Revealing Extremism – Inadvertently
October 3, 2014
Below is a link to a David Brooks column on Lewis Mumford and his, Mumford’s critique of “pragmatism.” In it, Brooks, rather inadvertently, reveals his own extremism, and a bit of what should be called “pragmatic extremism.”
First, there is Brooks’ own extremism, which is a kind of moral extremism. Consider the following:
“Pragmatists often fail because they try to apply economic remedies to noneconomic actors. Those who threaten civilization — Stalin then, Putin and ISIS now — are driven by moral zealotry and animal imperatives. Economic sanctions won’t work. “One might as well offer the carcass of a dead deer in a butcher store to a hunter who seeks the animal as prey. ...”
Brooks contention that Putin and ISIS and Stalin “threaten civilization” is put forward as if it were self-evident. That is, Brooks does not offer and seems to think he does not need to offer any argument that this assertion is persuasive; nor does he seem to think that his characterization of these actors as “driven by . . . animal imperatives” needs any argument. How could this be? I wonder if Brooks would also include in these “animal driven” actors the Viet Cong, Castro’s Cuba, drug dealers, criminals, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, North Korean, to name just a few of the possible candidates for such a designation? What can justify such characterizations with so little argument, if not a kind of moral indignation reflecting a moral extremism?
Second, note should be taken that by Brooks account the “pragmatists” don’t disagree with his characterizations but only with his and Mumford’s “policies” for dealing with these threats. That is, the “pragmatists,” just like Brooks and Mumford, see threats to civilization all over the place, as it were. And, of course, once they make this judgment, they too will all-too-soon adopt extreme measures to deal with these threats. They might do so by “making themselves passionless, [and] always mak[ing] themselves tepid and anesthetized.” But even though passionless and tepid and anesthetized, they will be driven to and will embrace extreme measures.
So, as the saying has it, we are caught between a rock and a hard place if these are our only two options. And if that is the case, all will not end well.