Gather round, ducklings, for David Brooks would like to commence his Tuesday lesson: “When I was a freshman in college, I was assigned ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’ by Edmund Burke. I loathed the book.” You’ll never believe this, but later in life, he grew to like the book. This bears all the trappings of a trenchant political column.

Brooks read books by other people, too.

These experiences drove me toward the crooked timber school of public philosophy: Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin, Edward Banfield, Reinhold Niebuhr, Friedrich Hayek, Clinton Rossiter and George Orwell. These writers — some left, some right — had a sense of epistemological modesty. They knew how little we can know. They understood that we are strangers to ourselves and society is an immeasurably complex organism. They tended to be skeptical of technocratic, rationalist planning and suspicious of schemes to reorganize society from the top down.

Before long, Brooks was no longer a liberal.

Before long, I was no longer a liberal.

Barack Obama, the current president, is a liberal, as are his aides.

Readers of this column know that I am a great admirer of Barack Obama and those around him. And yet the gap between my epistemological modesty and their liberal worldviews has been evident over the past few weeks.

They verb David Brooks’ metaphor.

They set off my Burkean alarm bells.

To conclude.

All in all, I can see why the markets are nervous and dropping. And it’s also clear that we’re on the cusp of the biggest political experiment of our lifetimes. If Obama is mostly successful, then the epistemological skepticism natural to conservatives will have been discredited. We will know that highly trained government experts are capable of quickly designing and executing top-down transformational change. If they mostly fail, then liberalism will suffer a grievous blow, and conservatives will be called upon to restore order and sanity.

David Brooks thanks you for listening. You are now free to return to Planet Earth, where the all of the biggest banks are insolvent and where serious people are trying to solve this.

The Big Test [NYT]

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  1. Yeah, he learned that 800 word formula back in college (probably his essay on Burke) and you will only get it from him by prying it out of his cold, dead hands. That said, at least he’s not crazy like every single one of his Republican colleagues.

  2. “And it’s also clear that we’re on the cusp of the biggest political experiment of our lifetimes”

    …ummmmmmmmm, you mean besides the 26 year long botched abortion called “Reaganomics”! Right?!

  3. Hmmm, why do conservatives have such a fetish about Burke? He was royalist. Oh, yeah, they like the big daddy in charge. I’m with Blake on this one, “Tyger, Tyger” tear these fuckers a part.

  4. Gosh, it’s truly shocking that a conservative would find classic, quotable inspiration in Burke so as to denounce revolutionism or anything said conservative would like to suggest is.

  5. That’s almost as pretentious as the eager-beaver law student in my class who claimed that a professor had “impaled [him] on the horns of a Marshallean dilemma.”

    Of course, you mentioned the word “epistemology” to Cantor or Steele or the other generally drooling dumbfucks that make up the national GOP, and you’ll probably get something like “yew read books, faggot?”

  6. “If they mostly fail, then liberalism will suffer a grievous blow, and conservatives will be called upon to restore order and sanity.”

    Like how the W reign of error combined with Greensap’s exuberance ended peace and prosperity “in our time”?

    If you really do believe Brooks then I can offer to sell you some 60 TRILLION in CDOs and other collapsing derivatives for only $250k worth of hobo beans and ammo?

  7. My retard alarm bells went off as I was reading this column.

    “Epistemological skepticism natural to conservatives”!? Really? Conservatives abhor ambiguity, they seek certainty, and see the world only in black and white. Now, if he is talking about conservatives hatred for book learning and that librul conspiracy “science,” then yes, this may be an apt description of conservatives posture toward knowledge.

  8. >>“And it’s also clear that we’re on the cusp of the biggest political experiment of our lifetimes”

    You mean other than invading a large Middle Eastern country for the lulz?

  9. AngryBlakGuy: win.

    As if Reaganomics wasn’t top-down. Geez, even their memes spelled that out: trickle-down, compassionate conservatism. Meh. Class and power David, class and power. His rhetoric doth protest too much.

    My fantasy about POTUS’ upcoming speech is that he clearly names Reaganomics the culprit.

  10. Two minor level Obama administration aides are sitting in a bar after a long day of turning America into a socialist workers paradise. One of them nudges the other and says, sotto voice, “Check out that big haired Republican chick in the tight “I heart Krauthammer” T-shirt at the end of the bar.”

    “Whoa!” says the other, “That one sets off my Burkean alarm bells!”

  11. [re=250172]MarieDeGournay[/re]:
    And when the Stars threw down their spears
    And watered heaven with their tears–
    Did he smile, or other looks?
    Did he, who made the lamb, make Brooks?

  12. One book changed his politics completely? Didn’t he realize the library would let him check out more than one book?

    OT–Will wonkette be live-blogging the not-state-0f-the-union speech tonight? Or too drunk on Mardi Gras celebration?

  13. Also, is Brooks a schizo? Last week he wrote:

    Essentially, Americans had migrated from one society to another — from a society of high trust to a society of low trust…The nation had essentially bet its future on economic models with primitive views of human behavior. The government had tried to change social psychology using the equivalent of leeches and bleeding.

    Now he cites people like Berlin and Hayek, who on the political and economic side of things respectively were responsible for removing public trust in the government (“negative liberty” and government involvement in the economy as “the road to serfdom”)–WTF Brooks? I know your average reader won’t notice this because it is cloaked in pseudo-intellectual babble, but seriously, stop making mutually contradictory points in every column!

  14. No snark here. Conservativism, by nature, eventually has to fail. Nothing can stay the same forever; it defies the laws of physics and Sam Cooke. A change is gonna come.

  15. When I was a freshman in college, I was assigned ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’ by Edmund Burke. I loathed the book.” You’ll never believe this, but later in life, he grew to like the book.


    That’s why you’re up there writing the articles, Jim, and the rest of us are down here reading them.

  16. Brooks must be right… I mean his column is filled with epistemononical… er… epistlemoninica…. er… it’s full of fancy book learning, folks!

  17. [re=250168]Red Zeppelin[/re]: Fur real. More crap spewing forth from the pus hole. That’s great that you got a 4 on your AP Language, but it’s time to move on now.

  18. [re=250204]Egregious[/re]: the last time “conservatives” were actually conservative and had any epistemological modesty, Brooks’ other college hero, Elton John, was wearing something similar

    p.s. Newell, this is why they pay you the big bucks. bravo!

  19. Brooks’ self-delusion is incredible in light of the fact that we are in this mess due to one individual completely lacking “a sense of epistemological modesty” who had no idea how little he knew.

  20. Where was Mr. Epistomological Modesty during eight years of omniscient and omnipotent foreign policy? His epistomological modesty is the thing he fishes for in his pants before taking a leak.

  21. Does anyone else here hate everybody who “finds themself” in college?

    I found a lot of things in college: how to go sans laundry for two months; why MGD really isn’t the king of beers; rejection.

    None of these things I found — NONE OF THESE — were my “self.”

  22. [re=250232]WadISay[/re]: Yes, I always wonder about what happens to conservatives’ epistomological modesty when they start to swoon in the face of a leader who is strong and firm and righteous (not to be confused with right). Where is the modesty of illegal wiretaps and indefinite detention, HMMMM? Or in other words, fuck you Mr. Brooks, and the philosophy you rode in on.

  23. What a faux-erudite geyser of bullshit.

    And Brooks, since we seem to be in such a pretentious mood, I would refer you to the esteemed Aristotle’s Ars Rhetorica discussing the importance of the speaker’s ethos in regard to persuasive argument. All the hundred dollar words and learned citiations in the world won’t change the fact that you’re a gimpy little twerp with less than zero credibility.

  24. I once read this on a bathroom stall:

    “To be is to do”
    — Hegel

    “To do is to be”
    — Sartre

    “Do be do be do”
    — Sinatra

    (Sorry, graduated from a party school in Texas.)

  25. It’s amazing how these conservative pundits all seem to think that the ‘Obama Experiment’ is some hothouse flower, teetering on the edge of a volcano, waiting in dread for this ‘center-right’ country to wash its hands of change and return to the true course of Reagan/Bush mediocraty.

  26. [re=250260]CorkPopper[/re]: One answer to “what happens to conservative epistemological modesty” is that it flips like a schoolyard bully turned into wussidom: “Hey, my big plan didn’t work, but yours is much worser!”
    Mr. Brooks confess.

  27. I can sum it up: Liberal attempts to end war, disease, and poverty are stupid because nobody can do that. (Please ignore the UN, Bretton Woods, the Geneva Convention, Social Security, Antitrust law, the Law of Equity, etc.) Therefore, the world will have just have to live with inequality, destitution, and failure and Conservatives are the only people qualified carefully engineer the status quo—by doing nothing. Its the same ole nihilist bullshit decorated with a lot of undergraduate name-dropping. Brooks is just another annoying gunner. Everything he says is the 13th chiming of the clock.

  28. It really takes a hefty supply of nards to believe one can refer to one’s own “epistemological modesty” and not come off as an arrogant bag of douche.

  29. Because nothing says anti-technocratic and epistemologically modest like the belief that a market can regulate human interaction, and that each man (gender intended) is an island.

  30. When I was a freshman in college, I learned how to do gravity bong hits. I might not have learned much other than the awesomeness of Zep III and whatever I did learn I forgot, but I did learn that people like Brooks’ are pretentious twats.

  31. This white turd wrote bullshit about Hopey during his campaign aginst walnuts & the klan – I went ballistic on this asshole! I called him all types of buttseck luvin, masturbating Hopey hatin fucktard shit and he wrote me back thanking me for my opinion.

  32. Dave is attempting that thing I like to call The Comment That Rises Above the Fray. It’s supposed to make you look smart, but really shows you for being the sententious ass you truly are. I’m surprised that there wasn’t some variety of “We are all here now; no one can deny that,” employed here.

  33. Is David Brooks our new Peggy Noonan? ‘Cause if he is, he needs to bring the crazy with the stupid more often! Right now he’s just boatloads of stupid. Is he going to kiss a Mexican? I have to know.

  34. Gosh, Brooksie, you went to a college where the assigned reading included Michael Oakeshott, Edward Banfield and Clinton Rossiter. Whoa, Dude! How do they they stack up against Dr. Hunter F. Thompson, Ken Kesey and Malcom X in the epistemological skepticism department? Just askin.’

  35. You know, Brooks, your boyfriend Burke thought that quote-unquote “inalienable rights” actually need to be earned. I don’t think you’ve earned yours yet.

  36. Edmund Burke, who espised the “swinish multitude” and thought the French Revolution was a mistake. From now on I insist that all pictures of David Brooks be digitally altered to give him a powdered wig, a white powdered face with a small black patch like an aristocratic dandy, circa 1789.
    I can just see him as the Scarlet Pimpernel trying to save Cheney et al from the guillotine.

  37. Maybe if he’d reread Burke in the last 25 years or so he’d remember that Burke is advocating a conservative balance to what he (rightly predicted) would become a bloodbath in France. Not an Eternal Win for conservativism. Also, what the hell does epistemological modesty have to do with any of this–are /any/ liberals (or anyone at all) claiming to know how much we can know right now? Moron.

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