David Brooks Surveys Economic Wreckage, Redoubles Patriotic Battle Against the "surge in vehement libertarianism"


Just read this 11-sentence train of thought that opens the New York Times columnist's latest:

The United States is becoming a broken society. The public has contempt for the political class. Public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace. Middle-class wages have lagged. Unemployment will remain high. It will take years to fully recover from the financial crisis.

This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.

But there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian.

Seriously, read it again. Maybe get it tattoed, with a certain vehemence, right above your tailbone, with an arrow and a festive editorial comment.

After a decade of distinctly David Brooksian big-government governance, during which he has seamlessly transferred his affections from John McCain to George W. Bush to Barack Obama, the Last Honest Man surveys the economic wasteland and lousy public policies he's been cheering on all these years, and blames the inevitably Washington-centric results on anti-authoritarians. No really, that's what he does:

The free-market revolution didn't create the pluralistic decentralized economy. It created a centralized financial monoculture, which requires a gigantic government to audit its activities. The effort to liberate individuals from repressive social constraints didn't produce a flowering of freedom; it weakened families, increased out-of-wedlock births and turned neighbors into strangers.

To combat our "devastating crisis of authority," Brooks wants to "take a political culture that has been oriented around individual choice and replace it with one oriented around relationships and associations," whatever the hell that means. "The only way to restore trust," he concludes, "is from the local community on up." Really? I thought you might also be able to move the needle if the authorities themselves weren't screwing up so bad, and had less power over our lives. But then again, I'm a "nihilist."

I think I've finally figured Brooks out. More than anything else, he's an anti-anti-authoritarian. And as in all double negatives, there's a much shorter way to express the exact same idea.