The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Monday, February 13, 2006


I'm having a David Brooks problem. The problem? I can't dislike him, but I can't like him either. He is what I'd like conservatives to be: principled, intelligent, willing to listen. He doesn't join the dumbass Republican demagogueries like Terri Schiavo or the Swift Boaties or the "sanctity of marriage," and when he does the dueling-talking-heads thing with E.J. Dionne on NPR he seems absolutely reasonable. (Yes, I know it's NPR and he'd be thrown off otherwise.) In fact, he generally seems to take the "I'm embarrassed at what my fellow conservatives do and say, but we really do have a coherent and viable philosophy" tack. (Of course, that's not tough these days, what with the Bushies taking ever more bizarrely extreme and antidemocratic positions and demanding absolute loyalty from their Republican troops.) I like his NY TIMES columns ("like" in the sense of enjoy reading them, not in the sense of agreeing with them).

And now I'm reading his 2001 book BOBOS IN PARADISE, his anatomization of the new "bourgeois bohemians" who use their high income levels to commodity-fetishize the kinds of products that the upper classes of earlier days would have seen as garbage--peasant-inspired Italian food, butcher-block tables, natural fibers, etc. It's a damn smart book, engagingly if a bit smugly written, and Brooks wears his learning pretty lightly. He brings in the important sociological works of the 1950s and 1960s without seeming like a namedropper, and even provides the best short introduction to Pierre Bourdieu's ideas that I've seen. He's unashamed to point out that he's a charter member of this class while still maintaining his slightly superior detachment. And yet the book just doesn't work for me. I guess that no matter what a reasonable conservative he is, he's still a conservative, unwilling to grant that there might be genuinely serious problems with our society--problems stemming largely from the unequal allocation of resources. Yes, it's funny to see how the bohemian hippies of the 1960s became earnest shoppers at Anthropologie and Whole Foods and how radicals like Chomsky do the same green-room dance as Bob Novak and Pat Robertson and every other "public intellectual" who is willing to do TV.

But that just feels like a cheap argument to me, and I think that's really my problem with Brooks. It all feels cheap, and like he's just ignoring the elephant in the room. Because a conservative columnist has got to deal with the fact that the far right really has control of essentially everything, with the possible exception of academia, and that life just isn't getting better for most people besides these "bobos" (who really are living in paradise, at least a materialistic version of it). It just doesn't work for me to pretend that DeLay and Norquist and Perkins and Rove and Cheney and Santorum and Scalia and Thomas and Brownback and Coburn are the embarrassing black sheep of the party. David, these guys ARE your party.



  • At 10:00 AM, Blogger zp said…

    Maybe you should start a support group for folks with ambiguous feelings about David Brooks. I'm with you on the mild respect for Brooks, the pleasures and privileges of mocking/knowing 'bobos' and, finally, the utter tragedy of that enterprise when things are so damn bad. The crit of bobos might be more to the point if Brooks managed an analysis of how, when and why such a cultural and social class became estranged from meaningful political action and the effects their estrangement has on the visibility of issues of labor and poverty in the US. That seems like it would be constructive criticism for the left, but why would he provide that?

  • At 10:18 AM, Blogger mantooth said…

    I just can't get the most fitting description of him out of my head: "the NPR conservative." He's housebroken.


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