David Brooks: Know Your Betters

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Yesterday David Brooks wrote a scathing and wicked caricature of David Brooks. Except of course he was serious. At least I think he was serious. Is David Brooks ever not serious?

Anyway, the column is really something to behold.

Those “Question Authority” bumper stickers no longer symbolize an attempt to distinguish just and unjust authority. They symbolize an attitude of opposing authority.

The old adversary culture of the intellectuals has turned into a mass adversarial cynicism. The common assumption is that elites are always hiding something. Public servants are in it for themselves. Those people at the top are nowhere near as smart or as wonderful as pure and all-knowing Me.

You end up with movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Parties that try to dispense with authority altogether. They reject hierarchies and leaders because they don’t believe in the concepts. The whole world should be like the Internet — a disbursed semianarchy in which authority is suspect and each individual is king.

Maybe before we can build great monuments to leaders we have to relearn the art of following.

Then it gets really good.

I don’t know if America has a leadership problem; it certainly has a followership problem. Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted. It’s mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.

You know, 1925-1955. The good ole’ days. Back when we still had important institutions like segregation. And lynching. When our elites gave us alcohol prohibition. And when we banned marijuana because the pillars of American society warned us that the drug was helping black jazz musicians take sexual liberties with white women. It was a time when we still sterilized society’s undesirables, when we imprisoned Americans of Asian descent simply because of their heritage. Those were also the days when the U.S. government conducted covert medical experiments and biological warfare testing on its own citizens. Yes, it’s good we were less willing to question our government back then.

None of these ideas—the contempt for individualism, the deference to authority, the yearning for mass conformity in pursuit of some Great Cause,  the Internet as warning of our coming dystopia, the unabashed elitism—are particularly new from Brooks. But he isn’t generally so comically explicit about them. Here’s his closer:

To have good leaders you have to have good followers — able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it.

I’m going to treat this nonsense with far more respect than it deserves.

Let’s set aside Brooks’ contempt for individualism for a moment. Let’s just look at his fondness for elites and “just authority.” Both of these assume that our elites and political leaders get to become elites and political leaders because of merit. For Brooks, this rises out a Burkean fondness for tradition and institutions—we should defer to the elites our institutions produce because our institutions were built and shaped by the wisdom and experience of those who came before us.

The problem of course is that it’s far from given that those who came before us were all that wise. There’s a reason why we’ve abandoned institutions like the divine right of kings, slavery, Jim Crow, colonialism, and the subjugation of women. The people who came before us also built into our modern institutions perverse incentives that make “questioning authority” not only permissible, but obligatory.

Brooks himself, for example, recently wrote that anyone who has read the New Yorker story on Cameron Todd Willingham should question the wisdom of the death penalty. But if the criminal justice system—an institution we’ve been shaping and molding since the birth of the country, and one that (allegedly) rests on the pretty fundamental values of fairness and equality before the law—can still produce such unjust results, after 236 years of opportunity for fine-tuning, and in the very cases where one would think it would be most cautious; if it continues to produce leadership like the district attorneys who keep pursuing these cases, and who keep fighting to keep exonorees in prison—these would all be strong indications that maybe this particular institution and those like it ought to be questioned. As should the leaders it produces. Why is it that prosecutors are rewarded for putting people in prison, but rarely punished for abusing their authority? Why do even the “good” cops lie and cover up for the bad ones? It’s rather absurd to think that institutions loaded with bad incentives and that produce bad outcomes far too often for comfort will somehow also produce good leaders that needn’t be scrutinzed.

And that’s merely the institution with which I’m most familiar. We could also look to our religious institutions. There’s Catholicism, the largest religion in the world—and also the one where the church’s leaders and elites spent decades covering up the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children, despicable acts also committed . . . by the church’s leadership. We could look to the never-ending scandals on the protestant side, from religious leaders stealing from their flocks, to the perennial virulently anti-gay church leader caught with his pants down. I’m not attacking any particular religion or religion in general, here. I’m just pointing out the absurdity of Brooks’ notion that we should defer to elites and authority figures simply by virtue of the fact that they are elites and authority figures.

In this particular column Brooks specifically calls for allegiance to our political leaders. This makes me wonder if Brooks owns a television or regularly reads a newspaper. Our politicians are clownish, ridiculous people. Even if you’re the die-hardest of die-hard blue- or red-staters, in your most honest moments you have to concede that Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner are absurd human beings. If they didn’t hold positions of power, you’d want nothing to do with these people.

Politics—the quest for power because you’re sure that you, more than others, know what’s best for everyone else—has always been a profession worth ridiculing, going back to the satirists who found plenty to ridicule in the earliest democratic institutions in Rome and Greece. But here in America we have a political process—another institution subject to 236 years of fine-tuning—that’s particularly cartoonish. The set of skills it takes to get elected and achieve success in politics are not only the sorts of traits you’d never want in the people who govern you, they’re actually character flaws. They’re the sorts of traits decent people try to teach out of their children. To be successful at politics, you need to be deceitful, manipulative, conniving, and mostly devoid of principle. (Principled politicians are rarely remembered as “great legislators.” And historians bestow greatness on the presidents most willing to wage war, accumulate power, and exceed their constitutional authority.) The most successful politicians sell voters on their strong convictions and principles, and then, once elected, they do as they’re told, in order to accumulate power and status within the party.

So those of us who question authority do so not because we’re vain or think we’re better than everyone else. On the contrary. We question authority because we recognize that human beings, ourselves included, are flawed. And we’ll always be flawed. Which means that we will build flawed institutions and produce flawed leaders. We question authority because we recognize that not only is authority (another word for power) inherently corrupting, but also because we recognize the perverse values, priorities, and notions of merit upon which authority is generally granted.

People like David Brooks think people rise to positions of power and status because they’re better, wiser, or otherwise more meritorious than the rest of us—they’re “Great Men” touched by the hand of God. (But only if we get out of their way!) He thinks people achieve political power because they exemplify the best in us. We “bad followers” recognize that they usually embody the worst. We don’t buy the idea that people who have the power to tell other people what to do are inherently worth obeying simply because they’ve managed to get themselves into a position where they get to tell other people what to do. In fact, we think there’s good reason to believe the institutions that confer telling-people-what-to-do authority grant that authority to all the wrong people, and for all the wrong reasons.

Individualism is of course worth embracing and championing for its own sake. But celebrating and promoting individualism is as much about recognizing, fearing, and guarding against the corruption of power as it is about preserving the right to do your own thing. When a flawed individual (and that would be all of us) makes mistakes, he affects only himself and the people who associate with him. When a flawed political leader (and that would be all of them) makes mistakes, we’re all affected, whether we chose to associate with that leader or not. And the more we conform, follow, and entrust our political leaders with power, the more susceptible and vulnerable we are to their flaws and mistakes.

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129 Responses to “David Brooks: Know Your Betters”

  1. #1 |  celticdragonchick | 

    All I can say is:

    This. Also. Too.

    You took everything I was thinking about the steaming pile of drek that Brooks served up and distilled it into an essay to be savored slowly.

  2. #2 |  Jeff R | 

    Weak reply to a seamless argument from Brooks.

  3. #3 |  driftglass | 

    People like Mr. Brooks rise to power because there is a Club and you are not in it.

    Mr. Brooks is a hack, a liar and — above all — a piss poor writer who rose to power because he serves power obediently, enthusiastically and without shame.

    Also the fact that he was a history major at the U of C who now makes a princely living by getting American history repeatedly and spectacularly wrong is especially hilarious.

    http://driftglass.blogspot.com/2012/06/david-fucking-brooks.html

  4. #4 |  Stephen | 

    Actually I laughed a bit at that. A leader is whoever happens to be leading at the time. There are no “bad followers”, just bad leaders that don’t have any followers.

  5. #5 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    I have always liked the “Question Authority” riff; after all, even if you have a wise and honest ‘Authority’, if you don’t question it (him/her), how will you learn anything from it?

    It’s one of the few bumper sticker thoughts that I am really comfortable with. For instance, when I see “A mind is like a parachute, it only functions when open” my immediate thought is “A mind is like a parachute, left open constantly it will drag you into all KINDS of trouble”.

  6. #6 |  (B)oscoH, Yogurt Eater | 

    In short, David Brooks, non-Yogurt Eater.

  7. #7 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Preach it, brother!

  8. #8 |  gregorylent | 

    brooks is in the club and wants to stay there … he has a job with a state propaganda organ and he wishes to keep it .. no mysteries here, except the question of those who read him .. why?

  9. #9 |  Other Sean | 

    I get the sense you could have gone of for days taking apart that repulsive piece.

    The truly insane thing about it is that Brooks is not one to court controversy if he recognizes it as such. He wrote that column thinking it would be a safe, policy free meditation on values that no serious person holds in doubt. Though in a way he was hilariously correct: there are probably few readers of the New York Times, left or less-than-left, who would find a complaint with anything he wrote.

    I mean, he actually starts out whining about the decline of authoritarian style statuary at national monuments. Holy fucking shit. After a 25 year period of history marked, happily, by the sight of rebels using thrown rope to haul down the monstrous bronze likenesses of their “leaders”, he actually wants more of both – more leaders AND more statues.

    What a total dick!

  10. #10 |  The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » Quote Of The Day | 

    [...] Brooks has fired up Radley Balko. And I highly recommend you go read Radley’s whole piece… It’s worth [...]

  11. #11 |  David Brooks Authoritarianism Watch - Hit & Run : Reason.com | 

    [...] UPDATE: Radley Balko has more. [...]

  12. #12 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “You end up with movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Parties that try to dispense with authority altogether.”

    I’m all for dispensing with “authority” if the status quo allows 1% to swallow 40% of the wealth, or allows 2.3 million people to be incarcerated, or allows the Constitution to moulder away into dust… After all, that’s plutocracy and tyranny at work, not authority, a term which implies some sort of responsibility and/or accountability…

  13. #13 |  Aresen | 

    The common assumption is that elites are always hiding something. Public servants are in it for themselves.

    Ever since I can remember, politicians have lied to me and lined their own pockets. (If nothing else, the pension plans they vote themselves should convince you of the last.)

    I defy David Brooks to name any paragon who has held public office. (And any who have lied to me “for my own good” are automatically disqualified.

    As for the ‘bad followers’ notion: This is nothing less than the old notion that the lower classes should ‘know their place’.

  14. #14 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Those “Question Authority” bumper stickers no longer symbolize an attempt to distinguish just and unjust authority. They symbolize an attitude of opposing authority.

    Fuck. I had that one wrong from the beginning!

    status quo allows 1% to swallow 40% of the wealth

    It isn’t the ratio that matters. It is the violence used to bring about the ratio. In a free society, ratios can be whatever.

  15. #15 |  crazybob | 

    “When a flawed individual (and that would be all of us) makes mistakes, he affects only himself and the people who associate with him.”

    False. False, False! An individual who makes mistakes can have widespread effects, even among those who didn’t associate with him. Dumping toxic waste in a river effects everyone downstream, regardless of “association”. That unfortunately is why we do need some level of societal regulation of individual behavior.

  16. #16 |  SJE | 

    How dare you question David Brook’s authority!

  17. #17 |  Aristomedes | 

    Thank you, Radley. That was so eloquent, and so true. My esteem for you has always been high; this nudged it even higher. Would that we had leaders of your quality: but as you said, the incentives are perverse. They are why my father stayed out of politics, as much as many in our town wished him to run for office(s). He, like you, was a man of principle, and knew that politics would have destroyed that about himself he most highly valued.

  18. #18 |  Franklin Harris | 

    I’m trying to think of the appropriate pun to describe what Brooks is in favor of. Right now, I’m going with the Divine Right of Spleens.

  19. #19 |  MH | 

    Excellent post!

    It struck me that he equated the Tea Partiers with OWS. The Tea Party is a conservative movement, hardly a bunch of anarchists, and they have been trying to get their supporters elected to office. What seems to annoy Brooks is that they rose to challenge the conservative establishment, rather than deferring to the existing hierarchy. Brooks seems not to be promoting “just authority” but more like blind deference and the monopoly of entrenched interests.

  20. #20 |  Delta | 

    Read the Wikipedia article on Brooks; it’s truly delightful.

    “… describes his first encounter with Obama, in the spring of 2005… ‘I remember distinctly an image of–we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant, and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.’”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Brooks_%28journalist%29

  21. #21 |  Other Sean | 

    Crazybob #15,

    If you think top-down “societal regulation” is the only (or even one effective) way of controlling externalities…then you really are a crazy guy.

  22. #22 |  crazybob | 

    “It isn’t the ratio that matters. It is the violence used to bring about the ratio. In a free society, ratios can be whatever.”

    In the imperfect system of capitalism, the ratios tend to get increasingly out of whack, because “them that has,gits”. Opportunities tend to gravitate towards those at the top, often without violence. When the ratios get too out of whack, it tends to have the effect of lessening the average level of freedom, as well as prosperity, even for those at the top.

    When one does not have economic access, one is not free either. Freedom should not mean “nothing left to lose”.

  23. #23 |  Miroker | 

    Radley, fixed it for you: “Why do even the “good??, hahaha” cops lie and cover up for the bad ones?”

    #15, hit the nail on the head. Since we are all prone to be concerned for no one but ourselves, there does need to be a way to make sure what you do does not affect me or others, as in your example of dumping waste.

  24. #24 |  Nick T. | 

    “I don’t know if America has a leadership problem”

    Umm, try paying attention to anything you moron. Wow.

    Great job, Radley. I read that dreck yesterday, and from the end of the 2nd paragraph or so I was floored with the fact that this guy gets paid to think and then write out his thoughts and then re-write them and then decide to share them with the whole world. I mean not a new notion, but this column really brought it home just how truly hard to believe this situation really is.

    Also how does he honestly believe that OWS and the Tea Party want to “dispense with authority altogether?” Goodness, just so dumb.

  25. #25 |  Difster | 

    That has got to be the most jackboot licking piece of crap I’ve ever read.

  26. #26 |  Mario | 

    TYPO ALERT!!!

    Radley, you wrote:

    I’m just pointing out the absurdity of Brooks’ notion taht

    Apart from that, I just want to note that what comes several paragraphs down is one of the best lines of yours ever:

    The set of skills it takes to get elected and achieve success in politics are not only the sorts of traits you’d never want in the people who govern you, they’re actually character flaws. They’re sorts of traits decent people try to teach out of their children.

    Bravo!

  27. #27 |  Eric Northman | 

    You made the exact point towards the end of your piece that I was about to make. I don’t question authority because of my own vanity. I question authority, because I know how ridiculously flawed I am, so I don’t expect anyone else to be that much better.

  28. #28 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    That unfortunately is why we do need some level of societal regulation of individual behavior.

    Depends. Is this “regulation” voluntary—or more of the same old slippery slope?

    Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955…

    The distrust of authority is a common happening when the state lags the population’s desire. The state must be dragged kicking and screaming into any change since change has the potential to threaten the state. Today’s change is a pivotal battle between a dramatic increase in civilian freedoms via less government and a dramatic increase in civilian freedoms via much, much more government. Yes, I know what I wrote—and I know how I’m betting.

  29. #29 |  Other Sean | 

    Miroker #22,

    “Since we are all prone to be concerned for no one but ourselves, there does need to be a way to make sure what you do does not affect me or others, as in your example of dumping waste.”

    What you wrote there is an argument AGAINST giving that power to government, where it will be wielded by the same self-concerned people who won a contest against other self-concerned people to see who could be MOST self-concerned.

  30. #30 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Format problem. First paragraph is quote from #15.

    Stupid fat fingers.

  31. #31 |  Pi Guy | 

    …relearn the art of following.

    I would have to say that following your “betters” blindly is perhaps the most unpatriotic, unAmerican thing that any person in this great but slipping-thru-our-fingers land could possibly do.

    And to stand on the sidelines and preach it from the ivory tower is, therefore, an act of treason in my book.

  32. #32 |  Fred Mangels | 

    “Given the low level of competence among politicians, every American should become a libertarian. The government that governs the least is certainly the best choice when fools, opportunists and grafters run it. When power is for sale, government power should be severely limited. When power is abused, the less power the better.”- Charley Reese

  33. #33 |  Joe Donatelli | 

    Well, someone here is being a pretty bad follower, Radley.

  34. #34 |  Eric Hanneken | 

    David Brooks:

    To have good leaders you have to have good followers — able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson:

    Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.

  35. #35 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    @#22

    You may want to question your characterization of capitalism and the power of the customer. The eventuality you propose cannot happen without the use of force (via either restriction of movement or competition). And the use of force is not capitalism. So, it’s a common canard.

  36. #36 |  MH | 

    Debating the fairness of capitalism or effect of externalities seems like we are straying a bit off topic. While externalities are real, I think Radley’s point is sound that the mistakes (or crimes) of government officials have a broad effect which is not properly accounted for, and which will only be exacerbated if there is a lessening of dissent, or fewer constraints on what the government can do, as Brooks would seem to prefer.

  37. #37 |  Ghost | 

    “The Tea Party is a conservative movement, hardly a bunch of anarchists…”

    In Oregon, there were a few tea partiers who could be classified as anarchists (I’m one of them). We got behind the movement because “less govt” is one more step in the right direction. And true, we aren’t the “anarchists” you see at OWS, hanging out with commies, but just like “republican” and “democrat” don’t represent everyone who calls themselves that, there are anarcho-capitalists who want a free society.

    As for crazy bob, we don’t need legislation to stop people from dumping toxic waste (in fact, we have anti-littering laws that go perfectly with our trash strewn highways). We need more information, not laws. People today understand the hazards of dumping toxic waste, and with social media, companies wouldn’t be able to get away with it with their customers.

    Unnecessary laws (drug war, I’m looking at you) require armed goons unwilling to question orders to enforce those laws. What are seat belt laws? A means to protect, or a means to revenue? The same can be said with EPA laws. Hell, the “carbon tax” idea would still let the richest companies pollute.

    Maybe we do need some sort of regulation. It just seems evident that the government lacks the competence to regulate fairly or efficiently.

  38. #38 |  Other Sean | 

    Ghost #37,

    “…we don’t need legislation to stop people from dumping toxic waste…”

    Right. You just need property rights, and a means of pursuing liability.

    And to get this back on topic: we don’t need LEADERS to tell us that toxic waste is bad, either.

  39. #39 |  Bobby | 

    This article reminds me of Wirkman’s take down of Lew Rockwell and his notions of just authority: The Libertarian as Authoritarian It begins:

    At the 1987 Libertarian Party convention, I decided to get into the spirit of the event by wearing a political button. I was loath to support any of the candidates offered for my allegiance, so my choice of buttons was somewhat limited. I settled for an old stand-by: Question Authority.

    Little did I suspect that this choice of buttons would cause one of my new acquaintances — one Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr — to dismiss me out of hand as a “leftist”! (See the section of his manifesto “Authority vs. Coercion” for his opinion on this slogan.) Of course, my views are so far from being “leftist” that no one with a lick of sense could mistake me for anything but a libertarian. Perhaps what Mr Rockwell hates so much about that button is that any libertarian wearing it cannot be mistaken for a right-wing conservative either, and this mistake is precisely what he wants to encourage.

    There is something about the concept “authority” that conservatives love — despite (or because of?) all the murkiness and confusion surrounding it. Though the meaning of “Question Authority” is slippery, “Support Authority” is an even worse slogan. In addition to the obscurity of its meaning, it suggests servility and the fear of reason. While it might be best to avoid the term altogether, philosophic-minded libertarians must respond to Rockwell’s ostensibly libertarian defense of it. And the first challenge is to unravel some of the absurdities of Rockwell’s (s)creed.

    The full essay can be found here: http://www.wirkman.com/Wirkman/Netizen/Entries/1990/3/1_The_Libertarian_as_Authoritarian.html

    It’s definitely one of the most influential essays on my own political outlook.

  40. #40 |  Bobby | 

    Whoa, dunno what happened with the formatting if the end of my last post.

  41. #41 |  Bobby | 

    Also, for context, that essay was written years back, when Lew Rockwell was still trying to form an alliance with paleoconservatives.

  42. #42 |  Brandon | 

    I was curious how Crazybob would phrase his unquestioning agreement with Brooks. He was actually surprisingly mundane. Still obsequious and incoherent, but not even particularly interesting.

  43. #43 |  derfel cadarn | 

    To David Brooks, the art of following consists of the ability to discern when it is time to step out of the line allowing the lemmings and delusional morons to march off the cliff. Great men do not seek power it falls to them ,they then do the deeds required,relinquish power and more on. This is their source of greatness(think Washington). Those that openly seek power over others are nearly ALWAYS those who can be least trusted with it. I ALWAYS question authority,as a self confessed flawed human being I must ,knowing human nature. Let me note that men and women of principle do not attempt to impose their views by force and can accept the fact that others have views that may not coincide with our own but are equally laudable.

  44. #44 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    Sounds like Brooks and Sally Quinn should get together for a good long cry.

  45. #45 |  crazybob | 

    “#21 | Other Sean | June 13th, 2012 at 11:03 am
    Crazybob #15,

    If you think top-down “societal regulation” is the only (or even one effective) way of controlling externalities…then you really are a crazy guy.”

    OK, give me another one that would work in the situation I mentioned.

  46. #46 |  nigmalg | 

    You made the exact point towards the end of your piece that I was about to make. I don’t question authority because of my own vanity. I question authority, because I know how ridiculously flawed I am, so I don’t expect anyone else to be that much better.

    This x100!

  47. #47 |  H. Rearden | 

    Radley – This is exactly the type of post which has you earning my respect more and more. It will not, however, be winning you any friends when your blog moves to HuffPo.

  48. #48 |  Dimline | 

    Radley, this made my day. I’m almost glad Brooks wrote that piece, just so you could trash it so masterfully.
    and I’m making a poster of this:

    “So those of us who question authority do so not because we’re vain or think we’re better than everyone else. On the contrary. We question authority because we recognize that human beings, ourselves included, are flawed. And we’ll always be flawed. Which means that we will build flawed institutions and produce flawed leaders. We question authority because we recognize that not only is authority (another word for power) inherently corrupting, but also because we recognize the perverse values, priorities, and notions of merit upon which authority is generally granted.”

  49. #49 |  hattio | 

    Radley,
    I’m pretty sure Catholocism is not the largest religion in the world, merely the largest CHRISTIAN religion. Other than that, pretty much spot on.

  50. #50 |  Player1 | 

    #50

    lookin good in the neighborhood…

  51. #51 |  MH | 

    @ Ghost, glad to know there are some anarcho-capitalists in tea party. I was not intending to over-generalize, it’s just my overall impression the tea party is more a movement of fiscal-conservative republicans dissatisfied with their party than a movement of libertarians.

  52. #52 |  Ghost | 

    I would include teachers unions in the “collectives who cover each others asses.” They notoriously move kid touchers around and obscure the scandal so the new school’s parents don’t find out.

    Also, the military collective (almost entirely among the higher ups).

  53. #53 |  H. Rearden | 

    If it were possible to create a monolithic ‘hive’ mentality, which is apparently what Mr. Brooks would like, any system of government or socioeconomic structure would work. Communism, fascism, capitalism, anarchism…any system would work because all people would be in agreement that it is the best way to organize society. But there is not possible way to reach any such consensus, and any effort to create such a consensus would be either a naive waste of time or an attempt to achieve dictatorial power. Which is why our best hope is to create a system that grants the most freedom to the most people. A centralized power structure and a conformist populace is no way to create a freedom-expanding society.

    And to Mr Brooks: ‘Fuck off, slaver’

  54. #54 |  Ghost | 

    MH
    I agree, and I wasn’t being facetious when I said a few. Me, and two of my friends.

    Honestly, seeing people flying the black flag right next to the red is the most confusing thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Some people need a guillotine’s blade to wake up.

  55. #55 |  Seanrude | 

    Radley deserves extra credit for not using the phrase “fucking asshole” to describe Brooks at any point. No way I could have written this many words about him and not used that phrase.

  56. #56 |  Miroker | 

    Other Sean #29
    Where in my comment did I mention giving power to government? I said we need a way to ensure that you do not spoil my life doing something that affects me in some way. Given what I know about human thought patterns,
    there are VERY few people who would do the right thing, so where does that leave us? Will you make the decisions to ensure every one does the right thing? If so, how will you make sure your decision is followed? If you will not make the decisions, then who will?

    I am not a religious person, but I think I follow the traditional rules as far as trying to do the right thing at the right time. I have met too many people in my life who would have you believe they are “special, trustworthy and able to do the right thing” when in fact all they are after is what benefit they can get from doing whatever, regardless of whether the result will affect others in a negative way.

    Boyd Durkin #35.
    What are you talking about? All I can think is you have my comment mixed up with someone else as I make no mention of “capitalism and the power of the customer.”

  57. #57 |  MP | 

    “Politics—the quest for power because you’re sure that you, more than others, know what’s best for everyone else—has always been a profession worth ridiculing”

    I have a big problem with this sentence. It expresses a level of cynicism that is almost absolute.

    Progressivism enshrined the “know what’s best” principle as the dominating principle of our time. But there has also always been the idea of the “duty to serve”. That is, many who enter into the political realm do it under the guise of an obligation they feel to contribute to the necessary operational oversight of their community. They may carry with them their statist beliefs, but the root cause of their participation is not a power motive, but rather an altruistic motive.

    Your cynicism is justified. And Brooks is an idiot for spewing such a tribute to a deference to authority. But I think it’s too easy to get caught up in “they’re all crooks and liars”, which tends to undermine your core point.

  58. #58 |  Aresen | 

    @ MP June 13th, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Please identify a successful politician who has not lied to you or used his office to enrich himself.

  59. #59 |  TWylite | 

    Clearly, we need to elect a new people who are worthy of our Dear Leaders.

  60. #60 |  drewby | 

    And all God’s people said AMEN!

    Excellent prose Radley.

  61. #61 |  Kerade | 

    #56 MP –
    I agree that some may enter politics to help serve their community, but that’s where it ends. Keep in mind you said “enter into the political realm”. To STAY in the political realm you must be more powerful than the other/next guy and very quickly you are moving down the road of keeping your post by gaining power or moving up the political ladder by gaining power. The altruism that was there for motivation at the beginning is way to often quickly replaced by power and greed. I wish it weren’t so, but it is.

  62. #62 |  Tom | 

    When a journalist states that questioning authority is wrong, you know his time for making a meaningful contribution to the field has long since past.

  63. #63 |  lunchstealer | 

    One unfortunate side-effect of ‘question authority’ is that many people don’t question authority well. The versions of this that I’m most familiar with are the various forms of scientific illiteracy.

    Discuss vaccination with an alt-med type, and all of a sudden you get a lot less respect for the whole ‘question authority’ motif. And don’t get me started on Intelligent Design, whose proponents are evidence against any potential Designer being particularly bright.

  64. #64 |  Curt | 

    Brooks says “the Vietnam memorial is about tragedy” and “why can’t today’s memorial designers think straight about just authority”. Just Authority and Vietnam? WTF? Should we also build a great memorial to show the just authority of our “kinetic action” in Libya? How about memorializing the just authority of GTMO?

    I didn’t go through Brooks’ archives, but I’m sure he’s got some really good articles where he defers to the leadership and just authority of Bush and Cheney.

  65. #65 |  EH | 

    David Brooks is consummately ignorable, and he is only trolling here. This screed of his is intended only to sandbag the growing opposition to re-electing Obama, by reminding the low-hanging fruit that there’s a system that needs to be perpetuated. Some people do respond to this.

  66. #66 |  Greg | 

    That’s an absolutely perfect response to Brooks–who is so perfectly unselfconscious that he’ll continue as his tics/prejudices/blind habits guide him…

    Brooks, Friedman, Dowd – the Old Grey Lady is mired in senility, in nostalgia, and howls now just as loudly as before though she’s got little to say to those of us in the here-and-now. (Krugman just doesn’t belong in that company.) She’s like Lady Bracknell, but with a diaper under her petticoat which she’s soiled: she smells a bit rank, and it’s embarassing; and yet she keep shouting us down about etiquette…

  67. #67 |  MP | 

    @ Aresen – Please define success.

    @ Kerade – Too often, people extrapolate Washington as Politics. Politics is vast. The power principle clearly comes into play as the power of the particular political position increases. But for local/county/small state politics, there’s much more balance between “know what’s best” and altruistic motivations.

    This is where I take issue with such all inclusive statements. Radley deals with the muck so much that I think it makes it too easy to toss out blanket statements.

    And yes, I understand that there are busybodies at all level of politics. I despise the whole concept of local zoning boards, and the statism they breed. And even tiny towns can attract power hungry political candidates. My point is though that it’s not intrinsic, as Radley extrapolates it as such, to the motivations of all (or even of the the majority of) politicians.

  68. #68 |  Pale Rider | 

    Sick ‘em boy!

  69. #69 |  Whim | 

    Wonderfully insightful and perceptive commentary by Radley Balko:

    “To be successful at politics, you need to be deceitful, manipulative, conniving, and mostly devoid of principle. (Principled politicians are rarely remembered as “great legislators.” And historians bestow greatness on the presidents most willing to wage war, accumulate power, and exceed their constitutional authority.) The most successful politicians sell voters on their strong convictions and principles, and then, once elected, they do as they’re told, in order to accumulate power and status within the party.”

    I would only add that these lying, thieving, deceitful, mendacious slime that float to the top of the cesspool of politics do so because they are carefully groomed, protected, pampered, and then used up by the REAL controlling power establishment elite who hold their puppet-strings.

  70. #70 |  JT | 

    Brooks is only 50? (read at the wiki link). I’d have guessed at least 75, as those old high school history teachers, the only pro-authority conservatives
    I have any respect for.

  71. #71 |  Kerade | 

    @MP – The funny thing is I was actually thinking of local politics, not Washington, as I was writing my response. And I live in small town rural Texas. In my opinion, >95% of Washington pols are in it for the wrong reason so I wasn’t even considering them. In the very small local and county politics here it is the old guard power that stays in office, and if an altruistic person can get elected it really doesn’t take long for them to change. Gov’t is all too often ill-used power and that power corrupts, at any level. I wish it were just cynicism but it’s not.

  72. #72 |  Inequality and Political Remedies — The League of Ordinary Gentlemen | 

    [...] good remedies. The political elite isn’t stupid. They want what everyone else wants — power. Unlike most of us, they already have a power base to build on. That’s also why they need to [...]

  73. #73 |  MH | 

    @MP, I don’t see that Radley is attacking the intrinsic motivations of all politicians, but is critiquing the game that politicians must play to survive in politics. Indeed when he says power is corrupting, that implies a less corrupt state must have preceded it. Similarly he does not say no principled politicians exist, but rather those who do exist are rarely remembered as great legislators. While his post was harshly worded I didn’t see it as making overly blanket statements.

  74. #74 |  MP | 

    @Kerade – As someone who’s been involved politically at the local level, and continues to keep a close eye on it, my experience differs. YMMV. I only got out because the time commitment was more than I cared to give (as I’m not a particularly altruistic person anyhow).

    And yes, this does mean that I may also be extrapolating personal experience into general political theory. Don’t we all?

  75. #75 |  el coronado | 

    Brooks motivation here is obvious, and crystal-clear: as the wheels come off the Obama campaign bus/bullshit mystique, the state propaganda organs are making one last concerted effort to right the sinking garbage scow before they *must* – reluctantly – turn on him and report the glaringly obvious truth, as they (finally) did with Carter.

    The key phrase in all that load of poorly-written horseshit is, “..recognize just authority, admire it,

  76. #76 |  Pablo | 

    I was going to say this is OT (relates to the Ramarley Graham shooting) but it’s not:

    nytimes.com/2012/06/12/nyregion/officer-to-face-manslaughter-charges-in-bronx-shooting.html

  77. #77 |  On Politics and Inequality « Windy Recycling Day | 

    [...] like good remedies. The political elite isn’t stupid. They want what everyone else wants — power. Unlike most of us, they already have a power base to build on. That’s also why they need to be [...]

  78. #78 |  perlhaqr | 

    I knew when I saw the line I’m going to treat this nonsense with far more respect than it deserves. that I was in for a real treat. And I was right!

  79. #79 |  Pat W | 

    @Jeff R. , baaaaaa, baaaaa your mama is calling !!!

  80. #80 |  Bill Stapleton | 

    If Bob Dylan was commenting on this he might say something on the lines of “Don’t follow leaders, and watch the parking meters”.

  81. #81 |  Radley Balko | 

    Bill Stapleton wins.

  82. #82 |  Richard Pinney | 

    Brooks noted that people trusted our gov’t in the years 1925 “AND” 1955. This indicates just two individual years. Balko then responds with “1925 – 1955, indicating a 31 year period. This would invalidate most of Balko’s arguments that follow in that paragraph.

    I don’t recall Radley ever making a comparative error like this. Typically he uses a conservative subset of the original group to make a rock solid point.

    What say ye, Radley?

  83. #83 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    Brooks: “To have good leaders you have to have good followers — able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it.”

    Brooks sounds like a modern, politically correct, nanny state-loving Machiavelli. Keep comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted, David. And I will keep ingnoring you.

  84. #84 |  MPH | 

    So Brooks is advocating that we need more sheeple. Too many sheeple is what allowed our political class to get where it is today.

  85. #85 |  4jkb4ia | 

    This is a terrific post. I would just say that institutions are valued because they are supposed to channel people into exercising good leadership. If partisanship is valued instead of leadership you do not have followers who can check the leaders into being good leaders.

  86. #86 |  srp | 

    I am 100% behind the points Radley makes, but they are incomplete. The key question is why we need authority in the first place. Paternalists like Brooks think it’s because wise rulers can tell the unwise what to do and improve their lives (individually and collectively), which is empirically a bad argument.

    Nowadays, externality arguments are popular justifications for vesting authority in rulers. They are a way to appeal to individualist values while asserting authoritarian prerogatives. But there are huge problems with the externality justification, ranging from experience with alternative methods for controlling spillovers to difficulties in bounding the principle (minimum grooming standards for going out in public, anyone?).

    The strongest theoretical and empirical argument for vesting authority in rulers is the need for disciplined, coordinated collaboration in the face of a hostile or competitive environment. Deference to the authority of a ship’s captain is not fundamentally based on a judgment that the captain is clearly superior to the executive officer or the first mate. It is based on understanding that the survival and safety of the ship depends on everyone expeditiously working together in a common direction, even when there are multiple directions that might theoretically be desirable. The Roman republic survived some extremely difficult conflicts largely because its people were able to cohere under “legitimate” authority of often-questionable competence (see Cannae, Battle of); had they failed in this adherence to authority, they likely would have been dispossessed of their lands and rights. Business units under competitive pressure may require authority to be followed in order to reach decision closure and implement coherent strategy, even if those decisions and strategies aren’t the best ones possible.

    Hayek aficionados will note that these examples are all ones where the exigencies of the situation create a great deal of common purpose among the members of the group. They place people in “organizations” with common rankings of value, rather than “orders” where individuals may differ widely in how they weight different values and purposes. Authority deserves deference when it is necessary for achieving the common purposes of a group that requires expeditious coordinated collaboration. Even then, though, The Authorities deserve no esteem beyond the excellence of their performance in office and eternal vigilance is required to make sure that they are not too dishonest, self-serving, delusional, or power-mad.

  87. #87 |  Other Sean | 

    Crazybob #45,

    I step away for six hours, and so much discussion passes me by. I just meant this: if everything was privately owned and liability wasn’t arbitrarily limited, no one would be able to dump dangerous waste in a public commons because there wouldn’t be any purely public commons, and someone would always be able to make such dumping cost more money than its saves.

    What happens with top down regulation is precisely the opposite: regulators get captured by the incumbent interests in whatever field they’re supposed to be regulating, and together they conspire to a) rape the commons, b) shut out potential competitors, and c) fog the windows so that nobody notices either until its way too late.

    Miroker #56,

    “If you will not make the decisions, then who will?”

    No one. The problem with political thought since Plato is that everyone always frames the question as “who should rule”. (David Brooks’ doesn’t much care who rules as long as somebody does, and as long as the people are ready to obey them good and hard.)

    Of course the question should be “how do we arrange things so that no one rules?”

  88. #88 |  Bobby | 

    #86 | Other Sean | June 13th, 2012 at 7:34 pm
    Miroker #56,

    “If you will not make the decisions, then who will?”

    No one. The problem with political thought since Plato is that everyone always frames the question as “who should rule”. (David Brooks’ doesn’t much care who rules as long as somebody does, and as long as the people are ready to obey them good and hard.)

    Of course the question should be “how do we arrange things so that no one rules?”

    Miroker’s trying to point out that it’s not enough to mindlessly advocate for the elimination of government. You have to also take into account the ways society regulates itself, sans a centralized government based on violent coercion.

  89. #89 |  Other Sean | 

    Bobby,

    And of course he’s right to raise that question, and so are you. But the first step is to make people see the always-and-everywhere problems with those central governments based on violent coercion. And there’s nothing mindless about doing that.

    Everyone has their pet issue where they say “of course state violence sucks but I must admit it’s necessary when used against certain really bad people like meth cooks, corporate polluters, gun owners…whatever.”

    The problem comes when everyone gets together with their pet exceptions, and they log-roll some legislation together, and the next thing you know personal liberty itself has become the exception.

  90. #90 |  The Reverend Lowonprozac | 

    “The set of skills it takes to get elected and achieve success in politics are not only the sorts of traits you’d never want in the people who govern you, they’re actually character flaws. They’re the sorts of traits decent people try to teach out of their children.” – you hit the nail on the head! That’s the biggest problem of our political system.

  91. #91 |  KPRyan | 

    So David Brooks says he doesn’t know if America has a ‘leadership problem’, but he is damn well certain that America has a ‘Followship Problem!’.

    Yes, too many of us are no longer ‘republican’ and ‘democrat’, blindly following our Dear Leaders’ Every Order. Too many of us no longer believe our ‘Leaders’ have our best interests at heart when the Wall Street Banking houses are bailed out but our neighbors houses are given, gratis, to the Banks. Too many of us no longer Follow our ‘Leaders’ into new Wars for Peace. Too many of us no longer trust the reason our ‘Leaders’ give us for the genesis of 911.

    And that, according to Brooks, is why our economy is still a mess, why we’re still involved in Iraq and Afghanistan and why we can’t seem to keep roofs over our heads. We’re just too stupid and don’t know how to follow our leaders.

    What bullshit.

  92. #92 |  Not Sure | 

    “To have good leaders you have to have good followers — able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it.”

    Since a fair number of leaders are elected to their positions by the followers, if the followers are poor ones, how likely is it they will choose good leaders?

  93. #93 |  demize! | 

    #2 “Weak reply to a seamless argument from Brooks.” Lol his entire piece is nothing but one huge seam. Its a Rorschach of Brooks’ banal discomfort with freedom.

  94. #94 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Well done, Radley.

    A big part of David Brooks’ shtick is to present vicious positions in the most milquetoast language imaginable, e.g., that we should be obedient subjects rather than assertive citizens, in the most milquetoast language imaginable. Most writers making that sort of argument would scare the hell out of their readers. (I exclude raging partisan asshats, such as Ann Coulter, who appeal to a relatively narrow, authoritarian base.)

    The idea of people actually being persuaded by Brooks’ sycophantic rubbish is scary, but I can’t get a clear sense of whether his readers are really affected by his more pernicious arguments. Another of his roles at the Times seems to be that of a campfire storyteller, freaking out rich liberals with tall tales from the red suburbs. I have to admit that I find this shtick perversely admirable; as journalism, it sucks, but it’s a pretty entertaining literary prank on an amazingly gullible audience.

    All in all, I’d say that the bobo stuff is pretty harmless, and overall I don’t find Brooks remotely as pernicious as Nicholas Kristof or even Maureen Dowd. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t get the sense that he’s taken as seriously by his readers as some columnists.

    By the way, I skewered these three, and more, on my blog under “Travels with the Commentariat.”

  95. #95 |  Assessing a Great Birthday Haul | Iced Borscht | 

    [...] David Brooks: Know Your Betters(theagitator.com) [...]

  96. #96 |  SPO | 

    Willingham did it. But I agree with the post. And Brooks is a d-bag extraordinaire.

  97. #97 |  Susan | 

    David Brooks: ‘To have good leaders you have to have good followers — able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it.’

    John Holt: ‘Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, stubbornness, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head, even when things are going badly. True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders.’ (Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book Of Homeschooling)

    I’m going with Holt.

  98. #98 |  Ted Levy | 

    David Brooks claims he praises just authority, but I think it’s clear that what Brooks actually praises is just authority…

  99. #99 |  JSL | 

    Heh, reading parts of this I had a picture of Brooks as Eric Cartman riding around on his bigwheel talking about his authoritah.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gx4jn77VKlQ&feature=related

    No one should take him seriously, this is the guy who fell in love with Obama over the crease in his pants.

  100. #100 |  “A Followership Problem” « Liberate One | 

    [...] at The Agitator, Radley Balko has a scathing criticism of David Brook’s column. It is well work reading in its [...]

  101. #101 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    And yet you want to give the corporate elites unparalleled power over people, Radley.

    @86 – Because that’s worked so well in third world countries, where the companies had LESS power than you’d grant them. The evidence you don’t believe in illustrates the consequences perfectly.

  102. #102 |  The problem isn’t followers, it’s leaders. | The Thinker | 

    [...] Balko politely but firmly takes David Brooks to task for his recent op-ed piece, wherein Brooks tries to shift some blame for our country’s [...]

  103. #103 |  Other Sean | 

    Leon #96,

    There are no third world countries that have tried anything like what I was talking about in comment #86, certainly not today, nor really in the past.

    The project is to build extreme minarchy or anarchy among people with at least a semblance of rationalism and libertarian values. Third world shit-holes that crawled backwards from Soviet sponsored statism into medieval superstition a few years ago don’t count…for what should be very obvious reasons.

  104. #104 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    Leon: “And yet you want to give the corporate elites unparalleled power over people, Radley.”

    I’ve never heard Radley advocate that, Leon. Look, I know where you’re coming from, so I am more sympathetic to your concerns than some of the other commenters. I was a pretty consistent Progressive/Democratic Socialist for several years after college. I had the same suspicions about libertarians that you are expressing now. But I think you are looking at this the wrong way.

    The state is not and never has been a friend to working people. Actually the state is a tool used to keep us in our place. The welfare state, I found to my grave disappointment, is largely used to keep people compliant and dependent on politicians and bureaucracies. And all too often, government intervention in the economy only helps keep the corporate elite at the commanding heights. The system called “capitalism” has always been reliant on state intervention excercised on behalf of favored industries. If the state did not intervene in the economy as much as it does (or at all), it would likely be much harder for corporate elites to excercise power over workers. Recall that corporations are creations of the state.

    I’m still figuring this out myself, Leon. I do still have disagreements with libertarians over economic issues and I don’t have a blue print. But I do think the libertarians as corporate apologist theme is getting a bit played out. Though it may be correct in some cases, I don’t think Radley qualifies for such a designation.

  105. #105 |  Know Your Betters | Western Rifle Shooters Association | 

    [...] Venlet links to this Radley Balko evisceration of pundit/stooge David [...]

  106. #106 |  CyniCAl | 

    Great job Radley. Your march toward anarchism (true political equality) continues.

  107. #107 |  Alex the Lesser | 

    I think Mr. Brooks is misunderstanding his own point. The leaders of the past made for great monuments because they were great leaders, and we haven’t had one of those in decades. Brooks shoots himself down with the Eisenhower quote – “Always try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you.” I don’t think one can honestly ascribe those characteristics to a statistically significant portion of America’s current ruling caste. All that our modern leaders do better than their underlings is self-promote.

  108. #108 |  Steve Verdon | 

    People like David Brooks think people rise to positions of power and status because they’re better, wiser, or otherwise more meritorious than the rest of us—they’re “Great Men” touched by the hand of God.

    To quote somebody not as moronic as David Brooks,

    “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”–John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton

    Brooks is an authoritarian asshole, much like Thomas Friedman who is in love with Communist China.

  109. #109 |  Some guy | 

    I did not know David Brooks had less testosterone than Maureen Dowd.

  110. #110 |  The Hell? | 

    @ 75

    So Brooks, a longtime hack Republican mouthpiece and favorite object of ire for liberals, is somehow secretly stumping for Obama over his wet dream candidate Romney? And he did this by writing one of the most loathed columns in recent memory, which has been savagely ripped apart by pretty much every blog in the English speaking internet?

    Your logic is positively Brooksian…

  111. #111 |  Calion | 

    This is awesome. But you neglect to mention that our political institutions, unlike those of other nations, were specifically and explicitly designed for a populace that questioned authority, that did not have faith in its leaders, and works badly without that basic skepticism.

  112. #112 |  JB Andrews | 

    “…people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.”

  113. #113 |  Medicine Man | 

    Brooks is quite a creature isn’t he. He has this whole “kiss up, spit down”-shtick learned to the point of being a motor reflex. Anyhow, thanks for writing such a detailed and methodical take-down of his drivel. I only wonder if Brooks is self-aware enough to appreciate how badly he’s being reamed.

  114. #114 |  Matt Strictland | 

    I’ll gladly follow if someone is worthy of it. I haven’t seen that in any of the ruling class.

  115. #115 |  Patches Ohoulihan | 

    Plus, Lance Armstrong has the BEST. CAMEO. EVER. in Dodgeball

    Remember the five D’s: dodge, dip, duck, dive, and dodge.

  116. #116 |  Patches Ohoulihan | 

    Oops – wrong blog.

  117. #117 |  Articles for Friday » Scott Lazarowitz's Blog | 

    [...] Radley Balko: David Brooks: Know Your Betters [...]

  118. #118 |  Sheldon Richman | 

    Excellent! Brooks is insufferable.

  119. #119 |  Dedicated_Dad | 

    @Aresen (#58) Ron Paul.

  120. #120 |  Held Prisoner To Tradition? | The Penn Ave Post | 

    [...] Prisoner To Tradition? Posted at 3:45 on June 17, 2012 by Andrew Sullivan Radley Balko questions the theory that we should defer to the status quo "because our institutions were built and [...]

  121. #121 |  fursnake7 | 

    Off topic, but:
    Sorry, Ghost #37 and OtherSean #38, we DO need regulation against things like toxic waste, not just information and enforcement of property rights. Business leaders are personally rewarded by producing short-term profits. Running their businesses cleanly and responsibly will always be more expensive and less profitable than dumping. Corrupt and/or oblivious politicians will always help these businesses by 1.) Helping hide the damage until the offenders have collected their booty and escaped, and 2.) Socializing the cost of cleaning up among the rest of us, thereby ensuring that future businessmen will see the profit in polluting. I’m not “anti-business”; I just wish that businesses would truly have to pay for the damage that they do, as a cost of doing business, before calculating their profits or paying their taxes.

  122. #122 |  Ian MacLeod | 

    There are a few people I’d call my “betters” – in some things. There is no one I’ve ever met I’d call my better in every way, and not that many I’d call an equal. And there is NO “authority” that I will trust blindly, ESPECIALLY a government authority.

    Ian

  123. #123 |  Sancho | 

    http://crookedtimber.org/2012/06/12/shorter-david-brooks-on-followership/

  124. #124 |  Joe | 

    Sounds to me like Mr. Brooks is suffering from sour grapes. He’s one of the people “in charge”, but isn’t getting the respect he thinks he deserves from what he calls the “Great Unwashed Masses”………well, because, we just don’t know our place. Brooks is one of those people who would insist that we all should be living like the Unabomber in a one-room shack while he and his fellow “superiors” get to live in mansions which burn enough energy to power a small town………..because, well, they are just “better” than rest of us. Hey Brooks: I wave my private parts at your aunties, I blow my nose at you! You’re mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!

  125. #125 |  Josh | 

    “Even if you’re the die-hardest of die-hard blue- or red-staters, in your most honest moments you have to concede that Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner are absurd human beings.”

    Epic. Though to be truly accurate one would have to note that Nancy Pelosi (et al, but her especially) has no hope of (or, I suspect, interest in) ever approaching anything nearly as benign as absurdity. I believe pathological preposterousness to be essentially the Clark Kent to her Superman.. her condescending preformance-art critique of the average voter. Deep down, she’s all hate and destruction.

    To torture the metaphor further, she’s a clown.. who stabs you in the back, between phoning in sub-par balloon animals.

  126. #126 |  Authoritarianism or Self-Determination » Scott Lazarowitz's Blog | 

    [...] too caught up in their emotional enmeshment with the State to understand that it is they who think they’re better than everyone [...]

  127. #127 |  JOR | 

    #63, Questioning authority badly is better than deferring to it. Anti-vaxxers are less objectionable than historical fruits of scientific authority (coercive psychiatry, eugenics, colonialism, genocide, etc.)

    Yeah. OT. Brooks is a flaghumping, badgelicking victim of intellectual self-castration. May he have an ‘encounter’ with the authority he loves so much.

    #104, One way I like to explain it is that government is the One Big Corporation. Or, in other terms, it’s a union for the capitalist elite.

  128. #128 |  JOR | 

    “we DO need regulation against things like toxic waste, not just information and enforcement of property rights. Business leaders are personally rewarded by producing short-term profits. Running their businesses cleanly and responsibly will always be more expensive and less profitable than dumping.”

    Well, sure, other things equal it’s cheaper to be cheap. But so what? When libertarians say that we should deal with pollution by enforcing property rights, what they basically mean is that it should be a crime to pollute other peoples’ stuff (or even their commons – there’s nothing unlibertarian about commons, and they generally work fine until some state comes along to confiscate them for use by capitalists). That’s… basically what people who insist we need “regulations” are talking about, right? When libertarians rail against ‘regulations’ what they’re really railing against are ‘victimless crimes’, or what they perceive to be such.*

    “Corrupt and/or oblivious politicians will always help these businesses . . . ”

    Well shucks, it’s almost like you’re saying statism isn’t a solution.

    *Of course there might be cases where they’re wrong on the substance, and of course sometimes libertarians go into Capitalist Tool mode and rail against critiques of the capitalist/business elite as such (because such critiques often carry ‘leftist’ cultural markers that libertarians are emotionally averse to), and against any perceived regulation that might serve to protect people from them (because, sadly, a lot of self-declared libertarians are just apologists for capitalist plutocrats).

  129. #129 |  Anton Sherwood | 

    “If they didn’t hold positions of power, you’d want nothing to do with these people.”

    If they didn’t hold positions of power, they’d be very different people.

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