Beware of Brooks! And, how to criticize homosexuality

David Brooks wrote an op-ed speaking highly of our great soldiers in Iraq, and posted it with the subtitle “the most important column you’ll read today,” and most of the folks at are happy about it. VFR readers will be unsurprised to hear that I don’t buy it. Here is the comment I posted there:

Reply 79—Posted by: Larry, 12/2/2003 2:56:57 PM

A few posters here know what David Brooks is, i.e., a liberal calling himself a “conservative” in order to undermine conservatism. The people here who praise Brooks are suckers. Just last week he used his perch as the New York Times’ house “conservative” to advocate homosexual marriage—as a “conservative” idea, no less! But now, because he praises our soldiers in Iraq, conservatives rush to praise him. Thus he pulls you in to his game, giving you just enough bait (his support for the war), to make you overlook what a slime he is on other issues. I don’t think people should let him get away with that. Conservatives should stop acting like dogs eagerly wagging their tail at anyone who pets them. Conservatives should shun David Brooks.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 02, 2003 03:05 PM | Send

Surely we can simply applaud him when he says things that we agree with and disagree when he does not. He hasn’t been a conservative since at least when he wrote about “National Greatness” conservatism way back in the Clinton years.

I found his column today to be a particularly nauseating attempt to get liberals to support the war by using liberal arguments about how caring and democratizing our soldiers are. But the more caring and democratizing we delegate to kids with big guns, the worse off we’ll be in the long run.

Posted by: Agricola on December 2, 2003 3:24 PM

Has Agricola read Brooks’s column on same-sex marriage? It was one of the most vile and hateful—not to mention stupid—things I’ve ever read. And there are “conservatives” who are influenced by that article, who think it is morally profound! Brooks is now playing a uniquely harmful role in the American political landscape. If conservatives go on with the usual modus operandi, agreeing with Brooks when they agree with him, and disagreeing with him when they disagree with him, then HE WINS. The only way to stop his game is to reject him, period.

I’m not saying that conservatives should adopt this rejectionist stand toward all left-leaning conservatives. My general approach is to do as Agricola describes, to deal with each issue on its own merits, and so to praise someone I otherwise disagree with if he says something worthwhile. But, in my opinion, Brooks has become a uniquely egregious figure and should not be accepted on any terms.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 2, 2003 3:48 PM

I haven’t seen the column. Could Mr. Auster post a link? I don’t think I’ve seen a good “conservative” argument AGAINST gay marriage yet! What gives? Sometimes I think these big media types are all reading from the same page.

Posted by: Falstaff on December 2, 2003 4:16 PM

Here is a link to the Brooks column (it’s no longer online at the NY Times):

There are many conservative articles on homosexual marriage. A recent good one is by Maggie Gallagher at The Weekly Standard:

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 2, 2003 4:32 PM

There should really be only one conservative argument against homosexual “marriage,” and that is that the term “marriage” is utterly meaningless, in either a religious or biological sense, when applied to any relationship which does not consist of a man and a woman and which ipso facto must therefore be without issue. Once you start arguing slippery slopes and so forth you’ve already conceded all the high ground and the battle is as good as lost. And I am stunned that all these conservative pundits made absolutely no attempt to retain the high ground, and in trying to make sense out of it I attribute it to their living in a much swankier and hoity-toity society than that in which I must swim, one in which homosexuals make up a huge and influential bloc, so that the quivering pundits find it socially and financially impossible to oppose them on any but instrumental grounds.

Posted by: Shrewsbury on December 2, 2003 4:40 PM

What conservatives needed to say to homosexuals was: “Your desires and affections are unnatural and sterile. It may or may not be that you were born with some defect that left you with no choice in the matter, but this question is irrelevant. You have no right to attempt to impose your deviancy on the rest of society through same-sex “marriage,” any more than someone born with a neurological disposition toward a violent temper has a right to demand of society that it remove legal strictures against assault and battery.” But of course it is impossible for anyone whose life depends on going to the right soirées to say such a thing.

Posted by: Shrewsbury on December 2, 2003 4:53 PM

This sentence from Shrewsbury’s post of 4:40 PM may in fact be a big part of the explanation (I’ve already had exactly this thought):

“And I am stunned that all these conservative pundits made absolutely no attempt to retain the high ground, and in trying to make sense out of it I attribute it to their living in a much swankier and hoity-toity society than that in which I must swim, one in which homosexuals make up a huge and influential bloc, so that the quivering pundits find it socially and financially impossible to oppose them on any but instrumental grounds.”

They feel they can’t be friendly with homosexuals on the one hand, then deny them the support they expect on homosexual marriage when that issue comes up. This is of course unprincipled, weak, and dishonest behavior. It is weak because with a little backbone (it doesn’t take a huge endowment in the backbone department to do this) you can highly esteem someone and greatly value his friendship yet still draw the line at approval of his defect or at supporting his expectation that society must legitimate his defect.

We all have defects. Most of us recognize them as such and would never dream of pushing for their official incorporation into the body of things which society holds to be right and proper. On the contrary we regret them, advise others against them, and are happy if we succeed in educating our children to be free of them.

On this note, Shrewsbury’s follow-up comment of 4:53 was just what the doctor ordered: it was excellently well-stated.

Posted by: Unadorned on December 2, 2003 6:40 PM

In addition to the good Maggie Gallagher piece cited above by Mr. Auster, here’s a very satisfying 1991 piece by Harry Jaffa which, though not primarily about homosexual marriage, discusses the whole drive to legitimate homosexuality and does touch in a few places on the topic of homosexual marriage. It’s a review of a book written by an openly homosexual professor, and it contains much wisdom. I have it in my favorites and always take pleasure in reading it over:

The amount of wisdom in this Harry Jaffa piece compared to that in the David Brooks piece is like night and day. (In fact, it can be said that there isn’t any wisdom in the Brooks piece.)

Posted by: Unadorned on December 2, 2003 7:07 PM

In addition to the issue of gay marriage, Brooks is liberal on a host of many other issues. A sampling from his recent New York Observer profile:

Mr. Brooks said he’s against the death penalty, “incredibly mushy-headed” on whether a second-trimester abortion should be legal (he thinks it’s O.K. in the first, not in the third), and believes in gay marriage and gays in the military. “It’s from personal observation that gay people don’t have a choice in being gay,” he said.

Although he’s not enamored of the Bush tax cuts, he’s upbeat about the economy (“The numbers speak for themselves,” he said), but the big domestic issue for him is polarization. “We’re increasingly dividing—geographically, culturally, religiously, commercially—into totally different segments,” he said. “People don’t even talk to each other.”

And don’t call him a neocon.


Let’s see, he isn’t pro-life, he’s “less than enamored” with tax cuts, he supports homosexuals in the military, and he’s against capital punishment. Where again is he conservative?

Posted by: Bob Vandervoort on December 2, 2003 7:10 PM

Upon reflection I see Mr. Auster’s point more clearly. I would add that Brooks’s book Bobos in Paradise is generally an effective satire on the contemporary elitist, moronic, vaguely libertarian ruling class of America until the final chapter, when he puts himself among their number and says that they’re really OK after all!

I don’t expect the kinds of arguments against homosexual marriage which one finds at this site to necessarily resonate with the right-liberals and neocons and libertarians like Brooks and Will and Safire and Goldberg. But what I find truly disturbing is that even those who think gay marriage is sociologically valuable or whatever can’t seem to notice the way in which it is being imposed: a completely tendentious extralegal argument which allowed 4 of 7 supreme court justices in the state of Massachusetts to set marriage policy for the whole country. Where are all those doughty defenders of the rule of law from the Clinton years? Where are all those people who are such champions of democracy in Iraq and everywhere else?

Posted by: Agricola on December 2, 2003 7:38 PM

These lines by Prof. Jaffa, written in 1993 in reply to Prof. Dynia, are also trenchant (especially the last sentence, which touches on something VFR poster Alan Levine had been wondering about):

“The central point of my review — which Professor Dynia nowhere addresses — was that the only ground in unassisted human reason for objecting either to slavery or to genocide is the ground of nature, not in the sense of what ‘is,’ but in the sense of what ‘ought’ to be. We ought not to enslave other human beings — as we may ‘enslave’ dogs or horses or oxen — because we recognize in them a nature that we share. We ought not to slaughter (or eat) other human beings, as we may cattle, for the same reason. All moral obligation arises form the perception that another being is a human being — towards whom we should act as we would have him (or her) act toward us — and not a being of a lower order of nature. At the normative center of the idea of nature itself is the distinction of male and female, which is the ground of morality because it is the ground of the existence of nature itself (the being of being). If then sodomy is not unnatural, in the same sense in which the priest said it is, then nothing is unnatural, and nothing (including the persecution of sodomites) is wrong.”

(Loyola U. Professor Dynia had attacked Jaffa’s book review very harshly, in an article linked at the bottom of Jaffa’s review.)

Posted by: Unadorned on December 2, 2003 7:41 PM

It is interesting that Jaffa, one of the most ideological of Straussians, is also perhaps the most outspoken anti-homosexualist intellectual in America.

I’m in sympathy with Shrewsbury’s feeling that our side should just say that homosexual conduct is wrong and unnatural, period. However, we must also recognize that the more articulated arguments made by Maggie Gallagher, Peter Wood and others regarding the social effects of legitimizing homosexual relationships are also a useful and necessary part of the debate. I would only add that such arguments, while necessary, are not sufficient. The ground of our side must be the unnaturalness and wrongness of homosexual conduct itself, not the secondary negative social effects of institutionalizing homosexuality.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 2, 2003 8:55 PM

There’s another point we need to consider. At present, Christendom—i.e., the social order in which Christianity is formative and authoritative—no longer exists. Christianity still exists, but Christendom doesn’t. Does it follow from this that the religious argument against homosexuality—that it’s something that God doesn’t want us to do—cannot or should not be used in public debate? I guess my own favored formulation, that homosexual conduct is wrong, period, represents my own attempt to deal with this dilemma. That is, I’m not (at least primarily) referring to God and religious moral precepts; I’m just saying it’s wrong. But am I yielding too much to the death of Christendom when I take that non-religious approach? I don’t have an answer at the moment.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 2, 2003 9:01 PM

Mr. Auster’s dilemma is understandable. But the fact is that God has condemned it, and this is applicable in every society whether it be a part of Western Christendom or not. And God has made clear, with Sodom and Gomorrah being the archetypical example, that it is something He will judge.

Making recourse to God’s immutable Law is not dependent on whether and to what extent Christianity (or Judaism — consider the ‘gay’ marches in Israel) has underlined the culture. God and His Laws transcend all cultures.

While I think Mr. Auster’s current approach is appropriate in itself — and I also believe it’s appropriate to call attention to the horrific affects of this perversion in the culture — at the end of the day, it is God with Whom we have to reckon. If He let’s us get by on this trend, as one has said, He will owe an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah. That apology won’t be forthcoming.

Posted by: Joel LeFevre on December 2, 2003 9:13 PM

Mr. Lefevre is keeping me to the straight and narrow!

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 2, 2003 9:16 PM

The thing is, the statement “God doesn’t want this” needs to be made within the framework of a positive statement about God and God’s creation. Where religious morality has often missed the mark is in being merely _disapproving_ of sin, without expressing a vision of God and the good which gives the sin its meaning as that which keeps us from the good. So, I would say that in public debate in which secular people are present, one should not just say that “God condemns this,” but, after discussing the issue in non-religion terms, one could lead into the religious aspect by saying something along these lines:

” … And furthermore, as a Christian (or Jew), I believe that God created the world, that God wants us to live according to the law of goodness and true happiness that comes from God, and that is why God doesn’t want us to engage in certain destructive behaviors, because they alienate us from him and from our own being. The prohibition against homosexual acts is not merely some arbitrary rule, but something that God has ordained for our own well being, to protect us from things that would harm us as individuals and the whole society.”

There are two components to what I am suggesting here: (1) The divine disapproval of homosexual acts is placed in a positive context of God’s plan for us, and (2) the ideas are expressed in terms of one’s personal belief and commitment, not in terms of an assumed authoritative Christian morality that is not generally recognized in our society at the present time. On these terms, it seems to me that bringing the religious argument against homosexuality into public debate might be feasible.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 2, 2003 9:45 PM

Lawrence Auster wrote: “But am I yielding too much to the death of Christendom when I take that non-religious approach?”

I liked Joel LeFevre’s answer very much. I would only add that Mr. Auster’s formulation strikes me as an example of being wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Posted by: paul on December 2, 2003 10:00 PM

Which of my formulations does Paul mean? I’ve made several. :-)

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 2, 2003 10:04 PM

Oh, I’m not particular. :-) But to be precise, I meant your posts of 9:01 & 9:45 p.m.

Posted by: paul on December 2, 2003 10:10 PM

Outstanding commentary here from Mssrs. LeFevre and Auster! As an aside, I have a question (for the homosexuals and their allies - some of whom, like Andrew Sullivan make a pretense of being religious): What is it about this activity or lifestyle that is so special and unique that it requires everyone’s approval or redefinition into something not sinful?

All of us have sin of some sort - I certainly do. The scriptures and traditional teaching of both Christianity and Judaism say that we humans are born into sin - that it is part of our very nature. Why is the particular sin of homosexuality - as opposed to lying, stealing, murderous thoughts (and actions), gluttony, etc, etc, - entitled to this special dispensation? I doubt that Mr. Sullivan and Co. approve very much of other actions and lifestyles that are traditionally considered sinful (swindling, lying, cheating, stealing, etc.) - especially if they themselves are on the receiving end. Perhaps the religious homosexualists see themselves as the final arbiters of what is sinful - or not. But isn’t that really setting yourself up as God?

Posted by: Carl on December 2, 2003 10:25 PM

Also, if in a public setting such as I described, one needs to make an acknowledgement that some of the people present are not believers, but that, as a believer, one’s own presentation of the case would not be complete without talking about God’s plan for us. That way the non-religious people are less likely to feel that they are being imposed upon, and will be less likely to attack you just for mentioning religion.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 2, 2003 10:25 PM

The only thing I would add here is that, while those at the liberal end of the spectrum have captured society’s and the state’s power centers, a majority of Americans still identify as Christians, and still subscribe (or at least claim to subscribe) to basic Christian moral tenets. Most still regard homosexuality, (and other acts like adultery,) as being wrong.

What is needed is for the “historic majority” to reassert itself, in a parallel way to how we’ve used that phrase in another context at VFR.

Posted by: Joel LeFevre on December 3, 2003 2:13 AM

Another entry for the Brooks’ File. Today he writes a column for the NY Times (“The National Creed”) celebrating Alan Wolfe’s notion of religion in America. Next, M. Potemra, at NRO’s Corner, celebrates Brooks on American religion. To appreciate Potemra (see below), you really should read Brooks first.


Brooks shows yet again, on today’s NY Times op-ed page , that he is one of the most perceptive observers of the American scene. ‘Nearly 200 years ago,’ he points out, ‘Alexis de Tocqueville was bewildered by the mixture of devout religiosity he found in the U.S. combined with the relative absence of denominational strife, at least among Protestants. Americans, he observed, don’t seem to care that their neighbors hold to false versions of the faith.’ And Brooks offers a sensible explanation: ‘[It’s] because many Americans have tended to assume that all these differences are temporary. In the final days, the distinctions will fade away, and we will all be united in God’s embrace.’ The entire op-ed deserves attention, but I was especially impressed by Brooks’s closing lines: ‘If George Bush and Howard Dean met each other on a political platform, they would fight and feud. If they met in a Bible study group and talked about their eternal souls, they’d probably embrace.’ Now, I am both a) strongly committed to re-electing President Bush next year, because I think he’s doing a fantastic job; and b) just as firmly convinced that electing Howard Dean would set off a number of disasters in foreign policy, defense policy, and economic policy (for starters). But you know what? I think Brooks is right in what he says about that hypothetical Bible-study group. And that says some really good things about our country.”

Posted by: William Wleklinski on December 30, 2003 6:09 PM

What does one say about Mike Potemra? This is a not-very-bright fellow and not even particularly conservative (as he himself admits). Yet he’s at National Review Online. What a crew! Stuttaford. Goldberg. Potemra. Nordlinger. Brookhiser. The parade of the perpetually unserious, at the “flagship magazine of American conservatism.”

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 31, 2003 12:42 AM

“… National Review … the “flagship magazine of American conservatism.”

Considering the state of modern American conservatism today, that sounds about right.

Posted by: Joel LeFevre on December 31, 2003 1:11 AM


Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 31, 2003 1:49 AM

Looking back on the decline and fall of National Review, we have to give its founder a boot. Mr. Buckley was always inclined to a wry, not terribly serious view of things, although he was for many years a valuable and perceptive observer of America’s decline and fall. Over the years, though, Buckley became less and less serious, ever-less willing to stand by conservative positions. Whether one attributes it to fatigue or to the desire to be socially acceptable to the New York milieu in which he lives, it is true that Buckley stopped fighting.

The unseriousness of today’s National Review is as much Buckley’s legacy as it is the creation of the children who edit and write for it today. HRS

Posted by: Howard Sutherland on December 31, 2003 9:41 AM

I am inclined to say that Buckley hung up his hat after Reagan’s victory.

But let us not forget his contributions to this country. Here are some excerpts from a speech he delivered at West Point about John Kerry:

”[Kerry’s words are] the indictment of an ignorant young man who is willing to condemn in words that would have been appropriately used in Nuremberg the governing class of America: the legislators, the generals, the statesmen. And, reaching beyond them, the people, who named the governors to their positions of responsibility and ratified their decisions in several elections.

The point I want to raise is this: If America is everything that John Kerry says it is, what is it appropriate for us to do? The wells of regeneration are infinitely deep, but the stain described by John Kerry goes too deep to be bleached out by conventional remorse or resolution: better the destruction of America if, to see ourselves truly, we need to look into the mirror John Kerry holds up for us. If we are a nation of sadists, of kid-killers and torturers, of hypocrites and criminals, let us be done with it, and pray that a great flood or fire will destroy us, leaving John Kerry and maybe Mrs. Benjamin Spock to take the place of Lot, in reseeding a new order.

Gentlemen, how many times, in the days ahead, you will need to ask yourselves the most searching question of all, the counterpart of the priest’s most agonizing doubt: Is there a God? Yours will be: Is America worth it? […]

What I hope you will consider, during these moments of doubt, is the essential professional point: Without organized force, and the threat of the use of it under certain circumstances, there is no freedom, anywhere. Without freedom, there is no true humanity. If America is the monster of John Kerry, burn your commissions tomorrow morning and take others, which will not bind you in the depraved conspiracy you have heard described. If it is otherwise, remember: the freedom John Kerry enjoys and the freedom I enjoy are, quite simply, the result of your dedication. Do you wonder that I accepted the opportunity to salute you?”

Posted by: Paul Cella on December 31, 2003 10:20 AM

Would just point out that Potemra, in addition to his work at NRO, is editor of the book section at the magazine. He’s presumably in a position to decide what new books are chosen for review at NR, and to a lesser extent, how they’re treated. This is important.


Posted by: Wm. Wleklinski on December 31, 2003 10:27 AM

That’s the clearest and most passionate statement Buckley ever made. If he had maintained that level he would have been a great man. Imagine what he could have said about, for example, immigration and multiculturalism.

But it was one speech, criticizing one man, thirty years ago.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 31, 2003 10:28 AM

And let’s be frank, it wasn’t all that clear. I’ll bet it confused more than a few plebes. Trying to imagine it delivered in Buckley’s inimitable diction, it confused me (but I was a Marine). HRS

Posted by: Howard Sutherland on December 31, 2003 10:56 AM

I’m not so sure about Mr. Auster’s contention that the Kerry speech is “the clearest and most passionate statement Buckley ever made.” His book _Let Us Talk of Many Things_, from which those excerpts are drawn, verily brims with similar passages from his early debates and speeches.

Posted by: Paul Cella on December 31, 2003 11:18 AM

I stand corrected by Mr. Cella, though my general memory of Buckley’s writings, early and late, is of his famously convoluted style. The last paragraph of his speech quoted above struck me as as different from that.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 31, 2003 11:22 AM

Take a look, particularly, at his anti-Communist speeches in the 50s and early 60s and his attacks on the liberal idea of academic freedom.

Posted by: Paul Cella on December 31, 2003 11:41 AM
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