile paradoxes from coast to coast: “Americans believe in facts, but not in facticity.” Brilliant! “Here in the most conformist society the dimensions are immoral. It is this immorality that makes distance light and the journey infinite, that cleanses the muscles of their tiredness.” Brilliant!.”

Such quotes serve to highlight Brooks’ point:  Those who have tackled the subject often comically reveal their own limits, the limits of their own thinking and experience, and of their chosen mediums.   Brooks should know, as he does have a penchant for trying to paint big, somewhat cultural, political, and sociological pictures of American life.   Yet, as Schama in particular demonstrates, there are some things he does very well despite his assumptions.  In fact, I think he and others are as much trying to address the assumptions and opinions of their own people as much as their subject.

They just may not, perhaps, capture the “spirit of America.”

Related On This SiteSimon Schama’s Power of Art..Scott McLemee At ‘The Nation’ On Bernhard Henri-Levi: Darkness Becomes Him

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