Tuesday, March 04, 2014

David Brooks Can't Stop

So David Brooks wrote a scoldy column today about the badness and wrongness of a nation "melodramatically" doing big, dangerous things "in pursuit of grandiose eschatalogical visions".  Which is great and all, but probably would have packed much more punch had Mr. Brooks not spent much of the last decade writing flowery, flattering New York Time's reacharounds in praise of the Bush Administration's wars of aggression launched very melodramatically and very much in pursuit of the grandiose Neoconservative eschatalogical vision which Mr. Brooks very much shares.

But Brother Charles Pierce has already written the "Quoting Previous David Brooks back to Today's David Brooks (even though it won't make the slightest difference)" column I woulda written had I not started the day off with a whopping big headache, and an early-morning meeting:
Let us pause for a further moment and see if we can recall, in our recent history, a war of aggression launched melodramatically and in pursuit of grandiose eschatalogical visions. Let us pause for yet another moment and see if we can recall a war launched based on a nation's notion of itself as exceptional, with a unique spiritual status and purpose. (We will leave autocracy alone because, well, Dick Cheney, QED.) Let us pause for one last moment and recall what David Brooks said about that war in real time.
One gets the impression," Brooks wrote just days after the invasion began, "that U.S. military dominance is now so overwhelming that the rules of conflict are being rewritten." He derided the "ludicrous Vietnam comparisons [and] rampant quagmire forebodings" of namby-pambies not sharing his euphoria. The president's decision to topple Saddam Hussein, Brooks felt certain, "represents what the United States is on earth to achieve. Thank God we have the political leaders and the military capabilities to realize the ideals that have always been embodied in our founding documents."
On February 6, 2003...
Or January 29, 2003...
Or, finally, March 17, 2003...
So seeing how that's already done, I decided I'd get my kicks another way.

I have taken several paragraphs from Mr. Brooks' column today on the dangerous folly of pursuing "grandiose eschatalogical visions"... and several paragraphs from one of Mr. Brooks' more infamous and effusive columns on National Greatness Conservatism, which he wrote while he was the senior editor of Bill Kristol's "Weekly Standard" neocon rag.  I have made a few, small tweaks for the sake of continuity (changed some pronouns, change all national references so that they refer to Russia and Russian leaders/institutions/thinkers, blanked out the names of a few specific building and individuals where changing them to a Russian equivalent wasn't practical) but everything else is exactly how Mr. Brooks -- then and now -- wrote it.

Then I shuffled them up into a roughly logical order.

Read through then and see if you can tell which ones are from David Brooks 2014 warning of the dangers of leaders who use "grandiose eschatalogical visions" to whip a nation into action...and which are from David Brooks 1997 urging Conservative to use exactly those same means to return American to Greatness:
At their worst, Golden Age Russians reacted to anxiety with dogmatism -- ponderous chest-thumping about the "superior races." But at their best, they asked big questions: How can Russia produce a culture it can be proud of? How will the inhabitants of some future world power look back on Russia achievement during its moment of supremacy? What are the steps that a nation can take to preserve the virtues that lead to greatness in the first place?  (1)  

To enter into the world of Putin’s favorite philosophers is to enter a world full of melodrama, mysticism and grandiose eschatological visions. “We trust and are confident that the hour will come when Russia will rise from disintegration and humiliation and begin an epoch of new development and greatness,” Ilyin wrote. (2)  

Russians of the late 19th century believed that, transcending human affairs, there is a universal order created by God. Man's duty is to strive toward that order, which precedes and controls politics, morals, history, economics, and art. A phrase from _____________ and inscribed in the library, captures the message: "One God, one law, one element and one far-off divine event, to which the whole creation moves." (3)  

Three great ideas run through this work. The first is Russian exceptionalism: the idea that Russia has its own unique spiritual status and purpose. The second is devotion to the Orthodox faith. The third is belief in autocracy. Mashed together, these philosophers point to a Russia that is a quasi-theocratic nationalist autocracy destined to play a culminating role on the world stage.  (4) 

The library's artists broke that cosmic order down into its constituent parts. There are murals depicting each of the virtues, each of the occupations, each of the arts and sciences, each of the races. And the murals celebrate the great men and women -- artists and scientists and thinkers -- who were able to rise up and glimpse this universal order. (5) 

These philosophers often argued that the rationalistic, materialistic West was corrupting the organic spiritual purity of Russia. “The West exported this anti-Christian virus to Russia,” Ilyin wrote, “Having lost our bond with God and the Christian tradition, mankind has been morally blinded, gripped by materialism, irrationalism and nihilism.” (6) 

They have become besotted with localism, local communities, and the devolution of power to the localities. By contrast, those who preached national greatness were not believers in the superior virtue of the simple folk, as today's populists are. They believed in effort, cultivation, and mastery. They believed in cities and urbanity. They believed in capitals, in monuments, in grandeur.(7) 

Even cynics like to feel moral. Even hard-eyed men who play power politics need to feel that their efforts are part of a great historic mission. So as he has been throwing his weight around the world, Vladimir Putin has been careful to quote Russian philosophers from the 19th and 20th centuries like ________ , ________ and ________. (8) 

Most important, these philosophers had epic visions of Russia’s role in the world. _______ argued that because Russia is located between the Catholic West and the non-Christian East, it has a historic mission to lead the way to human unification. Russia would transcend secularism and atheism and create a unified spiritual kingdom. “The Russian messianic conception,” _______ wrote, “always exalted Russia as a country that would help to solve the problems of humanity.”  (9) 

It almost doesn't matter what great task government sets for itself, as long as it does some tangible thing with energy and effectiveness. The first task of government is to convey a spirit of confidence and vigor that can then spill across the life of the nation. Stagnant government drains national morale. A government that fails to offer any vision merely feeds public cynicism and disenchantment. (10) 

All of this adds up to a highly charged and assertive messianic ideology. If Putin took it all literally, he’d be a Russian ayatollah. (11) 

The national mission can be carried out only by individuals and families -- not by collectives, as in socialism and communism. Instead, individual ambition and willpower are channeled into the cause of national greatness. And by making the nation great, individuals are able to join their narrow concerns to a larger national project. (12) 

The Russian nation may be motivated by a deep, creedal ideology that has been wafting through the culture for centuries and has now found an unlikely, cynical and cold-eyed host. (13) 

Answer Key Below:

Paragraphs 1, 3, 5, 7, 10 and 12 are from "A RETURN TO NATIONAL GREATNESS: A Manifesto for a Lost Creed", March 3, 1997.

Paragraphs 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11 and 13 are from "Putin Can’t Stop", March 3, 2014.

1 comment:

Horace Boothroyd III said...

Hand Brooks a rifle and send him off to the Ant Hill. That would give him material for twenty years of columnia more arresting than those he has put on offer.