On Friday, The New York Times‘ resident “conservative,” David Brooks, penned an ode to Western Civilization, tying the West’s lack of faith in itself to the rise of illiberals and authoritarians across the globe. To some extent, Brooks is correct, but he himself embodies the type of elite liberal who got us into this crisis in the first place.
“The faith in the West collapsed from within,” Brooks declared. “These days, the whole idea of Western civ is assumed to be reactionary and oppressive. All I can say is, if you think that was reactionary and oppressive, wait until you get a load of the world that comes after it.”
Brooks defined Western Civilization using the works of Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of Civilization. These authors “basically told human history (mostly Western history) as an accumulation of great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance and the Declaration of the Rights of Man.”
The Western narrative taught certain values “about the importance of reasoned discourse, the importance of property rights, the need for a public square that was religiously informed but not theocratically dominated,” Brooks explained. “It set a standard for what great statesmanship looked like. It gave diverse people a sense of shared mission and a common vocabulary, set a framework within which political argument could happen and most important provided a set of common goals.”
The ideas of the West laid the foundation for open discourse, limited government, religious freedom, science, and the unprecedented (and previously unimaginable) wealth of the free market.
But Americans — especially those in elite universities — have either forgotten or rejected this cultural bedrock. In the name of anti-colonialism and progressive identity politics, academia has slowly rejected the very foundations of open discourse, limited government, and even morality to devastating effects.
“Over the past few years especially, we have entered the age of strong men,” Brooks lamented. He cited Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, China’s Xi Jinping, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and of course President Donald Trump.
Brooks argued that governments are turning into “premodern cults of personality/Maximum Leader regimes” and noted “the collapse of the center,” with centrist parties subsiding and being replaced by the far-Right and the far-Left.
In America, “fragile thugs who call themselves students shut down and abuse speakers on a weekly basis” and young Americans no longer say it is absolutely important to live in a democratic country. Finally, Trump “violated every norm of statesmanship built up over these many centuries, and it turned out many people didn’t notice or didn’t care.”
David Brooks is right on here — in fact, he even understates his case. But people like him are the exact reason why Americans have been rejecting Western Civilization in the first place.
Brooks is an elitist. In 2010, he slandered the Tea Party movement, which was arguably a last-ditch attempt to return to the constitutional government bolstered by Western Civilization. In that article, he wrote this beauty:
The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.
How dare those darned rubes hold back the “educated class”! Never mind that skepticism on global warming, abortion, and gun control is based on reason and evidence. If Brooks really values “the importance of reasoned discourse,” he should not stifle debate on these issues.
Just last year, Brooks laughably declared that “the Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free.” In his “I Miss Obama” puff piece, the Times writer overlooked Obama’s scandals and seemed to forget the former president’s offensive line about rubes clinging to “guns or religion.”
Indeed, the Obama administration’s attempts to silence all opposition by mocking anyone who dared to question him or his policies — abetted by an unquestioning media — is a major reason why Donald Trump won the election last year.
Obama pushed the balkanization of America by encouraging minorities not to assimilate. He left the country more racially and religiously divided. People have been afraid to speak their minds, so when Trump’s major virtue was speaking his mind, no matter what the cost, they flocked to him.
Oh, and another funny thing about Obama? He is a firm believer in anti-colonialism, the very ideology that rejects Western Civilization as oppressive. Indeed, advocates of this ideology have rejected modern science — because it discriminates against witchcraft. The crumbling faith in Western Civilization across the world arguably traces back to Obama’s approach of pulling America back, rejecting American exceptionalism, and emphasizing identity politics.
Brooks, by defending Obama’s memory and slandering the Tea Party movement, has abetted the elites’ rejection of Western Civilization. Only now that parts of the Right are worshiping Trump the way the Left worshiped Obama does the Times‘ resident conservative sense that something has been lost.
Conservatives felt this loss eight years ago, and it started the Tea Party movement. The liberal elites have been rejecting Western Civilization as a repressive colonial force for decades, and now America — and the world — is reaping that reward.
But there are remnants. Brooks cited Andrew Michta in The American Interest, and Edward Luce, author of the forthcoming book The Retreat of Western Liberalism, but he left out the major forces for Western Civilization today — colleges like Hillsdale College and Grove City College and the burgeoning classical school movement.
I spent four years at Hillsdale College, and Western Civilization is alive and well there. Students read the great thinkers, from Plato and Aristotle to St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Adam Smith, and John Locke. They master the roots of Western Civilization and learn how to defend its moral and political norms against modern threats. Such intellectual work is perhaps more important than ever.
Brooks is right to lament the West’s lack of faith in itself, but the solution isn’t another screed against Donald Trump. The roots of Western Civilization are solid and they are not oppressive — conservatives and liberals can and should return to them at any time.
But it was liberal elites who first rejected the cornerstone of the West, and Brooks should stop carrying water for them.