The Second Mountain is full of rambling anecdotes of exemplary virtueby Tanjil Rashid / July 16, 2019 / Leave a comment
In his first book Bobos in Paradise, US political commentator David Brooks took aim at the “bourgeois-bohemian” lifestyles prevalent among America’s upwardly mobile classes. “Bourgeois-bohemianism” denoted the marriage of the counter-cultural 1960s with the Reaganomic consumption of the 1980s, whose combined fruit, in Brooks’s portrayal, was an ugly love-child characterised by selfish, hypocritical materialism.
Almost two decades on and the ugly love-child has grown up. These people have, by now, acquired a great deal of money and professional prestige. But despite their success, they find their lives lacking. This is the premise of Brooks’s new book.
In his schema, such people have climbed “the first mountain,” and mastered the kind of self-interested success encouraged by modern liberalism. What they have yet to discover are the emotional highs of “the second mountain,” which involves striving to serve others in their community and family, contemplating the world around them, and the joys of a life lived in accordance with principles higher than mere egotism.
One needn’t share Brooks’s “Burkean conservatism” to acknowledge that this has the ring of truth. In fact, its arguments—even its Zen-like geological metaphors—are so familiar that the book may seem strikingly unoriginal. This is the view from the pulpit, but Brooks preaches breezily. Recasting age-old nostrums for a secularised readership, he avoids scripture in favour of rambling anecdotes of exemplary virtue and simple (perhaps simplistic) readings from literature.
For all his sagacity, Brooks is no stylist and his purple prose is laborious to read. Nevertheless, he holds one’s attention, as we follow the author’s journey from careerist Jewish bobo journalist to “Christian-ish” loving husband. The element of self-hagiography here would be easy to mock; but perhaps we could all learn at least a little from David Brooks’s sincere chronicle of the good life.
The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life
by David Brooks (Allen Lane, £20)