David Brooks: The Last Stalinist

David Brooks disapproves of NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

Snowden’s actions, Brooks says, are a betrayal of virtually every commitment and connection Snowden has ever made: his oath to his country, his promise to his employer, his loyalty to his friends, and more.

But in one of those precious pirouettes of paradox that only he can perform, Brooks sees those betrayals as a symptom of a deeper pathology: Snowden’s inability to make commitments and connections.

According to The Washington Post, he has not been a regular presence around his mother’s house for years. When a neighbor in Hawaii tried to introduce himself, Snowden cut him off and made it clear he wanted no neighborly relationships. He went to work for Booz Allen Hamilton and the C.I.A., but he has separated himself from them, too.

Though thoughtful, morally engaged and deeply committed to his beliefs, he appears to be a product of one of the more unfortunate trends of the age: the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments.

If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.

This lens makes you more likely to share the distinct strands of libertarianism that are blossoming in this fragmenting age: the deep suspicion of authority, the strong belief that hierarchies and organizations are suspect, the fervent devotion to transparency, the assumption that individual preference should be supreme.

This is an old argument on the communitarian right and left: the loss of social bonds and connections turns men and women into the flotsam and jetsam of modern society, ready for any reckless adventure, no matter how malignant: treason, serial murder, totalitarianism.

It’s mostly bullshit, but there’s a certain logic to what Brooks is saying, albeit one he might not care to face up to.

In the long history of state tyranny, it is often those who are bound by close ties of personal connection to family and friends that are most likely to cooperate with the government: that is, not to “betray” their oaths to a repressive regime, not to oppose or challenge authoritarian rule. Precisely because those ties are levers that the regime can pull in order to engineer an individual’s collaboration and consent.

Take the Soviet Union under Stalin. Though there’s a venerable tradition in social thought that sees Soviet totalitarianism as the product of atomized individuals, one of the factors that made Stalinism possible was precisely that men and women were connected to each other, that they were in families and felt bound to protect each other. To protect each other by cooperating with rather than opposing Stalin.

Nikolai Bukharin’s confession in a 1938 show trial to an extraordinary career of counterrevolutionary crime, crimes he clearly did not commit, has long served as a touchstone of the manic self-liquidation that was supposed to be communism. It has inspired such  treatments as Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Humanism and Terror, and Godard’s La Chinoise. Yet contrary to the myth that Bukharin somehow chose to sacrifice himself for the sake of the cause, Bukharin was brutally interrogated for a year and he was repeatedly threatened with violence against his family. In the end, the possibility that a confession might save them, if not him, proved to be potent. (1)

Threats against family members were one of the most effective means for securing cooperation with the Soviet regime; in fact, many of those who refused to confess had no children. As I wrote in Fear: The History of a Political Idea:

Stalin corralled many individuals to cooperate with his tyranny by threatening their families, and had less success among those with no families. In a 1947 letter, the head of Soviet counterintelligence recommended invoking suspects’ “family and personal ties” during interrogation sessions. Soviet interrogators would put on their desks, in full view, the personal effects of suspects’ relatives as well as a copy of a decree legalizing the execution of children. (2)

It wasn’t just under Stalin that family ties could be leveraged like this. The entire history of McCarthyism, that sordid story of the blacklist and naming names, is littered with similar concerns, albeit of a less lethal variety.

Sterling Hayden—best known for his roles as General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove and the corrupt Captain McCluskey in The Godfather—named seven names (including his former lover) in part because he was worried that if he didn’t cooperate with the government he might lose custody of his children (he was in the middle of divorce proceedings.) (3)

More often, those who cooperated with the government did so because they feared they wouldn’t be able to support their families. That was certainly the case with Roy Huggins, a now forgotten screenwriter, producer, and director, who gave us television shows like The Fugitive and The Rockford Files. Huggins named 19 names to HUAC—though he refused to spell them for the committee, prompting Victor Navasky to drily comment that Huggins deemed it more principled “to give the names but not the letters.” Though Huggins daydreamed of the political theater of going to prison rather than betray his comrades—witnesses refusing to name names could be cited for contempt of Congress and then be tried, convicted, and jailed—he worried too much about his family to resist: “Who the hell is going to take care of two small children, a mother, and a wife, all of whom are totally dependent on me?” (4)

As Elia Kazan deliberated over whether to name names (he eventually did), he told the producer Kermit Bloomgarden—who was responsible for bringing such plays as Death of a Salesman, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Equus to the American stage—that “I’ve got to think of my kids.” To which Bloomgarden responded, “This too shall pass, and then you’ll be an informer in the eyes of your kids, think of that.” And while Kazan had other options that would have kept his family afloat, as did writers who could write under pseudonyms, that was not the case with well known actors like Lee J. Cobb, who declared “It’s the only face I have.” Or Zero Mostel, who said, “I am a man of thousand faces, all of them blacklisted.” (Cobb named names. Mostel did not.) (5)

But it’s not just family connections that do the enabling work of state repression. Other trusted figures in our lives—teachers and preachers, lovers and therapists, even lawyers—can be used by the state (or can make themselves useful to the state) to encourage us to cooperate, to remind us that our local obligations to family and friends, to partners and loved ones, trump our larger moral and political commitments.

Hayden’s example is again instructive. As I wrote in Fear:

The more immediate influences on Hayden’s decision, however, were Martin Gang, his lawyer, and Phil Cohen, his therapist. When Hayden first began to suspect that he was being blacklisted, he turned to Gang for advice. Gang suggested that he draft a letter to J. Edgar Hoover, explaining his past involvement in the party and expressing sincere repentance. Cooperating with the FBI, said Gang, would keep Hayden under HUAC’s radar and out of the television lights. Unconvinced, Hayden turned to Cohen, who assured him that Gang’s recommendation was reasonable. So advised, Hayden submitted the letter. But on the day he was scheduled to speak with the FBI, he had second thoughts. “Martin,” he told his lawyer,

“I still don’t feel right about –”

“Sterling, now listen to me. We’ve been over this thing time and time again. You make entirely too much of it. The time to have felt this way was before we wrote the letter.”

“Yes, I guess you’re right.”

“You know I’m right. You made the mistake. Nobody told you to join the Party. You’re not telling the F.B.I. anything they don’t already know.”

Hayden spoke with the FBI, which only made him feel worse and turned him against his therapist. “I’ll say this, too,” he told Cohen, “that if it hadn’t been for you I wouldn’t have turned into a stoolie for J. Edgar Hoover. I don’t think you have the foggiest notion of the contempt I have had for myself since the day I did that thing.” Not long after, HUAC issued him a subpoena. Cohen again tried to pacify him. “Now then,” said Cohen, “may I remind you there’s really not much difference, so far as you yourself are concerned, between talking to the F.B.I. in private and taking the stand in Washington. You have already informed, after all. You have excellent counsel, you know.” Again, Hayden capitulated.

And as I went onto conclude:

In recent years, scholar and writers have extolled the virtues of an independent civil society, in which private circles of intimate association are supposed to shield men and women from a repressive state. To the extent that these links are explicitly political and oppositional, this account of civil society holds true. Few of us have the inner strength or sustaining vision to opt for the lonely path of a Socrates or a Solzhenitsyn. Deprived of the solidarity of comrades, our visions seem idiosyncratic and quixotic; fortified by our political affiliations, they seem moral and viable.

But what analysts of civil society often ignore is the experience of Hayden and others like him, how our everyday connections can echo or amplify our inner counsels of fear. “Friends and family worry about me,” writes Mino Akhtar, a Pakistani American management consultant in New Jersey who has campaigned against the war in Iraq and the secret detention of Arabs and Muslims after 9/11. “They tell me to be careful, that I’m taking risks. They say that if my face and name keep coming up in public I won’t get any more consulting jobs. I think about that sometimes. You work hard to establish yourself, you have the good job, big home, these mortgage payments; it’s scary to think you can lose it all.”

It is precisely the nonpolitical, personal nature of these connections that makes them so powerful a voice for cooperation. Afraid, we think about our lives and livelihoods, loved ones and friends, and we doubt the meaning or efficacy of our politics. When comrades advise us to resist, we discard their counsel as so much political rhetoric; when trusted intimates advise us to submit, we hear the innocent, apolitical voice of natural reason. Because these counsels of submission are not seen as political recommendations, they are ideal packages of covert political transmission.

Back to David Brooks. Brooks likes to package his strictures in the gauzy wrap of an apolitical communitarianism. But Brooks is also, let us not forget, an authority- and state-minded chap, who doesn’t like punks like Snowden mucking up the work of war and the sacralized state. And it is precisely banal and familial bromides such as these—the need to honor one’s oaths, the importance of family and connection—that have underwritten popular collaboration with that work for at least a century, if not more.

Stalin understood all of this. So does David Brooks.


(1) J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov, The Road to Terror: Stalin an the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 40, 48-49, 369-70, 392-399, 411, 417-419, 526; Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888-1938 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), 375-380; The Great Purge Trial, ed. Robert C. Tucker and Stephen F. Cohen (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1965), xlii-xlviii.

(2) Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties (London: Macmillan, 1968), 142, 301; Getty and Naumov, 418, 526; Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 25; Anne Applebaum Gulag: A History (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 139; Cohen, 375; Adam Hochschild, The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin (New York: Viking, 1994), 13, 21-22; Tina Rosenberg, The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism (New York: Vintage, 1995), 28-29.

(3) Sterling Hayden, Wanderer (New York: Knopf, 1963), 371-372; Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund, The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-1960 (Garden City: Anchor Press, 1980), 386-389; Victor Navasky, Naming Names (New York: Penguin, 1980), 100-101.

(4) Navasky, 258, 260, 281.

(5) Navasky, 178, 201-202.

Update (June 12, 8:30 pm)

I’ve now been accused of red-baiting poor old David Brooks by—wait for it—The Wall Street Journal. My life is complete. Incidentally, since so many people, including James Taranto, didn’t get it, “The Last Stalinist” is an allusion  to this famous George Will column, in which he called Alexander Cockburn “a fringe figure, interesting only as a candidate for a glass case in The Smithsonian–‘The Last Stalinist.'” If only conservatives knew their canon better.


  1. joanna bujes June 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm | #

    It is astonishing how this man who sacrificed his very comfortable life could be made out to be a selfish jerk. What about the commitment the U.S. has to the constitution and its citizens?

    • hophmi June 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm | #

      Jeffrey Toobin think Snowden should go to jail also. It’s simply a matter of taking the law into one’s own hands rather than doing things legally, and there are plenty of legal avenues Snowden could have taken. Instead, he took the one that most revolves around him and most places the rest of us at risk. Most people will read this story and wonder why the government is placing our security in the hands of contractors, not whether Edward Snowden is a good person.

      I hope the left won’t make the mistake of using Snowden as a tool to bludgeon those who disagree with what he did by smearing them as “Stalinists” or “authoritarians” or “fascists.”

      • Too late, “hophmi”. Consider yourself “smeared” and “bludgeoned”.

      • Freddie deBoer June 11, 2013 at 2:54 pm | #

        If he had gone through the official channels, he’d have been silenced, one way or the other.

      • David Kaib June 11, 2013 at 4:07 pm | #

        Strangely these comments never acknowledge who took the law in their own hands first. It wasn’t Snowden, it was the very people you call ‘legal avenues.’

        The rule of law is for the little people.

      • Bart June 11, 2013 at 6:12 pm | #

        I suppose you also disapproved of the woman who heckled Ms Obama. Do you not understand that these people have no effective legal channels?

      • Jeff Martin June 12, 2013 at 1:17 pm | #

        There were no official channels remaining to Snowden or anyone else aggrieved by the universality of surveillance and the corresponding diminution of privacy: Federal courts have ruled, repeatedly, that no lawsuits can be brought against such policies, inasmuch as the plaintiffs have no standing, as they cannot demonstrate that they have been injured by such policies – and they cannot make such demonstrations because the policies are secret. As for the possibility of some internal grievance procedure, one may as well ask Snowden, or anyone else, to hold back the tides by the power of speech; the National Security State is as immovable and insentient as any natural phenomenon.

        So no, there were, and are, no other options. Those who continue to bitch about whistleblowers do so precisely because they love the surveillance state, love blowing up poor brown people with drones, and regard those who don’t love those things as contemptible – the way frat boys look at everyone else: can’t wait to punch a hippie, twist the arm of a nerd, or bash a queer.

      • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg June 12, 2013 at 4:46 pm | #

        “there are plenty of legal avenues Snowden could have taken”

        The talking heads are fond of saying this. Of course, they never _say_ what “legal avenues” are supposedly available.

        Certainly, Snowden could not have filed a lawsuit based on classified information without revealing classified information.

      • Barry June 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm | #

        “…there are plenty of legal avenues Snowden could have taken.”

        I’m fascinated by this plentitude. Can anybody list any which are (a) legal and (b) had a snowball’s chance in hell of making a difference?

      • Harald Korneliussen June 14, 2013 at 6:06 am | #

        “there are plenty of legal avenues Snowden could have taken”

        I may believe this when I first see someone succeeding in exposing criminality/provoking reform through “the proper channels”. I haven’t so far.

  2. This the real “Private Life of Power”, as you have named it. What really stands out is that Power knows about your private life and finds its strength in it. For the reactionary mind, this private life gradates quite well into the public life of official power. Official power defends it and will justifies itself by its propagandistic invokation of the private life. And yet, while extolling the virtues of the private life (and of course its relations of subordination) official power will turn on one’s private life and use it as a weapon against one. See our own military’s documented use of it by threatening to harm some Iraqi or Afghan shepard’s family if he did not “confess”. How many of recall that chilling moment when Bush II’s torture memo guy John Yoo, in a 2005 debate in Chicago, was asked if crushing the testicles of a child was permissible as a persuasive tactic in the questioning of that child’s father, if the President saw fit to order such an act. Yoo stated that “no treaty” could stop it. Apparently he forgot about the one Reagan signed. For official power, the private life is the gift that keeps on giving.

    • kbhattacharya June 12, 2013 at 7:30 pm | #

      I think that when Corey talks about ‘the private life of power’, he has in mind those that sit atop undemocratic, hierarchical institutions OUTSIDE the state: corporations, firms, churches etc. The power that these classes have can sometimes be missed because we use the word ‘power’almost always to refer to the state, forgetting that in private society, some have power over others too.

      Of course, there is no simple divide between the two kinds of state and private power, as they mutually support one another.

      • I completely agree with you. What catches my eye is the fact the power has a private life, that it does come indoors and sit at your table and seeks to dissuade you from this and persuade you into that, and uses private relations of heirarchy as the means.

        I recall being informed that the word “translation” derives from some root term that means to “carry across”. I take that to mean that something moves — that is, is carried — across a threshold (or boundary) from one location to another. What attention falls to is the constancy of the thing that is carried across, that thing that remains the same in some essential sense. With the word “translation”, we typically refer to “meaning”, like how the Spanish word “gato” translates into (or, “means”) the English word for “cat”. It is the animal referenced by both terms that is “carried across” the boundary of the two words from two languages.

        In the present case we label the “carried acrossed” thing “power”; it comes across the threshold from the public space and to the private. Its contancy and essence that is here “carried across” is un-democracy or heirachy. Hence, power has a private life, I would suggest, exactly because it has a public — or, official — one. But your point is well taken.

  3. Geoff Mattson June 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm | #

    U give brooks too much credit.

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. Tom June 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm | #

    The Jordan Halliday case is related to this theme, http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/jordan-halliday-grand-jury-criminal-contempt/5546/

    some quotes: [Jordan] has been asked about his family members, and whether one is married to an animal rights activist…

    from the sentencing memo: It is imperative, prosecutors said, that the “sentence defendant receives must not only deter his future criminal conduct, but also send the appropriate message to ensure that, as an unintended consequence of a lenient sentence, the defendant’s supporters are not emboldened to follow the defendant’s contemptuous ways.”

  5. Krishan Bhattacharya June 11, 2013 at 3:21 pm | #

    Andrew Sullivan (linking to the same Brooks column) : “That’s why, though I have serious libertarian leanings, I still call myself a conservative. That’s why I see more insight in, say, David Brooks’ column today, than many on the libertarian right or civil liberties left.”


  6. Roquentin June 11, 2013 at 3:28 pm | #

    There’s also something else nearly as repulsive at work in that essay. A sort of subtle high school bully logic. The kind of rationale that says “This kid was a jealous nerd who couldn’t relate to anyone. Rather than a political act, this is mere revenge against people more socially successful than him.” You often talk about the private life of power, the reactionary interest in preserving social advantages and rightfully so. This is definitely one of those instances as well. It’s a way of saying “I’m socially successful and I’ll not tolerate criticism or rebellion from anyone who wasn’t.” Sure, it doesn’t follow the pattern of more traditional gender or race based versions of this, but it’s the same pattern regardless. Without knowing his biography, I’d almost put money down that all of the social characteristics he believes Snowden lacks Brooks possesses or at least thinks he does.

    Also, as a short aside I don’t like how this is being turned into an issue solely about the state in the more libertarian oriented political circles. This information never could have been given to the NSA if Verizon didn’t possess it to start with. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I find myself worrying about how this scandal will be portrayed and used politically.

    • Erstwhile Anthropologist June 11, 2013 at 9:24 pm | #

      What you’ve said about reducing whistleblowing to ‘loser nerds’ speaking out because they are ‘not successful’ is worth thinking more about. Whisteblowers are usually misfits in some way (high school drop-out in Snowden’s case?) and thus already in a position to be receptive to questioning and then challenging the status quo.

      Those who are ‘successful’, and I think we can relate this to Corey’s argument about normative/familial ties and obligation (which are often not seperate from either conventional measures of success or investments therein), are less likely to challenge the status quo as dissidents and/or whistleblowers.

      If you’ve already had opportunity to question the status quo and the normative claims and assumptions it makes about equality, fairness, justice, and just desserts, you are constitutionally less disposed to unwavering allegiance of the kind necessary to be a dissident and/or whistleblower.

      • Only sometimes, but not always, is it the case that the whistleblower is an outsider. Daniel Ellsberg comes to mind as a conventionally “successful” person, very much an “insider” as employee of the Rand Corporation. He is a father and married twice. He is quite “well adjusted”, one could say upon reviewing his personal biography.

        A former CIA agent who would later be employed at Deloitte & Touche, John Kiriaku also qualifies as a conventionally “successful” person. What he and Ellsberg share with Manning and Snowden is a belief in the role of government as instrumentality serving the interests of the people, a belief that the government is not be organized as enemy of the people who consent to be governed (and not ruled) by it, and a belief that suspect — and possibly illegal –projects undertaken by the government are less likely to occur if the public is informed about the ones that are so undertaken.

        One need not be a “misfit” or an “outsider” or have problematic familial and social ties to understand that.

      • Erstwhile Anthropologist June 12, 2013 at 2:15 pm | #

        Thanks for the examples, Donald, but I’m not sure they disprove my previous comment as I did not say that whistleblowers are always misfits. Would be interesting to seem more stats on high-profile whistleblowers. Then again, there are all the ordinary people who blow the whistle on local forms of wrongdoing, about whom we never hear, so would be hard to get definitive stats on what kind of person usually chooses to blow the whistle.

      • Leonardo Camargo June 12, 2013 at 9:23 pm | #

        Not fitting in, as you might realize, isn’t necessarily something bad. People become misfits for all sorts of reasons. Also, experiencing some form of social exclusion/non-adaptation early in life might actually make one an authoritarian later (because the traumatic experience with chaos makes him realize the great need for order) and not a challenger of the status quo. I know a few successful control freaks who had difficult childhoods and from things they tell me, it seems that it’s those experiences that made them who they are.

        So, I think it’s nature too, not only nurture.

      • Erstwhile Anthropologist June 13, 2013 at 12:04 am | #

        I agree that being a misfit is not a bad thing. And thanks for pointing out that being a misfit can swing the other way too. Agreed, on both counts.

  7. Georg June 11, 2013 at 3:34 pm | #

    You cite the widely discredited Robert Conquest and the fascist Anne Applebaum as reliable sources on Stalin and the Soviet Union? lol

  8. Hampus June 11, 2013 at 3:41 pm | #

    That’s a little harsh! What ever did Stalin do to have to be lumped in with Brooks?

  9. Donna Gratehouse (@DonnaDiva) June 11, 2013 at 3:45 pm | #

    Thanks for giving me another reason to be glad I didn’t have children! It’s worth noting that Brooks has, on a few occasions, joined his very pronatalist colleague Ross Douthat in lamenting that women are birthin’ enough babies these days.

  10. Donna Gratehouse (@DonnaDiva) June 11, 2013 at 4:30 pm | #

    Here’s Brooks fretting post-election about the sad, empty cradles:

    “My view is that the age of possibility is based on a misconception. People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want. They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country.

    The surest way people bind themselves is through the family. As a practical matter, the traditional family is an effective way to induce people to care about others, become active in their communities and devote themselves to the long-term future of their nation and their kind. Therefore, our laws and attitudes should be biased toward family formation and fertility, including child tax credits, generous family leave policies and the like.”


    “…and the like” He’s too decorous to rant against birth control like certain right wing politicians and pundits do but it’s not out of line to imagine he’d quietly favor limiting access to it.

    • Excellent point. To the reactionary mind: the social utility of the family is as a privatized policing force, a Foucauldian governmentality.

    • vintermann June 14, 2013 at 6:10 am | #

      “commitments to family, God, craft and country”

      It’s very timely and very biblical to remind people that you may be forced to pick one of these – and as Robin has explained as well as any prophet, family ties can make it harder to choose the right one.

  11. troy grant June 11, 2013 at 4:57 pm | #

    Left or right conservatism Is the same authoritarian bullshit.

  12. karen orren June 11, 2013 at 5:05 pm | #

    Great post Corey. Karen

    On Tue, Jun 11, 2013 at 10:25 AM, Corey Rob

  13. The Raven June 11, 2013 at 6:45 pm | #

    And of course, discovering social connections is exactly what this technology is about.

  14. Everythings Jake June 11, 2013 at 7:48 pm | #

    Are we to set aside the fact that the man was a spy, or do spies working abroad for three years get more family leave these days? Do we know his mother didn’t visit him – shall we meet in Baltimore or, y’know, Hawaii? Much as I love Baltimore. Over Hawaii. Gently graded authoritarian structures? He worked for the security state – graded authoritarian structure is its lifeblood. It’s not that David’s a condescending snit peddling propagandist bullshit, oh no wait, that’s it exactly. I’m not feeling as highbrow as may be warranted here.

  15. Erstwhile Anthropologist June 12, 2013 at 1:05 am | #

    This recent Salon article makes some interest points that are in conversation with your post, Corey:
    “Sure, be as transparent as you like about your fetishes, your kinks and your drug habits when you’re wealthy and white — that’s not evil. …
    “Don’t be evil” points to a moral center without coordinates; if Google technologists were to truly unpack their own slogan they would realize that very few people indeed get the privilege to not “be evil” or considered potentially evil in our context.”

  16. syndaxvuzz June 12, 2013 at 2:39 am | #

    Reblogged this on syndax vuzz.

  17. Mother Jones June 12, 2013 at 11:38 am | #

    This article could have been something great. You see, David Cohen is another tool, serving the human masters. I was waiting for someone like David Cohen to try to psychologically dissect Edward Snowden. But Snowden is not a sociopath. And there is nothing wrong with wanting to be left alone. If wanting to be alone was pathological, then we would probably have no farmers either. Snowdon, like a lot of people, is simply disenchanted with the statists. Cohen is a statist. He’s completely bought into the propaganda machine and all it’s social engineering. The TV must be on 24×7 at Cohen’s house. Everything is hunky dory after all. Just listen to what the President says. It’s all going to be just fine.

    • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg June 13, 2013 at 1:22 am | #

      To even bring Snowden’s personality into the issue is to shut off your brain.

      What about the personality of the reporters at the Washington Post who ran the story? Why not analyze them? It was the editorial staff of the Washington Post who made this material public.

  18. Sean June 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm | #

    Overall an interesting post, but you’re giving Brooks too much credit as a thinker. He’s a hack columnist whose own words betray him. Snowden has a “deep suspicion of authority” but enlists in the US Army, then chooses to work for the CIA and an NSA contractor? Snowden betrayed “basic levels of trust” by exposing a secret program that assumes everyone is a suspect? It was “the atomization of society” that motivated Snowden to leak, not Snowden’s experience with a manifestly dangerous program? Brooks’ article is absurd.

  19. YankeeFrank June 12, 2013 at 2:02 pm | #

    David Brooks is an odious, authority-loving (of course that authority will never be directed at him), twerp. Its a strange combination: admiring gestapo tactics and total surveillance while also being a milquetoast, snobbish, weakling shitbird. Not that I have anything against weaklings per se, just when they combine this trait with the others. The man is revolting and really needs to be up against a wall with a stormtrooper gun in his face, not knowing whether this moment is his last.

  20. Larry Birnbaum June 12, 2013 at 4:08 pm | #

    David Brooks is like Stalin? And his views on family structure and society have something to do with the Great Purge?


    • Yes, to both of your questions. The reason this is true is because Mr. Brooks sees familial relations (and other private social relations) as instrumental in sustaining in people a willingness to “stay in line”. As Brooks suggests, breaking those social bonds leads to the likelihood that one will next disobey official authority. In order that such authority be maintained, it is first necessary to legitimize it by invoking familial and and other private social relations (and thus suggesting a continuum from private relations to relations between the individual and the state).

      If this does not work, then official power can indirectly, through the quiet interventions of persons who sincerely believe that they themselves mean no such harm, threaten the individual by suggesting that one’s acts can threaten the persons with whom sustains such private relations — a marriage, one’s children, one’s employment, one’s standing in church or in society generally. And if even that does not work, the President can always order the crushing of your son’s testicles.

      That the secret actions of state get a pass while we wonder at the seeming enigma of Mr. Snowden — who felt that he had to leave his country — is quite telling and basically proves the point.

      My only quibble with Professor Corey is his use of the term “Last” in labelling Mr. Brooks as a Stalinist.

      • Larry Birnbaum June 12, 2013 at 5:42 pm | #

        What’s the claim? That there’s a slippery slope, maybe even a direct connection, between Brooks’s desire for a relatively traditional ordered society with religion, family, etc., as the principles for keeping people in line — and the Gulag?

        No, this is like claiming that the economic stimulus package and the health care act make President Obama a Kenyan anti-colonialist socialist who pals around with terrorists. Actually, it’s more like the pictures we saw of Obama sandwiched in between Hitler and Lenin.

        Or in a lower key of this kind of, uhm, discussion, it’s kind of like calling Prof. Robin’s rhetoric here “Palinesque”.

      • jonnybutter June 13, 2013 at 4:41 am | #

        If by ‘direct connection’, Larry, you mean ‘there’s a certain logic…’, then, yes. First of all, keep in mind that the most comprehensive comment Prof. Robin made about Brooks’ very bad – even for him – essay was: “It’s mostly bullshit…”. Indeed, it is mostly bullshit. My read is: it is mostly bullshit, and the extent to which it isn’t bullshit might not be of a line that Brooks would want to follow or own up to. Then again, when you are as full of shit as Our Mister Brooks – when you will say just about anything that supports your role as partisan-pretending-not-to-be – it probably doesn’t matter. The essence of bullshit, as we have learned (insert Harry Frankfurt link here) is that the bullshitter, as distinct from a liar, doesn’t *care* what’s true and what isn’t. I think we have learned in these past 30+ years that bullshitting is more central to the reactionary strategy than is lying (unless you think bullshitting is a form of lying).

        BTW, I was struck by how Snowden’s statement: “I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American.” resembles Charles Foster Kane’s description of himself (in the title cards during the fake newsreel stuff). No heavy conclusion to draw, just funny. I wonder if he’s familier with that movie.

    • Barry June 13, 2013 at 1:23 pm | #

      Larry, have a friend with reading comprehension read the article to you.

  21. Alex June 13, 2013 at 9:57 am | #

    You’d think, what with his claims to insight, Brooks would know which agency Snowden worked for.

    • vintermann June 14, 2013 at 6:14 am | #

      In today’s column (which makes some good points, really) he quotes Jesus – from Corinthians.

      Really, the man isn’t pure corruption like some columnists I could mention. But he could really use some more correction and admonishment in his life 😀

  22. Hypocritopotamus July 27, 2013 at 11:58 pm | #

    Interesting, but I’m not sure how this argument necessarily makes Brooks’ into “bullshit”. There is no question that many of the traditional social institutions Americans depended on in the past–church, social organizations, even networks of basic friendships–have come to be eroded over time (e.g. recent surveys showing that Americans have fewer trusted friends to confide in than in recent decades…http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-06-22-friendship_x.htm), There really does seem to be something to the notion that we are more “atomized” than ever before, despite the ersatz “community” we find on the internet.

    Whether this necessarily makes people like Snowden reflexively view that world thru a libertarian, “me vs. government” lens is another question. But it’s worth more than a casual dismissal. And I don’t see how Stalinists exploited family connections to keep dissidents in line as particularly germane to that discussion.

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