Hi. I’m David Brooks and you’re not. Sorry. I always wanted to say that. But let me talk about something I’m intimately familiar with: greatness and success. Michel de Montaigne and Samuel Johnson were two of the great essayists in all of human history. As the greatest essayist whose work has been taught by me at Yale, I can assure you of that.
Because he was French, Montaigne was both irritatingly honest and essentially lazy. France was on strike about everything at the time he was alive, which hasn’t stopped, so his existential nonchalance in the face of a preposterous life was exactly what French people needed to hear. Given their continuing lack of prosperity and general hygiene, clearly they’re still reading the man while they laze about during the entire month of August. When they’re not striking, that is.
But then there is our Johnson, a man whose sense of self remained rigid, who constantly stroked his fears of inadequacy and heroically refused to look at himself as he did so. If Montaigne was the sort of person who was fine telling you about his small penis, Johnson was the sort who wanted to put a cap on it: “I will be conquered; I will not ejaculate.” Being English, Johnson abhorred a private life, and that is why he is necessary to America today.
Look, America is in a state of ethical decline. I can see that from my perch atop my moral mountain. Even though productivity has been up for years while pay has been down, and even though Americans are getting one thing right by working harder and longer for less, it’s clear that we’re becoming a nation of moral losers, or, in a word, European. As I and my children saunter through our private schools with the time to sit and contemplate thinkers like Montaigne and Johnson, it occurs to we upstanding moral elite that the country needs to feel worse about itself. This epiphany is even stronger when you’re stoned—I know you can’t relate to that, but if you were me, you’d see how profound this point is right now.
But sometimes you people do get it. The one semi-close acquaintance of mine who went to public school intimated once, I think, that public school humans aren’t just lazy, they’re greedy, especially the single moms. While sitting around thinking about the meaning of life, work and death, they’re demanding things like more than two weeks of vacation, paid family leave, and national day care. Don’t get me started on the minimum wage. I’m sure they came up with these absurd demands while they were baked out of their moral centers, but such are the desires of those who think too much about how things really are when they should feel horrible for not working harder to support my god-like ability to think for them.
Sober elites can read the full article here.