David Brooks High Fives His Fellow Timesmen for a Job Well Done

Well, not in so many words of course, but what else can you say about an article in the New York Times with the phrase, “But now American attitudes resemble European attitudes, and when you just look at young people, American exceptionalism is basically gone:”


This loss of faith is evident in other areas of life. Fertility rates, a good marker of confidence, are down. Even accounting for cyclical changes, people are less likely to voluntarily vacate a job in search of a better one. Only 46 percent of white Americans believe they have a good chance of improving their standard of living, the lowest levels in the history of the General Social Survey.

Peter Beinart wrote a fascinating piece for National Journal, arguing that Americans used to have much more faith in capitalism, a classless society, America’s role in the world and organized religion than people from Europe. But now American attitudes resemble European attitudes, and when you just look at young people, American exceptionalism is basically gone.

Fifty percent of Americans over 65 believe America stands above all others as the greatest nation on earth. Only 27 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 believe that. As late as 2003, Americans were more likely than Italians, Brits and Germans to say the “free market economy is the best system on which to base the future of the world.” By 2010, they were slightly less likely than those Europeans to embrace capitalism.

Found via Peter Robinson of Ricochet; in the comments, EJ Hill adds, “We’re finished as a nation, but with perfectly creased pants.” And further down the comment thread, James Lileks looks back on a similar period of, hmmm, what to call it? Yes! Malaise, for a lack of a better word from the depths of Carter Country:


When I was young anti-Americanism was rampant. Watergate proved we were corrupt. Carter-era stagnation proved that capitalism was finished. Vietnam meant we were a murderous imperial power. European accommodation of the Soviets indicated a much more sensible, peaceable third way. The rise of punk music across the pond was a sign of the last death throes of Western Civ. The ascension of a madman warmonger as a president was just the cherry on the rotten sundae. It would all end in mushroom clouds.

We didn’t see any possible reason any of this would change.

Heh. The ’70s-era mindset expressed in Lileks’ comment was and is personified by the man who hired Brooks a decade or so ago to be his token pseudo-conservative:

An alert MRC fan tipped us to the profile of New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in the July 26 issue of The New Yorker magazine by authors Susan Tifft and Alex E. Jones, who are writing a book on the Sulzberger family.

Sulzberger, nicknamed “Pinch” (in comparison to his Times predecessor and father, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger), traveled a familiar path for the children of the Eastern elite in the 1960s and 1970s:

“He had been something of a political activist in high school — he had been suspended briefly from Browning for trying to organize a shutdown of the school following the National Guard’s shooting of students at Kent State — and at Tufts he eagerly embraced the antiwar movement. His first arrest for civil disobedience took place outside the Raytheon Comapny, a defense and space contractor; there, dressed in an old Marine jacket of Punch’s, he joined other demonstrators who were blocking the entrance to the company’s gates. He was soon arrested again, in an antiwar sit-in at the J.F.K. Federal Building in Boston.

“Punch had shown little reaction after the first arrest, but when he got word of the second one he flew to Boston. Over dinner, he asked his son why he was involved with the protests and what kind of behavior the family might expect of him in the future. Arthur assured his father he was not planning on a career of getting himself arrested. After dinner, as the two men walked in the Boston Common, Punch asked what his son later characterized as ‘the dumbest question I’ve ever heard in my life’: ‘If a young American soldier comes upon a young North Vietnamese soldier, which one do you want to see get shot?’ Arthur answered, ‘I would want to see the American get shot. It’s the other guy’s country; we shouldn’t be there.’ To the elder Sulzberger, this bordered on traitor’s talk. ‘How can you say that?’ he yelled. Years later, Arthur said of the incident, ‘It’s the closest he’s ever come to hitting me.'”


If only he had. According to Wikipedia, the elder Sulzberger “enlisted into the United States Marine Corps during World War II serving from 1944 to 1946, in the Pacific Theater.” Later “As a member of the Marine Forces Reserve he was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. Following completion of officer training, he saw duty in Korea and then in Washington, D.C., before being inactivated.”

In contrast, less than two decades after active fighting in Korea had ceased, Pinch had no qualms about younger versions of men like his father being shot on sight while similarly fighting overseas in Asia. That such a mammoth shift in “liberal” worldviews occurred after JFK’s death and continues to this day amongst wealthy Americans who form an elite subset that one might call, oh, bourgeois-bohemians, or perhaps bobos for short, represents one of the great historical pivots of the history of modern philosophy. And in retrospect, one of the great failures of the elites of the “Greatest Generation” that dominated mid-century liberalism. If only there was a large news gathering institution somewhere in the Northeast United States to explain how it happened and its corrosive effects on the rest of the country, and the world at large.


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