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Sir, you are not a conservative

R. Albert Mohler Jr. | David Brooks and the death of conservatism


David Brooks, center, speaks during a panel discussion at the University of Chicago. Associated Press/Photo by Nam Y. Huh

Sir, you are not a conservative

Writing about his intellectual pilgrimage, New York Times columnist David Brooks once described himself in the 1980s like this: “What followed over the next decade was a journey from one conservative institution to another, as I tried to figure out exactly what kind of conservative I was.”

Fast forward to 2021 and David Brooks may have finally figured out what principled conservatives knew along. David Brooks is not a conservative. In reality, he never was a conservative. His writing is often brilliant, his media presence is smooth as silk, and he is routinely identified as a conservative columnist for the New York Times. But that identification is only half true. He is indeed a columnist at the New York Times. But conservative? Not even close.

David Brooks did work at National Review with William F. Buckley, Jr., but in recent decades he has put a lot of distance between himself and the Buckley tradition. His position on abortion is pro-choice, he championed the legalization of same-sex marriage as a gain for morality, and he recently argued that the nuclear family was “a mistake.” Brooks now identifies with moderate Democrats, and he has made clear his admiration for President Barack Obama. He was absolutely gushing in his support for Joe Biden’s candidacy: “Never in my life have I seen a candidate so confidently avoid wedge issues.” That was shortly after Biden caved to pressure from his own party and pledged to eliminate the Hyde Amendment. Biden adopted the most radical pro-abortion position of any Democratic nominee in history and promised to force American taxpayers into paying for abortion.

Since President Biden’s inauguration, Brooks has repeatedly effused about the wonders of his presidency. “The Biden administration has moved to separate government from the culture wars,” Brooks argued—months after Biden had shifted even further left, endorsing the Equality Amendment and pushing just about every leftward culture war button imaginable.

In recent weeks, Brooks dropped in at the National Conservatism Conference and wrote a piece for The Atlantic warning of the right’s “terrifying future.” In particular, he wrote of his horror at discovering that many conservatives fear that the entire civilization is being undermined before our eyes.

Just days ago, Brooks released an essay asking “What Happened to American Conservatism?” The article reveals David Brooks’s familiar mode of argument—present someone else’s position (usually to his right) as ludicrous and warn of irresponsible positions on the other side (usually his left), leaving Brooks himself as the emperor of reason. He has made a lucrative career of this kind of writing and argumentation, and he is an industry unto himself. He is what the liberal media and academia want conservatives to be. He is reasoned, calm, reassuring, excruciatingly moderate, and ever ready to warn of what will happen if the unwashed conservative horde gets close to power. But his conservatism is not conservative.

David Brooks wants a conservatism of manners, not a conservatism based in eternal truths. He actually fears any movement that claims to base its principles on truth rather than manners and tradition. That includes his former colleagues at National Review. “I didn’t quite have their firm conviction that there is a transcendent, eternal moral order to the universe and that society should strive to be as consistent with it as possible,” Brooks wrote in 2007.

That explains just about everything about the strange tale of David Brooks. A lack of belief in “a transcendent, eternal moral order” as a basis for his worldview explains why Brooks thinks it quite reasonable that a man should be able to marry a man and that same-sex marriage represents “a victory for the good life.” It explains why he ignores the natural family and decries the nuclear family as a mistake, arguing for “forged families” as a communitarian alternative. His disavowal of a transcendent moral order is what explains his concerns about abortion. What caused his reconsideration of the pro-choice position? In his own words, “experience and moral sentiments.” But he ends up proposing that abortion be freely available for the first trimester. Moral sentiments aren’t enough to defend the unborn in the period when most abortions are performed.

If there is no transcendent, eternal moral order, then morality is just a process of civic negotiation and everything is up for grabs. David Brooks can affirm same-sex marriage and early-term abortion and indict the nuclear family as a mistake—and yet remain comfortable within his worldview of manners and moral sentiments. Conservatism lives or dies on the belief that we are conserving created reality and serving eternal truths. Otherwise, all that remains is custom, manners, and moral sentiment—and they are no match for the forces of progressive morality.

About a year ago, David Brooks cited the philosopher Isaiah Berlin and described himself as belonging to “the extreme right-wing edge of the left-wing movement.” Well, in that formulation, the left-wing movement always wins, and that’s the plan.


R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Albert Mohler is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College and editor of WORLD Opinions. He is also president of the Evangelical Theological Society and host of The Briefing and Thinking in Public. He is the author of several books, including The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church. He is the seminary’s Centennial Professor of Christian Thought and a minister, having served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches.

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SJS

Interesting article. Thanks. I've seen Brooks' evolution but hadn't really looked that closely. Good information to store away...

The comments below seem to be the same as what normally follows articles in World that point out various viewpoints. We humans love controversy and division. I wonder if Marvin's departure and Mohler's entrance will move the magazine from a Reformed Theology core to a Baptist one. Since we are talking about how various core assumptions color most everything we do and think. So we will still have a lot, even more, to argue over. I wonder how much 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 apply here. We don't often talk about Paul's perspective that schisms sometimes are helpful. But then aren't (verses 10 and 25). Now there's something to discuss...

not silent

There are valid criticisms of some of Mr. Brook's views, but I think some of Mr. Brooks criticisms of the Republican Party are also valid. I don't agree with Mr. Brooks on all points, but I do agree that the Republican Party of today is VERY different from the party I joined as a young adult decades ago.

I'm afraid I also disagree that progressive drift by people like Mr. Brooks is responsible for the "death of conservatism." One must also consider the drift of others towards right-wing authoritarianism. It's as if all extremes are becoming more extreme and leaving less room for discussion, asking questions, or holding anyone accountable.

TWH

It almost seems that there is a contingent that smells "blood in the water" regarding the new Opinion section of wing.org. Fair game, I suppose, but it would be helpful if such commenters would keep those complaints separate from their views on the issues presented. Cory Van Sloten did this, below.

Below, one criticizes Dr Mohler for going back 14 years in examining Brooks' driving philosophy, while another argues that Brooks has only changed his stances in response to recent events. A position which can only be challenged with such things as 14 year-old statements.

I have been familiar with David Brooks for many decades and I don't think it's controversial to say that he is the epitome of a "safe" New York Republican. The kind of Republican who has tut-tutted just the right amount over abortion for the last 50 years to never jeopardize his place in elite society - and never contribute to saving a single innocent life.

Tim MillerTWH

Now we have a problem with New York Republicans? About time:)

TWHTim Miller

Nice contribution to the discussion!

LCLA8918

Well,error begets error. A cheap shot but you know...... Apparently the opinion section has provided a place for those who don’t like opinions to
express theirs. What do you detractors of such criticism of those who are in the public giving their erroneous views do with the Apostle Pauls criticism of the false teachers in Galatia or of his fellow apostle Peter. What about the brood of vipers that John the Baptist confronted or the Lord Jesus himself to the Pharisees? Im sure you would like to inform me of some context that puts Al Mohler in a different category than these cultural commentators and I’m just another voice of division but the syrupy sweetness of our current effort to be pacific is going to land us in a place indistinct from a place called the church of Laodicea ......neither hot nor cold. Now bring out the guns, you always do, against everything but what is the actual target.

Tim MillerLCLA8918

What is the target? Those of us who didn't vote for Trump because we thought he was antithetical to our Christian values?

LCLA8918Tim Miller

No. Criticism can be spread around but not evenly which is the kind of criticism that can’t be made sense of in our culture. A nice even criticism because there are really only, in our cultures analysis, opinions. So much so that it is considered absurd to ask”by what standard”. This does not simply refer to some political position but to all of life and thus also to political topics. Christ speaks to sinful humanity and that means He speaks to all spheres of life. To think that there are better representations in one segment of politics does not mean it is the best but the best available, this does not mean it needs to be thought of as christian. The flawed humanity of our political candidates are not savior material. What I hoped to convey in the above comment was a sense of the weak willed church with no prophetic voice because it is intolerant and thus intolerable. Mohler is in his small way divisively speaking, being a divider of what needs to be understood as not to be united. My response is mainly in light of the comments of those offended and that does not mean anything like having a MAGA bumper sticker on my car as the indicator of my motivation.

MSHI6507

Mohler's "If you're not one of us, you're one of them" hit piece is disappointing. Basing one of his main arguments on something DB wrote in 2007 is just, well, lazy. It's obvious Mohler hasn't read anything of DB in recent years, or he'd know how dishonest an assessment his is. I think my days with WORLD are starting to come to an end.

Salty1MSHI6507

How are we supposed to discern if people are of God or of Satan? Don’t we know them by their fruits? Is that not a biblical principle? So how can we not also apply this principle to politics? If a person holds to principles X1, X2, X3, … Xn that are unbiblical with few that are biblical, which Dr. Mohler brought out, should we not take heed of the person? So what you are saying seems to be completely unbiblical, where you want nice words where the person is a spiritual tomb, unclean and full of death. You are unwilling to call out a person who is living a lie. He takes on the name “conservative” while all along he is bent on being a useful pawn to destroy conservatives and Christians. Can you discern this?

I used to get US News and World Report but I realized that the “conservatives” in the magazine often took the liberal side, so I quit buying it, because the “conservatives” were a tool to advance the leftist cause.

RCRE8109MSHI6507

Well, MSHI6507 at least Dr. Mohler gives us a quote, where is you reference to DB’s new view? Or are you too lazy to back up your claim?

MSHI6507RCRE8109

His latest book, a podcast he did on Art of Manliness (recently replayed), and numerous talks available on YouTube should get you started. Granted, I'm not here to defend DB. There's plenty to pick at. But I believe WNG should do better. I hope AM doesn't use 14 yo quotes on any piece he does on me (or you) without checking to make sure they still stand. I believe this to be a ninth commandment issue. Besides, what did DB ever do to AM for him to opine such? Run over his puppy? I wasn't aware the future of conservatism rested on DB. Conservatism as a movement died when people stopped reading Kirk, IMO.

DWAL5874

As usual, Dr. Mohler sees clearly, writes truthfully and guards us all against incorrect or fuzzy thinking. So grateful that he is on the job.

Cory Van Sloten

Respectfully, I object, along with resigned World editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky; senior editor Mindy Belz; magazine managing editor Angela Lu Fulton; and senior reporter Sophia Lee, to this opinion section, for the same reasons they objected to it.
https://religionnews.com/2021/11/18/marvin-olasky-survived-trump-as-world-magazine-editor-but-not-hot-takes/

TDUN6049Cory Van Sloten

Thank you for posting this link. I was deeply disappointed when World added this opinions section. There are already plenty of places where we can find opinions. I want the reporting for which World has been known.

FIMIKI

The EASIEST thing to do when someone in your tribe does something or says something that you don't like is to go "well... they were never really one of us anyway". It's much harder to engage sincerely with the challenges presented by their arguments or actions. On January 7 many conservative commentators wrote off the capital hill rioters as "thugs" and "not us", and I really appreciated Dr. Mohler being one of the few voices offering a sober reckoning of the consequences of demagoguery and unordered liberty wrought by the reckless rhetoric of the leader of the GOP.

It's precisely the continued glorification (or at least dismissal) of that irresponsible and divisive behavior that's driven folks like David Brooks away from the Republican party. Why should that come as a surprise, or try and argue that such a break was inevitable and even proper? Brooks roots his respect for manners in the Burkean conservative tradition, but scripture speaks to the corrosive effects wrought by bad character, as John Piper articulated in his essay on why he couldn't bring himself to vote for either candidate in the 2020 election:

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/policies-persons-and-paths-to-ruin

Unlike Brooks, I'm not quite ready to decamp to the "other side" - there are still too many elements in the DNC platform that I can't in good conscience endorse. But at the same time the RNC platform is currently a blank slate - ready to be defined by whatever grievance filled populist manages to clamber to the top, ripe for exploitation by an angry authoritarian. I don't blame any brother or sister in Christ who looks askance at how politics has poisoned Christian fellowship and discourse and in response says "I'm out!". We're called to be in the world but not of the world, and in our well-intentioned efforts to influence the political realm for the sake of the kingdom it's so, so easy to allow a myopic focus on a handful of issues lead us to engage in ungodly behavior and compromise our witness as a whole.

TKIB6707FIMIKI

You artfully summed up some of my thoughts as well.

When faced with the false choice of RNC vs DNC, I'm reminded that within politics, the primary process (and what leads up to it) now feels more important than the general election. Seeing the ads for 3 republican Senate candidates already, I'm reminded that the time is now to influence the next election, not October.

Tim Miller

David Brooks supports gay marriage? So does the Republican National Committee and defeated President Donald Trump, who has the distinction of being the first major party nominee to enthusiastically support gay marriage before he was elected.

I don't disagree substantially with Mohler's hit piece here. I'm just disappointed to see World become another outrage machine, perpetually attacking other pundits. There are plenty of outlets doing that already.

On the plus side, perhaps some MyPillow advertising dollars will begin to trickle towards World.

HHOO6560Tim Miller

Agree! I don't want to read everyone's opinions on everyone else! I don't mind opinions on issues, but not people!