Posts tagged with: david brooks

need1Earlier this week, Michael Hendrix offered some striking commentary on the economic future of millennials, fearing that many in our generation are in a similar position as “the horse at the advent of the automobile.”

The economic horizon is shifting, and with such changes come new opportunities. Yet rather than being energized and agile in response, many are content to simply shrug and plod along.

As Hendrix concludes, there’s hope in the reality that we are not horses, but creative, spiritual beings, fashioned in the image of God:

It isn’t so much that we’ll have winners and losers that gets me. It’s that many millennials aren’t facing up to the tough choices they’ll need to make to align their visions with reality. When the internal combustion engine came along and rendered horsepower to the pages of Motor Trend, these animals had little choice over their fate. We are different. We can look square-eyed into a future of vast change. We can work hard at the tasks set before us, for we were made to do so. Put another way, we can avoid the glue factory.

The basic idea of the American Dream has come under scrutiny in recent years — most strongly, it seems, from various corners of the church. And though some critiques are clumsier than others, all seem to point to at least one critical reality: With increased prosperity comes increased temptation to give way to an overly individualized and materialistic understanding of vocation and calling. Where our ancestors seized economic opportunity through hard work and service, paving the way for a more comfortable life, we now show a propensity to conflate the former (opportunity) with the latter (a 4-bedroom house in the burbs). (more…)

David Brooks recently took on the conservative movement for relying too heavily on pro-market arguments and tired formulas rather than emphasizing its historic features of custom, social harmony, and moral preservation.

As I’ve already noted in response to the Brooks piece, I agree that conservatism needs a renewed intellectual foundation brought about by a return to these emphases, yet I disagree that a lopsided devotion to “economic freedom” is what’s stalling us. If we hope to restore traditionalist conservatism, we’d do well to recognize that this means restoring economic conservatism along with it. Brooks is upset that dogmatic pro-market folks have seized the Republican Party, yet this is the same Republican Party that nominated the architect of Romneycare and can’t seem to get serious about the deficit.

Conservatism is faltering all around, and the reasons for each “sect’s” demise are more or less interrelated. As I’ve written elsewhere, we need to restore a holistic conservative imagination that ties its social and economic strains together by grounding them both in Russell Kirk’s “enduring moral order.”

For David Brooks, restoration is all about “balance,” but for the true conservative, it needs to be about integration.
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The noir heroes like Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” served as models for a generation of Americans, says David Brooks. The new generation of apolitical social entrepreneurs could learn from them too:
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On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reacts to musings by conservative writers David Brooks and Michael Gerson about Rick Santorum’s political rise in the GOP primaries and how his social views might be expressed in government policy. Would a President Santorum usher in a smaller but more “transformational” role for the state in addressing social ills? Gregg:

On the one hand, self-described compassionate conservatives understand there is no such thing as morally neutral laws or morally indifferent government policies. At some level (even quite remote), all laws and policies embody some type of moral logic (which is either coherent or incoherent). Thus they cannot help but shape — for better and worse — a society’s moral culture. That’s just one reason among many why the legal treatment of issues like abortion, euthanasia, pornography, and marriage matters, and why they can’t, as some libertarians claim, be simply relegated to the private sphere.

At the same time, it seems to me that many compassionate conservatives don’t fully appreciate the moral, social, and legal urgency of reducing the state’s size and reach, instead of primarily focusing upon streamlining government’s role.

Read Samuel Gregg’s “The Problem with Compassionate Conservatism” on NRO.

On the National Catholic Register, Kathryn Jean Lopez takes a look at the strong finish by Rick Santorum in the Iowa Caucuses. She writes that the candidate’s dead heat finish with Mitt Romney marks “the emergence of a different kind of Catholic candidate in American politics, one who refuses to give up the fight on social justice — substantively and rhetorically — in practice and linguistics.” Lopez interviews Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg, who observes that “where Santorum adds something distinctive to present economic debates is his willingness to envelop them in substantive moral arguments.”

Gregg suggests that the candidate harkens back to Alexis de Tocqueville’s insights about democracy in America. Toqueville, he told Lopez, was “among the first to sound warnings about democracy’s potential for sliding into the soft despotism that results when citizens start voting for those politicians who promise to use the government to give them whatever they want, while politicians deliver — provided the citizens do whatever the government says is necessary to meet everyone’s wishes (such as radically diminish economic freedoms). Welcome to the moral-economic disaster otherwise known as the European Union.”

Read more analysis from Samuel Gregg in “Veteran Pol Santorum Emerges From Iowa With a Timely Message” by Kathryn Jean Lopez on the National Catholic Register.

Today’s NYT has an op-ed by David Brooks that’s been getting good cyber-circulation, “The Gospel of Wealth.” Brooks highlights in particular Southern Baptist pastor David Platt, who is touted as the youngest mega-church leader in the country. Rebelling in many ways from the new traditions associated with mega-churches, Brooks says Platt inhabits the nexus between “between good and plenty, God and mammon,” spirituality and materiality, and that Platt “is in the tradition of those who don’t believe these two spheres can be reconciled.”

Here’s what Brooks concludes: “Americans will not renounce the moral materialism at the core of their national identity. But the country is clearly redefining what sort of lifestyle is socially and morally acceptable and what is not. People like Platt are central to that process.”

It’s true that the call to follow Jesus is a radical call. But it is false to juxtapose that radicalism with a demarcation between those areas of life in which one can be faithful to him and not.

What we can really hope for is that each of us will be obedient to Christ in our own callings, whether in plenty or in want, in abundance or scarcity. In the realm of economics, for most people that will mean that they act responsibly with their money, avoiding the temptation to live in the midst of crippling debt and seeking meaning in buying and identity with what we purchase and consume. This is what I’ve called the “fourth” pillar of the new economy, “Spend all you can.”

But as Brooks points out, the pursuit of sustainable wealth and profit in the midst of responsible giving and saving isn’t at all a new idea. It’s only the excessive spending and unsustainable consumption of recent decades that make it seem new.

I saw the most fascinating and lively exchange between two political conservatives on C-Span Book TV last weekend. It featured Andrew Sullivan, the homosexual activist who is actually a libertarian politically, and David Brooks, the Jewish columnist for The New York Times. Brooks has an unusually keen insight into evangelicalism, as can be seen in his frequently thoughtful references to it. He is also a wonderfully nuanced political conservative of the very best sort.

The televised event was sponsored by the famous Cato Institute. Brooks critiqued Andrew Sullivan’s reaction to religious conservatives and especially his new book, The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back (HarperCollins, 2006). The book addresses the recovering of the real heart and soul of conservatism, a misnamed book if there ever was one. Brooks did a masterful job of showing Andrew Sullivan why he failed to understand religious conservatism on the whole. He made several important points, especially regarding John R. Stott representing more of the deep and thoughtful evangelicalism of America than Sullivan realized.

There were three things David Brooks noted that will stand out for me for some time.

  1. The conservative movement needs to leave a lot more room for honest doubt.

  2. The core lesson of 9/11 was the deep impact that sin still has on human nature.
  3. Conservatives need to embrace the truth of “epistemological humility” with greater understanding.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."