My friend Kenneth McIntyre takes apart David Brooks here. An excerpt:
The final question or concern is whether the book’s argument is ultimately unconvincing in the way that it is produced by Brooks. There is an old joke that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who classify the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t. Brooks is most definitely in the former class. We get the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues, along with Adam I and Adam II. (Adam I prefers the résumé virtues.) There is a contrast between utilitarian logic and moral logic, which leaves the reader unclear whether Brooks is aware that utilitarianism is an actual theory of moral action. (He may not think that it is a convincing one—I don’t either—but utilitarians offer their theories not as alternatives to moral life but as accounts of moral life.) There are the cultures of self-effacement and self-promotion, which lead to the characters “Little Me” and “Big Me.” There is the party of reticence and the party of exposure. There are the people who see themselves as the center of the universe and the people who see themselves as part of the universe. There are the moral realists (like Brooks, of course) who see us as we are and moral romantics who believe that humans are naturally good. Finally, there are those who live for happiness (the bad people) and those who live for holiness (the good people). This quasi-Manichean reduction of everything to a good side and bad side is one of the least realistic accounts of moral life that I’ve ever read, and it certainly suggests that Brooks has his own romantic illusions about the moral life.