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David BrooksDavid Brooks, the in-house Republican at the New York Times, recently wrote an angry column aimed at conservatives (whom he dubbed “right-wing radicals,” among other unfriendly epithets). Elsewhere it has been pointed out, in essence, that someone like Mr. Brooks who pronounced Barack Obama suited for high office on account of the amazingly sharp crease in his trousers really should be considered disqualified from further political commentary. Perhaps a spot in the fashion pages would be more appropriate.

Nevertheless, it is worth addressing some of Mr. Brooks’ points for the simple reason that they so well sum up the Brahmin Stockholm Syndrome so rampant among establishment politicians and pundits who consider themselves conservative, or at least Republicans. Having achieved a modicum of power and prestige, establishment Republicans become “conservative” in their own minds, and in reality to the extent that “conservative” denotes the disposition to conserve whatever happens to exist. Then again, the disposition to conserve principally one’s own privileges at the expense of the people for whom one has claimed to speak and, where appropriate, act, is hardly true to any standard of virtue—that is, unless arrogant self-interest is considered a virtue when combined with a less than fully honest presentation of one’s own political position. Moreover, the price of such service to people whose sworn goal is to remake America in a radically different image from that we have inherited is a chilling loss of self-mastery and self-honesty akin to that of captives for their powerful captors.

It would be easy to dismiss Mr. Brooks as hypocritically arguing for a moderate “conservatism” out of a desire to further the interests of the liberal elites who buy his books and support his ill-deserved status as the “reasonable conservative” voice on various television shows. But it is more likely that he does, in fact, suffer from Brahmin Stockholm Syndrome. Being dependent on the approval of liberal elites, Mr. Brooks, like Justice Anthony Kennedy, former/current Speaker of the House John Boehner, and many, many others in the Republican establishment, have come to believe the stories they have been told about being “responsible” conservatives who are “ready to govern” at some ever-receding point in time when it will be politically safe and prudent to do so. The false reality of establishment ideology, according to which to conserve means to go along with the flow of events, merely attempting to keep them at a reasonable pace, feeds into this syndrome in which putatively rational people settle for lives spent cleaning up the messes made by people on their left (sometimes their far left) between real revolutions. Such, after all, was the position of the Republican Party before the Reagan Revolution sparked genuine opposition to the Progressive steamroller that has been flattening our culture to make room for a multicultural social democracy resting on individual entitlement and hostility to the fundamental institutions of family, church, and local association.

Significantly, while Mr. Brooks disparages conservatives in the current United States Congress as incompetent radicals, his invective extends much farther in time as well as space. Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and even supporters of Ronald Reagan (apparently the man himself is immune to this attack, for now) are decried as having betrayed conservatism by fostering a hatred of government inimical to legitimate rule. “Running a government is a craft, like carpentry” Mr. Brooks avers, and the craft requires respect for its traditions and dedication to learning how to use the “levers of power” to “produce some tangible if incremental good.” And such lessens, according to Mr. Brooks, are too difficult for those “ignorant” conservatives who are anti-democratic because they will not bow to the majority within whatever conglomeration of power currently controls the levers of power. Conservative radicals undermine the democratic process by which elites rule by bringing “the mental habits of the entrepreneur” to an area where their transformational effects are highly dangerous: namely, politics.

Mr. Brooks appeals, as Brahmin types have for decades, to a notion of conservatism that is correct, as far as it goes. That notion is of the conservative as possessed of “intellectual humility, a belief in steady, incremental change, a preference for reform rather than revolution, a respect for hierarchy, precedence, balance and order, and a tone of voice that is prudent, measured and responsible.” And how could any responsible person be against such an approach?

The answer is really quite simple. For Mr. Brooks has given an idealized picture of the habitual disposition of the conservative, one any conservative will seek to maintain whenever it is reasonable to do so. Unfortunately, as any conservative has known for some time now, it is no longer reasonable simply to cooperate with a power structure, and with a cadre of power-wielders bent on completing a fundamental transformation of our Constitution, or society, and our deepest cultural institutions. Mr. Brooks holds any genuine opposition to this transformation in contempt, almost stuttering on the page his outrage that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is viewed by conservatives as “the ruination of the republic.”

Obamacare4Obamacare is a program designed and intended to institute socialized medicine, thereby completing the transformation of the American republic into a European-style social democracy. It has been passed and implemented in contempt of constitutional provisions clearly spelling out the only appropriate procedures for making laws. The Constitution allows only for the signing of bills into law once they have passed both houses in identical form, which Obamacare was not. And it is being executed in similarly unconstitutional fashion, as President Obama has waived key provisions repeatedly to make his unworkable system appear to work. At least as important, Obamacare empowers the federal government to force people to enter interstate commerce (purchase approved health insurance) on threat of tax penalties that can blossom into jail time. That Mr. Brooks sees Obamacare as not such a big deal gives further evidence that he cares more for smart wardrobes than political traditions.

The “tradition” to which Mr. Brooks appeals is of rather recent and superficial vintage, being rooted in acquiescence to the thinly veiled radicalism of the party of the Left. Thus, Eisenhower “conservatively” accepted FDR’s New Deal, merely pruning a bit the welfare and administrative state it institutionalized. Nixon in fact extended the logic of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and its family-destroying “war on poverty”—in practice a war on poor families. Only with Reagan were there the beginnings of an attempt to re-establish restraint on the part of the federal government in accord with the constitutional structure of our nation as well as its abiding traditions. Reagan’s policies certainly were treated as revolutionary by those on the Left who insisted that one could not “turn back the clock” on a Progressive program that from its earliest days sought to foster a new ruling class of administrative elites based in Washington who would reconfigure constitutional forms to eliminate checks and balances limiting centralized power.

Reagan slowed “progress” down this dangerous road. Unfortunately, his “revolution” failed to re-establish a politics devoted to protecting family, church, and local association from Progressive experimentation. What began on the Left as a campaign to eliminate the “deadlock of democracy” had quickly produced massive experiments in social engineering. And all too many in Reagan’s own party saw their job as cleaning up after some of the failed experiments, fiddling with others, and institutionalizing those seen as necessary for continued “stability” in an increasingly radical ruling structure.

Reagan was President three decades ago. Now is the Age of Obama, in which even the modicum of respect once accorded individual initiative, local self-government, and limits on the power of our central government are derided as reactionary. Today marriage is whatever the Supreme Court says it is. Laws may be ignored at will by a president who waives laws and regulations on healthcare, education, and potentially the Second Amendment and expects no criticism because “democracy” and his personal vision of good public policy demand it. And effective opposition is called “radical” and “un-conservative” because a President acting far outside his Constitutional powers would shut down the national parks and cease issuing government checks rather than refrain from handing over taxpayer dollars to an organization that provides zero mammograms but plenty of baby parts for scientific experimentation.

Mr. Brooks makes much of the supposed contempt for democracy exhibited by conservative “radicals” in Congress. The last time I checked, democracy entailed the attempt to put into effect the program of action on which one was elected. To simply toss that program aside because it might be inconvenient for administrators and their Brahmin sponsors is not conservative, but slavish. To dismiss the programs as undemocratic or even reactionary because based in traditions far deeper and more fundamental than the corrupt bargains made among party hacks over the last few decades is simply not honest, either to oneself or to others.

Mr. Brooks’ great fear is, as it should be, revolution. Yet he seems not to notice the revolution taking place all around him at the instigation of a President who holds in contempt the traditions and constitutional forms of the nation he leads. It seems to have slipped his notice that the great movement of history to which he has attached himself has led us to a point where an avowed socialist has raised more campaign money in his race for President than any other candidate except Hillary Clinton.

David Brooks

David Brooks

Mr. Brooks claims that all revolutions “eat their young.” And he is utterly correct, for the revolution of the last several decades has destroyed our families and pulverized the local associations which once protected our children from the various forms of destruction (some quite literal) currently being visited upon them by the millions. That said, at least one revolution did not “eat its young.” That revolution was fought by our ancestors to defend traditional institutions, beliefs, and practices against an innovating, alien ruling class that sought to consolidate its power and control over the local communities making up our way of life. It was fought to defend a way of life today’s establishment holds in contempt and has undermined our constitutional liberties to fully eviscerate.

A revolution fought to restore traditional forms is not a revolution of the Jacobin variety. It may entail pain and sacrifice. But when those who see themselves as our betters show through a long train of abuses that they hold our culture in contempt, it may serve as a source of principles, policies, and appropriate goals for the very conservative cause of replacing political representatives who have failed the people with those who may see their duty in a different, more faithful light.

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4 replies to this post
  1. This is an excellent article. When will conservatives, and especially Catholics, learn that the system as it is now has no room for integral, truly traditional conservatives, only “conservative” liberals in the mold of Brooks.

    • Or, as I am beginning to understand (hopefully correctly), there is Left-wing Mammonism and Right-wing Mammonism. And I am also beginning to understand many things which I believed to be “normal” are now “conservative” by default.

  2. I am in agreement with many parts of Prof. Frohnen’s perspective. I am having trouble, however, reconciling however his ongoing revulsion with multicultural philosophy while simultaneously (and correctly) being reviled of monolithic federal power sapping out the states, towns, and free associations.

    OK, I was nauseated myself the first time I was subjected to multiculturalist thought, plus ten years or so… but now I have to realize that it is one of the few philoophical tools a religious conservative has left to grasp, turning it back around against its original proponents, in order to start righting this ship.

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