The English poet and critic T.E. Hulme once wrote, of religion, that he did not “put up with the dogma for the sake of the sentiment” but preferred to “swallow the sentiment for the sake of the dogma”. This was a severe vision of faith, yet it seems more appealing when I read David Brooks, house Conservative at the New York Times. He is, I am sure, a very charming man but he exudes such cloying spirituality that it makes me nauseous.
In a recent column, Mr Brooks asserts that America needs “a better culture war”. Rather than engaging in partisan squabbles over, say, transsexuals in public bathrooms, conservatives should, he claims, create “a new traditionalism” based on the idea that there is “a ghost in the machine”; “souls or consciousness or whatever you want to call it”. With such a belief, says Brooks…
…we would educate young people to have vocations and not just careers. We would comfortably tell them that sex is a fusion of loving souls and not just a physical act. We’d celebrate marriage as a covenantal bond. We’d understand that citizenship is a covenant, too, and we have a duty to feel connected to those who disagree with us.
Why? Why must this mysterious and amorphous “ghost” have such specific implications for work, sex, marriage and citizenship? Given that Brooks makes no attempt to define this “soul” or “consciousness” or “whatever you want to call it” it might be a hedonistic individualist. Who knows?
I agree with Mr Brooks that Western culture is “overpoliticised and undermoralised” but a moral vision needs a framework of principles or it will collapse into a mess of desires and intuitions.