David Brooks: The Telos Crisis

H/T Rod Dreher

David Brooks has a new opinion column in The New York Times on the collapse of American identity:

“One of the things we’ve lost in this country is our story. It is the narrative that unites us around a common multigenerational project, that gives an overarching sense of meaning and purpose to our history.

For most of the past 400 years, Americans did have an overarching story. It was the Exodus story. The Puritans came to this continent and felt they were escaping the bondage of their Egypt and building a new Jerusalem. …

We have a lot of crises in this country, but maybe the foundational one is the Telos Crisis, a crisis of purpose. Many people don’t know what this country is here for, and what we are here for. If you don’t know what your goal is, then every setback sends you into cynicism and selfishness.

It should be possible to revive the Exodus template, to see Americans as a single people trekking through a landscape of broken institutions. What’s needed is an act of imagination, somebody who can tell us what our goal is, and offer an ideal vision of what the country and the world should be.”

I can’t help but laugh reading this.

Around the mid-20th century, the Eastern Anglo-American elite was overthrown in the United States and was replaced by a new cosmopolitan elite dominated by David Brooks’ people. After their arrival in power in our elite universities which was a product of the switch to the meritocratic system, they have spent the last 65 years or so destroying any sense of a common American identity. Now that they have destroyed it, they’re like what are we going to do now?

“Today’s students get steeped in American tales of genocide, slavery, oppression and segregation. American history is taught less as a progressively realized grand narrative and more as a series of power conflicts between oppressor and oppressed. …”

David Brooks throws an idea against the wall after reading Philip Gorski’s new book American Covenant: maybe we can all unite around a Puritan inspired Exodus story?

Even back then, Puritan New England was its own place with its own peculiar regional culture. Professor Clyde Wilson describes these people in his new book The Yankee Problem: An American Dilemma. Whereas New England was settled by a religious sect with a troubled history that came to America to build a “a shining City upon a Hill,” the South was founded by mainstream settlers from the British Isles who saw their region as a promising “garden” to be cultivated:

“One can understand a great deal of American history by remembering a simple fact about the founding. New England Puritans came to America to get away from a world of sinners and to construct “a shining City upon a Hill” which would be an example for all mankind of a superior commonwealth. The Yankee elite kept all of their over-developed and self-centered righteousness after they lost their Christianity and replaced it with the imported German philosophy of Transcendentalism. By contrast, people who came to settle the South saw America as a promising garden to be cultivated, a place where land could be had and personal honour and independence be established by younger sons and common folk in ways that were no longer possible in the Mother Country. …”

The Southern colonists didn’t see their subtropical region with its benign climate and rich soils as “a waste and howling wilderness” like the New England Puritans:

“The garden has endured as an evocative metaphor for the American South. With its European discovery, the region became the latest locus in Western culture’s quest for ‘the garden of the world.’ Puritans may have regarded the New England landscape as ‘a waste and howling wilderness,’ as Michael Wigglesworth alluded to it in 1662, but settlers of the Southern colonies most often described their natural surroundings in benign, even pastoral terms. The contrasting perceptions of the American landscape are, in part, explained geographically. The long harsh winters and stony soils of New England did not encourage benevolent attitudes toward nature; whereas the Inilder winter climate, richer soils and longer growing season of the South have always allowed gardens, and the garden metaphor, to flourish. …”

The Garden Myth of a Southern Arcadia is explored by Lewis P. Simpson in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 4: Myth, Manners, and Memory. He wrote a book about it in the 1980s called The Dispossessed Garden: Pastoral and History in Southern Literature.

Anyway, I just went outside to check the mail and I noticed that our flowers are blooming. Spring has arrived in the South. We barely had anything that could be described as a winter this year. I live in a warm and sunny land where we get excited when less than an inch of snow falls on the ground. The scene outside in my front yard is more Swallow Barn than Walden.

David Brooks is right that we lack a national Telos. In the 20th century, the common experience of the Great Depression and World War I and World War II had a great homogenizing effect on American culture. The same is true of the creation of the consolidated, vertically delivered mass media which for a time papered over enduring regional and cultural divisions. The Immigration Act of 1924 ended mass immigration from Europe which never returned. The Cold War allowed Americans to maintain a weak sense of national identity based on ideological opposition to the Soviet Union.

By the 1960s, the American elite was able to take the unity of the country for granted. America was 85 percent White. We shared the English language. We had a strong Christian culture. We had an economy that was the envy of the world. We had a common popular culture. The media was trusted. Virtually all national institutions still had a strong sense of legitimacy which has evaporated in our own times. The federal government could embark on projects like declaring a War on Poverty whereas today the simple act of passing a national budget has become a legislative ordeal.

Personally, I believe the damage inflicted on the country by our cosmopolitan elite is so severe that it will prove to be terminal. We are in the earliest stages of a national collapse. Consider the fact that the American elite is ideologically committed to multiplying and exacerbating our existing divisions because “diversity is our strength” and “we are a nation of immigrants” according to the dominant narrative. Even if they wanted to do so, they are incapable of reversing course without betraying their sense of identity. We’re going over the falls and nothing can stop our dramatic unraveling.

Hunter Wallace
the authorHunter Wallace
Hunter Wallace is the founder and editor of


  • We have a lot of crises in this country, but maybe the foundational one is the Telos Crisis, a crisis of purpose. Many people don’t know what this country is here for

    As a good Jew, Mr. Brooks believes that the purpose of every white country is to provide a safe and economically rewarding home for his people. He isn’t saying that, but that is what he thinks.

    • The dramatic irony is that blacks absolutely detest Jews, which is why Bernie Sanders never had a chance in the 2016 Democratic primaries. Jews have enjoyed a tolerant, benign regime with a white majority. What will happen to them when the blacks and browns become the majority and take over in the 2040’s? Jews should give that scenario some thought.

      • They will just change their tactics at that time.

        Jews see what most non-Jewish whites, unfortunately, do not see, which is that Jews and non-Jewish whites have different group interests. It is in the group interests of Jews to undermine the white majority so that the Jews can play groups off against each other well into the future. Jews want to be a separate ethnic group. They do not want to merge into the non-Jewish white population. This is why they have different group interests.

  • But the Anglos were importing underlings to do their dirty work for them from day one, no? Indentured servants to hack something out of the wilderness, then Africans to pick the cotton, Hungarians for the coal mines, Irish for cannon fodder against the South, Orientals to build the railroads, Scots-Irish to settle the frontier and drink the Italians to death, Italians for ???, Eastern European Jews to spy on the USSR, and now Pajeet to run the IT department and Jose to keep those beautiful English lawns green and the envy of the Jones’ next door.

    • ind sevants were pre America. slavery was pre americans getting control of America. we ended those practices after many centuries of it being common all over the world. the elite re-seized control and then started using immigrants 2 consolidate their wealth and do their dirty work. many anglos sold out and went along with these sick practices but most actually have very serious morals and convictions. just hard to enforce them when be it the printing press or the tv turning everyone against u. before that whomever ruthless controlled the most arms had the greatest influence so its all very complicated obviously

  • This reminds me of a classic Vox Day column from 2004:

    From the article:

    “Tibetan religious tradition has it that when the Dalai Lama dies, the Buddha of Compassion leaves his body and incarnates in the body of a young child. The monks immediately go out in search of this blessed child, and when they find him – as they inevitably do – he is tested by a group of high lamas and enthroned as the reincarnation of his successor.

    Imagine, however, if the lamas refused to recognize that the Dalai Lama was, in fact, dead. Suppose that instead of going in search of the Buddha’s new carnal home, they hooked the corpse up to a life support machine and waited patiently for the Holy One to awake and rise up. It’s not hard to see that they would be doomed to disappointment, and furthermore, would fail to find the next Dalai Lama as well.”

    The United States is dead, and by recognizing this the Alt-Right is the only political ideology that will be able to discover her successor.

  • Very nice deconstruction of Brooks thesis, tying it back nicely to your own major themes. I really enjoyed your articles on Occidental Dissent a few years back, where you contrasted the Puritan history with that of the founders of Charolette, and in process pointed out that the Thanksgiving story is not a universal one.

    I don’t see how we put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The American myth, the American consensus, American politics, political civility, it is all broken beyond repair. There is no vector you can look at that is closing the gaps.

    Just look at the behavior of the opposition party in Congress. Utterly contemptible, pure hateful temper tantrums: month five. You have one of the most ignorant and corrupt members of Congress, the detestable Maxine Waters, repeatedly calling for Trump’s impeachment based on — nothing really.

    We’re not coming closer together in any sense, we’re pulling further and further apart, into separate tribes that detest each other. Right now we’re still in flux on the tribal boundaries, whose in, whose out. But the biggest emotion of the era is still “I’m unfriending you”.

    • Even if it were possible, at this point it would be a bad thing to put America back together again, given the demographics that are now included under that label.

      It’d be a third world country.

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