David Brooks Says Smart People Caused Trumpism

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David Brooks wrote a too-long article, How The Bobos Wrecked America. blaming smart people for Trumpism. I discussed one aspect of this in my last post, focusing on Brooks’ use of the term Epistemic Regime. It’s a phrase he picked up from (I’d guess) reading a couple of chapters from a book by Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution Of Knowledge. I’m reading Rauch’s book. The first four chapters discuss the Epistemic Regime as a system we as a society developed to decide what is true.

Rauch follows Charles Sanders Peirce’s concept of truth. I discuss this important definition here. Truth in Rauch’s sense means that a proposition has been thoroughly checked for error, and so far has held up. Truth, then, just means our best guess at a useful and accurate description. The goal of the Epistemic Regime is to eliminate error, not to establish some objective truth “out there”.

The word “epistemic” is related to epistemology, the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Here’s Rauch’s definition of an ideal Epistemic Regime:

… a public system for adjudicating differences of belief and perception and for developing shared and warranted conclusions about truth…. P. 76.

Rauch’s Epistemic Regime is a community of institutions through which individuals cooperate and compete in generating and disseminating new propositions, checking them for errors, and if cleared, fitting them into the store of knowledge, subject to being amended or dumped if later found to be erroneous. There are, of course, other methods of determining what is true, such as bias-confirming regimes, or those which just accept the word of an authority figure or group.

Rauch’s Epistemic Regime is self-organizing. No one controls anything. The communities are open. Anyone willing and able to do the work can participate. It’s impersonal, in that conflicts are about propositions, not people.

The range of subjects covered by this Epistemic Regime is large, but it is not all-encompassing. The limits are set by considerations about what we can falsify. For example, we currently think the universe began with a Big Bang, and that we cannot know what happened before the cataclysmic event because it obliterated all evidence.

The general method of construction of truth can be applied to many areas. For example, we can apply aesthetics to decide if Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey is good. [It is.] We can make warranted judgments about aesthetics, morality, and other fields using tools honed by the Epistemic Regime, such as respect for precedent, persuasive argument, careful attention to detail, and willingness to accept criticism.

This isn’t what Brooks drew from Rauch. He claims that over the past few decades a new group of social classes has evolved, one Red, one Blue, and both hierarchical. One of his Blue Classes is the “creative class”, which he characterizes as:

… the same scientists, engineers, architects, financiers, lawyers, professors, doctors, executives, and other professionals who make up the bobos [his group from his book Bobos in Paradise].

Here’s his thesis:

The creative class has converted cultural attainment into economic privilege and vice versa. It controls what Jonathan Rauch describes in his new book, The Constitution of Knowledge, as the Epistemic Regime—the massive network of academics and analysts who determine what is true. Most of all, it possesses the power of consecration; it determines what gets recognized and esteemed, and what gets disdained and dismissed.

Brooks seems to think Rauch’s Epistemic Regime is just a group of people, identical to the creative class, or at least overlapping it. That’s not what Rauch says.

The Epistemic Regime is a system developed over a long period and followed by a lot of people seeking to increase our knowledge. We act under the Epistemic Regime when we seek knowledge. The habits of thought we use under the Epistemic probably influence us in other aspects of our lives, but I don’t root for Notre Dame, or admire Jane Austen, as part of any Epistemic Regime.

The creative class does participate in creation of new knowledge, but it also works in the area of culture, taste, and politics. Tools generated under the Epistemic Regime can be applied to criticize specific aspects of each. But the Epistemic Regime doesn’t tell us how to enjoy our lives or which political party to support, because our individual choices can’t be falsified. De gustibus non est disputandum. Chacun à son goût. Each to his own. All societies agree on this point.

No one, and certainly not an entire class, controls the Epistemic Regime. And, the Epistemic Regime doesn’t control anyone. Its a system for adjudicating truth as best we can, not of domination.

Brooks seems to thinks the creative class is homogeneous in cultural matters, which is dumb. The only thing this class uniformly accepts is insistence on Rauch’s Epistemic Regime when working to generate knowledge. Outside that, members are diverse on every social axis.

Brooks tells us that the creative class disrespects the culture of the Red Classes. That makes them resentful so they vote MAGA.

What causes psychic crisis are the whiffs of “smarter than” and “more enlightened than” and “more tolerant than” that the creative class gives off. People who feel that they have been rendered invisible will do anything to make themselves visible; people who feel humiliated will avenge their humiliation.

Brooks doesn’t explain the connection between these two sentences, probably because there isn’t one.

It’s certainly true that there are tastemakers among the creative class, and that they are snotty about it. The snotty people of an earlier generation referred to High and Low Culture. For most of human history cultural superiority was solely a pleasure of the filthy rich, like the Medici or French Aristos. They were scary because they exercised physical power over people’s lives. That’s not true today. Why would anyone care what the creative class thinks about their cultural and taste preferences? And why would that turn political? Brooks doesn’t say.


1. Brooks doesn’t say anything about the cultural views of the Red Classes that are “dismissed and disdained” by apparently, the entire creative class. I’m pretty sure it’s mostly a toxic mixture of self-pity, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and other anti-social attitudes.

I’d guess most of the Creative Class doesn’t like that toxic mixture. Generally we (I include myself in the creative class, just like Brooks does) think we should try to follow the Golden Rule. We justify and expand that view with tools provided by Rauch’s Epistemic Regime. We try to squelch bad impulses in ourselves and in society. And we don’t care if that hurts the feelings of racists, women-haters, homophobes and xenophobes.

2. Brooks is trying to explain why so many Americans reject vaccines and other public health measures. He does this by conflating the creative class with the Epistemic Regime, as if the two were identical. If you reject the creative class then you have to reject the Epistemic Regime and its fruits, like vaccines, but somehow not Ivermectin and monoclonal antibodies. He doesn’t even try to justify this absurd idea.

3. Brooks is right that the Red Classes are angry and hostile towards the Blue Classes, but he makes no effort to explain how they got so worked up they’d suicidally risk sickness and death over it. He says it’s now become political, but he doesn’t explain why anyone would think that makes sense.

He doesn’t mention the economic power of the filthy rich, or their role in generating and amplifying the grievances of the Red Classes; or why it seems to be a policy choice of his Republican Party. It’s just natural, he says, as if that explains something.

4. In other words, this relentlessly long article contributes nothing to knowledge. You’re just supposed to assume that because it’s so bloody long and drops a bunch of names it’s a brilliant defense of the Trumpian Republican Party to say:

“If only those smart people weren’t so rude”.

77 replies
    • Ed Walker says:

      There is a Red Class hierarchy, and the members of the Facebook and Fox devotees fit into it at one of the two lower levels. Or not. Brooks’ classes seem badly defined to me, but maybe someone else would like to take a shot at making them sound sensible.

    • BobCon says:

      The Facebook and Fox piece of it is what drives me so crazy about the patronizing dopes like Brooks.

      They find Facebook and Fox distasteful, so they never tune in, and they avoid anyone who does. And as a result all that Brooks knows about the conservatives he gestures towards is what he reads about in the Atlantic — stuff written by other brainiacs who also don’t tune into Facebook or Fox.

      They don’t listen to talk radio, or read the right wing rags. They just read each others’ top line summaries of what they imagine these things must be like, based on five minutes of Neil Cavuto they might catch in the waiting room of an oil change place before they plug in their noise cancelling headphones.

      Brooks and his cohort have no relatives who belong to Q-non, they never face antivaxxers screaming outside public schools, they never sit down at Thanksgiving dinners with relatives who are convinced athiests and Muslims are conspiring to shut down Christmas in a month.

      If they ever talk to a rank and file Republican, it’s a person recommended to them by a GOP operative who knows how to provide a curated selection who are carefully coached on how to reinforce the message Brooks wants to hear.

      Breaking out of this closed system would be so simple. They only have to spend an hour online, an hour listening to AM radio, and an hour watching TV every day. But their hatred for the people they supposedly defend ends up reinforcing their preconceived notions — they can’t admit they won’t engage, so they have no choice but to accept the narrative fed to them by the insiders they claim to reject.

      • Ed Walker says:

        This sounds right to me. Brooks is in his own bubble, which dampens the raucous R base. He thinks he’s a member of the creative class, and he thinks all members of that class despise these crazies as much as he does, D or R. Look at his pastoral description of the lowest ranks of his Red and Blue hierarchies.

        The lowest class of Reds is described as “… the rural working class. Members of this class have highly supervised jobs in manufacturing, transportation, construction. Their jobs tend to be repetitive and may involve some physical danger. ”

        The lowest Blue Class is: “… the caring class, the largest in America (nearly half of all workers, by some measures), and one that in most respects sits quite far from the three above it. It consists of low-paid members of the service sector: manicurists, home health-care workers, restaurant servers, sales clerks, hotel employees.”

        In Brooks’ world, everyone is normal and if they go crazy someone there has to be a reason, and it has to come from the Blue side.

        • Theordora30 says:

          Brooks is desperate to find a way to excuse his own complicity in aiding and abetting the people who are behind our real epistemic problem — all those Republican elites who created a powerful propaganda grievance machine that inflamed the “Reds” into joining their party. We know that Fox News has been the major factor in fanning the flames of their hatred and fear over the past 25 years; Rupert Murdoch and his henchman Roger Ailes are/were nothing if not elites.
          But even before that Republicans had realized they had to lie to retain power because the public didn’t support their true goals. The sainted George HW Bush hired Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes to run his campaign against Dukakis. When polls showed him losing badly Bush personally approved the race-baiting Willie Horton ad but Atwater farmed it out to an independent group so that Bush, the Man of Great Principles, could deny having had anything to do with it. Roger Stone and Paul Manafort also worked on that campaign.

          Before Fox Republicans were already selling us a pack of lies with their fairy tales about cost free tax cuts and fanning the flames of racism with their innocuously named Southern Strategy. Back then they were the party of the wealthy because the right wing Christian evangelicals had not yet been scared by into becoming politically active. The Republican elites thought they could control them with their propaganda but now they have become the tail that is wagging their dog.

          While all this was happening before our eyes the mainstream media mostly ignored what was happening and “principled” Republicans like Brooks chose to turn a blond eye. No wonder he is so desperate to come up with someone else to blame.

  1. P J Evans says:

    My father’s older sister was, I would guess, a member of the “creative class”, though neither rich nor famous. She was also farther left than I am, and would never have voted for the former guy (she died in late August 2016). I wouldn’t bet that his youngest sister (more likely to be “creative class” according to Brooks) voted for the former guy, either, but I won’t ask, because it’s none of my business.

    • Krisy Gosney says:

      I personally know several liberal, white, creative-types and orgs who refuse the vaccine. And I know of many, many more. And that’s just in my small-ish orbit. I kinda wish it was all so Brooksian cut-and-dry. It would be way less frustrating and sad and I wouldn’t have to turn my back on so many people and orgs in my orbit. Besides, hasn’t Brooks been pushing the Liberals are this and that and that is why the Republicans act so awful same bs for decades? You can’t get a bird to change his his tune when his getting fed depends on the old tune, I guess.

      • it's complicated says:

        Here in Germany, things might be even less clearly divided across political lines. In an old schoolfriend’s family, he’s the only one who got vaccinated and I’m grateful for that. His mother won’t get vaccinated because one cousin was left with lifelong crippling aftereffects of a smallpox vaccine, officially recognized which earns him a small rent. The older sister (and even more so her husband) come from the anti-authoritarian Left and refuse because they regard it as a coercive state overreach and the younger sister is confused by contradictory news and probably would get vaccinated if her mother did so. None of them is crazy rightwing, but still… Three different people, three different reasons, and I gave up on trying to convince them. Still it causes me a constant worry, and they know that. Life in 2021.

        • Ed Walker says:

          Rejection of vaccines for political reasons seems weird whether the impetus comes from the right or the left. Confusing, indeed.

        • Theodora30 says:

          The smallpox vaccine was much more dangerous because it is a live virus. There is no comparison. One of my older cousins died from that vaccination when he was a baby yet all the rest of us kids in the family got vaccinated anyway because our parents were well aware of the even more horrific danger from smallpox which had not been eradicated back then.

    • P J Evans says:

      Also, pretty sure that Brooks would have put youngest aunt’s husband in the “creative class”, but I have news for him: uncle was planning to become an auto mechanic after high school (his father worked at an auto place) and only went to college because one of his teachers got him in to a “good” school.

  2. mossyrock says:

    David Brooks has always been angry in opposition to democrats and I think he hopes it doesnt show too much so that he doesnt apprear boorish or “lower middle class”.so he is trying now in his late age to justify this anger towards the poor whom he has always despised He has always believed his alternative facts were more important than a child/s hunger. He has never been a truth teller. He cannot see or understand what is in front of him until he runs it through his formulaic glasses that he bought through a Burche Society catalog all those many years ago. He is unweilding. A true conservative who cannot change or be moved by life’s events for others. i would never consider his truths to be mine. He is a justifyer and nothing more.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    David Brooks is a talented courtier, a would be Escoffier, who defines taste not for his patrons, who know better, but for his readers. His confections rely on a few key ingredients. He starts with a sabayon of three or four real facts. He overwhelms it with dollops of rancid flour, butter, and milk, then pops it into ill-fitting tins and slams them into an unheated oven. Just before press time, he whisks them out, slathers them with goop, and serves them with a flourish of, “Look what knowledge I’ve discovered!” His readers devour it with the glee of the crowd, gaping at the emperor’s new clothes. His putative connections would make a culinary James Burke cringe, because they bear the same relationship to cultural understanding that Newspeak bears to truth. Disinformation and dyspepsia are entirely the point.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Now that I’ve got that off my plate, it’s time to take a closer look at some of Brooks’s ingredients. His description of the Blue class, for example, which suggests the Democrat party, but not really, owing to its diversity.

      … the same scientists, engineers, architects, financiers, lawyers, professors, doctors, executives, and other professionals who make up the bobos [his group from his book Bobos in Paradise].

      The reference to his neologism and book are self-serving, and keeps the focus within Brooks’s intended frame of reference. It boggles the mind to think that those diverse professionals have much in common – necessary to define a class – beyond college degrees and their purported incomes. But lawyers’ income, for example, vary wildly, from the few tens of thousands earned by a public interest lawyer to the millions taken home by a partner at Kirkland & Ellis. Their politics and social interests vary as widely.

      This motely crew is not really a class, but Brooks needs it to be one so that he can set it up in opposition to his Red (Maga, GOP) class, comprised of the friends he met at those Pennsylvania diners he never went to. Neither non-class controls the system of knowledge that defines what we refer to as knowledge – within a profession or as a social or political class.

      Select members of this non-class have much more influence than others. Financiers and entrepreneurs, more colloquially, robber barons, for example, have much the greatest influence. They influence politicians more thoroughly than Rockefeller, Vanderbilt or the Big Four railroad barons. Faux Noise is only one of their tools. They exert heavy influence on on large swaths of the population and, for example, on charitable organizations – colleges and universities, the great foundations, museums, charities and public trusts – which act as traditional arbiters of taste, culture and social class. Brooks conflates one group’s outsized influence with many others so as to make agency, and the role of his patrons, disappear.

      • Leoghann says:

        Just like the Marvel Universe, in the Brooksiverse, you have to have read all his tomes in order to be in on his jargon and to follow his train of thought.

  4. Anomalous Cowherd says:

    I admit that I can and should be held responsible for the statements I make; however, I deny that I should be held responsible for other’s misunderstandings and illogical inferences. I have no control over their knowledge, their thought processes or whatever emotional trigger points they have accumulated during their life. I generally have no information about their education, rationality or trauma.

    I try to be logical and concise. I sometimes fail. But whatever someone’s reaction is to my attempt to communicate, it’s theirs and theirs alone. No one can talk me into an irrational position except me, myself. It’s way past time for the folks who complain about elitist disdain driving vaccine and mask resistance to remove the beam from their eyes.

  5. DrFunguy says:

    David Brooks stumbles on a partial truth (maybe), stubs his toe, and produces a shallow, logically lacunose, essay-like excrescence.
    Dog Bites Man!!!
    If there is a better example of failing upward, white, male privilege (except perhaps TFG), its hard to imagine.

  6. bmaz says:

    That Brooks puts up this garbage is proof that he is not, and never has been, one of the smart bobos. What a complete putz.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      That’s being unkind to putzes, few of whom pull down a few million a year to cough out this logorrhea.

      • bmaz says:

        Agreed. But, seriously, the NYT pays him a ton of money and he is a graduate of the University of Chicago. And he has the temerity to whine about elites? Just spare me Dave, you are the “Bobo”

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Brooks derides only the other side’s elites. His side’s he leaves out of the narrative, which helps elide their and their patrons’ agency.

          • Ginevra diBenci says:

            Snap! I would humbly submit that Brooks does not merely leave his side’s elites out of the narrative, he defines them out. You can’t look for him among the beneficiaries of those who sponsor rightwing think tanks, because neither category exists in his formulae.

            • Leoghann says:

              Exactly. The whole reason that Brooks is able to define all of Western society in such simplistic, binary terms is that he (conveniently) leaves out 60% that don’t conform to his system of groups. It’s as if someone developed a social theory that revolves around whether individuals prefer blue or yellow.

  7. person1597 says:

    Brooks fancies he’s Jiminy Cricket giving advice to Pinocchio… But…he’s more like the 100 year old Talking-Cricket who Carlo Collodi’s marionette dispatches like a true Trumpalo. Better, Brooks should essay “America, Land of Toys”. Brooks might defend such a putative post-modern critique with the Disney-esque… “You boys have had your fun! Now pay for it!”. But he won’t. He’s busy selling. Bobo’s Pleasure Island where nobody gets evicted…just caged and sold to the salt miners.

  8. Drew says:

    Brooks is a Dog in the Manger wearing an expensive suit and a certain facility for language seeking to assist the other dogs in their rear guard action. All of us have things, cultural, etc. that we have affection for and wish to be true. Conservatives have lots of those things. Ultimately the thing about an Epistemic Regime is sorting out ways in which things can be coherently kept, rejected or modified in order to go forward as a society.

    Problem is, in recent years, Conservatives have been trying to hold on to too many things without rejecting or modifying them. Well, they will modify things, like whether a serial philanderer and liar is a good thing to have as President of the U.S. & things like that, but stuff like supporting the rich and holding on to the benefits of racism against all evidence are just too hard for them to take. Brooks uses his platform to help the whiners whine and distract from the fact that the GOP – QAnon continuum has opted out of any Epistemic Regime and defaulted back to a thinly rationalized will to power – a will to power that ultimately makes no sense since it is a fading minority with no intellectual vigor–just assertiveness and guns. Of course, this is a big part of the violent defensiveness.

    Now, I’ve been around long enough to see how many self-styled “liberals” or “progressives” are just in it for the style points & being on the winning side, either locally or more broadly. But this does not mean that there are not issues to examine, errors to find, propositions that are more true or less true. Brooks playing like there is more than one Epistemic Regime is the most anti-intellectual, anti-rational thing I can think of.

  9. Badger Robert says:

    I doubt that the disagreement is about some group deciding what is truthful. This disagreement seems to be more about whether there is such a thing as truth. Do facts come from experience, or from the tweets of a demagogue?
    Its difficult for me to believe that even Brooks thinks there is some blue group that is responsible for the other coalition patronizing a sectional grievance that is 156 years old, a racial division that propped up an American version of an archaic labor system. Somebody decided to authenticate the crippling emotion of self pity, and also allowed white society to think that the multi-ethnic society could be defeated.
    Someone decided that nihilism was a good thing, Bringing a war mentality to politics was a good way to retain power.

  10. Ed Walker says:

    This post came about because I was incensed by Brooks’ take on Rauch’s Epistemic Regime. I tried to make sense of his ,,, let’s say, “take”, and finally realized he wasn’t quoting Rauch in his article. So I bought Rauch’s book, and that led to the first part of this post. The Constitution Of Knowledge is an easy introduction to some of the ideas of epistemology, and has some good ideas about how to deal with constant Republican attacks on the Epistemic Regime.

    People like Brooks nauseate me. He pretends to be an intellectual, he pretends he’s read and understood the people he paraphrases, and he pretends he’s learned something.

    A lot of my posts are discussions of books I’ve read and struggled to understand. My series on The Public And Its Problems is typical. I may be wrong, I may not understand, but it isn’t from want of trying really hard.

    And here’s the thing. He isn’t accountable. No one with a megaphone as big as his calls him out as an intellectual imposter. This is the state of intellectual life on the right: Brooks and Douthat are considered the shining lights. Ugh.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Nice summation of what’s wrong with Brooks and those who refuse to call him out. It’s like a circle jerk book review: each player says nice things about the other guy’s book, because he’s saying nice things about yours. It reduces to a Habermanesque because money, because we’re all insiders, and because neither we nor our patrons give a shit about anyone who’s not. Ironically, given the subject of your post, the elites that Bobo leaves out of his discussion are transnational players at this game. Those in London and Paris are especially good at it.

    • civil says:

      I haven’t read Brooks’ article. I also haven’t read Rauch’s book, but I’ve done some related reading, mostly in the context of the knowledge and other beliefs that teachers draw on in their work, sometimes focused on particularly skilled teachers, sometimes on novice teachers, sometimes on average teachers. Teachers draw on different kinds of knowledge — warranted (or justified) true belief — in their teaching. They also draw on other kinds of beliefs. Some of these are T/F beliefs that aren’t knowledge (whether because they’re false, or their truth-value is unknown, or the person lacks a sufficient warrant) and some are beliefs that are not T/F (such as values, goals, commitments, faith — what you were talking about when you noted “our individual choices can’t be falsified”). Often multiple beliefs get packaged together, and someone draws on these belief packages in their reasoning. For example, in teaching mathematics, a teacher might know of multiple ways to prove proposition X, view one of the proofs as “elegant” and another as “brute-force,” have a personal preference for the elegant proof over a brute-force proof (such a preference is common among mathematicians), have a teaching preference for a different proof that students find easier to understand or that gives them insight into something, and all of these beliefs may be part of a single package, where some of the beliefs are knowledge (of the proofs, of students) and some are values (e.g., a personal preference for an elegant proof).

      OK, why am I bringing this up?
      * In part, because I think people often treat non-knowledge beliefs as if they were knowledge, simply because they believe them strongly. It sounds like Brooks is doing this.
      * Also because of this notion that beliefs can get packaged together, and someone may draw on the package in their reasoning rather than drawing individually on each of the beliefs in the package. If “Brooks is trying to explain why so many Americans reject vaccines and other public health measures,” it’s useful to recognize that people can package different kinds of beliefs together and then work with the package instead of the individual beliefs. In this case, a package might involve some knowledge, some beliefs about public health that the person thinks are knowledge but are actually false, and some values. Different packages may even have conflicting beliefs (that is, package 1 incorporates belief A, package 2 incorporates belief B, and A conflicts with B), but because one is working with the packages as entities, the conflict between components isn’t as evident. Sounds like this has happened with some of Brooks’ reasoning. This could also account for people rejecting a Covid vaccine while accepting ivermectin: they don’t experience a conflict because of how the beliefs get packaged.

      Thanks for the column. I’ll add Rauch’s book to my reading list.

  11. Badger Robert says:

    In a US without a significant external threat the diverse interests can lead to crippling divisions. And in a world of social media algorhythms, those divisions can be manipulated for profit.
    We end up with addictionspeak, not Newspeak.
    Thanks Ed for reviewing Brooks. Do George Will next.

    • Tor Haxson says:

      Taking on George Will is such low hanging fruit that nobody should bend down to write that.

      I swear George just reads headlines and then spews out some opinion roughly relating to the subject matter of the headline.

      It seems like George Will puts about 30 minutes of effort into an article, and yet.. they get published.

  12. wrhack says:

    David Brooks is a thorough mediocrity. That anyone takes his writings seriously is astonishing. He’s just not very bright, and he’s extremely resentful toward those who are both more intelligent and more respected by their intellectual peers than he is. End of story.

  13. KP says:

    Ed, you did a nice job of distilling the lack of anything in Brook’s facile fable posing as deep ‘conservative’ thinking — Bill Buckley was one of the original purveyor’s of such puerile pomposities *SMH* “Their” complaints about ‘elites’ do ring hollow coming from those whose lives began with all the privileges of status and/or wealth, through very often private ‘prep schools,’ and then on to the ‘elite’ Ivy League schools, or the Midwest or West Coast equivalents.
    Buckley sought to give voice to some semblance of ‘conservative’ thinking … but even by then, American ‘conservativism’ had nothing to do with the old Conservative traditions. Yes, lower-case c for what passes for conservatism in America; upper-case when used to discuss or describe Conservatism as understood by Hobbes and Locke, just for instance.

    • matt fischer says:

      You reminded me of the debate between James Baldwin and Bill Buckley at Cambridge in 1965 to address the question: ‘Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?’ Baldwin gave a masterful performance to which the almost all-white and male crowd stood in ovation. Buckley, in true form, oozed condescension, pomposity and supercilious concern, even taking the opportunity to mock Baldwin’s manner of speech. Baldwin won the Cambridge Union debate by a vote of 544 to 164.

    • Theodora30 says:

      Read Brooks’s bio on Wikipedia. It doesn’t get more elite than his family. The story of how he got his job with Buckley is so cute!

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Our Mr. Brooks has been a member of the Manhattan professional elite since he was a toddler, though it takes some parsing of that well-laundered wiki entry to discover it. Born to a Jewish family in Toronto in 1961, where his father was working on his PhD, he grew up in Manhattan. The entry says he spent his “early years” in the middle income Stuyvesant Town. But he went to a private Episcopal school in nearby Greenwich Village, while his father was teaching at NYU and his mother was working on her PhD at Columbia.

        By 1973, his family had moved to a suburb along the famously wealthy Philadelphia Mainline, from one of whose elite high schools – now ranked first in PA by the state dept of education – Brooks graduated in 1979. He moved on to the University of Chicago (1983), to a short stint as a cub reporter on the crime beat in Chicago, and then, in 1984, to a job as an intern for the luxuriantly snobbish Catholic, oil heir, and arch-conservative Yalely, Bill Buckley. Sounds like the average Joe one might meet at a Pennsylvania boondocks diner.

        Mr. Brooks says his time as a cub reporter in Chicago made him conservative. That’s a false origin story. His rightwing bent was long apparent, as evidenced by his fawning job application to Bill Buckley while still an undergraduate. The year after leaving Buckley, Brooks “spent some time” at the Hoover Institute and wrote “movie reviews” for the mid-1980s Washington Times. Except for polishing his conservative credentials, it sounds like Brooks was functionally unemployed. But it – or something – worked. In 1986, despite having written so few words and spent so little time as a reporter, Brooks was hired by the WSJ. The rest is history. The aroma of wingnut welfare hangs over Brooks the way a chemical-laden fog lingered over a Flanders field.


        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          Double snap! EOH, you are on such a roll with Brooks I hesitate to interject any comment at all. But I have to thank you for pointing out that when he said working as a “cub reporter” in Chicago made him conservative, he was already fabricating an origin story. First of all, no one works as a “cub reporter” in Chicago unless they’re on the sports beat. Second, using that city’s oft-stereotyped issues as your personal doggy whistle is just mean, in the meanest way. My late stepmother adored David Brooks, mainly because of his non-threatening appearance and (I’m guessing) the fact that her first language wasn’t English. He has great appeal to certain people–maybe, like her, those fleeing authoritarian countries who got nostalgic for home.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            The wiki entry, which does contain some useful criticism of Brooks, merely says that he worked for a wire service owned, in part, by the Tribune and worked on the police beat for about a year after leaving the University of Chicago in mid-1983.

            That could have been hard, sink or swim work. Or he might have stayed safely in precinct offices, taking dictation. Whatever, he stayed about long enough to have his first pictures developed before running off to the easier grind of being Bill Buckley’s personal assistant at the National Review.

            Brooks does seem to have patented the myth that he’s a safe, warm, midwestern pair of hands, who would never argue for anything too extreme. That persona does not sit well with his writing or with his real background and associations. Reminds me of a great Patrick McGoohan spy-line, “I have no character, I assume one.”

              • earlofhuntingdon says:

                Let’s see, button-down shirts, clean offices, booze and caviar at “work” gatherings on Long Island and the Upper East Side, intimidating deadlines and repartee, and constant intellectual one-upmanship might have been exhausting. But I suspect it was not quite as exhausting as being a green reporter on the police beat in mid-1980s Chicago. One might compare it to a staff job at the Pentagon instead of being on foot patrol in the Vietnam delta.

  14. Badger Robert says:

    Doesn’t this contest between established authority and adding observation and measurement to knowledge go back as far Roger Bacon? Didn’t Bacon want to start checking whether the ancient texts were verifiable?
    Which may be part of why we resist Brooks’ rationalizations. We actually witnessed the transition from Buckley to Buchanan to Carl Rove and Sarah Palin. That leads to a demagogue parroting George Wallace. It can hardly lead to any other destination.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I think you’re right about Bacon. Dragging ourselves out of what Rauch calls bias-confirming epistemic regimes into his ideal version took centuries. The powerful have always resisted it because it destroyed a big chunk of their power.

  15. Valerie says:

    Didn’t Mr. Brooks leave his longtime wife for his much younger research assistant while working on a book about-wait for it-character???

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Apparently they formalized it four years after his divorce, but they’d known each other for two decades.

      • Sonso says:

        Brooks has always been too cute by half, and his sanctimonious moralizing, in light of his philandering and conversion to Catholicism (?!) disqualifies him IMHO. The Times feels that if they don’t have a drooling-at-the-mouth conservative columnist, they’ve done their part. Brooks would not be welcome on the GQP version of the Group W bench. He has never been intellectually honest.

  16. Franktoo says:

    I’m reading and fascinated by Rauch’s book (which was mentioned above). Some excerpts from the chapter on “the Nature of Tribal Truth”:

    A Trump supporter was asked about the coming Mueller Report said: “I don’t think there is anything to it. If they find something, they will have made it up.”

    “As a professional journalist, I am evidence-based, dispassionate, and fair-minded. I decide after I have the facts, not before. At least, that is how I flatter myself.”

    But really, am I so different from [that Trump supporter]? Or am I merely a member of a different tribe, as blind to my biases as [they] or anyone else. And suppose for argument’s sake, [the Trump supporter] is in fact less evidence-based and dispassionate than I. Whose way of thinking is more normal and natural? Whose way is more serviceable for most humans in most circumstances? The answer: not mine.”

    “Ever since Plato, philosophers had been aware that senses can deceived and belief can err. But they assumed that humans naturally inclined towards truth, and that reason, God’s unique give to our species, would guide us… Hume did not deny the utility of reason as a tool for thinking, but he believed that reason is like the navigator in the passenger seat, able to suggest directions, but not to steer the car, and that emotions and moral intuitions are in the driver’s seat. In the past few decades, a blizzard of scientific research has settled the debate between Hume and the ancients. Hume won.”

    [Since all other species have survived without reasoning] “Modern scholarship suggests that reasoning arose from a different imperative than raw survival: persuasion. People originally lived in small bands or tribes. Survival depended upon being able to win a secure place within the group for one’s self and one’s family”….”the gift of persuasion had lower costs and higher returns” [than physical strength]. Reason evolved not to help us find the truth, but to help us persuade others” … “on abstract moral and intelligential positions which so often preoccupy and divide us [politically], reasoning, argues Haidt, is like a press secretary whose goal is to justify whatever position her boss has already taken. Our moral thinking is much more like a politician searching for votes than a scientist [like me, by training] searching for truth” “People care a great deal more about appearance and reputation than reality.”

    “Detecting trustworthiness is a basic life skill in small groups… so people developed good BS detectors. The best way around people’s BS detectors is to believe what you say. If your social reputation and group identity depends on your believing something” [like the 2020 election was or was not stolen], “then you will find a way to believe it.” …. “This is why intelligence is no defense against false belief.”

    Though I haven’t finished reading, the rest of the book is an explanation of how societies have overcome our human cognitive weaknesses and gotten a better handle on the truth and why ours is failing today. For example, a jury takes 12 ordinary people (hopefully with no existing biases), presents them with witnesses, evidence and opinions from qualified experts from both sides with cross-examination, and then isolates them in a room until then can come to an agreement. Compare that with social media plus 35 tweets per day from Trump.

    • skua says:

      Nicely presented.
      There is what may be a co-driver of the development of reasoning – the benefits gained by having the, sometimes exquisite, cognitive skills seen in the tracking of game. These skills would seem to feed into the BS detection abilities mentioned and also be the basis of much of your science skill-set.
      Activating these skills over an emotionally driven pre-decision in Trumpists can very likely be achieved if severe enough consequences become attached to careless reasoning. The effects of Covid may have had this effect on some already. We’ll see in the midterms.

  17. jaango1 says:

    When Bush and Cheney took America into the Middle East fiasco while in pursuit of ‘protecting’ the oil and the oil transport channels, the neocons notion for attacking either Afghanistan or Iraq, was a Bush creation, as the premised for his legitimacy of his invasions and thusly, our white America was measured in support at 90%, while racial and ethnics were measured at 90% in opposition. And in contrast, we, the Chicanos advocated for “lending” our Constitution to each of these nations for the minimal period of 20 to 30 years. Of course, our white America viewed itself a a faultless society and where “truth-telling” was deemed irrelevant.

    So, when I take out my yardstick and to measure Brooks and his cohorts have now been eligible for their acceptance into the National Monument for Criminal Stupidity. Unfortunately, Brooks and cohorts, will never enjoy their moment in national history due to their death from old age or illness.

    And as such, Chicano-oriented historians will increasing Isolate white America’s systemic failures as another of many icons for the skill set that personifies Sombrero Pragmatism.

  18. Wm. Boyce says:

    While I will be the first to say that Mr. Brooks has evolved a great deal from 2003, when he wrote a paien to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, this quote from the aforementioned article puzzles me greatly:

    “If the elite bourgeois bohemians—the bobos—tend to have progressive values and metropolitan tastes, the boubours go out of their way to shock them with nativism, nationalism, and a willful lack of tact. Boubour leaders span the Western world: Trump in the U.S., Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom, Marine Le Pen in France, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy.”

    Progressive values? Certainly a taste for the finest in life, “metropolitan tastes,” but there isn’t any trace of “progressive values” in these would-be autocrats.

  19. Rayne says:

    David Boorish Brooks is a fucking xenophobe. Creators who develop completely new memetic material are often the people he ignores the most and from whom the dominant power class steal by cultural appropriation.

    Rock music, for example, is an offshoot of Rhythm and Blues which was created by Black Americans. Ditto jazz and then hip hop which arose from all of the above.

    How much theater and film has been created by the LGBTQ+ members of our society?

    How much new food is really adapted from other non-American cultures, from Mexican to Korean?

    What he doesn’t want to do is examine the demographics of Red and Blue America, because then he’d have to face the fact he’s demanding the extremely diverse majority Blue America subordinate itself to the minority predominantly-white Red America — which is white supremacy cloaked in a bunch of Brooksian bullshit.

    Why would creative Blue America embrace the authoritarian nihilist Red America which really just wants Blue America dead?

    Red America’s buddy Brooks can kiss my mixed race Blue America ass.

    • P J Evans says:

      I *like* all the things we’ve been gifted by other cultures. If Brooks had his way, we’d be subsisting on turnips, cabbage, and salt cod, because damned near everything we eat came from someplace other than his beloved New England culture.

      • Rayne says:

        For many of us our daily diet is just food — like migas con huevos for breakfast, pajeon for lunch, jambalaya for dinner — no gifting, simply what our families ate at home for generations before and after immigration, if our people immigrated at all (much of my father’s family is indigenous). But this somehow disrespects Red America which chronically and hypocritically harps about family values. Pick some cultural facet, Brooks will treat our diversity as strange and a slight to the pasty bacon-and-egg crowd.

        I just want to slap Brooks’ mug for writing what was basically tone and language policing. We’re supposed to keep our heads down and sit at the back of the bus with our mouths shut keeping truth to ourselves so we don’t offend the nice (stupid/less educated) white people in flyover country. ~screaming~

        • klynn says:

          Rayne, thank you for your two comments above.

          Your thoughts would make a fantastic “series” post to pair with Ed’s wonderful post.

          Thank you!

      • Krisy Gosney says:

        But while we are all eating salted cod everyday, Brooks and the moneyed elite would indulge in world travel and sample the wonderfulness the world has to offer. And then importing their favorites. This is what these people think red America wants them to have.

  20. Badger Robert says:

    Isn’t Brooks essentially an appeaser? Isn’t his message that the Republican party has not allied itself with anti-science Neo-Secessionists? Everything is the other guys’ fault according to Brooks. So you can still vote Republican and won’t be responsible for the slow or fast slide into an autocratic state, is the main message of his soothing talks.

  21. Doctor My Eyes says:

    (Rayne, et al, I had to get rid of my old email address because assholes. I used to be at [email protected]. I have associated this post with my new email address.)

    The problem of epistemology is more recalcitrant than even the most ruthlessly honest and finely discriminating of us likes to think. Anyone who has read “Blink” and attempted to assimilate the information imparted will know what I’m talking about. Here I want to recommend a book that revolutionized my way of approaching this issue. In “On Being Certain: Believing You are Right Even When You’re Not” neurologist Robert Burton convincingly supports the proposition that the feeling of being certain arises unconsciously from the same primitive brain structures which give birth to anger and fear, and is precisely as valuable as those other primary emotions in determining the truth value of any notion. Experimentation has proved decisively that if we feel certain a thing is true, then no amount of clear rational thought will change that belief even among the most scientifically inclined and proudly “objective” among us. In us humans, emotion precedes thought and will always carry the day. What is tragic is that, having uncovered this unstintingly humbling truth about human nature via the scientific method, we seem ill-equipped to take the difficult step of incorporating this self-knowledge into the way we make such choices as whether to take steps to insure the continuance of human existence.

    However complex Brooks may tangle his thoughts, and create self-serving definitions of non-categories along the way, the exercise is nothing more than starting with an emotion then pouring out thoughts which comport with that emotion. These elaborate thoughts of Brooks are as tied to truth-seeking as are his screams of outrage at the wall he accidentally bangs his head against: they arise from the same primitive brain structures.

    Talk of truth also invariably evokes for me Harold Pinter’s stunning and widely ignored Nobel Prize Lecture. It begs to be read and studied in its brilliant entirety but here are a couple of exerts:

    ‘There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.’

    I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?


    Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.


    I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

    If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I tend to agree with this. Teaching yourself to be humble about your beliefs is really hard. This, I think, is what Peirce means when he says that we don’t like the feeling of being in doubt. We want certainty. We like the calm feeling of belief. https://www.emptywheel.net/2019/09/20/a-primer-on-pragmatism-method/
      On the other had, we can teach ourselves to value uncertainty as an open door to learning. This is the beginning of our acceptance of Rauch’s Epistemic Regime.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I remember when I first realized in school that I felt most confident about a topic I had least studied, and most humble about something I had worked hard on. Needless to say, I did better in the latter.

        It may be that the ignorance of the wider world is always perceived as a threat, leading to the coping mechanism of irrational confidence. Its reverse would an indirect ratio between knowledge and confidence, with humility in the face of that being a learned trait, one many politicians and others never acquire.

        It might explain, for example, the attraction between some voters and the ignorant, over-confident politician: “See, he’s just like us!” The equation requires a relatively low ability to detect bullshit dropped by those not part of our daily lives.

        • madwand says:

          Perhaps and I’m not applying it to you,

          “The Dunning Kruger effect is a well-known and proven
          condition where the less someone knows about
          a subject the more strongly they both believe in it AND
          believe they are experts in the field despite lacking
          any real understanding.”

          I guess a basic human thingie.

    • rip says:

      Thank you, DrMyEyes or geomoo. DrMyEyes sounds awful like my current chain optomologist/etc.

      This is a nice cogent piece that helps me understand things that are academically well beyond me.

      Unfortunately in this WordPress world, I’ll never know if anyone responds to my minor bits.

      • Doctor My Eyes says:

        You’re welcome. I used to think about this stuff all the time, got a degree in the history of science in search of answers. The answers are usually frightening.

        In case you didn’t think of the reference, it is apropos to this discussion:

        Doctor my eyes have seen the years, and the slow parade of fears without crying.
        Now I want to understand.

  22. Savage Librarian says:

    In the summer of 2016, the book club I was in read and discussed “The Road to Character” by Brooks. My reaction was very similar to the author I’ve cited below (although I had not read that review at the time.) Brooks came off as very superficial, disingenuous and hypocritical to me, especially in his use of the word “sin” and his obsessive use of the construct “Adam 1” and “Adam 2.”

    My reaction to the book seemed to surprise other members of the group. At the end of the discussion I also said I was concerned that Putin was trying to sow discord in America, especially through the use of social media. That comment definitely went over like a lead balloon. That book club no longer meets, but I do wonder what some of the participants think about our current political situation.

    “The Road to Character review – a smug search for the roots of good nature, David Brooks’s quest to discover the fundamentals of good character gets hopelessly lost along the way” – Yvonne Roberts, 4/20/15


    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Yvonne Roberts gets to the heart of Brooks’s character in the first paragraph:

      He tells us in The Road to Character that he has a “natural disposition to shallowness”. At full mea culpa throttle, he adds that he is paid to be, “a narcissistic blow hard… I have to work harder than most people to avoid a life of smug superficiality”. In this book, at least, his struggle is less than successful. Brooks is a wealthy high achiever and – if this book is any guide – he doesn’t like himself very much.”

      Brooks thinks his unintended candor is self-effacing humor. He is lavishly paid to be, “a narcissistic blow hard,” so naturally – as a wealthy professional who has no choice in the matter – he is a narcissistic blowhard.

  23. JamesJoyce says:


    Felt like a dog tossed a good cooked steak 🥩.

    I’ll chew it. Tastes great..

    🖖 if we survive…

    “But the Epistemic Regime doesn’t tell us how to enjoy our lives or which political party to support, because our individual choices can’t be falsified.”

    4. In other words, this relentlessly long article contributes nothing to knowledge. You’re just supposed to assume that because it’s so bloody long and drops a bunch of names it’s a brilliant defense of the Trumpian Republican Party to say:

    “If only those smart people weren’t so rude”.

    There were very smart people who bought and accepted all the “big lies” offered with no evidence in 1933, Germany.

    Today we can visit the past using plasma physics simply by viewing old videos and interviews..

    I have no desire to capitulate to those who first do not know the past or the causal realities from the past which sadly pop up like pretty poisonous, “🍄” that when consumed kill.

    I’m American 🇺🇸 of German Heritage.

    I will not comply..

    “If only those smart people weren’t so rude”.

    There was a reason Albert Einstein came to America, Mr. Brooks…

    If you recall Albert was a very smart man who was not rude at all.

    Albert warned the word about the “Rudeness,” to come.

    “Causality” was ignored by the not so Good German blinded as some are today in a Republican Party (Chuck) only in name, created by Radical Republicans as Abraham the emancipator to Ike, the liberator.

    “In December 1932, a month before Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, Einstein made the decision to emigrate to the United States, where he took a position at the newly founded Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He would never again enter the country of his birth.“

    Germany was quite advanced in 1939.

    Albert read the writing on the Munich City Walls as Mr. Brooks wouldn’t and still won’t read the writing on the Capitol’s Walls, in denial of what constitutes patently fascist behavior…

    Americans Attacking the US Capitol spurred on by propagandists 2020 big election lies is not different at all from those who burnt 🔥 the German Reichstag where spurred on by propagandist Nazi’s Big Lies leading to Nuremberg laws targeting Germans of Jewish faith as restrictive voting laws assault the constitutional rights of Americans.

    I’ve seen this before…

    “He doesn’t mention the economic power of the filthy rich, or their role in generating and amplifying the grievances of the Red Classes; or why it seems to be a policy choice of his Republican Party. It’s just natural, he says, as if that explains something.“

    Brooks explains nothing because he can’t.

    Admitting his folly exposes truth, based on knowledge…

    Why We Fight…


    Deja Vu

    Discrimination is very ugly, Donald.


    “In December 1932, a month before Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, Einstein made the decision to emigrate to the United States, where he took a position at the newly founded Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He would never again enter the country of his birth.”

    Great Steak 🥩 Ed…

    Well done..


  24. Ewan says:

    This is completely not the point of this post, but since it is about finding truth, there it goes. The “big bang” isn’t so much that it was such a big bang we cannot find out what was before. From what I understand, it is the beginning of time as currently defined. There isn’t a before.

    • skua says:

      There are claims that the big bang was the start of our time, our universe. And tnat the bang resulted from interaction of branes/membranes.

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