At The New York Times: Political Cynic reads ©BrooksMerde: ‘How to Repair Moral Capital’

At first the reader is not informed what ‘Moral Capital’ is, the what of its meaning is and remains suggestive, but just out of comprehension’s reach. Mr. Brooks assumes, that the reader knows by some process, what this phantom idea is! Framed in the Neo-Liberal jargon of The Market. Yet it simply looks like a catch phrase in lieu of actual thought, in sum, a cliche that stands on its own, yet expresses a useful capaciousness. There and not there, at the same moment. Brooks plays with that ambiguity. The question of the how of the ‘repair’ of ‘Moral Capital’ is, as I read it never addressed  A selection of  sentences from the Brooks essay helps the reader locate and define his propaganda, sans the ersatz and windy rhetorical garnish.

Clinton gave three masterful answers in the debate Wednesday night that were tonally different from her normal clichés.

Clinton’s answers were given in a slow and understated manner, but they were marked by moral passion, clarity and quiet contempt.

They were spoken from the point of view of a parent, which is the point of view Michelle Obama frequently uses.

The politician is focused on individual interest, but the parent is interested in the shared social, economic and moral environment.

It’s becoming ever clearer that the nation’s moral capital is being decimated, and the urgent challenge is to name that decimation and reverse it.

Mr. Brooks and Mrs. Clinton are paternalists, yet the contradiction that Neo-Liberals face is that the Market is the only real knowledge worthy of consideration, in a world made up of entrepreneurs, so morality and any other belief not consonant with that Market Theology is null set, as the mathematicians say. Or more pointedly heretical.

What the reader has been waiting for that elusive definition of ‘Moral Capital’:

Moral capital is the set of shared habits, norms, institutions and values that make common life possible. Left to our own, we human beings have an impressive capacity for selfishness. Unadorned, the struggle for power has a tendency to become barbaric. So people in decent societies agree on a million informal restraints — codes of politeness, humility and mutual respect that girdle selfishness and steer us toward reconciliation.

In sum, Mr. Brooks is a Calvinist of a very particular Neo-Conservative/Neo-Liberal kind. The above could and would be called Ethics and Morality, in a setting and in a ‘thinker’ not hobbled by the reductivism codified by the Mont Pelerin Society nihilists!

‘This year Trump is dismantling those restraints one by one.’

How is it possible for one man to dismantle an over two thousand year old moral/ethical Tradition? It is the purest hyperbole!

By lying more or less all the time, he dismantles the fealty to truth without which conversation is impossible.

More hyperbole, the as if being that Trump ‘dismantles fealty to truth’. Call this preposterous. We are political/moral actors, and Trump does not determine how we live and interact in our shared civic space!  We live in the Commonwealth not The Market.

Mr. Brooks loathes Trump and designates Mrs. Clinton the paternalist of choice.

Two final considerations:

The sad fact is that in the realm of common life, gnats can undo the work of giants. “Moral communities are fragile things, hard to build and easy to destroy,” Jonathan Haidt writes in his book “The Righteous Mind.” “When we think about very large communities such as nations, the challenge is extraordinary and the threat of moral entropy is intense.”

On the question of Mr. Haidt’s  ‘The Righteous Mind’, see Chris Hedges’ review of that book at truthdig:  Mr. Hedges is blunt about what Mr. Brooks finds admirable in Haidt:

Haidt, although he has a refreshing disdain for the Enlightenment dream of a rational world, fares no better than other systematizers before him. He too repeatedly departs from legitimate science, including social science, into the simplification and corruption of science and scientific terms to promote a unified theory of human behavior that has no empirical basis. He is stunningly naive about power, especially corporate power, and often exhibits a disturbing indifference to the weak and oppressed. He is, in short, a Social Darwinian in analyst’s clothing. Haidt ignores the wisdom of all the great moral and religious writings on the ethical life, from the biblical prophets to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, to the Sermon on the Mount, to the Quran and the Bhagavad Gita, which understand that moral behavior is determined by our treatment of the weakest and most vulnerable among us. It is easy to be decent to your peers and those within your tribe. It is difficult to be decent to the oppressed and those who are branded as the enemy.

Haidt, who is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, is an heir of Herbert Spencer, who coined the term “survival of the fittest” and who also attempted to use evolution to explain human behavior, sociology, politics and ethics. Haidt, like Spencer, is dismissive of those he refers to as “slackers,” “leeches,” “free riders,” “cheaters” or “anyone else who ‘drinks the water’ rather than carries it for the group.” They are parasites who should be denied social assistance in the name of fair play. The failure of liberals, Haidt writes, to embrace this elemental form of justice, which he says we are hard-wired to adopt, leaves them despised by those who are more advanced as moral human beings. He chastises liberals, whom he sees as morally underdeveloped, for going “beyond the equality of rights to pursue equality of outcomes, which cannot be obtained in a capitalist system.”

It appears that Haidt and Brooks are of like minds on the question of “slackers,” “leeches,” “free riders,” “cheaters” or “anyone else who ‘drinks the water’ rather than carries it for the group.” Call them both Randians, after Ayn Rand!

What follows is the Brooks view on what the future of America might be politically:

In other words, it should be possible to be conservative on macroeconomics, liberal on immigration policy, traditionalist on moral and civic matters, Swedish on welfare state policies, and Reaganesque on America’s role in the world.

Political Cynic


About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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