What David Brooks Missed


Matt Welch has already noted David Brooks' creepy column on the supposed need for more monuments honoring authority. I have just one footnote to add: Isn't it interesting how quickly Brooks brushes past the one D.C. monument of the last half-century that almost everyone agrees is powerful? Maya Lin's Vietnam memorial gets just two sentences from Brooks: "Even the more successful recent monuments evade the thorny subjects of strength and power. The Vietnam memorial is about tragedy."

At least he acknowledges that it's successful. Brooks wants monuments that embody "just authority," and the Vietnam War was a time when Washington's just authority was in short supply. A commanding Lincoln- or Jefferson-style monument to Robert McNamara would be perceived as a perverse joke, and rightly so.

But the war inspired Maya Lin to create a brilliant memorial, and she did it by rejecting—indeed, inverting—the authoritarian style that Brooks loves. As James C. Scott wrote in Seeing Like a State, the most remarkable thing about Lin's design is

Hey, Brooks: This is what a powerful monument looks like.

the way that the Vietnam Memorial works for those who visit it, particularly those who come to pay their respects to the memory of a comrade or loved one. They touch the names incised on the wall, make rubbings, and leave artifacts and mementos of their own—everything from poems and a woman's high-heeled shoe to a glass of champagne and a poker hand of a full house, aces high. So many of these tributes have been left, in fact, that a museum has been created to house them. The scene of many people together at the wall, touching the names of particular loved ones who fell in the same war, has moved observers regardless of their position on the war itself. I believe that a great part of the memorial's symbolic power is its capacity to honor the dead with an openness that allows visitors to impress upon it their own meanings, their own histories, their own memories. The memorial virtually requires participation in order to complete its meaning.

The Vietnam memorial is the only "official" monument I know of that follows this pattern, but it's not hard to think of other memorials that inspire the same mixture of contemplation and participation. In the years following 9/11, Ground Zero became a vast do-it-yourself tribute to the fallen. Decoration Day, as Memorial Day was known back when holidays had interesting names, first emerged spontaneously rather than by dictat, as people in different towns selected days to decorate the graves of the Civil War dead.

"Maybe before we can build great monuments to leaders we have to relearn the art of following," Brooks writes. Maybe, if that's your priority. Meanwhile, Maya Lin's memorial reminds us what happens when Americans trust their leaders too much.

NEXT: David Harsanyi on the Importance of Creating Private Wealth Over Government Jobs

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The scary sad thing is that JFK/LBJ and their Top Men are exactly what Brooks has in mind.

    1. And he’s the NYT resident “conservative”

  2. Don’t forget the “grassroots” Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, PA that was cleared away to make room for a government-planned memorial that now looks like it may never get entirely funded.

    1. “Don’t forget….”

      Unfortunately, too many Americans already have.

  3. Meanwhile, Maya Lin’s memorial reminds us what happens when Americans trust their leaders too much.

    I’m not sure what Brooks’ position on the Vietnam War is…whether he thinks it was ill-conceived from the getgo or just implemented wrong.

    1. An insufficient number of “TOP MEN”?

    2. The American people didn’t support their leaders enough, would be my guess.

      1. Teh rael heroez fled to Canaduh!!11!

    3. I’m not sure what Brooks’ position on the Vietnam War is

      It was Bush’s fault?

      1. If not for those dirty racist isolationists going around appeasing everybody all the time, we wouldn’t have had to fight it.

        Or something similarly nonsensical.

  4. But Jesse Lin meant that wall to be a giant scar on the mall. She never thought the veterans would take ownership of it the way they have. That wall is very anti-authoritarian. It is a giant fuck you to the government from the veterans. That wall says fuck you we are still here and what they sacrificed is still remembered despite your efforts to forget it. But I really don’t think Lin had any idea it would turn out that way. It is a great example of art belonging to the observer not the artist.

  5. pic + alt-text = win

    1. I think Mr. Brooks would find a well penned “Mission Statement” to be far more powerful.

  6. Since you brought him up, let me take the opportunity, yet again, to say fuck Bobby McNamara. If there’s any celestial justice, he’s burning in agony right now.

  7. What about the MLK fascist chicken tender?

  8. [Cue appropriate GnR quote here].
    Also, our old friend Radley has a good takedown over at theagitator.

  9. How about some Rothbard and Spooner monuments, paid for by voluntary donations, like the statue of liberty was?

    1. We already have Rothbard monuments. They are called urinals.

      1. So you are a Rothbard fan, good to know.

      2. Why the hate on Rothbard, John?

      3. yo momma.

  10. How about a statue of David Brooks licking a government agent’s jack boot?

    Or a memorial for all the beloved pets shot needlessly by police?

    1. Yeah, where is PETA when we actually need them.

    2. I think we should Kickstarter the David Brooks licking a boot statue. Surely for a mere $100k we can find an artist and a place to install it.

  11. The fact that Brooks hasn’t been utterly laughed and derided out of a job for being a lickspittle authority fetishist of such magnitude tells you all you need to know about him, his employer, and his colleagues.

    1. New York Times, home of Krugnuts.

    2. When he kept his job after claiming Obama would not only be President but a “good one” because his pants were creased should have been a clue.

  12. I met a traveller from DC land
    Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand on the Mall. Near them on the lawn,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    `My name is Obama, Prseident of the Solid B Plus:
    Look on my works, ye voters, and despair!’
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level Federal worker tended lawns stretch far away”.

    And I, David Brooks, wept.

  13. I doubt he’d be so sanguine about monuments to authority if the authority was, say, me.

    “Learning to follow again” wouldn’t sound so grand to Brooks if he was being prodded to follow, say, me. Of that we can be quite sure.

    1. Top Men fluffy. Sorry but you are just not top men material in Brooks’ view. You didn’t go to Harvard and your pants don’t have a proper crease.

  14. I didn’t read the entire Brooks piece because I’m trying to limit my drivel intake for the week, but I’m assuming at some point in the piece he either praises and/or calls for another round of stimulus, right?

    That’s the new thing I keep hearing. We need another stimulus.

    1. Of course we do.

      It is an accepted fact the best way to revive the economy is to take money from productive members of the society, skim some off the top to pay useless bureaucrats, and then give what’s left to political favorites.

      What could possibly go wrong?

  15. I have no problem with following a great leader. But by God, he’d better be going my way.

    1. People seem to have no problems following Scott Walker.

      1. Well, 23% of the population or 39% of people who could vote for him anyway.

        1. So elections don’t count now because we don’t let children and foreigners vote in them?

          1. Uh, sure John. Not quite sure where you’re going with that.

            1. I am not sure where you were going. My point was that there are elected leaders out there who seem to be doing quite well. Walker has been a good governor and got more votes in the recall than he did in his election. The country doesn’t seem too ungovernable to him.

              My point was that Brooks is just pissed people disagree with him.

              1. My point was that the “great leader” Scott Walker only won 39% of the vote by voter registration numbers or 23% of the population.

                1. So what? Why does the percentage of votes determine whether you are effective or not?

                  1. If all it takes for someone to be a “great leader” is for 40% of people with any say in the matter to think so then I think people are aiming low. Less than 40% of the voters in Wisconsin think Scott Walker is an effective leader. The fact that he won says just as much about voter apathy as it does about people wanting to turn things around. His opponent won 34% of registered voters, that means 27% of them stayed home that night. That’s almost as much as either of them got.

                    1. And those that voted for him don’t necessarily think he’s a “great leader”. Many of them probably think he’s better than Barrett would be.

                    2. I never said he was a “great leader”. I said people seem to have no problems following him, which means he seems to be able to govern in a country that Brooks seems to consider ungovernable. And that tells you as if you didn’t already know that Brooks is full of shit and just mad people don’t do what he says.

                      I really don’t know why that is such a hard thing to grasp.

                    3. Except you replied to a post by someone talking about following a great leader. Thus implying, whether you meant to or not, that Scott Walker was such a person.

                    4. No I didn’t Mo,

                      I said

                      My point was that there are elected leaders out there who seem to be doing quite well. Walker has been a good governor and got more votes in the recall than he did in his election. The country doesn’t seem too ungovernable to him.

                      Are we reading a different thread?

                    5. You replied to this:

                      Xenocles|6.13.12 @ 12:51PM|#

                      I have no problem with following a great leader. But by God, he’d better be going my way.

                      With this:

                      John|6.13.12 @ 12:52PM|#

                      People seem to have no problems following Scott Walker.

                      Thereby implying that Scott Walker was one of those great leaders. My responses were to that implication.

                    6. That is not what I meant to imply. Brooks is just giving a different spin on how the country is so ungovernable.

      2. Not sure where you’re going with this, John. I was just saying that even us ungovernable libertarians can be convinced to subordinate ourselves to some great goal – but only if the goal is worthy.

        1. Where I am going with it is that Walker proves that it is quite possible to govern in this country. And lack of being proper followers is not the problem.

          1. I guess that makes some sense, but why reply to me?

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

    This one was pretty great, David. Don’t know why the Czechs tore it down…the lost art of following perhaps?

    1. I remember the Iraqis doing something similar. Just bad followers all over.

      1. I actually think things like that huge Stalin statue ought to be left up as a reminder of how fucked things could get.

        1. With a paintball gun concession right next to it.

          1. With a paintball gun concession right next to it.

            Heh. I used to pass this tank on a daily basis. David Cerny painted it pink after the revolution, then it was repainted green, then removed. I always thought it was pretty cool. Now there’s just a useless patch of grass there–too small to be an actual park.

        2. In Riga, there was an old Communist museum dedicated to WWII. The Latvians changed it to a museum of Soviet occupation.

          1. The only place I’ve seen original communist in situ was Kaliningrad, which is the only place I’ve been in Russia. Just Lenins though.

        3. Agree. I also think birds should be encouraged to defecate on them, till they become a massive pile of bird shit. Hopefully, the uric acid will dissolve these “great” monuments, and all that will be left is a bleached patch of concrete.

        4. Don’t worry, Fremont has its Lenin statue.

          1. Fremont was considered a quirky artistic community, and like other statues in the neighborhood (such as Waiting for the Interurban), the Lenin statue is often the victim of various artistic projects, endorsed or not. A glowing red star and sometimes Christmas lights have been added to the statue for Christmas since 2004. For the 2004 Solstice Parade, the statue was made to look like John Lennon. During Gay Pride Week, the statue is dressed in drag. Other appropriations of the statue have included painting it as a clown, and clothing it in a custom-fitted red dress by the Seattle Hash House Harriers for their annual Red Dress Run.

            I really can’t think of a more deserving fate for a Lenin statue than being constantly and forever degraded by hipsters too ignorant to even understand its significance.

            1. It’s also located in front of a few businesses, and North 34th is loaded with restaurants and shops.

              Fremont’s a slightly wacky neighborhood, but fun.

            2. I defend the Fremont Lenin statue at the end of this article.

        5. and how authoritarians produce terrible public art. It is no coincidence that the less free this country has gotten the worse its public monuments have become. The country that once was free produced the Lincoln Memorial and the Shaw Memorial in Boston. Now we get the Korean Colonel Potter MLK monument.

          1. There was this awesome video game called “Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction” that came out in 2005 where you played in a pseudo North Korea-style sandbox. One of the bonus activities was to blow up all the statues of the “Supreme Leader” that were erected throughout the country. Good times!

          2. The Lincoln Memorial was a New Deal project, John. And the FDR admin specifically cherry picked Lincoln quotes that lent support to FDR’s policies to be engraved onto the walls.

    2. Kinda love the fact that it is used as a skating park. There is a certain level of “fuck you” with it.

  17. “Monuments need to awe the yokels into shutting up and doing as they’re told.”

    I don’t really hate Krugman. He’s wrong a lot, but he’s a high priest in the civic religion of economics. It’s like hating the Oracle of Delphi.

    I don’t hate Friedman; he’s a classic upper-class twit, a Wooster.

    But Brooks, I hate that guy. He knows the sort of grasping evil he supports and has the ear of powerful people willing to carry that evil out. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and exactly what evil he stands for. And it’s despicable.

    1. You know who else hated on the Oracle of Delphi?

  18. “Meanwhile, Maya Lin’s memorial reminds us what happens when Americans trust their leaders too much.”

    Best line of the day Jesse.

  19. What David Brooks Missed

    With a title like that, you need to write a multi-volume book to really be able to say you delivered on it. If you’re going to write blog posts, stick to something you can write in short form:

    What David Brooks Understands

    1. Or just narrow the scope:

      What David Brooks missed between 7:14 AM and 10:37 AM today.

  20. The art of following? Seriously?

    1. I would think that someone named Number 2 would understand following. 😉

  21. In Radley’s column on this subject he points out that Brooks openly wishes for a return of the level of confidence in authority Americans had in 1925.

    You know, 1925-1955. The good ole’ days. Back when we still had important institutions like segregation. And lynching. When our elites gave us alcohol prohibition. And when we banned marijuana because the pillars of American society warned us that the drug was helping black jazz musicians take sexual liberties white women. It was a time when we still sterilized society’s undesirables, when we imprisoned Americans of Asian descent simply because of their heritage. Those were also the days when the U.S. government conducted covert medical experiments and biological warfare testing on its own citizens. Yes, it’s good we were less willing to question our government back then.

    I don’t really think Brooks has forgotten those historical facts, though. I think he remembers them, but still thinks that it was a good thing that Americans trusted authority, despite those things.

    I seriously think Brooks believes that we’re better off ignorantly or immorally following flawed leadership because it makes it possible to “do great things” and makes for a happier crowd at patriotic parades. And if that means some minorities or some individuals have to suffer, they should just take one for the team.

    1. But we won the war Fluffy. And built the interstate highway system. And the Hoover Dam. Don’t forget the Hoover Dam.

      What is so insulting about that is that people were plenty patriotic and the country did plenty of great things before 1925. We managed to win the civil war, end slavery, colonize an entire continent and build the most powerful industrial nation on earth while distrusting authority and institutions.

      Just what the hell is so magical about 1925 anyway?

      1. Just what the hell is so magical about 1925 anyway?

        Mussolini’s ascent in Italy and the birth of the Maple Leafs. Both important milestones in the history of people retardedly deferring to authority.

    2. Ignorance is strength, jerkface.

    3. Jesus, what a Zinnian view of the world. Yeah, all those things happened. Somehow I don’t really believe a few medical experiments invalidate being a democracy rather than a fascist dictatorship then, say. Every countries does bad things. We’re among the few who occasionally learn from them, that’s what I celebrate.

      1. Who says they invalidate democracy? They only provide evidence that our leaders are at a minimum flawed, sometimes outright malicious, and as a result are not owed any trust they don’t individually earn.

    4. How many times on this blog are libertarians longing for the days of the Founders, Fluffy? Quite a bit.

      1. I long for the days when some of the VIEWS (not all of them, mind) of the Founders were more prevalent. Not quite the same thing.

        1. That should just read “long for the views”, not “long for the days of the views”, which would obviously be the same as “the days of the founders”.

  22. We shouldn’t be too hard on Brooks. After all, he is a Public Intellectual.

  23. What is the Vietnam Memorial?

    It is a tombstone with fifty six thousand names on it. The fact that it is the most popular monument on the Mall says something pretty damn good about this country. We’re mostly a sober people not terribly prone to venerating vainglory in our better moments.

  24. I mostly agree with this but I wish we could have a memorial to Ike that suggested the period he belonged to. Or the period as it felt in America, and not in Dachau.

  25. If David Brooks were a piece of shit that I took, I wouldn’t even flush the toilet. I’d just run out, douse my house with gasoline, and burn it down.

  26. What is it about human nature that needs to suck the cock of authority until their eyes water?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.