R.I.P. from Brooks

David Brooks pays tribute to Public Interest and its founders, whose interest in public policy led them to the blended idealism and tragic vision of the neocons. Archives. Early in Bush’s presidency, Moynihan stood on the White House lawn, just appointed co-chair of the committee to reform Social Security. Watching, on the treadmill, I thought more cheerfully of growing old & hoped with Bush ambitious bipartisanship was in the making. Well, the tough guys at Vegas don’t need to worry about my predictions.

Brooks notes how their reading of literature affected their understanding of human nature &, therefore, proposed policies. Excerpt below.

The contributors to The Public Interest could write intelligently about such broad moral subjects because not only were they public policy experts, but they were also careful readers of Jane Austen, Lionel Trilling, Tocqueville, Nietzsche and so on. This was before intellectuals were divided between academic professionals and think-tank policy wonks.

It was about this time people started calling The Public Interest a neoconservative magazine. I’m not sure that word still has meaning, but if there was one core insight, it was this: Human beings, or governments, are not black boxes engaged in a competition of interests. What matters most is the character of the individual, the character of the community and the character of government. When designing policies, it’s most important to get them to complement, not undermine, people’s permanent moral aspirations – the longing for freedom, faith and family happiness.

That approach led to welfare policies that encouraged work and responsibility. It also led to what many derided as the overly idealistic foreign policies that are now contributing to the exhilarating revolutions we’re seeing across the Middle East.