Hi, I’m David Brooks. I know I’ve been away for a bit, but fortunately there’s Xanax for the difficult times in-between. Today, I read another article, finally, and I am feeling especially worried about our collective future, and it’s not because I haven’t refilled my prescription. Trust me, I have. But even Xanax can’t ultimately save us from the fact that we are in an existential crisis, one with no historical precedent and one for which there is no easy solution.
Back when things were good, there were two visions of the future (there were only two—I checked Wikipedia on this). On the one hand, you had the communist delusion of peace, love, equality, and collective happiness. On the other, you had the very rational vision of capitalism, with a dash of democracy, which was to be ruled by fierce competition and debilitating religious guilt.
Of course, for us only one vision could prevail. Americans, you see, have never had any interest in socialism. They have all always been happy with the democratic creed, which for a long time gave them a sense of mission, community, and cohesion.
Then came the cold war, and we won. But that’s the problem: in winning, everybody lost their sense of vision. Nobody, it seems, believes anything anymore. That’s what Mark Lilla says, and I fear he’s somewhat right, even if he’s just making it worse by pointing it out.
You see, here’s the problem: once we lost our grand, unifying and completely shared biblical point of view, we lost the point of democracy along with it. We used to promote democracy all around the world, but now we have stopped our mission of economically and militarily imposing our views on others whether they like it or not, and we are left alone with ourselves and our system of capitalism. What is most depressing is that when we look at what we have within our own borders, it feels very empty.
Indeed, there are no more democratic heroes; nobody cares if Christians are persecuted. Some might argue that much of this has to do with the notion that those heroes never really were all that heroic, or that there are, in fact, a great many voices crying out against the systematic persecution of people. It might even be proposed in some quarters that, contrary to Lilla’s argument that we are in an age of dogma, the slow and very deliberate construction of an ideology of libertarianism has finally come to fruition. What is actually true, these people argue, is that we really do believe in a grand vision, and in it we only see our individual selves competing, buying things, and posting on Facebook.
As reasoned as these positions are, I think they are mistaken. True democracy requires Christian principles of morality because freedom is too much for the little people to handle, and true democratic governments need to be ruled by selfish marketplaces because no ideas about the social good can ever lead to a better way of living. Until the two Bibles, The New Testament and The Wealth of Nations, can once again unrelentingly dominate the world, people will be lost in constructing their own meaning. They might not make us happy, but at least they’ll give us a purpose.
So I think it’s time we confront this very troubling question: if we aren’t focused on making other countries submit to our worldview, how will we ever know if it’s the right one?