As America continues to attempt to outline itself in a brand new century, the previously conservative NYT columnist has totally joined the progressive camp.
Once a self-identified conservative, New York Times columnist David Brooks has for a while now been engaged in a private journey of types. To decide by a latest column bearing the title “The American Identity Crisis,” that journey has now concluded: Brooks has discovered a brand new house within the progressive camp. Yet the place he has landed and the way he bought there invite reflection.
“For most of the past century,” his column begins, “human dignity had a friend — the United States of America.” After a quick check-the-block acknowledgment of our nation’s imperfections, Brooks returns to celebrating its achievements overseas, assigning to the United States major credit score for defeating the evil ideologies of the twentieth century and thereby spreading peace, freedom, and democracy all over the world.
This self-congratulatory interpretation of America’s latest previous has lengthy discovered favor not solely amongst newspaper columnists, but in addition with politicians campaigning for prime workplace, our present president not least amongst them. It is our nationwide equal of sacred scripture—a secular model of the salvation historical past by which Christians profess to consider.
Alas, Brooks continues, “Then came Iraq and Afghanistan and America lost faith in itself and its global role.” The audacity of that sentence—equal maybe to “Then came bin Laden and the Towers fell”—introduced me up quick. In the blink of an eye fixed, context disappears as Brooks skirts previous the query of how and why the United States enmeshed itself in two unwinnable wars. He chooses as an alternative to concentrate on America shedding its religion.
Pursuant to its international function, Brooks contends that till Iraq and Afghanistan “came,” the United States had shared with others “vital ideals” that outline the American lifestyle. Those beliefs embody “democracy and capitalism,” in fact: to this point, so good. But Brooks’s stock of operative beliefs doesn’t cease there. Also included are “feminism, multiculturalism, human rights, egalitarianism, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and the dream of racial justice.” All of those collectively, Brooks writes, come “intertwined in a progressive package that puts individual dignity at the center.”
Credit Brooks with precisely describing the contents of that “progressive package,” notably its present-day preoccupation with race, gender, and sexuality. Yet the conservative that Brooks as soon as professed to be would have balked on the reference to “individual dignity.” In a progressive context, particular person dignity is a euphemism. It is a leftwing equal of “free enterprise,” a time period employed by some right-wingers to supply an ethical gloss to insurance policies that exalt market values over human values.
As a sensible matter, right this moment’s progressives haven’t any intention of contenting themselves with mere dignity. They purpose to redistribute energy in methods that can play to their very own preferences on issues associated to race, gender, sexuality and a bunch of different points. No shock there: Politics ain’t beanbag.
Ultimately, the progressive camp that Brooks now inhabits seeks to dismantle current limits on particular person alternative. It is intent on rendering out of date after which destroying traditions and inherited practices that inhibit autonomy. Examples of traditions which have already been demolished usually are not arduous to seek out: monogamy, two-parent households, marriage as a union til-death-do-us-part.
On that rating, the staff that Brooks has now joined is clearly profitable. For that very motive, his departure ought to immediate some conservative soul-searching.
The precise locus of “The American Identity Crisis” to which Brooks’s essay alludes has nothing to do with reviving the missionary venture of exporting American values to a world peopled with the likes of Iraqis and Afghans stubbornly clinging to their very own traditions and maybe lower than impressed with our tales of how we defeated Nazi Germany and received the Cold War. Rather, the continuing id disaster has every little thing to do with resolving our personal inside kulturkampf.
As an episode in that bigger battle, the defection of a well-known New York Times columnist figures as a minor however telling occasion. Perhaps in leaping to the opposite facet, Brooks is bowing to the inevitable. I’m totally ready to think about that risk, even whereas having no intention of following his instance.
Certainly the values that determine prominently in my very own conception of conservatism—responsibility, obligation, and constancy—have fallen out of style, besides, in fact, once they occur to coincide with private choice. (It’s cool if you wish to be part of the Marine Corps; it’s equally cool if I restrict my navy service to enjoying Call of Duty: Black Ops). As for the Republican Party, so long as it stays enamored with Donald Trump, it may don’t have anything helpful to say on something associated to the values to which Americans within the current century ought to subscribe.
That Americans will resolve their disaster of id any time quickly seems unbelievable. Certainly no such decision will happen in my very own lifetime. In the meantime, the very best we are able to hope for is a little bit of respiration room to kind out our variations. This might be finest achieved by avoiding extra expensive and useless wars.
Perhaps if David Brooks displays a bit extra on how Iraq and Afghanistan “came,” he will even revise his views on that rating as effectively. We ought to welcome his ideas.
Andrew Bacevich, TAC’s writer-at-large, is president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His new e book is After the Apocalypse: America’s Role in a World Transformed.