David Brooks Gets Engaged


A week ago David Brooks distinguished between "engaged" writers and "detached" ones.

The engaged writer enjoys a tight community and a powerful sense of commitment. The detached writer enjoys more freedom and objectivity. The engaged writer emphasizes loyalty, while the detached writer emphasizes honesty. At his worst, the engaged writer slips into rabid extremism and simple-minded brutalism. At her worst, the detached writer slips into a sanguine, pox-on-all-your-houses complacency and an unearned sense of superiority. The engaged writer might become predictable. The detached writer might become irrelevant, ignored at both ends.

Ever detached, Brooks admitted that both approaches have merits and weaknesses. "But I would still urge you to slide over toward the detached side of the scale," he wrote. Why?

Detached writers have more realistic goals. Detached writers generally understand that they are not going to succeed in telling people what to think. It is enough to prod people to think — to provide an idea or piece information that sets readers on a train of thought that takes them far in front of whatever you put down.

Today David Brooks impugns the motivations of critics and opponents of the immigration reform under consideration in the Senate. "Immigration opponents are effectively trying to restrict the flow of conservatives into this country." "Immigration opponents are trying to restrict assimilation." "Immigration opponents are trying to restrict love affairs." "Immigration opponents are trying to restrict social mobility." "Immigration opponents are trying to restrict skills." "Opponents of reform are trying to hold back the inevitable."

Does that sound detached to you? Because it sounds pretty darn engaged to me. I don't think it requires a lot of research to discover that critics of immigration reform such as David Frum and Mickey Kaus argue against the bill precisely because they want to increase the social mobility, skills, wages, social cohesiveness, and maybe even love lives of Americans who are already in this country. And I don't think it requires much good faith to assume skeptics such as Bill Kristol and Yuval Levin are concerned about the bill for comprehensible public policy reasons. A detached writer might take a step back and engage the actual criticisms of the bill's opponents rather than blindly asserting, without any evidence, that "if conservatives defeat immigration reform, the Republicans will definitely lose control of one thing for years to come: political power."

"If you write in a way that suggests combative certitude," Brooks wrote last week, "you may gradually smother the inner chaos that will be the source of lifelong freshness and creativity." Someone help David Brooks! The immigration debate is smothering his inner chaos.