But we're here, so let's dig in. I've partially transcribed every entry, but the real ones are a lot longer than this, mostly due to the same repetition that's characterized the rest of the book.
1. We don't live for happiness, we live for holiness...All human beings seek to lead lives not just of pleasure, but of purpose, righteousness, and virtue.
Something that the filthy Youngs seem to understand, but let's pretend they don't so that we can feel superior. Note the pseudo-religious language on display - there's a lot more coming.
2. Proposition one defines the goal of life. The long road to character begins with an accurate understanding of our nature, and the core of that understanding is that we are flawed creatures. We have an innate tendency toward selfishness and overconfidence.
Remember that you are swine, and only David Brooks can lead you out of filth.
3. Although we are flawed creatures, we are also splendidly endowed. We are divided within ourselves, both fearfully and wonderfully made. We do sin, but we also have the capacity to recognize sin, to feel ashamed of sin, and to overcome sin.
Quote on loan from the Holy Bible. I knew there was a source he hadn't poached yet.
4. In the struggle against your own weakness, humility is the greatest virtue.
I was kidding when I said this before, but Brooks has ruined yet another caricature by turning into it.
5. Pride is the central vice. Pride is a problem in the sensory apparatus. Pride blinds us to the reality of our divided nature.
It goes on like this for close to half a page. You're welcome for not showing you the whole thing.
6. Once the necessities for survival are satisfied, the struggle against sin and for virtue is the central drama of life. No external conflict is as consequential or as dramatic as the inner campaign against our own deficiencies.
Spoken like someone who's never had a cause he really, truly believed in.
7. Character is built in the course of your inner confrontation. Character is a set of dispositions, desires and habits that are slowly engraved during the struggle against your own weakness.
Only heathens like Paul Krugman think that character has any connection to what you do or how you treat people. A true thought leader knows that you determine your character by your use of words like "sin" and "discipline."
8. The things that lead us astray are short term - lust, fear, vanity, gluttony. The things we call character endure over the long term - courage, honesty, humility. People with character are capable of a long obedience in the same direction, of staying attached to people and causes and callings consistently through thick and thin.
So avoid sin and you're fine. Except you can't, because...
9. No person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason, compassion, and character are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride, greed, and self-deception. Everybody needs redemptive assistance from outside - from God, family, friends, ancestors, rules, traditions, institutions, and exemplars.
Remember, you are still swine and need something to save your soul, like David Brooks is saved by his commitment to journalistic excellence. Why are you laughing?
10. We are ultimately saved by grace.
You know who's missing from this? Calvin. There's a big Calvin-shaped hole in this book. I guess that kind of overt religious call-out would distract from the plausibly deniable faux-spiritualism running throughout the narrative.
11. Defeating weakness often means quieting the self. Only by quieting the self, by muting the sound of your own ego, can you see the world clearly.
Instagram kills, kids.
12. Wisdom starts with epistemological modesty. The world is immeasurably complex and the private stock of reason is small. We are generally not capable of understanding the complex web of causes that drive events.
At least when McArdle argued that no one can know anything, she was straightforward about it (seriously, "epistemological modesty"?).
13. No good life is possible unless it is organized around a vocation.
For you lowly types who have to work for a living, I guess you'll just have to live with being shallow.
14. The best leader tries to lead along the grain of human nature rather than go against it...he prefers arrangements that are low and steady to those that are lofty and heroic.
I have no idea what Brooks is talking about here.
15. The person who successfully struggles against weakness and sin may or may not become rich and famous, but that person will become mature.
Which is why you should become rich and famous first and then write about your struggles. To paraphrase Machiavelli, it's better to look humble than to be humble.
This book does have something of a conclusion, but if you've been reading thus far it's an imminently predicable one:
Even within the tradition of moral realism, there are many differences of temperament, technique, tactics, and taste. Two people who both subscribe to the "crooked timber" view may approach specific questions in different ways. Should you stay in your suffering or move on from it as soon as possible? Should you keep a journal to maximize self-awareness, or does that just lead to paralyzing self-consciousness and self-indulgence? Should you be reticent or expressive? Should you take control of your own life or surrender it to God's grace?
Should you actually change your life, or should you continue to rake in large sums of money and bask in adulation and prestige even as you criticize others for trying to achieve some small measure of the same? Should you take pride in your work, or should you cannibalize your own pseudo-academic philosophizing, knowing that your employer would accept it? Should you write a book about character that has a conclusion, or just let it peter out into the usual indistinct mush? Should you try, or should you fake it?
Next time: My conclusion.