David Brooks: America Needs Better Followers

New York Times' David Brooks

New York Times columnist David Brooks published a new article yesterday entitled “The Follower Problem” that laments that Americans don’t recognize “Just Authority” anymore. His article begins celebrating the grandness of America’s memorials to Lincoln and Jefferson who are “presented as the embodiments of just authority.” But “the monuments that get built these days are mostly duds,” Brooks claims. Speaking of the FDR memorial, he writes, “Instead of a crafty wielder of supreme power, Roosevelt is a kindly grandpa you would want to put your arm around for a vacation photo…. Why can’t today’s memorial designers think straight about just authority?”

Brooks blames “our fervent devotion to equality, to the notion that all people are equal and deserve equal recognition and respect. It’s hard in this frame of mind to define and celebrate greatness, to hold up others who are immeasurably superior to ourselves.” Worse still for Brooks is America’s “mass adversarial cynicism… Public servants are in it for themselves. Those people at the top are nowhere near as smart or as wonderful as pure and all-knowing Me.”

Except public servants are in it for themselves. That’s not just the conclusion of public choice economics—it’s just a factual analysis of human nature. Our leaders are just like us, except obsessed with their own authority and power. They want to be worshiped with huge statues to their greatness. The DC elitist cult of authority demands our attention, and when it is mocked on late-night TV or even worse ignored, it flies into a rage like this completely worthless rant.

Brooks mocks the “Tea Party” and “Occupy” notion that “the whole world should be like the Internet — a disbursed semianarchy in which authority is suspect and each individual is king.” For me, this isn’t even a straw man. That’s the whole point of what we want—we want in the words of FA Hayek “plans of the many, not of the few.” Whatever happened to “all being created equal”—in terms of moral authority over one’s life? Americans have no King, nor do they want one. But the progressive ideal is encapsulated in their absurd Temples to “Authority,” which conveniently overlook all the tyrannical and horrible things these men did to their “subjects.”

Brooks continues, “To have good leaders you have to have good followers — able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it.” Amazing. So here’s his real point—it’s our fault that we don’t have good leaders, not because we are stupid and childish in our demands of them, but because we don’t want to submit. We don’t fully accept our position as the Followers.

And what “Just Authority” are Americans missing exactly? Should we have a memorial to every general, movie star, or community organizer that inhabits the Oval Office? I’m sure he isn’t saying that we need statues to Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, the only two presidents in the last 115 years who didn’t want to be worshiped like gods. In fact, he deplores the fact that we don’t have more exuberant statues to the “Supreme Authority” of FDR and more celebratory memorials to Our Great Wars, like the completely illegal war in Korea and the disgusting criminality that was Vietnam.

I’m surprised he doesn’t call for memorials to our Great Institutions of state slavery—like the Draft and the Income Tax. Why not? After all, the Followers need to be reminded of the importance of the state’s Supreme (just) Authority.

I don’t want a country of followers. I want a country of independent entrepreneurs, in the broad sense of that word, who run their own lives and mind their own business—in a literal sense. America’s cult of authority is crumbling, and people are cynical. And that’s a hell of a lot better than this garbage hero worship.