“O Tempora, O Mores,” Laments David Brooks


Observing that the women’s marches focused on “reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change,” David Brooks concedes that “these are all important matters, and they tend to be voting issues for many upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities.” Having made that concession, he goes on to argue,

All the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault: globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order. If you’re not engaging these issues first, you’re not going to be in the main arena of national life.

He faults the marchers for indulging in “identify politics”—for wearing pussy hats when they “could have offered a red, white and blue alternative patriotism, a modern, forward-looking patriotism based on pluralism, dynamism, growth, racial and gender equality and global engagement.”

Brooks concludes,

If the anti-Trump forces are to have a chance, they have to offer a better nationalism, with diversity cohering around a central mission, building a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality.

Well, you have to be selective about that “biblical morality”:

And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods. [Numbers 31:9]

Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you. [Deuteronomy 20:14]

Instead, I think Brooks had in mind something like Rabbi Jesus’s teaching that where much is given, much is required. Aardvark would go along with that, though he would settle for Confucian morality, or even just plain old morality, to temper global capitalism.

The times are badly out of joint. The zeitgeist is gravely ill. David Brooks has accurately diagnosed the form of cancer from which it suffers. The nature of the problem, I think, is how to return to some sense that the elites of this world have a moral duty to the rest of us, and, concomitantly, how to make them feel shame when they disregard that duty.