Mr. Brooks in his essay of January 30, 2012 regarding Libertarian Scholar Charles Murray and his latest book “Coming Apart” entitled The Great Divorce, has words of praise for his analysis of our present economic condition, through the lens that Mr. Murray provides. Mr. Brooks asserts that it is the most important book of the year. Although a critical reader might just be a bit doubtful about the Murray credentials as scholar, The Bell Curve being an example of a well defined ideological use of data, toward a political end. Does any reader have an obligation to treat Mr. Murray and his intellectual champion, Mr. Brooks with a high degree of caution and skepticism? I must admit that I always treat the essays of Mr. Brooks as propaganda: he fills his essays with such beguilingly ambiguous language that has an appeal that transcends political boundaries, e.g. ‘political reform’, ‘tax reform’, ‘moral renewal’, ‘personal responsibility’ etc., it contributes to the notion that Mr. Brooks possesses a high degree of moral/political seriousness.
Mr. Brooks is obsessed with out-of-wedlock births as a measure of declining American morality and with breathtakingly reductive notions of ‘upper tribe’ as opposed to ‘lower tribe’ conduct. Please note, the argumentative outcome is a foregone conclusion, all measures indicated as important to social stability and moral maintenance are middle class values of stability, wedded to the important value of sexual chastity, at least in the Conservative world view. Being that the ‘upper tribe’ values are determinative in this rhetorical context, of the necessary cultivation of public morality as imagined by Mr. Brooks aided by his ideological ally Mr. Murray then,
in sum, the ‘upper tribe’ needs to teach the ‘lower tribe’ how to live, in the reductive terms that Mr. Brooks so loves, by a government forced association. This seems like a complete deviation from anything resembling ‘Conservatism’, least of all it’s Libertarian expression. But let me quote from the essay to provide some definitional frame:
“The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids.”
“Members of the lower tribe work hard and dream big, but are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms. They live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.”
For this all to make something resembling coherence, one need only think of the ‘upper tribe’ as the 1% and the ‘lower tribe’ as the 99%.Then it becomes a matter of the ‘elites’ assuming their natural place of moral/economic superiority as teachers of the ‘lower order’. What is proving so frustrating to Mr. Brooks is that not many are listening to these preachments of an unsurprising Social Darwinism masqurading as Conservatism.