The United States is becoming a broken society. The public has contempt for the political class. Public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace. Middle-class wages have lagged. Unemployment will remain high. It will take years to fully recover from the financial crisis.
This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.
Brooks looks to British philosopher and theologian Philip Blond for guidance on how to deal with the failures of our society.
Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.
The right keeps insisting that a cultural revolution took place in the 1960s, in which the Anglo-Saxon culture that made America the pinnacle of political, moral and economic achievement was rejected in place of dirty hippie culture, with its "do your own thing" philosophy. Back over in reality, where the rest of us live, we know that the only thing rejected was the authority of the elite, as minorities fought for equal treatment by the law and society. Our society didn't dissolve into communal living. We didn't stop making wars, earning money, creating families. We just made it harder for the dominant White culture to exclude everyone else. Conservatives, who by definition try to maintain the dominance of White males, were frightened by the loss of authority and power. The right has been hysterical about the dirty hippies who spoiled their ability to enforce dominance in public ever since, and has been livid at the idea of any of their privileges being given to the people they see as morally, mentally and socially inferior.
Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.
Not so fast, Skippy. You can call it a revolution in the feeble attempt to make it sound like a fight for freedom, but the "market revolution" was never anything but the elite's successful attempt to avoid any checks or balances on their unremitting greed. The free market revolution was a revolt against government regulation, the bane of the rich and soon-to-be super rich. Milton Friedman's belief in eliminating government regulation via eliminating taxes, an eternally winning campaign platform, merely shifted the burden of paying for the government to later generations, who would be stuck with the ensuing debt.
The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.
More rewriting of history. "The state had to come in and repair the damage" is a cute way of saying that Obama's backers had him give tax-payer money to the elite when they destroyed their own houses of business through their greed. No elite is supposed to suffer, ever.
The free-market revolution didn’t create the pluralistic decentralized economy. It created a centralized financial monoculture, which requires a gigantic government to audit its activities.
Oddly enough, that's what happens when you give all the power and money to a small group of people. They don't share the wealth and power. The "gigantic government" is not auditing the people who put them into office, it's busy waging wars that enrich arms dealers, making sweetheart deals, and securing natural resources for corporate use, all of which need the force and resources of the government.
The effort to liberate individuals from repressive social constraints didn’t produce a flowering of freedom; it weakened families, increased out-of-wedlock births and turned neighbors into strangers. In Britain, you get a country with rising crime, and, as a result, four million security cameras.
Gosh, it seems that individuals demanding equal rights leads to crime and a police state. Not rising inequality and the elite's growing stranglehold on the poor and powerless.
Brooks' solution is, naturally, more conservatism.
The task today, he argued in a recent speech, is to revive the sector that the two revolutions have mutually decimated: “The project of radical transformative conservatism is nothing less than the restoration and creation of human association, and the elevation of society and the people who form it to their proper central and sovereign station.”
Economically, Blond lays out three big areas of reform: remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor. This would mean passing zoning legislation to give small shopkeepers a shot against the retail giants, reducing barriers to entry for new businesses, revitalizing local banks, encouraging employee share ownership, setting up local capital funds so community associations could invest in local enterprises, rewarding savings, cutting regulations that socialize risk and privatize profit, and reducing the subsidies that flow from big government and big business.
To create a civil state, Blond would reduce the power of senior government officials and widen the discretion of front-line civil servants, the people actually working in neighborhoods. He would decentralize power, giving more budget authority to the smallest units of government. He would funnel more services through charities. He would increase investments in infrastructure, so that more places could be vibrant economic hubs. He would rebuild the “village college” so that universities would be more intertwined with the towns around them.
In other words, Blond would somehow take power from the powerful and spread it around. How is he going to convince the elite to share power? What do you think, Skippy?
America, too, is suffering a devastating crisis of authority. The only way to restore trust is from the local community on up.
I see. It's the poor's duty to restore the elites' trustworthiness. It's the responsibility of the powerless to stop worrying about individual rights, the bane of conservatives' existence, and worry instead about how the elite can get back all the
"He would decentralize power, giving more budget authority to the smallest units of government."
Great idea. What should we call these small, localized units of authority and planning? Hey, how about "soviets"?
How about tribes?
Every time I read David Brooks I think of Skippy of Family Ties.
Throwing pies at public figures is a splendid practice, but someone like Brooks needs either a wedgie or a pantsing.
That's one of the best takedowns I've read of the very special noxiousness that is David Brooks.
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