Media

David Brooks Authoritarianism Watch

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I am questioning your authoritah

I have previously written about the "banal authoritarianism" and "anti-anti-authoritarianism" of New York Times columnist David Brooks, who has been railing against the individual and in favor of bold state action since at least 1997. Today Brooks adds to his own increasingly eccentric subgenre by spending several paragraphs lamenting that Washington's monuments and memorials no longer radiate sufficient power:

Why can't today's memorial designers think straight about just authority? […]

Those "Question Authority" bumper stickers no longer symbolize an attempt to distinguish just and unjust authority. They symbolize an attitude of opposing authority.

The old adversary culture of the intellectuals has turned into a mass adversarial cynicism. The common assumption is that elites are always hiding something. Public servants are in it for themselves. Those people at the top are nowhere near as smart or as wonderful as pure and all-knowing Me.

You end up with movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Parties that try to dispense with authority altogether. They reject hierarchies and leaders because they don't believe in the concepts. The whole world should be like the Internet — a disbursed semianarchy in which authority is suspect and each individual is king.

Maybe before we can build great monuments to leaders we have to relearn the art of following.

The sentiment here is bizarre enough (lead me, o Great Men, lead me!), but what really sticks out is the sell-by date on the cultural critique. The "old adversary culture of the intellectuals" was indeed pretty adversarial toward authority in the Me Decade, but is nowadays openly cheering on Big Government and the virtuous Nanny State. It's gotten to the point where the center-left political media is doing the president's dirty work for him, jumping down the throat of Democrats who dare stray from the Obama administration's message of the day.

And Sweet Baby Jane Fancy Moses, when's the last time you even saw a "Question Authority" bumper sticker?

UPDATE: Radley Balko has more.