David Brooks has found a defender! God knows he can use one, having nearly drowned in derision last week after unveiling a column called "The Follower Problem."
Brooks's defender--right here at The Atlantic--is Philip K. Howard, who agrees with Brooks that America needs more respect for authority. Howard notes the societal benefits of teachers having authority, judges having authority, and so on.
He's right, of course, but I'm not sure how relevant that is. I don't think most of Brooks's critics are people who want to throw erasers in class or defy court rulings. Indeed, so far as I can tell, Brooks wasn't talking about deferring to authority in a formal sense. And he wasn't just talking about respecting authority, but out-and-out revering it. Brooks said we should "celebrate greatness" and "hold up others who are immeasurably superior to ourselves."
This gets at a problem that many people, including myself, have had with the Brooks column: Where are these leaders who are immeasurably superior to ourselves? In Congress? So far as I can tell, Congress consists largely--and increasingly--of not super-smart, not super-principled people whose mission in life is to get re-elected.
I'm not saying that behaving in such a careerist, self-serving fashion makes our legislators markedly worse than the rest of us. I'm just saying that when I think of these people, the phrase "immeasurably superior" doesn't spring to mind.