Brooks: Republicans are the Party of Untrammeled Freedom and Maximum Individual Choice

David Brooks is at it again. In today’s column he takes the Republican Party to task from his perch as one of the New York Times‘s conservative columnists. And once again, he makes perfect sense.

The party sometimes seems cut off from the concrete relationships of neighborhood life. Republicans are so much the party of individualism and freedom these days that they are no longer the party of community and order. This puts them out of touch with the young, who are exceptionally community-oriented. It gives them nothing to say to the lower middle class, who fear that capitalism has gone haywire. It gives them little to say to the upper middle class, who are interested in the environment and other common concerns.

The Republicans talk more about the market than about society, more about income than quality of life. They celebrate capitalism, which is a means, and are inarticulate about the good life, which is the end. They take things like tax cuts, which are tactics that are good in some circumstances, and elevate them to holy principle, to be pursued in all circumstances.

Brooks’s op-ed reminds me of the words of the late Christopher Lasch. (True and Only Heaven, p. 38-39):

The “traditional values” celebrated by Reagan–boosterism, rugged individualism, a willingness to resort to force (against weaker opponents) on the slightest provocation–had very little to do with tradition. They summed up the code of the cowboy, the man in flight from his ancestors, from his immediate family, and from everything that tied him down and limited his freedom of movement. Reagan played on the desire for order, continuity, responsibility, and discipline, but his program contained nothing that would satisfy that desire. On the contrary, his program aimed to promote economic growth and unregulated business enterprise, the very forces that have undermined tradition. A movement calling itself conservative might have been expected to associate itself with the demand for limits not only on economic growth but on the conquest of space, the technological conquest of the environment, and the ungodly ambition to acquire godlike powers over nature. Reaganites, however, condemned the demand for limits as another counsel of doom. “Free enterprisers,” according to Burton Pines, an ideologue of the new right, “insist that the economy can indeed expand and as it does so, all society’s members…can increase their wealth.”