Albert Camus discusses his theatrical production of Dostoyevsky's "The Possessed."
I was really tickled to stumble across this youtube video the other night. I realized that after decades of being a Camus acolyte, I had actually never seen him on film but had only seen those iconic still photos of him looking like existential Bogart, cigarette perpetually between his lips. Seeing him on film you see more of his warmth -- he was always, despite the austere quality of much of his work, quite comradely by reputation -- and the surprise of a couple of shy, almost boyish smiles.
Alas, those were the days in which genuine public intellectuals strode the earth. Now we have to settle for the likes of David Brooks, the palest imitation of a public intellectual I can imagine.
Our Mr. Brooks was haunting the pages of the New York Times Book Review yesterday -- sneaking up on me by surprise. He reviewed A Non-Believer's Guide to Religion by Alain de Botton, which, if it is as described by Brooks may indeed be an excruciatingly stupid enterprise as well. (I am puzzled by the general notion of atheists having some sort of playbook on how to convey certain generic values in imitation of religions, since atheism alone is hardly the basis for a complete world view -- I am an atheist and so is Ayn Rand -- I think it is fair to say that other than this, we have absolutely nothing in common.)
Anyway, Brooks makes use of the review to advocate for his own brand of Straussian noble lie, i.e. religion may not be true, but it remains a useful tool of social restraint. (Brooks is never that overtly cynical, but it seems to me a pretty fair reading of his world view.) In Brooks's world, the bulk of mankind simply lacks the tools necessary to construct a respectable moral universe; therefore, it is incumbent on society to have some ready made myths and dogmas that can be used to inculcate the lower sorts into modes of acceptable behavior. (This is similar in its way to the Charles Murray and Ross Douthat views of sexual freedom and the upper classes -- yes, maybe they can handle it, but once the great unwashed get the idea that fornicatin' is respectable, well, the world goes to hell.) It does not matter that God might not exist -- God is useful and therefor should exist. Otherwise, who knows what sorts of things people will get up to. (Charles Murray, bless his heart as they say down south, also argues for the powerful social corrective of calling underemployed men "bums" as a way to spur them on to good behavior -- speaking of the deterioration of the concept of public intellectual. Sheesh.)
In this sense, Brooks fits in well with his Republican brethren. They are people who speak endlessly of freedom in theory but are ultimately mistrustful of it in application. And so freedom for the right winger is the freedom of employers to control and exploit, of religions to impose their dogma, of states to control the most intimate aspects of people's lives. The federal government must not interfere with the ability of these aforementioned institutions to do their noble work, but it is fine for Washington to enact draconian drug laws and federalize criminal penalties in a way that leads to longer, harsher prison terms. The central government is free to enhance the constraints on non-elite individuals; it mustn't, however, interfere with the business of social control that fall within the sphere of employers, religions, and the states.
Genuine freedom -- that is the freedom for the indiviudal to make up his or her own mind, to live the mental and erotic life that one wants, to carve a path that is not the one prescribed by tradition -- is unruly and ultimately unacceptable. Economic policies that constrain the employer class and redistribute wealth, in the process freeing the bulk of people from want or insecurity are similarly discredited, because economic necessity and insecurity are a highly useful means to make the unworthy mass of men toe the line.
I am struck, in the end, at how shallow Brooks is in even this game. The best he can come up with in terms of support for his world view are Augustine and C.S. Lewis. Is there really no mentally heftier philosopher of religion than Mr. Narnia to whom Brooks can turn? I guess Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky are too filled with darkness and ambiguity for sunny Dave.
I keep hoping Moral Hazard will take a bite out of his ankle some day.