The Midwives of Trump, episode DCCLIV: David Brooks on Political Idolatry. Philosophical Apprentice comments

Before I begin to comment on Mr. Brooks’ current essay the reader might just begin at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and its entry on Francis Bacon, and its entry 3.1 and sub-entries of 1 through 4. To refresh the reader on Bacon’s concept of Idols:

3.1.1 Idols of the Tribe

3.1.2 Idols of the Cave

3.1.3 Idols of the Market Place

3.1.4 Idols of the Theatre

Mr. Brooks lacks historical and philosophical breadth, he defines the notion of the  American parochial,  so to begin with Bacon assists the reader, in the  recognition of that lack of historical/philosophical breadth. Brooks parses Idolatry, as in the end self-defeating, an expression of nihilism, or just the hope of salvation through material goods, as ill fated. Brooks’ analysis of Idolatry is religious in nature, its the usual Protestant Party Line of tent preacher Billy Graham, or even of the loathsome Calvinism of Christian Realist Reinhold Niebuhr.

The pallid introductory paragraphs on Richard Linklater’s movie Boyhood are almost irrelevant, except that it is wreathed in a kind of nostalgia that appeals to the American Conservative sensibility, although not so roseate in the film.

Mr. Brooks’ ‘evolution’ from Neo-Conservatism to ‘Public Moralist’ is so awash in self-congratulation, and an ersatz humility, its hard to bear his chatter. But Mr. Brooks is more given to mild public scoldings, not quite in the mold of a Sunday Sermon from my youth at St Paul’s Lutheran, but more muted than the ‘Youth Night’ sermons at the Baptist church.

If politics is going to get better we need better myths, unifying ones that are built on social equality. But we also need to put politics in its place. The excessive dependence on politics has to be displaced by the expulsive power of more important dependencies, whether family, friendship, neighborhood, community, faith or basic life creed.

Better myths!? Quite plainly Mr. Brooks as Neo-Conservative political writer/propagandist never stood for anything like ‘social equality’, he claimed the territory of the Platonic Guardian, via Strauss and his American coterie,  rather than the social prophet and moralist of his present ‘evolution‘.

To be a moderate is to be at war with idolatry. It’s to believe that we become free as we multiply and balance our attachments. It’s to believe that our politics probably can’t be fixed by political means. It needs repair of the deeper communal bonds that politics rest on, and which political conflict cannot heal.

As one of the Trump Midwives, Mr. Brooks now claims the territory of the ‘moderate’, that might describes that amalgam of Neo-Liberalism and Neo-Conservatism that is the present political center of American politics. Note, that Mr. Brooks reaches a startling conclusion, that  leads to this conundrum or just call it nihilism!

It’s to believe that our politics probably can’t be fixed by political means.

Those ‘deep communal bonds’ that are in need of repair, as Mr. Brooks argues it, and holds in such high esteem, in the political present of Trump and Trumpism, are the very ones that he made war against his whole career.  Should the reader identify Mr. Brooks’ ‘turn’ as the product of satori?

Philosophical Apprentice



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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