David Brooks pulls out the whip and imitates the Grand Inquisitor. That lovely Spaniard suggested all of humanity wanted three things:
- Someone to bow down to.
- An institution to take over its conscience.
- And a means of uniting everyone at last into a common, concordant, incontestable ant-hill.
It’s good to see Brooks has taken up the Inquisitor’s cause. What life asks of us, Brooks writes, is to submit to authority:
In this way of living, to borrow an old phrase, we are not defined by what we ask of life. We are defined by what life asks of us. As we go through life, we travel through institutions — first family and school, then the institutions of a profession or a craft…
Each of these institutions comes with certain rules and obligations that tell us how to do what we’re supposed to do…In the process of absorbing the rules of the institutions we inhabit, we become who we are.
Institutions do all the things that are supposed to be bad. They impede personal exploration. They enforce conformity.
But they often save us from our weaknesses and give meaning to life.
In other words: once an administrative assistant, always an administrative assistant. It’s your place the divine institution has set down for you. (I wonder how much Brooks submits his ego to the Times‘ mission to preach news of slow suicide.) But besides conflating an openness to new experiences with egocentrism, and besides assuming a distrust of authority translates into a lack of respect for it, Brooks leaves you wondering what every ass felt in all those 20th century ass festivals called nation states. The Nazis. The Bolsheviks. Take your pick. I’m sure they all felt great meaning in their lives. But if a lack of institutional allegiance led to the financial crisis, as Brooks intimates it had, then I’ll take 100,000,000 such crises for every World War and revolution.