David Brooks Vying for Ellsworth Toohey's Column Space in the Banner With a Passover Song of Praise for Compulsion


As a fan of Ayn Rand who occasionally likes to defend her against the charges that her villains—the figures in culture, business, and government who in her novels embody what she considers hateful ideas—are absurd caricatures with no connection to lived reality, I invite you to read today's David Brooks column. I know it's a hard thing to ask, but do it for Ms. Rand, I implore you.

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Brooks, one of the most prominent columnists in the newspaper that supposedly defines our media culture, the New York Times, riffs like a Linus with a guillotine on the "true meaning of Passover." Outdoing Ayn Rand's villainous Fountainhead columnist Ellsworth Toohey in his mission to redefine the human spirit as one best expressed in servitude.

He's not just offering the usual "we need big government" argument of pointing out all the actual miseries and troubles it supposedly is uniquely able to solve. Brooks is arguing on a deeper level: we need big government because we need authority to tell us what to do; it is positively good for us on a metaphysical level, never mind its practical effects.

Like Loki, clearly the guy who Brooks mistook for the hero in the Avengers movie, Brooks tells us we were born to be ruled.


Monday night was the start of Passover, the period when Jews celebrate the liberation of the Israelites from slavery into freedom.

Sure, escaping from slavery to freedom is cool—I guess!—but isn't there another side to this story, Israelites?

But that's not all the Exodus story is, or not even mainly what it is. When John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin wanted to put Moses as a central figure on the Great Seal of the United States, they were not celebrating him as a liberator, but as a re-binder. It wasn't just that he led the Israelites out of one set of unjust laws. It was that he re-bound them with another set of laws. Liberating to freedom is the easy part. Re-binding with just order and accepted compulsion is the hard part….

Brooks then gives lip service to the notion that, sure, the story of Moses also shows that leaders need to be bound by rules as well, being sometimes imperfect and impetuous. (The even larger meaning one can glean from the whole "contract with God" story is that God himself needs to be, or wants to be, bound by rules and agreements freely entered into.)

But back to Brooks' more vital point: you need someone to tell you what to do, at all times!

Just as leaders need binding, so do regular people. The Israelites in Exodus whine; they groan; they rebel for petty reasons. When they are lost in a moral wilderness, they immediately construct an idol to worship and give meaning to their lives.

But Exodus is a reminder that statecraft is soulcraft, that good laws can nurture better people. Even Jews have different takes on how exactly one must observe the 613 commandments, but the general vision is that the laws serve many practical and spiritual purposes. For example, they provide a comforting structure for daily life. If you are nervous about the transitions in your life, the moments when you go through a door post, literally or metaphorically, the laws will give you something to do in those moments and ease you on your way.

Oh, for a world—one being built more solidly by bureaucracy every day—in which you can't even walk through a door without a set of rules to control you, er, "ease you on your way."

And if you choose not to be thusly eased, someone with a gun will come by to ask you why. Maybe in the middle of the night and bashing in your door. After shouting a warning, of course. We are a nation of laws!

The laws tame the ego and create habits of deference by reminding you of your subordination to something permanent….The laws moderate the pleasures; they create guardrails that are meant to restrain people from going off to emotional or sensual extremes.

The 20th-century philosopher Eliyahu Dessler wrote, "the ultimate aim of all our service is to graduate from freedom to compulsion." 

Bam! Let us not forget the wisdom of America's great Judeo-Christian tradition: freedom is for the unformed, compulsion is for the Real Adults, the kind of real adults who tell us what to think from their perch at the world's mightiest newspaper.

Last month Jesse Walker noted Brooks' upset tummy over our lack of respect and obeisance to Great Leaders.