David Brooks vs. Twitter

By Robert Wright

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/06/david-brooks-vs-twitter/258439/