The Right Coast
July 20, 2004
The bad David Brooks
By Tom Smith
I really am not cynical about most of the truly important things. This country, the rule of law, babies, forests, mountains, large fish, wild animals, fast and/or large cars, beauty in all of its forms especially the fair haired kind, but I'm afraid this Brooks column makes me want to heave. Is that wrong? Maybe I'm going through an anti-Yale phase. A foreign service officer who was especially proud of his note taking skills? Oh lordy. And Henry James. I hate James. I got half way through the Ambassadors and finally admitted to myself that I could not give a shit if the little old maid man who was the main character . . . oh, forget it. How could anyone write a whole long novel about a guy whose job is running a literary journal and errands for a rich Boston society gal? As if that was a great gig? Pathetic. Mencken was so right about James. He needed to spend some time in Chicago and get in touch with life. Going to England just made him worse. Holmes has a description somewhere of trying to see James while in England. Holmes was close, of course, to William James. Henry just dithered and dathered about what day would be best and whether he should come by this train or that until Holmes just said to hell with it. For all of James's infinite variety of pastel shadings of observations, his stories are about venal social climbers about whom it is impossible to give a damn.
And one more thing. How can anyone take Kissingerian grand strategy seriously after Reagan won the cold war? And didn't Paul Kennedy's book about the end of American power turn out to be a bit premature? Now we're the hyperpower, the sole super power. Oh, gosh, I guess he was full of it. What do you call grand global think when it turns out to be dumb? And Kissinger's book on Metternich is the paradigm of pompous pseudo-scholarship, and it's supposed to be the proof of his historical brilliance. Lucky for him so few people have read it. I guess I do know why Brooks's column makes me ill. It is nothing more than name dropping and apple polishing dressed up as a fine appreciation for the really deep and fine things, which is in fact little more than Jamesian style social climbing. Why can't we all be as great as you guys whose boots I'm licking? And be, like, really good note takers! In the most desperate way, Brooks needs to get out of New York and Washington and spend a few weeks in Iraq or Afghanistan, long enough to realize grand strategy is just of a bunch of poseurs flattering each other.