June 25, 2005
NO ENLIGHTENMENT PLEASE, WE'RE AMERICAN:
Liberals, Conservatives and Aid (DAVID BROOKS, 6/26/05, NY Times)
Karl Rove has his theories about what separates liberals from conservatives and I have mine. Mine include the differences between Jeffrey Sachs and George Bush. [...]
[S]achs is a child of the French Enlightenment. At the end of his new book, "The End of Poverty," he delivers an unreconstructed tribute to the 18th-century Enlightenment, when leading thinkers had an amazing confidence in their ability to refashion reality so that it would conform to reason.
Throughout the book, Sachs comes across as a philosophe for our times. He is, he writes, a "clinical economist," who diagnoses the maladies that affect nations the way a doctor diagnoses and holds life-or-death sway over a human organism. One of the striking features of his book is the absence of individual Africans. There is just the undifferentiated mass of the suffering poor, trapped in systems, and Sachs traveling around the globe prescribing treatments.
Sachs is also a materialist. He dismisses or downplays those who believe that human factors like corruption, greed, institutions, governance, conflict and traditions have contributed importantly to Africa's suffering. Instead, he emphasizes material causes: lack of natural resources, lack of technology, bad geography and poverty itself as a self-perpetuating trap.
This gives him an impressive confidence on the malleability of human societies.
The real difference isn't that between Mr. Sachs and George W. Bush, a Southern Christian conservative, but between Mr. Sachs and Mr. Brooks himself, a liberal Jewish neocon. The hostility Mr. Brooks demonstrates here towards intellectualism, materialism, Reason and the Enlightenment is what makes America generally and American conservatism in particular unique. Posted by Orrin Judd at June 25, 2005 10:45 PM