BRIAN LAMB, HOST: David Brooks, were do we find a bobo in paradise?
Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Author, "Bobos in Paradise"): Bobos are spread
across upscale America. If you're looking for the hunting signs of
them, I suppose what you do is you look for people who've renovated
their kitchen so big it looks like an aircraft hangar with plumbing.
You see these big kitchens with islands in the middle of them.
They've got a big refrigerator so big--you know, subzero. It looks
like you could fit an in-law suite in one side of them. They've got
the six burner, duel-fuel Viking ranges.
So basically, bobos are across upscale America. They're in left-wing
towns, like Berkeley, California, Burlington, Vermont; in right-wing
towns: Wayne, Pennsylvania, where I went to high school, Orange
County, New--California. And basically what the bobos are is they're
bourgeois Bohemians. They're people who have taken the '60s ethos of
Bohemia and the '80s ethos of bourgeois, yuppie money-making, and
they've jammed it all together. They're creating a new synthesis
culture for our country.
LAMB: Can you remember when you invented the phrase?
Mr. BROOKS: I can't exactly. I know when it first--the ethos first
came to me. I was actually in Brussels for four and a half years in
the first half of the '90s, and I came back to Wayne, Pennsylvania,
where my folks still live. And Wayne is on the mainline outside of
Philadelphia. It's ranked number eighth in the country in the number
of families who are members of the social register. So it's a very
Protestant establishment sort of place. If you ever saw that
Katharine Hepburn movie, "The Philadelphia Story," it was set in a
place like Wayne.
So I come back in mid-'90s, and suddenly, you know, the place was an
espresso desert. Now there are six fancy coffee shops, cappuccino
stands there. There's a whole--a fancy bread store where they
spell--sell spinach faux de loaf for four bucks and 75 cents. And if
you ask them to slice the bread in the store, they look at you like
you haven't risen to the higher realm of bread consciousness.
There's one of these organic, fresh-field supermarket stores which is
like upscale suburban hippiedom. They've got vegetarian dog biscuits,
Basmati rice, all-natural hair coloring. And it occurred to me that
they--you know, they've taken all this stuff from the '60s that was of
interest to teen-agers like nudity and f--love and taken that away but
kept all the things from the '60s of interest to middle-aged
hypochondriacs like whole grains.
So you get to Wayne, and the culture is transformed. And I'm seeing
it all with European eyes, 'cause I'd really been away for four and a
half years. And I realize the information age has not only
transformed our economy but our culture. And so I set out to write a
book: How has the information age transformed our culture? And that
was the e--concept. That was the moment when I thought, `Something's
going on here. I have at least a series of articles, maybe a book.'
LAMB: How much of a bobo are you?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, my joke is that I consider myself a bobo with bad
grades. If I'd studied more, I would have gotten into Harvard and I
could afford the big kitchen and all that. But I am a bobo in some
sense. You know, the essence of bobo life is people who consider
themselves sort of artistic or writers or intellectuals but find
themselves in the world of making money, in the world of commerce.
And so I certainly am in that. You know, I--I consider myself a
writer, and I live for ideas and things like that. But I also want a
big house, so I'm caught between money and spirituality.
LAMB: Well, on the chapter on intellectual life, I just found, you
know, a couple of sentences in relationship to doing this interview in
the book that I wanted to read back to you. You say, `For
intellectuals who do not possess this gift, the next step up the
ladder involves writing a book.' How many books have you written?
Mr. BROOKS: This is my first real book.
LAMB: Aside from the obvious paramount thing about a book, who the
author can get to blurb it, you've got Christopher Buckley, E.J.
Dionne, P.J. O'Rourke and Tom Wolfe.
Mr. BROOKS: Well...
LAMB: Did you get them to blurb it?
Mr. BROOKS: I did. I asked all of them except for Tom Wolfe. My
publisher a--asked him. I don't know him.
LAMB: `There are three important factors the author needs to concern
it--herself with,' and I wanted to stop there and ask you every
reference to the other person is a `she' in your book.
Mr. BROOKS: In that chapter.
LAMB: Just in that chapter?
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, just in that chapter.
LAMB: I thought I picked up...
Mr. BROOKS: I sort of flip-flopped.
LAMB: Why'd you do that?
Mr. BROOKS: For the sake of gender equity.
LAMB: And let me go back to--if I can find the word again--for
impo--dada-dah, dada-dah--`The pub--the publishing house, the title
and the one phrase people will remember from it.'
Mr. BROOKS: Right. So--and--and here I have a book with a--a
neologism bobo, which is bourgeois Bohemian. So I'm guilty of the
thing I'm writing about. I--I s--I write--write in the introduction
that sometimes I think I've made self-loathing into a career. And,
you know, there is some of me in the book. That chapter is sort of an
ascorbic look at--as the intellectual, as social climber...
Mr. BROOKS: ...or as career climber.
LAMB: ...the other thing you talk about in that chapter is
participating in conferences.
Mr. BROOKS: Right.
LAMB: And I know we carried a conference that you were, like,
the--the moderator, well, along with E.J. Dionne, when you talked
about Al Gore and George Bush and other candidates for the presidency.
Tell us about the conference world.
Mr. BROOKS: Well, the conference world--you know, it's hard to
imagine a hundred years ago that--like, Andrew Carnegie and John D.
Rockefeller sitting on a panel on the corporate responsibility of the
corporation with Mark Twain as your celebrity moderator, but now I
have a chapter on business life, how businessmen are all more like
intellectuals, just as intellectuals are more like businessmen. And
so now we all have to conference. We all sit on panel discussions,
you know, where there's evenly bo--separated bottles of mineral water,
and we're all sitting between them. We've got our five-minute
And the odd thing for academics especially--conferences are, like,
sort of a status stock exchange. You can judge how many people showed
up to sit in the audience for your panel discussion, how--are you on
the same panel with the people with big names, big-named professors?
Are you the--the most famous person on the panel or the least famous?
Do they ask you questions at the end of the discussion or do they ask
the other people? There are all these status markers going up and
And then at the end of the panel discussion, there are all these
coffee urns set in the hotel conference area in the--in the aisle
wherever the panels are being held and people rush out to the coffee
area, and they're all schmoozing. And if you look at academic
newsletters, you see these pictures. There'll be half a dozen people
clutching wine glasses or coffee mugs to their chest and they all look
so happy 'cause they're all in this career schmooze together. And
it's always the big-name professors who are schmoozing with the other
big-name, and the foundation officials are doing little political
waves here and up and down the--the al--alleyway, and it really
is--people measure their status by how they perform at conferences.
LAMB: Is it true that if you're really well-known, you s--you can be
dull, and if you're not well-known at all, you've got to be good?'
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. If fact, if you're really well-known, you're
supposed to be dull. There's some--there--the idea is you're so
important, you don't need to be interesting, so you te--speak in the
higher institutional mode. So if you're, like, a secretary of State
and you come to a conference, you should really put people to sleep.
But if you're a young person and you presume to use words that are
dull, and if you presume a dullness beyond your measure, then you're
really overreaching yourself. It's very off-putting when dull--when
young people are dull.
LAMB: Then you say here, `Intellectuals on a book tour will need a
catchphrase that talk show interviewers can scan seconds before a
segment and and then use to start a conversation.' Why do you need
Mr. BROOKS: W--because th--most of the talk shows--you've actually
read the book, and I've actually had good luck with the people I've
spoken to reading the book, but you--most talk show-TV hosts have not
read the book. And they're just there to fill their six minutes of
air time. And one of the things they do--the publishing houses
actually send out fact sheets with the questions they're supposed to
ask. And one of the things they like to do is they'll ask you
beforehand, `What do you want to say?' And you may say it. And--and
then they'll--they'll say what you meant to say, so they can look
smart. And then you're left to gab now.
LAMB: So--so if you had the experience that you show up and
som--someone hasn't read the book and what's the catchphrase that they
go for? Bobo?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, people ask what bobo is in this--in this case,
because that is the mu--the center of my theory. I mean, part of this
chapter--it's a very acerbic chapter at what's happened to the
intellectual life. It starts with a description of intellectual life
in the 1950s with Edmund Wilson and Lionel Trilling and Hannah Arendt,
an intellectual life which was really austere, very removed from the
con--the world of commerce, very removed from politics; people just
sitting with their hidiger and their haggle and theorizing and writing
for very small circulation magazines like Partisan Review and making
grand, sweeping statements.
So I take that polit--that intellectual world which is really, you
know, portentous and then I compare it to the intellectual world of
today where we have phrases like `intellectual capital' and
`marketplace of ideas' where intellectuals are really much more game
players, much more nakedly ambitious. And I weigh the pros and cons
of the two intellectual worlds. And I'm telling jokes about how this
imagined intellectual could rise through the world and become the next
Henry Kissinger, and it's supposed to be funny. But--but I try to
weigh seriously what--what's a better intellectual style, because the
'50s, they really had a sense of intellectual as vocation.
The Russian intelligencia--the idea was you were a secular priesthood
above the mere commerce. Speaking of universal truths, I open the
chapter with a great essay by Irving Howe that he wrote in 1954 where
he said, `Some intellectuals we know have written for The New Yorker
and worse, far worse.' Well, now we're not shocked if anybody writes
for The New Yorker. And it's a shine of how differently we look at
intellectuals than they did 50 years ago.
LAMB: What is SID?
Mr. BROOKS: That's status income disequilibrium. That is what
people who suffer who have high status and low income. People in the
media tend to suffer it. Congressmen suffer from it. It's sort of a
jokey malady for people who during the day, they're sort of the gods
of the career world. If you're a senator or a congressman or--or a
top-notch journalist in this town, you--you know, people are asking
you favors all day. The messages pile up on your desk. You're
treated like a god when you walk into the Palm Restaurant, but then at
night, all the people who kissed up to you who are businessmen,
lawyers and lobbyists, they go off to their big house in McLane or in
the Upper East Side of Manhattan or in the North Shore of Chicago and
you're stuck going to your dinky little apartment where you're
cleaning your own toilet because you don't have the money. You've got
status but no--but no money. So it's a--it's sort of this perversity
that you feel like a god during the day and a schlump at night. And
so I have a jokey chapter about people who suffer from this.
LAMB: You wrote in there about being at The Drake Hotel along
Michigan Avenue there in Chicago...
Mr. BROOKS: Right.
LAMB: ...and then somebody going to Hyde Park and the rest of them
going up to Lake Forest or some place like that. Had--do--do you have
that actual experience?
Mr. BROOKS: No. No. This is sort of an imagined--I mean,
I--I--it's like a lot of things in the book. It's something you're
familiar with. You write about the world you know, and I'm in this
world, but on the one hand, you exaggerate for comic effect. And then
you hear a lot of stories as you're doing your reporting. You try to
get all the--the reality in there.
LAMB: How old are you?
Mr. BROOKS: I'm 38.
Mr. BROOKS: Yes.
LAMB: How many kids?
Mr. BROOKS: Three.
LAMB: How old are they?
Mr. BROOKS: Nine, six and one.
LAMB: And where do they live?
Mr. BROOKS: We live right here in the District.
LAMB: What is a man at your age with a book and a column and all that
and appearing on Jim Lehrer's show and other places--what's your
ambition? Where do you go as a bobo?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, I don't know where I go as a bobo. I'd like to go
out to suburbs, I suppose, as a bobo and get a house with a playroom
so my kids can go off and play. But my ambition is to write books. I
mean, a lot of people--I just have this perverse attraction to books
which really doesn't make any sense because the money, I suppose, is
in speeches and--and TV, but to me, you know, people say, `Do
you'--some people write books just so they can get on TV. But I
appear on TV so I can write books. This is the most fun thing I've
ever done, and I'm reasonably proud of it. And I'd like to do well
enough with the book so I could write more and more books, because
working on a--a book for two or three years at a time really was
tremendously satisfying. You--you can just get to know a lot more and
think a lot more, and you can work on the prose a lot more.
Even in a magazine article--you know, I work at an opinion magazine
where it's not like a newspaper. There is--you can refine your
writing and try to do a good job with it. But for some reason, I have
this archaic notion that books are really what matters more than
LAMB: Who reads books?
Mr. BROOKS: Very few people. I mean, if my book sells 50,000
copies, that's fantastic. I mean, that'll be tremendous, but if I
write for Newsweek or The Wall Street Journal, you're getting
millions. So in some sense, if you want to reach people, it really is
better to write articles. On the other hand, you hope if they read a
whole book of yours, they'll remember it and they'll see a lot more
depth to the argument than they would in an 1,100-word op-ed piece.
But, you know, it--out on--you know, I'm a print journalist, and out
on the campaign trail, in the very beginning of every campaign, you
really feel like you matter. But then the primary season starts, and
it's obvious you don't matter, that only the TV cameras matter, and
you're just a prop in the way for that. So I must say in my l--line
of work, I don't feel the wind of history at my back the way these
people in Silicon Valley really feel that history is pushing them
forward, propelling them. I--I have the--you know, I have this vague
sense and a lot of people I work with have the vague sense that we're
sort of a receding force and that history is moving off in some
LAMB: What do you think they think about their lives?
Mr. BROOKS: The people in Silicon Valley?
Mr. BROOKS: I think they're thrilled. I mean, it--listen, the only
people I know who really feel that they're changing the world and that
they are s--at the center of the action are these people in Redmond,
Washington, these people who are in Silicon Valley. They really
feel--you know, they were working in some little company that had five
people six months ago; now they have 500 people. And they really feel
technology is a tremendous force in this society and it's going to
change everything. And they could be right.
You know, this bobo reconciliation I talk about is really a product of
the information age, what they're creating, because in this--in this
economy, ideas and information are as important to creating wealth as
natural resources and finance capital. So the people who thrive are
the ones who can take ideas and emotions and turn them into products.
So they really do have one foot in the world of Bohemia which is ideas
and emotions and creativity and one foot in the world of the
bourgeoisie which is the world of the marketplace. And that's what's
reconciled this 150-year-old culture war between the Bohemians and the
LAMB: Who is not a member of the bourgeoisie?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, in the old days, it was artists and rebels. The
Bohemia started as a rejection of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie
came, say, in the early 19th century, late 18th century in Paris, and
they were the shopkeepers, the merchant middle classes who really took
over from the aristocracy as the most important force of society. And
pretty soon thereafter, a group of artists and intellectuals
decided--they looked at these shopkeepers and they said, `These people
are repulsive.' Flaubert said that hatred of the bourgeoisie was the
beginning of all virtue. Stendhal, another French writer from the
early 19th century, said that he looked at--he thought the--the
grocers and the--the shopkeepers were plotting and avaricious.
Flaubert signed his letters, `Bourgeois sofobious,' to show how much
he hated these people.
And those Bohemians in the early 19th century started the Bohemian
lifestyle we all know. They wore long hair, flamboyant dress. They
talked about suicide, altered states of consciousness. One of them
took a lobster and put him on a leash and had him march through the
gardens, and he said of his lobster, `He does not bark and he knows
the mysteries of the deep,' which is exactly the sort of pranksterous
humor that the hippies I grew up with in New York in ce--in
1960s--they would have gone for that pranksterous humor.
And so for 150 years, you had a culture war. You had the Bohemians
who were anti-materialistic; the bourgeois were materialistic. The
Bohemians were a--were c--experience-oriented; the bourgeois were
career-oriented. The Bohemians pretended to be promiscuous 'cause it
seemed free, and the bourgeois pretended to be chaste. And so you
really had a culture war for 150 years.
And when I got back and went to Wayne after living in Europe, it
really seemed to be me that culture war was over and that the
in--information age had melded the two forces. Marx taught us that
classes always conflict, but it seemed to me in this case they had
just blurred together, that you had people who were half yipp--half
hippy, half yuppie; half Bohemian, half bourgeois. And if you asked
yourself, `Well, who sold out to who?' it was an almost impossible
question to answer. They just sort of blurred together.
LAMB: Where's the word `Bohemia' come from?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, Bohemia's a region in central Europe, and I think
the Bohemians who had no ethnic relationship to real Bohemians who
were from Bohemia adopted it because they thought they were Gypsies,
that they ha--were free-floating individuals.
LAMB: Where is it physically? Do you know?
Mr. BROOKS: It's--I'm not sure exactly. It's a region--I think
the--I--I sh--shouldn't guess. I'm not exactly sure.
LAMB: What about the--the--the n--word `bourgeois' or `bourgeoisie'?
Where does that come--who--who first started using it?
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, that's a good question. You know, I don't know.
It's--it's certainly a word Marx used, but I don't--I think it
LAMB: Karl Marx probably is mentioned in the book as often as
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. I think--I think because even--you know, I work
for a conservative magazine, so I'm not exactly shaped by Marxist
thought, I don't think. But I think Marx has really influenced all of
us in a number of ways--one, to teach us that classes conflict, as I
was saying, when, in fact, I think in this case, they blur; and
second, to--to teach us that we are defined by our means of
production, that what we do determines our identity, our role in
society. And I have a chapter on consumption, and I think we're
actually defined by our means of consumption at least today. How we
shop is how we identify ourselves. And if you're looking for bobos,
it's the consumer choices they make which say the most about them.
You know, do they buy vulgar things like Corvettes or do they buy
high-minded practical things like Range Rovers? And th--so I have a
section in the book called The Code of Financial Correctness which was
about how to spend lots of money in ways to show that you're above
money and material things.
LAMB: I'm still on the chapter In--Intellectual Life and I wanted to
read this to you and ask you to expand. `These bookers'--meaning the
people who book people on television shows, cable shows--`are caught
between the demands of their vain and temperamental host and the
crotchety male retirees who are the bulk of their viewers.'
Mr. BROOKS: Well, as you know people who...
LAMB: Now you got--you probably have crotchety male retirees who--I'm
Mr. BROOKS: There goes half of my viewership just now.
LAMB: ...you know, I mean, here we are. I mean, I...
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah.
LAMB: ...why `crotchety male retirees'?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, I--again, the whole--this whole chapter is done in
a hierarch style, so I'm exaggerating for comic effect, but I think it
is true--well, it's certainly true that people who run talk networks
are cranky and overbearing on their staff. But it--it--I think it is
certainly true that the people who watch most political talk, in
particular, are older than average. I think retirees make up a
disproportionate number. That's certainly reflected in the mail I get
and the people who pay attention to these things. It's also true, by
the way, of opinion magazines like mine. It's true of The Wall Street
Journal where the average reader, I think, is 57 or so. So we have a
large senior citizen population--book buyers and they're very--they're
influential in this talk media.
LAMB: Why do you think you're interested in writing for that crowd
Mr. BROOKS: I'm not sure I'm writing for any crowd. I'm writing for
myself, from what I find interesting, what's in the discussion in the
air. And, you know, you really can't imagine an audience niche to
write for, 'cause if you try to write for it, you'll mess up.
LAMB: Are many other people like you interested in what you're
writing about? I mean, in other words, it--you're 38 and you're
talking about people who are--60s and--and above. I mean, do you find
many of your peers or anything?
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. Well, the--the--the c--the bobos--the classic
bobos are baby boom and younger, because I think it's important to
have gone through the experience of the '60s and have these
anti-commercial attitudes built in and then have them mixed with the
'80s attitudes of money-making, '90s attitudes of, you know, the
potential to get wealth. And not only to get wealth by working on
Wall Street but to get wealth while improving the world, by making
software or something.
So I think most of the people I'm describing in this book are 50 and
below, and people who are older than that who have read it say, `Yeah,
you've helped me understand why my 30-year-old kids are spending money
the way they're spending money.'
LAMB: You mentioned not--being out in Redmond, Washington. While you
were out there, you went to REI. What is it?
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, REI is--well, REI is a chain store of outdoor
equipment. And one of the things that occurred to me is that bobos
have an achievement ethos. This is Ameritocratic group of people.
And it--it shows in the way they go to work. It shows in the way they
practice religion. Everything is achieving, even sex life--I have a
chapter in there. You know, you can't just have an orgasm; you have
to achieve an orgasm. You have to do it the right way. And then in
vacation terms, you don't just go sit on the beach; you go on an
environmental vacation at the Galapagos Island or one of these
educational vacations in Meonmar and Minsk. And then the highest
status vacation is one where you're suffering all the time. You're
climbing Mt. Everest or Mt. Rainier.
And if you go out to Redmond, Washington, and go to dinner with these
Microsoft executives, you'll be at a dinner table. And suddenly,
words like `base camp' and `whiteout' will be floating across the
table, and you realize some executive is telling you about his trip to
the Himalayas and the tough ordeal he had and how spiritually
enriching it was to go up there at the top of the mountain, you know,
clad--a millionaire clad in magenta with a North Face parka on facing
And REI is a store where you can--if you don't climb the Himalayas,
you can dress like you do. It's this big, massive store, tens of
thousands of square feet in Seattle, and it's like--first, they've got
a museum to the equipment when you first walk in the door which is--to
show you that it's edifying, you're not just buying stuff. And then
they've got acre upon acre of outdoor gear--ice axes up front, and
then water filters. And to buy stuff in this store, you need a
chemistry degree from MIT. You can't understand--you know, there's a
performance underwear section where they've--you know, they've got all
these high-tech--I've forgotten all the name of the chemical fabrics
that are made. And you--it's impossible to understand it. But to be
a serious person and a serious person in your athletic or in your
leisure time, you need to study all this. You need to become an
Bobos are really based--their ethos is based in the university, and
they turn everything into graduate school. So you can't just buy
hiking equipment, you have to understand all the different boots and
things like that. And you walk around this place and i--everyone
looks like they're escapees from the Norwegian Olympic team or
something. They've got these thick calves because they're walking
everywhere. They've got the $200 hiking boots. They've got, you
know, two-ounce parkas that are beautifully tested for all kinds of
weather. And it occurred to me they're very wholesome.
You know, when the Bohemians thought about leisure, they tau--thought
about getting wild and getting naked and just enjoying and living for
the moment, but these people are working out. They're very
utilitarian, almost Protestant in the way they view their vacation
because they're working out, they're training and they're undergoing
ordeals so they can ha--achieve some spiritual fulfillment. I
sometimes wonder why they don't just go to a Minnesota road crew in
the middle of the wintertime if they really want a tough ordeal
that'll help them. At least they'll fill in some potholes. But they
want the Imax experience. They want the Himalayas.
LAMB: Did you have any interest in buying any of the things you found
there in REI?
Mr. BROOKS: I found a pair of hiking boots there. I was going
hiking, so I bought a pair of hiking boots. But the--you know, I
travel around this world and I have some tangential connection to
parts of it. I like--when--I like the big kitchens. I can't afford
it, but what I write about is not--it's not an autobiography. I'm
writing about a world I'm reporting on. It's not all me.
LAMB: Burlington, Vermont, and other latte towns. What's that?
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. Burlington, Vermont, is a fantastic place. It's
possibly the most left-wing city in America. They've sent us our only
socialist or Independent congressman, Bernie Sanders, and it is filled
with aging hippies.
LAMB: Home of the University of Vermont.
Mr. BROOKS: The University of Vermont. Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream is
the most famous place there. Ben & Jerry are everywhere in Vermont.
They're like Big Brother. They've got si--pictures of these two guys
all over the place. But if you go to Burlington, Vermont, this haven
for social left-wing ideas, it's a fantastic business center. When I
went up there, there were four business magazines based in Burlington.
And you could read, like, three paragraphs in a row without them
mentioning socially conscious investing. It was sort of the left-wing
capitalism that you have now. People have left Boston, left New York,
gone up there to form their own chutney companies, their own pesto
companies to make the best organic maple syrup that's possible. And
then they've sold it. And then they're selling it and marketing it
all over the world.
So you walk--I was sitting in a cafe called Leungs in Burlington,
Vermont, and there was this guy who looked like he just walked
straight from Woodstock and another woman in a peasant dress. And
they were talking about their IPO. And I overheard them and they knew
everything about IPOs. And this is what's happened, that former
right-wing towns like Wayne, Pennsylvania, I described have become
more Bohemian in the way they shopped. But former left-wing Bohemian
towns had become more bourgeois because they've invested in business.
And one of the things that's happened is that now everyone accepts
business. You know, this debate between the bourgeois and the
Bohemian, this 150-year-old culture war, was essentially an argument
about commerce: Does buying and selling stuff destroy your soul? And
the Bohemians always said it did; that if you think about money all
the time, you'll be just rotted inside. But these people think it's
great to--you know, capitalism is great so long as you can wear a
black T-shirt to work. And they really have accepted commerce. And
that's a major shift for our age, that there really are very few
mortal enemies to capitalism anymore. And people have accepted the
judgments of marketplace.
Sort of--you look at the hip new business magazines like Wired, Red
Herring, Fast Company, and they look sort of countercultural. They
look like Berkeley in the '60s, Jefferson Starship posters in the way
they're designed, but ultimately they are business magazines. They
accept ambition. They accept making money. They accept the judgment
of the marketplace. And so in that sense, the bourgeois won the
culture war in that sense because capitalism has triumphed even in
LAMB: You mention Northampton, Massachusetts, and Boulder, Colorado,
and Missoula, Montana. What do they have in common?
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. Well, they're all university towns and latte
towns. If you're in a latte town, there should be, like, a feminist
lingerie store. There should be a bunch of software firms in an old
factory warehouse that they've refurbished. There should be a Marxist
bookstore. There should be plenty of open-air activities because
they're deep into community life.
I knew I was in a strange latte town in Burlington because I was
walking across the street, and I'm from New York, and my instinct is
when I see a car coming, I'm going to stop and let the car come at the
crosswalk, but the car knew he was--the--the drivers of the car in
Burlington know that they are burning fossil fuel, and that as a
pedestrian, I am morally superior to they are. So they stop and make
sure they give you right of way. So I'm walking along and I stop at a
corner, seeing a car out of my--corner of my eye and I'm watching some
hippies play Frisbee over there. And I stand there. And I realize
there's a car waiting for me. Ten seconds go by, he's still waiting.
So finally, I realized that I've got the moral upper hand because I'm
using renewable energy source.
So I walk across and then I go down another block, and my mind wanders
and I stop at another corner and I realize there's a car. And it
takes me like two or three days before I understand the ethos that
pedestrians are better than cars because automobile society is
destroying our atmosphere and leading to sprawl and all sorts of bad
things, and that after three or four days, once I got to a cross
section, I just walked right on through with my moral superiority as a
LAMB: This cover, did you have anything to do with it?
Mr. BROOKS: I had a little to do with it. The first idea--we--we
thought po--`paradise' is a great word. I didn't come up with the
title. My editor, Alice Muno, came up with the title, and `paradise'
is a great word. And we wanted an image that would play off paradise.
We thought about American Gothic, but that seemed a little trite. And
then they came up with the Brusso image and then I just filled
in--helped them fill in the icons, like the trowel, the Range Rover,
the laptop and the coffee mug. I'm really happy. Simon & Schuster
did the cover. And I'm really happy with it.
LAMB: Now Alice Muno is your editor.
Mr. BROOKS: Right.
LAMB: This is new for you to have her as an editor?
Mr. BROOKS: More or less it was signed--the book was signed by an
editor named Mary Manicker, but the rule in publishing is if you're at
the same house for more than six months, it seems, you have to move
on, except for Alice. Alice Muno is the dean of publishing, perhaps,
certainly non-fiction publishing. And when my first editor left, I
was honored to have her take it over. And she did a great job. She
read through every word and seemed to concentrate on every little
word, made notes throughout the manuscript and really helped.
LAMB: Does she have a political bias that sh--you had to deal with?
Mr. BROOKS: Not really. I'd say--you know, I'm a conservative and
there were biases in publishing and one f--confronts them. But Simon
& Schuster is a very broad-minded place. They have George Will. Bill
Bennett, I think, publishes there, Irving Kristol. They have--they're
used to people who they don't necessarily agree with. And that's not
true of all houses. The thing--it was interesting, you--you write up
this proposal and my agent takes you around. He says, `You meet with
these publishers.' So I met with 14 publishers. And you...
LAMB: Fourteen different publishers?
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. And you go around--not that they all were
interested in the book, but you go around over a two- or three-day
period talking to them all. And some of them ask for a video clip,
which was new to me. I sent them a clip of--from "The Washington
Journal," a C-SPAN appearance. Funny, they didn't sign me. And--and
then--and then you go around and you're supposed to do a little shtick
for them of how you will promote the book.
But Simon & Schuster was different. You walk in there--first of all,
on the wall they have some of the posters of the previous books
they've done and it was--Irving Crystal and people like that, company
I would be proud to be associated with. But on--my meeting at Simon &
Schuster was just a bunch of smart people talking. So w--there was no
pre-set, `I'm on performance.' It was just talking, and I felt like I
feel at editorial meetings at The Weekly Standard. I felt comfortable
and I--I just realized this was a class organization. I was very
happy when they were interested in it.
LAMB: Wayne, Pennsylvania, how long did you live there?
Mr. BROOKS: I lived there mostly through high school, and my folks
still live there and I go back quite a lot, so...
LAMB: What'd your parents do?
Mr. BROOKS: My--my parents still work. My father is a college
professor at Westchester University, and my mother was a professor at
Drexel and St. John's, St. Joe's--she was one of these itinerant
academics who teach Western civ courses, the people who are horribly
mistreated by the universities, and she got sick of it and she want to
work for SmithKline Beecham, the pharmaceutical company, helping with
their construction, which is a bit different from Western civ, but she
LAMB: And how much did their professorial atmosphere have to do with
what you're doing today, do you think?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, somebody once wrote that it takes three
generations to make a career, and I certainly think that's true in my
case. My grandfather, who's dead obviously, was very interested in my
writing and I--I wish he could have been alive to see the book because
he was very proud of his writing--he wrote briefs; he was a
lawyer--and he inculcated the reading and writing, and then my
parents--my father's written a couple books, we had books around the
house and so that was--that goes into one's upbringing. But my
parents, being academics, write more seriously, I'd say, than I do. I
mean, this is a book of what I call comic sociology. It's meant to be
filled with jokes, and their style of writing is--you know, has more
gravitas than mine does.
LAMB: Where did you go, then, from Wayne to college?
Mr. BROOKS: I went to University of Chicago for four years.
LAMB: Why did you pick Chicago?
Mr. BROOKS: Because I didn't have the grades to get into Harvard,
like everyone else. No, I--my parents, being academics, sort of
respected academic institutions, and I applied to four and I got into
a couple, but Chicago was a first-rate school and it was a tremendous
education. It wasn't much fun, but I think it's improved recently in
LAMB: Why not fun?
Mr. BROOKS: We all worked too hard. We really studied s--you know,
every weekend night we were studying, and that was great. I wrote,
you know, 800 papers on Hobbes. But I could have used 700 papers on
Hobbes and a few more par--good parties, and I think that's fair. I
mean, it--it introduced me to a broader world, to the world of Allan
Bloom. I was not one of his students, but one became interested in
that world of Aristotle and the Greeks and Thucydides and Burke. When
I first read Burke, freshman year, I loathed him. I just wanted to
rip up the book, every page.
Mr. BROOKS: Because I was sort of a person of the left, and here was
someone telling you that using reason and creating new ideas was not
something that was very productive, was like--likely to lead you
astray, that instead you should look to the past and see which ideas
have evolved over time, and I thought that was ridiculous.
LAMB: Who was Burke?
Mr. BROOKS: Edmund Burke was an Irish philosopher and statesman, a
member of Parliament, one of the great speakers of all time, a very
great supporter of the American Revolution and a great opponent of the
French revolution, which is the right stance. He wrote a great, great
book called the "Reflections on the Revolution in France."
LAMB: What was wrong with the French revolution?
Mr. BROOKS: That they were t--they were trying to remake society
anew, that they had decided that we know--we can--through the force of
pure reason, we can create a new world and that we will destroy the
calendar, we will destroy the inherited institutions of society and
we'll make a new society. And he said this is abhorrent. And he was
right, as we learned from the French revolution, from the Russian
Revolution and from the Chinese Revolution, from every
ever--revolution since. And so it was that idea of looking to the
past and seeing what we've inherited and appreciating that which led
eventually to my conservatism.
LAMB: Your parents, were they people of the left?
Mr. BROOKS: They were people--they were liberals. They were sort of
Scoop Jackson Democrats, and they're still Democrats. They were
not--certainly not of the stripe I now am.
LAMB: What's their reaction to your stripe today?
Mr. BROOKS: I think they've gotten used to it. It was a shock, I'm
sure, at first, beca--it took a few years after I left Chicago and I
went to work at National Review, which was my first job--worked for
Bill Buckley--and I'm sure that was not the world they envisioned for
me. And they disagree with me on many issues, I'm sure, and sometimes
caustically. But I've--I've become a little less conservative,
actually, recently, so maybe there's a meeting there.
LAMB: Based on what?
Mr. BROOKS: Based on the idea that--I just think conservatives have
been wrong about a number of things and put me off about a number of
things, mostly during the Gingrich revolution. I thought the--the
Republican Party was too viciously anti-government for my taste. I
think if you're an American, if you love America, which you do if you
live in Belgium for four and a half years, you revere the institutions
of government and you think--because our government is a--the
foundation of our country, of our idea of America, and when people
start telling you government is evil, government is the problem, we've
just got to tear it down, then that puts your back up. And that--it
did put my back up. And I looked for a style of conservatism which
was respectful of the institutions of government that we've inherited.
And actually, I think the Republican Party is coming back to that.
John McCain tried and George W. Bush has done that explicitly.
LAMB: And how about your colleagues at The Weekly Standard? First of
all, who owns the magazine?
Mr. BROOKS: Rupert Murdoch.
LAMB: Any impact from him on what you have to do?
Mr. BROOKS: Never. I've ne--I think I've spoken to him once in my
life. I don't think he's ever had any impact on the magazine. We
disagree with him vehemently on a number of things, most important of
which is China. We're against free trade for China; he's involved it.
LAMB: Bill Kristol is the editor...
Mr. BROOKS: He's the editor. Fred Barnes.
LAMB: ...and Fred Barnes and--and...
Mr. BROOKS: Andrew Ferguson.
LAMB: Now do they all--do you all think alike on this conservatism
Mr. BROOKS: No, we think violently differently. In fact, that's one
of the hallmarks of the conservative movement, is that people who used
to think alike now disagree on everything and that--that's a function
of the end of the Cold War and the end of liberalism, really, because
liberalism--conservatism is in disarray, but liberalism is really in
disarray. So we've lost our two common enemies.
LAMB: When could you get a good fight going among the four of you
sitting down just talking about any issue?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, during John McCain, that was good enough because
Bill Kristol and I thought John McCain was the better candidate for a
number of reasons. Fred Barnes did not. He--he thought George W.
Bush was a better candidate--on intellectual grounds, not just who
would win in November--and Andy Ferguson's ideas were, as usual, very
subtle and secretly forceful.
LAMB: Secretly forceful.
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, Andy's not someone who comes out as much as some
of the rest of us and just baldly declares something. His--his
writing--he's a much better writer than I am, a more supple writer,
and his writing leads you in different feints and the power of the
writing is sometimes not clear until you read it carefully.
LAMB: So what's a conservative today, then?
Mr. BROOKS: That's a good question. It used to be someone who hated
the '60s. That's what I used to think a conservative was, because
they disagreed on things like term limits, conservatives disagreed on
open immigration or closed immigration, open trade or closed trade.
Generally, conservatives want to reduce the size of government, but
not always. There are paleoconservatives who are happy with big
Social Security--Gary Bauer was, he's certainly conservative--who are
happy with big government's going to clamp down on immigration. So I
used to think the only thing that unites conservatives is that they
hate the '60s and love the '80s. But now I really think the '60s and
the '80s have merged into this new culture which both Al Gore and
George W. Bush are--have inherited, this mooshy anti-ideological
culture, this bobo culture.
And so I--it's really unclear what unites conservatives, except for
the habit of thinking of each other as conservatives. And that's been
true in my life, that the people who I used to agree with, say, at the
libertarian Cato Institute, I now rarely agree with. And we consider
our--ourselves friends, at least I consider them friends. But the old
coherence of conservatism as a movement, which started with Goldwater,
worked through Reagan, went to Gingrich, I really think that is
LAMB: I probably shouldn't ask you this, but s--just your instincts
today about who will win in the fall if nothing changes between now
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, my instinct is that Bush will win. The last
chapter of the--this book is about politics, and I wrote it a year
ago, so it's not specifically about the campaign. But the--the bobo
life is a reconciliation between this--mostly left-wing ideas, of
Bohemia, freedom, social freedom, and the bourgeoisie, which is about
traditional morality and culture, and the ideas that these two have
merged into one social ethos. And the politicians who come out of
that have merged left and right. Bill Clinton is the ultimate bobo
politician. He takes some ideas on the left and some ideas on the
right, and blurs them all together. Bush has done some of that. Gore
has done some of that. Bush's compassionate conservatism is--is some
But one of the things that has happened to the bobos is they've become
conservative in an old-fashioned sense, meaning distrusting change,
disliking confrontation and anger. And I--I really think in terms of
temperament, George W. Bush is closer to the bobo sensibility because
he's not a confrontational guy. He's a lover, not a fighter, as--as
he would say. He's a uniter, not a divider. And so he's an an--very
anti-ideological person. In 1968, he graduated from Yale
college--'68, very tumultuous times. He wasn't for the anti--he
wasn't for Vietnam, he wasn't against it. He really sat out because
he was so anti-ideological. That put him out of step with the times
in the '70s and '80s when we had an ideological era. But I think it
perfectly puts him in step with these times, which are
anti-ideological, which are conservative and which are this mooshy
left-right synthesis. Gore is there in policy grounds, but he himself
is a strident individual and I think people will eventually be put off
LAMB: You say in that chapter, `They are generally disenchanted with
national politics,' meaning bobos. `They tend not to see it as a
glorious or, "capital R," romantic field of endeavor the way so many
people did earlier in the century.'
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, one of the things running through the book is a
comparison between the 1950s Protestant establishment, which was one
elite from the industrial age, and the bobo establishment, which is
the sort of elite we get from the information age. And you ask
yourself, `Well, which is better?' Well, the WASP establishment, the
Protestant establishment--people like John McCloy and Dean
Acheson--people like that, they had many virtues. One of them was a
sense of public service. The Protestant establishment, the sons of
that establishment died in large number in World Wars I and II. They
joined the CIA and parachuted behind the Cold War, the Iron Curtain
lines, at great personal risk. They sometimes did a lot that was not
in their personal interest, but they did it because they were s--they
were raised with a sense of noblesse oblige. They--to much--you know,
you have tremendous privileges, so you have to give back.
And that is not a sense, I don't think, the bobos have, because the
bobos are an elite trained to think that they're not an elite.
They're an establishment trained to be anti-establishmentarian. So I
haven't seen the level of national involvement and national service.
The other great WASP virtue is reticence, which certainly the bobos
When George Bush the elder, ran for president in 1988, his mother, who
was then still alive, said, `George, you're talking about yourself too
much,' which was an old WASP lady saying, `One doesn't talk about
oneself.' But, of course, in our day and age, one does little else,
and the bobos don't have that. At the same time, the problem with the
Protestant establishment, which killed it, was that they were too
restrictive. If you didn't have the right skin color or the right
family background, you couldn't join this establishment. And that
sort of restrictive establishment that didn't put great emphasis on
bl--brains, but put it on bloodlines, could never survive in an
information age when you need brains.
LAMB: You went to the University of Chicago, graduated what year?
Mr. BROOKS: 1983.
LAMB: Then what?
Mr. BROOKS: Then I wer--went to work at a various set of odd jobs
while writing freelance articles. I was a bartender at the faculty
club. I wrote a political column for an idealistic venture which was
supposed to be a weekly for the black South Side of Chicago. Most of
us were not black, which was something of a hindrance to that
newspaper. And then I worked briefly at the City News Bureau of
Chicago, which is owned by the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, which is
a wire service repor--wire service where you really are out there
covering rapes and murders in the South Side--West Side of Chicago.
LAMB: Then what?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, during college, as a junior, I wrote a parody of
Bill Buckley's book, "Overdrive" called "The Greatest Story Ever
Told"--fortunate--may--maybe the funniest thing I've ever written; I
peaked at age 19--and he came to campus and said, `David Brooks, if
you're in the audience, I want to offer you a job.' I wasn't in the
audience because actually I was out in Stanford, California, debating
Milton Friedman. I was a left-wing debater on a TV show that Milton
Friedman was do--"Milton Friedman Talks to the Young," that sort of
thing. He s--destroyed me. Half the show was me sitting with my
mouth hanging open trying to think of what to say to whatever he had
just said. But anyway, I consider myself a person of the left.
Then over the next two or three years, I became more conservative, not
quite in The National Review mold, but more conservative. And so two
or three years later I said, `You made an offer two years ago. Is
that offer still open?' And Buckley, without ever asking about my
politics or anything, said, `Yep, come on.' So I went to work at
National Review for a year and a half and met Buckley, became very
friendly with him and his sister Priscilla, many of those people. And
from there on my course into right-wing media was--was set. I went to
The Wall Street Journal editorial page, Washington Times before that
and then The Weekly Standard.
LAMB: What did you learn from each one of those institutions?
Mr. BROOKS: Buckley just teaches you--well, Buckley's great gift is
friendship and--and his ability to form friends with many people,
including with myself. And--I mean, I learned about conservatism and
Russell Kirk and people like that from Buckley. But Buckley's great
gift is his personal gift to create loyalty and to really--to show the
friendship is the most important thing.
From The Washington Times, I was a movie critic there, so I got to
meet all sorts of people I never would have met--Jackie Gleason, Burt
Lancaster, Kirk Douglas. That was a thrill.
And then f--I went to work for Robert Bartley. I was the book review
editor at The Wall Street Journal. Then I went abroad and then I was
the Op-Ed editor. And from Bartley you learn some--well, you learn a
lot about economics and things, which I didn't know as much about.
But you also learn how to be a brave journalist. Bartley's a very
reticent guy. His meetings--The Wall Street Journal editorial page
meetings are really dominated by him and he's a Midwestern guy from
Iowa, Minnesota, and I'm from New York, I'm a Jewish guy, I like to
talk and I'm--I'm su--usually surrounded by talk. But at the
editorial meetings, a Midwestern ethos reigns. So there would be long
silences. And I would sit in my chair, which was just like this
chair, and I'd stare at my shoes and I'd say to myself in my head over
and over again, `I will not break this silence. I will not break this
silence,' because they were comfortable with silence and I was
extremely uncomfortable with it, but--so it really was a different
culture than wh--what I was used to.
But Bartley understands how to run an editorial page, which is a
phrase he has, `muzzle velocity.' You attack people--you attack ideas,
not people. You attack ideas. You're strong in your--your--your
arguments. You're not wishy-washy. You are going to be--you're for
something and you're going to be for it. And that's a way--you know,
it's a crowded media world. And The Wall Street Journal's editorial
page has influence because it attacks ideas, it believes in certain
ideas and it's vociferous in support of them, and I think that's
really useful, you know. I think too many editorial pages are
LAMB: You make two--just a connection here. In Robert Bartley's book
that we did on BOOKNOTES, you talked about F.A. Hayek, "The Road to
Serfdom" and the importance of that for conservative thinking.
Mr. BROOKS: Right.
LAMB: Did you know him at the University of Chicago?
Mr. BROOKS: No. No, I didn't study any economics. I was a history
major. As I say, I was born into the politics of Athens and not of
LAMB: Did you know that he was around out there? Was it...
Mr. BROOKS: I knew about Friedman, but I didn't know about Hayek. I
knew about the Straussians, which are those schooled at--Allan
LAMB: Leo Strauss?
Mr. BROOKS: Leo Strauss, Allan Bloom. My colleague now, Bill
Kristol was sort of a Straussian, Harvey Mansfield at Harvard. It's a
school of political theory, most of whom are conservative, though in a
very rarified form.
LAMB: Along the way--Washington Times, Wall Street Journal, National
Review--when did you begin to feel a sense of--of either power or
position or people paying attention to what you were doing?
Mr. BROOKS: The only other--the only time I've ever in my life had
imposter syndrome was when I was editing The Wall Street Journal Op-Ed
edge. Imposter syndrome is you--you walk into the office and you
think, `This can't be me. I don't belong here.' And at the Journal
editorial--at the Op-Ed page, you'd get 150 manuscripts a day, 60
phone calls a day, people desperate to get on the page and you have to
choose really one or two. And so there is this sense that you
actually can control some important piece of real estate in the
American media. And you h--I had a veauti--beautiful view of the
Hudson River to h--which helps. And I really said--thought, `Well,
this can't be me.' And actually I left that job after a very short
time because--it was fun, but I'm a writer, not an editor, and I had
to find a place I could write.
LAMB: So how long have you been in this current position and what
else do you do besides write for The Weekly Standard?
Mr. BROOKS: The Journal is--The Weekly Standard is about--almost
five years old now and I've been here since the inception. Really
Murdoch funded the magazine, but Kristol, John Podhoretz and Fred
Barnes started it. And it was most of my friends, Chris Caldwell,
David Frum, Krautham--Charles Krauthammer, P.J. O'Rourke, Robert
Kagan. It was mostly the people I really admire and like all at one
magazine, so I thought: What could be more fun? And it's proved that
way. So I write for that, and then on the side I write this book and
I write a lot of freelance stuff. I'm a contributing editor at
Newsweek and I write for The New Yorker periodically, on various
things, mostly non-political, mostly on this stuff, which is cultural.
LAMB: One of the things that comes through in your book is that
people who are bobos watch PBS and listen to NPR.
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. Well, I think bobos--and C-SPAN, I should say,
though it's more fun to make fun of PBS and NPR than C-SPAN. You
don't have as much of a precious sensibility. But bobos are highly
educated. That--that's the essence of the bobo, that the old
Protestant establishment were formed in the country club or in the
cradle by the bloodlines. But the--the bobos went through the
university system and consider themselves university people. That's
why they turn everything into graduate school. And so the PBS and the
NPR, the--just as a fact, the people--they have an audience among the
more highly educated.
LAMB: You say that there are nine million in this country making more
than $100,000 a year.
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, and I'm des--I'm not describing the whole country
in this book or the whole country doesn't eat whole--you know, mung
bean pizza and spend $9 on a--or $90 on designer mulch, but I'm
describing upscale America, the people who live in the suburbs, shop
at Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel, go to Starbucks, spend 4
bucks for a cup of coffee.
LAMB: You mentioned Restoration Harbor--Hardware in your book and
that's in Marin County in California?
Mr. BROOKS: That's in Corte Madera, which is in Marin County.
LAMB: And what is it? And what did you see there?
Mr. BROOKS: It's a chichi hardware store which was founded on the
idea--it was founded by a guy who went up to Northern California and
needed tools to restore a--a house, couldn't find them, so he
s--opened a hardware store. And the--the intellectual basis of the
idea is that we opportunistic, highly educated meritocrats have left
something behind. We--we seize all these opportunities, we make all
this money, but the simple virtues of life, the wisdom of the simple
folk is something we have left behind in our search for money and
that, therefore, they will sell you the goods that remind you of the
So if you were of a certain age and you walk into a Restoration
Hardware, you go, `Ah, there's the pencil sharpener I had in school.
There's the lunch tray I had in school.' And it's a s--ser--a sense of
nostalgia, and this is a very common bobo sensibility, that there's
some simple thing we left behind. There's this book, "A Simple
Abundance," that does fam--tremendously well. I thought I should
write a book called "Complicated Poverty." But that probably wouldn't
sell as well.
Mr. BROOKS: God is an important part of the bobo life, as it's an
important part of all. I assume you're talking about the chapter on
Mr. BROOKS: ...that I have in there.
LAMB: I mean, where does God fit in with a bobo?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, as I say, the bobo is a reconciling ethos between
left-wing bourgeo--or left-wing bohemian, right-wing bourgeois. The
bohemian approach to religion was self-religion: throw off organized
religion and all that custom and ritual that the--the bourgeois liked,
all the traditional values and enter a realm of pure freedom, just
have these experiences on the beach at dawn, sort of new age
self-exploration. But a lot of the people who threw that off in the
'60s and '70s discovered, `Well, you can have a lot of peak
experiences at dawn looking at the Pacific Ocean, but it doesn't add
up to a whole lot.' And they discover that it's very hard to pass that
down to your kids, that sort of spirituality. So a lot of those
people are going back into religion, going back into organized
religion. There was a great New York Times headline that captured
this, Religion Makes a Comeback (Belief to Follow). And so it's an
attempt to have the roots and rituals of organized religion at the
same time you have the freedom and flexibility to choose what parts of
the organized religion you're going to obey.
I ran into a rabbi in Montana who--they asked him, `Well, what sort of
rel--Judaism do you practice? Is it conservative, Orthodox and
reform?' And he said, `Flexodoxy,' which is a perfect bobo word for
flexibility and freedom on the one hand and Orthodoxy on the other.
And in the book, I'm--I'm very--I praise the way bobos have changed
our commercial life. I think our stores are much more interesting.
Our--our companies are much more interesting than they used to be.
But religious life and political life, I think that they've had a bad
effect on, because this idea to g--have it both ways--to say, `Well,
I'm going to rejoin Orthodox religion, but I'm going to choose what
parts of the Orthodox religion I'm going to follow. You know, I just
want a little community and a little custom and a little, you know,
nice ritual, but I'm not going to defer to God. I'll d--I'll overrule
God when I disagree with him,' I think that's ultimately an unworkable
way to have religion. If you can't defer to the authority of God,
then you're--you're ultimately going to have a problem. So I...
LAMB: Book's dedicated to Jane.
Mr. BROOKS: That's my wife.
LAMB: Where did you meet her?
Mr. BROOKS: I met her at the University of Chicago. She was a
student there with me.
LAMB: What was she studying?
Mr. BROOKS: She was studying anthropology.
LAMB: What does she do now?
Mr. BROOKS: She is raising our three kids. I g--I think the biggest
change in her life is that she converted to Judaism, de--despite my
pressure, and has become very serious about it and we send our kids to
a Jewish school, and I'm one of those people who are mostly secular,
but have found myself getting dragged kicking and screaming back into
LAMB: The most abstemious time in history?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, the most abstemious time in recent history, I
think, the bo--if you look at bobo leisure time and you compare it
again to the 1950s, the '50s real--really were gin-soaked. It was the
last grage--great age of drinking. I mention in the book I happened
to see in--on cable TV, a game called "Match Game '73," which was done
in 1973, where the guest or the--the contestant had to pick--complete
a phrase and then match it with six celebrities who would also
complete the same phrase and they were supposed to get the same match.
And it was `Half blank.' And he said, `Half drunk.' I though, `Well,
that's weird. Nobody--none of those six celebrities will also say
"Half drunk."' But four of the six said `Half drunk.' This is 1973.
Now we'd say `half-and-half.' The--the amount of boozing that went on
in American life then--or really in--all through American life, was
But now you've got an elite based on brain power and not connections.
So we've got to show how mentally alert we are all the time, and
therefore, coffee has overtaken booze as the social drink of status.
And that's--that's another shift you get when you t--go--get away from
a--an elite based on blood to an elite based on brain power.
LAMB: Back to your--the chapter on politics. You say, `We have
allowed our political views to be corroded with an easy
pseudo-cynicism that holds that all politicians are crooks and all
public endeavor is a sham.'
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. Well, that's not only true of bobos, that's true
of everything. I mean, that...
LAMB: Why has this ha--why has it happened?
Mr. BROOKS: That's a good question. It could be because the stakes
are lower in political life since the end of the Cold War or it could
be just our populism has rung a--run amok. There's something always
consistent in American history that says politics--you know, these
politicians, they're all scoundrels and we all distrust authority
figures. And so you have a populous distrust of authority figures.
And then--excuse me--the new left came along distrusting authority
figures, which is sort of a left-wing version of the same populism,
and that triumphed. So now everybody--`Oh, the authority figures,
they'll all full of it. Congressmen, they all do it,' and nobody is
willing to admit the truth. There's--you have people in Washington
who are outstanding individuals who are as good statesmen as, you
know, one normally gets--Henry Hyde or Robert Rubin, people who really
do an outstanding job. But instead, you get what is really an easy
cynicism. It's easy to say, `Oh, they're all scoundrels. They're all
crooks.' It's simply not true, though.
LAMB: If you had to have a couple of books on your shelf that would
define what you really think about everything and is kind of your
guiding light, what would they be?
Mr. BROOKS: Hmm, that's a good question. Burke's "Reflections on
the Revolution of France," an essay by Oakshot called "On
LAMB: Who is Oakshot?
Mr. BROOKS: Michael Oakshot is an English philosopher of this
century--died not too long ago--and he--he echoed Burke in saying,
`These ideas to rationally transform society are doomed to failure.
It's important to understand the institutions we have all around us
and cherish them,' and "On Rationalism" was a devastating essay
against people who think you can figure it all out just by pure
Hayek also wrote many of the same things, by the way, saying, `You
can't plan an economy because we can't understand it all.' Isaiah
Berlin had a great essay called "The Hedgehog and the Fox," about
Tolstoy's understanding of wisdom and it was the same thing, `You--you
should be sensitive to the world around you.'
And then a book I--I make a big deal of in my book, which is Jane
Jacobs' "The Rise and Decline of Gr--The Rise and Decline of Great
American Cities," which is really the proto-bobo book because she
took--there were two views of order. The bourgeois were--were a view
of order, of society which was to have orders, you need to have rigid
rules, everything has to be hyperorganized. That was the one way of
looking out at the world. And then the--the bohemian idea that you
shouldn't have order, you should have disorder, you should--everything
should be emancipated and anarchy was wonderful.
She looked around at a city street in Greenwich Village, where she was
living, and said, `All these people, these shopkeepers are going about
their way and it seems kind of dis--disorderly. But it all makes for
a coherent order the way a forest is a coherent order.' You know, this
shopkeeper comes out, looks out on the street, sees something.
Another shopkeeper comes out, looks for something, and then suddenly
there's a man trying to coax a young girl into a car, and suddenly the
whole street stops. It seems disordered. But it stops because
they're not sure: Is this man really going to kidnap this girl? Then
it turns out the man is just her father trying to get her in the car.
And what she saw was this organic order, this organic way society
organizes itself. Nobody plans it, but it's a series of individual
decisions which cohere to form an order. And that is really the
reconciliation between the emancipated freedom and the rigid order of
so many old authoritarian regimes.
LAMB: Next book?
Mr. BROOKS: I have ideas for the next book, but they're all
half-baked right now.
LAMB: Any subject?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, the subject I want to ask about: Is what makes us
Americans? I think Americans, despite the information age and the
global economy, really are different from everybody else. And we
don't have a good sense of what that is because our sense of
patriotism is outdated. It's re--based on war. I'd like to figure
out what makes us Americans today.
LAMB: Our guest, David Brooks. First book, "Bobos in Paradise."
Thanks for joining us.
Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.
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