David Brooks laments America’s supposed loss of “faith in universal democracy”:
Without the vibrant faith, there is no spiritual counterweight to rampant materialism. Without the faith, the left has grown strangely callous and withdrawing in the face of genocide around the world. The right adopts a zero-sum mentality about immigration and a pinched attitude about foreign affairs.
Brooks’ lament is wrongheaded in many ways. It is doubtful that most Americans ever fully adhered to the “faith” he describes, and to the extent that they ever did it’s not at all obvious that it was desirable. A nation doesn’t need to aspire to universal democracy to value and uphold its own traditions of representative government. History doesn’t inexorably progress towards a certain goal, but we don’t have to believe that it does to try to reform our system of government. Almost everything in his column rings false. In the absence of “faith in universal democracy,” there are many spiritual counterweights to “rampant materialism.” They are called religions, which contain wisdom even more important than the Biblical morality he mentions. We shouldn’t want political leaders with a “sacred purpose.” These are the leaders that lead nations into catastrophes by pursuing reckless ideological causes that attempt to make the state and its goals into a substitute for real faith. If one is looking for “sacred purpose” in modern politics, one has gone looking in the wrong place.
The complaint about others’ foreign policy views is typical. By “strangely callous,” Brooks means that many liberals aren’t eager to plunge the U.S. into unnecessary wars on ostensibly humanitarian grounds. He doesn’t cite examples of genocides that have gone unchallenged recently because he doesn’t have any to cite. The “pinched attitude” on the right that he finds so objectionable is the one that accepts that U.S. power and resources are limited. This is the same attitude that says that we don’t know how to resolve other nations’ conflicts, and it acknowledges that our efforts at democracy promotion abroad have usually been futile when they haven’t been causing actual harm. U.S.-led democracy promotion has resulted in empowering sectarian and nationalist strongmen in the countries where it has been “successful,” and in the places where it has failed all together it has helped to discredit the political values it was supposed to spread. If Americans have no faith in the falsehoods that democratists have tried to sell them over the years, so much the better for America.
If what Brooks calls the “democratic gospel” is losing whatever hold on Americans it may have had, he might consider that it is because Americans have witnessed the fruits of what comes from preaching this “gospel” and have understandably recoiled from it. Few have done more to undermine and dishonor the name and cause of democracy than its most fervent “evangelists.” Then again, this doesn’t mean that Americans are losing faith in democracy. It just means that they have lost faith in democracy promoters.