On the intellectual dishonesty of David Brooks. Almost Marx comments

Just the first paragraph of Mr. Brooks January 11, 2018 essay exemplifies his methodology:

Everybody agrees society is in a bad way, but what exactly is the main cause of the badness? Some people emphasize economic issues: The simultaneous concentration of wealth at the top and the stagnation in the middle has delegitimized the system. People like me emphasize cultural issues. If you have 60 years of radical individualism and ruthless meritocracy, you’re going to end up with a society that is atomized, distrustful and divided.

Everybody agrees society is in a bad way,… Who and where is the ‘everybody’ he speaks of? That ‘everybody’  is Mr. Brooks’ self-projection.

Then he searches for the main cause of this ‘bad way‘. ‘Some people emphasize economic issues:’ . Mr. Brooks was a enthusiastic advocate/apologist for the Neo-Liberal dispensation, who lacks the honesty to admit the catastrophic consequences of his long held position.

He provides something resembling the historically verifiable facts: ‘The simultaneous concentration of wealth at the top and the stagnation in the middle has delegitimized the system.’ Brooks repeats the winning  Occupy Wall Street description of our dismal political/economic present: The 1% vs 99%.

People like me emphasize cultural issues. In the face of the collapse of the Neo-Liberal Mirage and its successor Austerity , Mr. Brooks experiences a ‘turn’- the imperative here is to construct a credible self-apologetic- in sum, he re-creates himself as a Political Moralist. As a form of denial of responsibility for the 2008 Depression that produced our dismal present.

Mr. Brooks, then,  provides a ‘Conservative’ diagnosis of the problem we face:  If you have 60 years of radical individualism and ruthless meritocracy, you’re going to end up with a society that is atomized, distrustful and divided. The frame for Mr. Brooks’ essay expands to include ‘ 60 years of radical individualism’ : where does the old American catch phrase ‘rugged individualism‘ stand in relation to ‘radical individualism’ ?  So enters the rootless nihilist ‘Left’ into the argument, as part of the phantom that again metastasizes to embrace the ‘ruthless meritocracy’. Please note that Mr. Brooks became the protege of Wm. F. Buckley Jr.! What more proof does the reader need, to come to the realization,  that our writer was a beneficiary of that very system?  Perhaps he is wagering that some of his readers are unaware of his personal history?

Mr. Brooks then dons the garb of the ‘Committed Sociologists’ : ‘…  you’re going to end up with a society that is atomized, distrustful and divided.’ Living in an economy that has yet to experience one of the central tenets of the Neo-Liberal Mythology, the ‘revelation’ of The Self-correcting Market, a political class composed of  a Republican Party dominated by a pervasive Plantation Mentality, by New Democrats, who have abandoned The New Deal Legacy, for the advocacy/defense of a rabid Corporatism. And both Parties in the thrall of the imperatives of the National Security State and its War on Terror. And a domestic scene dominated by Police murders left unpunished i.e. that War on Terror has its  domestic corollary.

Mr. Brooks takes the title of his essay from Jean Francoise Revel’s Cold War potboiler of the same name. Published in America in 1983. Read Fritz Stern’s 1985 capsule review at Foreign Affairs:

A bitter indictment of Western democracies, especially Europe’s, for failing to understand and to counter Soviet expansionism. Revel, a well-known journalist and analyst of the totalitarian temptation, believes that both systems, Soviet communism and Western democracy, are probably doomed: “but [the Soviet] corpse . . . can drag us with it into the grave.” According to Revel, the Soviets have the will to dominate the world, will use every instrument at their command and, in addition, can count on Western complicity or acquiescence. He doubts that democracy can defend itself-a pernicious sentiment, proven neither by the historical record nor by close analysis. There is much to ponder in this book about the Soviets and our difficulties in countering them, but apodictic statements about the self-destroying passions of the West seem overdone. In the Reagan-Thatcher-Kohl era it seems odd to conclude: “Unlike the Western leadership, which is tormented by remorse and a sense of guilt, Soviet leaders’ consciences are perfectly clear, which allows them to use brute force with utter serenity both to preserve their power at home and to extend it abroad.”

For so pessimistic a theme, the book is remarkably sprightly, a premature, sardonic obituary. Facile, alarming, probably symptomatic, the book should provoke readers to look for other works that help to clarify what Revel rightly diagnoses as the central problem of the next decades: Will Western democracies survive, will they escape war and servitude?


Or this part of a review of Mr. Revel’s Democracy Against Itself The Future of the Democratic Impulse by Michiko Kakutani from 1993:

In his last book, “How Democracies Perish” (1984), the French political analyst Jean-Francois Revel wrote, “Democracy may, after all, turn out to have been a historical accident, a brief parenthesis that is closing before our eyes.” Of Communism and the Soviet empire, he wrote: “None of the classic concepts that make the past intelligible explains Communist imperialism. It does not follow the bell-shaped expansionist curve of previous empires. Yet the democracies persist in believing it will decline of itself and inevitably grow more moderate. The longer Soviet Communism lasts, the more expansionist it becomes and the more difficult it is to control.”

Since that book appeared, of course, the Soviet Union has dissolved, the Berlin wall has fallen and the cold war seems to have come to a screeching halt. What does Mr. Revel make of these developments? In his new book, “Democracy Against Itself,” he does an about-face and asserts: “Democracy is not only conceivable, it is inevitable. It has been indispensable, but until now it was not inevitable.”

In another chapter, Mr. Revel praises Francis Fukuyama, the author of “The End of History and the Last Man,” writing that “the whole world is aware by now of the superiority of liberal democracy as a political and social system,” an observation that must surely come as a surprise, say, to the rulers of Cuba or Iraq.


The commonalities between Revel and Brooks are perhaps not fully established , but the reader is confronted with a strong ideological resonance! The ‘review’ that Mr. Brooks offers of Mr. Daneen’s book is both a vulgarization and trivialization of the practice.  In sum it is a provocation, that expresses a carefully laundered  form of Neo-Conservative Declinism, its penultimate thought, expressed as kitsch, masquerading as telling insight:

Right now, there are community healers in towns and cities concretely living out the liberal democratic vision of the good life — deeply embedded in their communities, surrendered to their ideals, reaching out to other communities, growing in their freedom.


Almost Marx

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.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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