Friday, June 2, 2017


Michael Sgan-Cohen, "Leviathan" (1983), Israel Museum Collection, Jerusalem, from Wikimedia Commons.

Former New York Times columnist David Brooks is shocked-shocked to learn that the intellectuals in the White House have a Hobbesian view of the world ("Donald Trump Poisons the World"):

This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”
That sentence is the epitome of the Trump project. It asserts that selfishness is the sole driver of human affairs. It grows out of a worldview that life is a competitive struggle for gain. It implies that cooperative communities are hypocritical covers for the selfish jockeying underneath....
[This] explains why people in the Trump White House are so savage to one another. Far from being a band of brothers, their world is a vicious arena where staffers compete for advantage.
Indeed. There's something deeply repugnant about people who think this way. People like, ah, New York Times columnist David Brooks ("Human Nature Redux", February 2007):

From the content of our genes, the nature of our neurons and the lessons of evolutionary biology, it has become clear that nature is filled with competition and conflicts of interest. Humanity did not come before status contests. Status contests came before humanity, and are embedded deep in human relations. People in hunter-gatherer societies were deadly warriors, not sexually liberated pacifists. As Steven Pinker has put it, Hobbes was more right than Rousseau.
Moreover, human beings are not as pliable as the social engineers imagined. Human beings operate according to preset epigenetic rules, which dispose people to act in certain ways. We strive for dominance and undermine radical egalitarian dreams. We’re tribal and divide the world into in-groups and out-groups.
This darker if more realistic view of human nature has led to a rediscovery of different moral codes and different political assumptions. Most people today share what Thomas Sowell calls the Constrained Vision, what Pinker calls the Tragic Vision and what E. O. Wilson calls Existential Conservatism. This is based on the idea that there is a universal human nature; that it has nasty, competitive elements; that we don’t understand much about it; and that the conventions and institutions that have evolved to keep us from slitting each other’s throats are valuable and are altered at great peril....
This is a big pivot in intellectual history. The thinkers most associated with the Tragic Vision are Isaiah Berlin, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Friedrich Hayek and Hobbes. Many of them are conservative.
This has been your daily reminder that the Trump administration is ideologically entirely within the framework of traditional Republican conservatism, if more on the Buchanan than the Bush side of the spectrum.

(I'd point out, for anybody who wants to argue that I'm underreading the second-to-last paragraph up there, that the conventions and institutions that the Trump administration wants to alter aren't those that have evolved, like traditional marriage, traditional religion, and the traditional class system, but those that have been deliberately negotiated by liberal big governments, like NATO, the Paris Climate Accord, and the ethics provisions of the US Constitution and statute law.)

The party didn't leave David Brooks; David Brooks, with his new-found weak-tea passive, pietistic version of liberalism, has left the party, but doesn't know it, because the sole driver of his affairs is the need to avoid self-awareness.

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