It’s interesting that Brooks — who one might imagine loving e.p., given his tendency to adopt some new, often science-based paradigm in almost every column — based his argument mainly on the claim that e.p. makes us sound “hard-wired” whereas we in fact have complex, flexible mental structures, often evolved for one purpose but applicable to many others. I think evolutionary psychologists are well aware of that — indeed, they sometimes alarm conservatives by, for instance, describing human mating strategies as “variable” and contextual rather than one-size-fits-all-circumstances. But then, likable as Brooks is, I get the impression that his mental architecture is probably so wildly flexible that even the loose mental rubrics described by e.p. — or, for that matter, coherent ideology — seem like a straitjacket. Brooks, I suspect, is a nice but anxiety-wracked guy, a bit overwhelmed by this complex world and grateful for new theories that promise to somehow help us navigate the chaos without actually forcing us to take too certain a stand. He wasn’t visibly sweating with nervousness at the Phillips gathering, but somehow it would have seemed in character.
In response to Jacob Levy’s understandable bafflement about what the “Canadacons” (so to speak) who I listed this morning could possibly have in common, I will just say that like Brooks — and unlike the crusading zealots of the U.S. — they all seem to give the impression (for good or ill) of people who are a bit pained by having to juggle multiple competing philosophical principles and a bit angry at more conventional (especially more right-wing) ideologues who think we can move forward deductively from a few rock-solid principles.
This makes them all engaging, sophisticated thinkers but may also contribute to them seeming to be motivated at times — like many liberals and academics in general — by an almost masochistic love of “graceful surrender” (often manifesting as a natural submissiveness to the dominatrices of the left, as it were) — rather than a robust positive philosophy or old-fashioned, unapologetic love of liberty.
If I seem oddly prone to valorize pugnacity and denigrate civility at times, it is out of fear that the smartest and best among us are often drawn to value pleasant dialogue (such as that which dominates academia and the private chambers of the political elite) over the fighting screams that may be necessary to rescue us. It is not literally Canada that I worry about but a Canadianness of spirit, as Nietzsche might have said, that may render us too mild-mannered, eh, to resist ever-expanding tyranny.