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The most grotesque article I have read in quite some time

David Brooks has written an article for the New York Times called The Solitary Leaker that contains so many grotesque notions I will just point out one and leave the rest for you, gentle reader, to wade through yourself…

If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.

State… nation… are not ‘mediating institutions of civil society’, they are mediating political institutions and the observation these are materially different things is hardly a new one. They are violence backed imposers of laws, the means of collective coercion… and the process for deciding who gets the guns pointed at them is what we call ‘politics’, which is quite quite different to how elective things like ‘family’, ‘neighbourhood’, ‘religious group’ (unless it happens to be Islam) and ‘world’ work as these are collections of people you can invite to mind their own damn business and turn your back on them, with all the good and bad things that might come of that… or embrace them wholeheartedly, as you see fit and as they deserve, generally without the cops kicking down your door one way or the other.

But of course to a statist like David Brooks, the realm of the voluntary, the elective give and take of the civil, the marketplace of not just things but customs and affinity, the realm of personal moral judgement, is subordinate to The Tribe, The Collective, The Institutional. Duty is not to moral truth or decency or charity, it is to The Hierarchy of your Betters and knowing your place in it. David Brooks’ world view is that which rejects the moral courage to say “No, to hell with your orders, this is wrong”. His is the view that does not care if something is ‘moral’, just so long as it is ‘lawful’.

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28 comments to The most grotesque article I have read in quite some time

  • andyinsdca

    Also note that it’s a personal attack on Snowden. He didn’t graduate college. He was a recluse. He “sacrificed his career.” He “betrayed” his employers. And, without so much as a smirk, he also says he “betrayed the cause of open government.”

  • At ORGCon this weekend (ORG is a left-leaning but somewhat diverse technology rights campaign) we were “jokingly” invited to believe that a libertarian is a liberal who is still living with his parents. I said (well I tweeted) at the time that the opposite is true, that a libertarian is a liberal who has left home, and taken responsibilty for his own body and mind. The “liberal” persons’ alternative is to throw his growing needs on gradually more remote and numerous collectives, until the dead weight of his body rests of the shoulders of an apathetic and uncaring majority whom he has never met.

  • Jimbo

    And, without so much as a smirk, he also says he “betrayed the cause of open government.”

    Yeah that cracked me up. I mean WTF?

  • Marisa Kale

    What Brooks obviously cann’t stand is someone who bought into the whole institutional role had second thoughts about what they were a part of. That is why the article starts with character assassination: anyone who questions authority and actually does something about it is a weirdo and not like us.

  • Sigivald

    “Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world”

    As an adult, family doesn’t exercise authority over you (though it may have great power over you by your own consent), and the “world” is not an authoritative structure at all. Neither is a neighborhood, most times.

    What is Brooks blathering about?

    (And, hell, I think Snowden’s no hero, so it’s not that I think Brooks is wrong because he’s picking on the wrong guy…)

  • Paul Marks

    I am sometimes accused of torturing myself – reading some articles of the Economist magazine, going to talks that I know will disgust me (and so on). But I only do this when someone (or something)declares they are libertarians or classical liberals (even if I know they are lying – I need the details to PROVE they are lying).

    However, what is the point of reading the New York Times?

    It is a leftist newspaper being leftist – reading it would be as pointless as reading the Guardian.

    Although the arguement might be that Mr Brooks is presented as a “conservative voice” by the NYT (part of their demented claim to be “objective” to represent “both sides” and so on).

    So exposing David Brooks as the nasty collectivist he is, has some value.

  • David Brooks or David Cameron: which of the two is stupider? Answers on a postcard, please.

    Paul: David Brooks is “right wing”, so the NYT can claim to have a diversity of voices on the editorial page. However, he is an establishment statist, so he isn’t actually very threatening. He is also not very impressive, so the people on the left can imagine that everyone on the right is also not very impressive, which suits them. A useful idiot, basically.

    (Although, given the presence of other luminaries such as Tom Friedman and Maureen Dowd, perhaps I have got it wrong).

  • Current

    We should be thankful for this article. This is one of the situations where one should not interrupt the enemy because he’s making a grave mistake.

  • Sigivald: no hero why?

  • AndrewWS

    It may be the case that Snowden “didn’t graduate college” and was a “recluse”, but it doesn’t seem to have stopped him getting a responsible and well-paid job, attracting a beautiful girlfriend, and achieving a desirable life.


  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Alisa, your average fantasy hero would stand still and fight to the death! You wouldn’t see Conan running away to Hong Konan, would you? His dead body would become a memorial to every rebel without a cause. That’s your hero! (or heroin)

  • Paul Marks

    Michael I think I said that.

    Although I did not mention the obvious snobbery (pointed out by others here) of Mr Brooks (this-man-did-not-go-to-college) perhaps the left associate being a stuck up snob with being “conservative”. So because Mr Brooks is a stuck up snob (who looks down his nose at anyone who does not have the same social background as himself) he must be a “conservartive”.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Paul: there are various other stuck up snobs on the editorial page who are not “right wing”, so I doubt it is that. It’s more a case of stuck up snobs hiring other stuck up snobs, I think.

  • Paul Marks

    Good point Michael.

  • llamas

    Tell me why I should be ‘mediated . . . by . . . institutions of civil society’ when the state (as a whole, and in the persons of most of its major leaders) refuses to be mediated by those same institutions whenever they are inconvenient.

    Whether it be wholesale disregrading of the law whenever it suits them, or the most amazingly-venal corruption, the state and its minions ignore the strictures of civil society on a scale and to a degree that I could not even begin to emulate. I don’t feel that I’m obliged to pay the slightest mind to such an amazing collection of hypocrites.



  • Edward Smith

    Who is David Brooks? Is he the Porter who dons the blue coat and cleans the public lavatories at Waterloo Station?

    If he is, then he serves a useful function. He isn’t?

    He is some egotistical, semi-educated, overly sophistic scribbler? Then he is a person of no value or use. Make Soylent Green of him and he’ll finally be of use to someone.

    And what is the New York Times? Do they print the dirty details of celebrity divorces and stolen images of Kate & William’s unborn child for the masses who enjoy such things? I do admit that a really juicy divorce, involving Castrato Albino Midgets can make for fun reading.

    Oh, it prints ads with ladies in their brassieres that are as out-dated as “classic” Playboy centerfolds – and are as broke as Playboy as well? And it prints smug to the point of smutty (poli-porn? Is that a new word?) articles for people who want to show off how much they “know” to people who “know” as much as and and all the same things they do? Like the art critics spoofed by John Cleese and Eleanor Bron in “City of Death”?

    Then I would not use the paper to line my parrot’s cage – unless I disliked said parrot with an intensity that no parrot has hitherto been disliked.

  • Stephen Willmer

    Michael Jennings, given that Cameron has a first class degree, would you elaborate on your claim that he’s stupid? I don’t say those with first class degrees are necessarily clever, but stupid? I find that a bit of a stretch.

  • Edward Smith

    Stephen Willmer:

    Stupid is as stupid does.

  • Doug Johnston

    Michael Jennings, given that Cameron has a first class degree, would you elaborate on your claim that he’s stupid?

    The dude could not win an election against the most inept and unpopular Labour leader since… well… ever, and so finds himself forced into a coalition. This is not a smart man. But then they do call the Tories the Stupid Party, don’t they?

  • Paul Marks

    Being able to remember certain arguemetns and repeat them back (in nice way)does require intelligence – and I have no doubt that Mr Cameron would score highly on an IQ test.

    However, intelligence does not mean wisdom.

    What Mr Cameron was taught (and worked hard to learn) is wrong.

    Mr Cameron may well be an intelligent man – but he is not a wise man.

  • Stephen Willmer

    Paul Marks, yes I’d agree he’s not wise, and I’d agree he’s said some daft and ignorant things and done others that were politically club-footed, but I have my doubts about his allegedsstupidity. It doesn’t really matter, except in a sort of ‘know thine enemy’ kind of waY.

  • Paul: I don’t agree. I think he would score quite badly on the analytical parts of an IQ test. Cameron is certainly not a wise man, but he is not an intelligent man either. The English Pubic School system is very good at teaching unintelligent men how to hide it, and I think Cameron is a classic example. (The English Public School system is also good at teaching intelligent men to take advantage of it, so I am not entirely down on it, but Cameron is one type of product of it).

  • Laird

    “But Big Brother is not the only danger facing the country. Another is the rising tide of distrust, the corrosive spread of cynicism, the fraying of the social fabric and the rise of people who are so individualistic in their outlook that they have no real understanding of how to knit others together and look after the common good.”

    Mr. Brooks apparently doesn’t understand that the second danger he cites, far from being an entirely unrelated issue, is in fact a direct consequence of the first one.

    If we had a government which wasn’t so patently and transparently venal, so involved in fomenting internal discord for blatantly political ends, and ultimately so engaged in nothing more than expanding its own power, our “social fabric” would have remained quite intact.

    And how does Brooks know that Snowden is “unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society”? From all accounts he had a normal upbringing, a nice girlfriend, a successful stint in the Army and an extremely successful career path outside of it. That doesn’t happen without social skills. Snowden “has not been a regular presence around his mother’s house for years”? I suppose his living in places such as Switzerland and Hawaii, with her being in Maryland, has nothing to do with that, right? The failure to finish high school or community college can (and probably is) the result of his clearly superior intelligence: he just couldn’t stand the stultifying environment designed to coddle the mediocre. And the fact that he chose not to socialize with neighbors is quite rational given his job: socialization requires the occasional discussion of your job, something he obviously couldn’t divulge. Better to remain aloof in that arena. No, I don’t think he lacked social skills or a personal milieu, it’s just that his worldview evolved differently than Brooks’. Which is another thing that Brooks obviously cannot fathom, and so chooses to denigrate.

  • Regional

    Remember politicians are effwits who can’t get jobs elsewhere.

  • Stephen Willmer

    DC has that public school prefect’s ability to sound confident and authoritative, almost no matter what. OTOH, I think Bogdanor rated him intellectually.

  • Paul Marks

    Notice how Mr Brooks identified “the Common Good” with the GOVERNMENT.

    “Thomas Aqunias did the same” – that does not make it right.

    Also, if Mr Brooks is really concerned that people are getting “cynical” – would it not help if government actually stayed within its Constitutional limits, so that people had less reason to be “cynical”?

    Who was the last President to veto an item of government spending on the grounds that it was unconstiutional? Grover Cleveland vetoed Federal subsidies to farmers as unconstitutional (which they are), but over a hundred years of Presidents doing little or nothing to defend the Constitution of the United States (thus swearing their oath without sincerity) is enough to make anyone “cynical”.

  • Stephan

    After reading that awful, awful article from this authoritarian, arrogant halfwit Brooks, I went straight to the comments section and almost got neatly tricked by the NYTimes own comment promotion device: The first series of comments you see (which it is easy to think of as the only comments if you’re not paying attention) are the “NY Times Picks”, which are almost all uniformly in favor of this assholes article. It’s only if you click on the “readers picks” tab that you notice how the majority of reader recommended comments are distinctly critical of the authoritarian idiot Brooks little hack piece. Nice job NY Times… tricky

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so Stephan.