Wednesday, January 6, 2016

David Brooks' shaky defense of liberalism

David Brooks opens his NYT Op-Ed piece this way: On New Year’s Eve some friends and family members had a drink at a bar in Tel Aviv...

I suppose this literary device is meant to assure the Netanyahu regime that he won't step on their toes in this column. He then goes on to attack rising Donald Trump-ism and call for a defense of cultural pluralism and an open society. Pretty tempting stuff. I'm definitely on board for both. 

Brooks writes:
In country after country this anxiety is challenging the liberal order. I mean philosophic Enlightenment liberalism, not partisan liberalism. It’s the basic belief in open society, free speech, egalitarianism and meliorism (gradual progress). It’s a belief that through reasoned conversation values cohere and fanaticism recedes. It’s the belief that people of all creeds merit tolerance and respect.
Fine words, Mr. Brooks. But it seems you have a blind spot or two. Did you look around that bar in Tel Aviv? Anyone excluded?
These liberal assumptions have been challenged from the top for years — by dictators. But now they are challenged from the bottom, by populist anti-liberals who support the National Front in France, UKIP in Britain, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Vladimir Putin in Russia and, in some guises, Donald Trump in the U.S.
A very short and selective list. Not a bad start, but classical liberalism has its own Achilles heels -- war, racism, gender and economic inequality.

Notice, Brooks fails to list our two main allies in the so-called war on terror: Salafist Saudi Arabia (ISIL's birthplace) where mass executions and beheadings of opposition religious leaders  have now brought the region to the brink global war. And apartheid-state Israel, where Palestinians as a people are imprisoned in the Gaza ghetto, Arab family homes are bulldozed to make room for settlers, and where new proposed "transparency" laws are being used to "squelch dissent" and make NGO's register as "foreign agents".
I don't usually judge a person by where he drinks, but his opening line makes me suspicious about his definition of open, liberal and pluralistic. And his reductionist view of rising violence and terrorism in the world as being "self-motivated" and a result of "anxiety" and "emotion" leaves me flat. It shows that Brooks hasn't a clue, or is turning a blind eye to the real roots of violence and terror.

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