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A Preview of Brooks?

David Brooks.jpgI have long been a fan of David Brooks for his ability to meld analogue humanism and digital analysis, and for simply saying things that need to be said, despite the fact that the thought in question goes against the day’s prevailing orthodoxy. In his column in today’s Times, it is well possible Brooks has given us a preview of the thrust of his remarks at Commencement this weekend:

The problem is that the campus activists have moral fervor, but don’t always have settled philosophies to restrain the fervor of their emotions. Settled philosophies are meant to (but obviously don’t always) instill a limiting sense of humility, a deference to the complexity and multifaceted nature of reality. But many of today’s activists are forced to rely on a relatively simple social theory.

According to this theory, the dividing lines between good and evil are starkly clear. The essential conflict is between the traumatized purity of the victim and the verbal violence of the oppressor.

According to this theory, the ultimate source of authority is not some hard-to-understand truth. It is everybody’s personal feelings…

We’re now in a position in which the students and the professors and peers they target are talking past each other. The students feeling others don’t understand the trauma they’ve survived; the professors feeling as though they are victims in a modern Salem witch trial. Everybody walks on egg shells.

There will always be moral fervor on campus. Right now that moral fervor is structured by those who seek the innocent purity of the vulnerable victim. Another and more mature moral fervor would be structured by the classic ideal of the worldly philosopher, by the desire to confront not hide from what you fear, but to engage the complexity of the world, and to know that sometimes the way to wisdom involves hurt feelings, tolerating difference and facing hard truths.

Brooks will certainly be aware that in Eisenhower’s Commencement speech at the College in 1953, the President famously said, “Don’t join the book burners.”

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