David Brooks gets it, at least from a secular point, and in a way (especially if you look at the comments from the clueless multitude of Times readers) that is terribly sad. In this essay, he preaches half of my sermon this week much better than I could. The problem, as Babel told us, is not the system. The problem is the individual human heart. As Brooks talks about, the individual no longer resonated to words like fortitude and courage. Aquinas and virtue theologians would put those as the cornerstone of the virtues. If you don’t have fortitude, the others will fall as well. When you no longer build virtue, you resort to the law to force something like virtue. Hence,
Meanwhile, usage of words associated with the ability to deliver, like “discipline” and “dependability” rose over the century, as did the usage of words associated with fairness. The Kesebirs point out that these sorts of virtues are most relevant to economic production and exchange.
The law is always quid pro quo; it is a market. And it is always inadequate to the task. If the law can’t convict you of sin (second use, mirror) and move you toward virtue in the gospel (3rd use, rule) the best it can do is be a curb (first use or civil use). Hence,
The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.
That is the result of turning away from the call of the Holy Spirit. The only solution is the recovery of the vocabulary of the Spirit. A re-moralization is not about the law, although it has a role. It starts with repentance. And repentance doesn’t come about until the old Adam is dead, until we no longer want to keep our life but are willing to lose it for the gospel. And that might be why David Brooks can be so melancholy. Walking that necessary path is going to hurt. Our Polis, our politics, is not about virtue but about mere technique. Which technique do you want – delay and deny (liberal) or time to pay the piper (conservative)? A more wise Polis would be talking about prudence, patience, fortitude and temperance along with faith, hope and charity. But those require belief in something beyond the market. A belief we no longer have the Spirit for. “Take not you Holy Spirit from me (Psalm 51:11)…”