David Brooks vs. Twitter

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You could have spent pretty much all day today on Twitter reading derisive left-wing quips about David Brooks's New York Times column. My favorite tweet--and there were plenty of contenders for that title--was from the journalist Brendan Koerner (@brendankoerner), who summarized Brooks's point as, "The main problem with America is that the little people don't tremble in front of fearsome idols."

Brooks's column was about how recent monuments--the Vietnam Memorial, the Martin Luther King monument, etc.--don't hold a candle to the monuments of yore: Lincoln, Jefferson, etc. And, since this was a David Brooks column, the demise of monuments had to reflect an even larger trend: the demise of respect for authority.

In defense of Brooks (it's a job somebody's gotta do), he wasn't quite counseling indiscriminate respect for authority. He thinks we should respect " just authority" (which I gather means authority imbued with justice, as opposed to meaning mere authority). So the column wasn't authoritarian in the strict sense.

Still, it did exude a certain impatience with people who don't fall in line. Brooks says he's not sure America has a leadership problem, but "it certainly has a followership problem." And as for those of us who say we'll be good followers as soon as you can show us some leaders who deserve to be followed: "To have good leaders you have to have good followers -- able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it."

So it's a chicken and egg thing, apparently: We're cynical and unruly because we've had so many lousy leaders, but our cynicism and unruliness keep better leaders from emerging.

I'm pretty sure I disagree, but I want to ponder this a day or two to be sure before I try to formulate a counter-argument.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with one more Brooks passage, in which he criticizes those who "reject hierarchies and leaders because they don't believe in the concepts," those who think "the whole world should be like the Internet -- a disbursed [sic] semianarchy in which authority is suspect and each individual is king."

Yeah, we wouldn't want the Brendan Koerners of the world to start getting uppity.

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Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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