Culture Wars/Current Controversies

David Brooks’ Love Affair

By Emile Doak, The American Conservative

Conservatism is alive and well.

David Brooks is a scorned lover. This refers not to the circumstances surrounding his divorce from his wife of twenty-seven years, finalized in 2014 while he was writing The Road to Character. No, Brooks has instead been scorned by his life’s true love: conservatism. “I fell in love with conservatism in my 20s,” Brooks writes in his latest elegy for the American right in the Atlantic, “What passes for ‘conservatism’ now, however, is nearly the opposite of the Burkean conservatism I encountered then…. The rich philosophical perspective that dazzled me then has been reduced to Fox News and voter suppression.”

Brooks describes an American conservatism that achieved its ideal form in the roughly half century between Barry Goldwater and Mitt Romney. This era of fusionism was a “vibrant, forward-looking conservatism.” The oxymoron between the adjective and the noun of this political program is apparently not a sign of doomed incoherence, but rather of a “fractiousness [that] seemed to work.” Indeed, a progressive ethos colors Brooks’ conservatism throughout. For Brooks, “Perpetual dynamism and creative destruction are big parts of the American tradition that conservatism defends.” During his Golden Age of American conservatism, “You don’t see people trying to revert to some past glory. Rather, they are attracted to innovation and novelty, smitten with the excitement of new technologies.”


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