Hit & Run

Ambivalent Paradise

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Former Reason editor Virginia Postrel reviews David Brooks' On Paradise Drive in today's New York Post and finds the avatar of "National Greatness Conservatism" and the King of the Bobos archly ambivalent about America:

[Brooks recognizes that] America's economic greatness ? and, ultimately, its cultural and military power and its historical legacy ? comes from the pursuit of excellence in tasks that seem "a certain formula for brain death." Americans invent Pull-Up diapers and worry about Six Sigma quality. We concentrate on incredibly specialized problems.

Brooks is impressed by our energy and achievements, but worried about our souls: "The quest may be epic, but the goal is trivial."

"On Paradise Drive" redeems these quotidian pursuits by giving them an eschatological motivation: the "Paradise Spell." Americans, the book concludes, are driven by the enduring faith that "just out of reach, just beyond the next ridge, just with the next home or entrepreneurial scheme or diet plan" lies a new Eden.

This positive conclusion highlights Brooks' ambivalence. Why must the future promise utopia to have meaning? "Trivial" goals in fact make human life better over time. Besides, the whole point of ending starvation or curing cancer is to give more people a chance to enjoy more everyday pleasures.

Whole thing here.