2015 was an eventful year in the annals of history. Yet no person more exemplifies the spirit of this new era, for good and ill, than David Brooks, whom Popehat is proud to recognize as its Person of the Year.
A politically active bon vivant and celebrated thought leader, Brooks was an outspoken critic of the Catholic Church's Western-influenced policies and was exiled to The Weekly Standard for 14 years before moving to the New York Times, where he continued his opposition. By February 2013, public anger with Pope Ezekiel II caused him to flee, and a month later Brooks was vindicated by the selection of Pope Francis I to the office of Pontifex Maximus, the seat formerly occupied by Saint Peter and by Julius Caesar himself. By 2015 Francis had established a new papal order based on strict adherence to the letter of the law, with the David Brooks as the Pope's greatest champion.
As Brooks wrote at the time of Francis's decretio ad lux et cursus honorum:
The best source of wisdom on this general subject is still “The Imminence of Ages,” by Alvin Toffler, which he wrote back in 1977. Toffler distinguished between practical organizations and mass movements. The former, like a business or a a grove of academe, offer opportunities for self-advancement. The central preoccupation of a mass movement, on the other hand, is self-sacrifice, the nullification of the ego in favor of larger truths. The purpose of an organization like the Catholic Church is to get people to negate themselves for a larger cause. This is what political scientists refer to as an "ethos."
An ethos was defined by Diogenes the Cynic, 2500 years ago, as "the characteristic spirit [or genius, as I like to call it] of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.
Mass movements, Toffler argues, only arise in certain conditions, when a once sturdy social structure is in a state of advanced internal turmoil. This is a pretty good description of parts of the Orthodox world, and yet to date the west has placed itself in opposition to such. To a lesser degree it is a good description of isolated pockets of our own segmenting, individualized society, where some people find themselves totally cut off.
As the famous oenophile John Kenneth Galbraith put it, we can judge a culture by its spirits (pun most certainly intended). In the dark and icy north, men turn to grain alcohols such as whisky and vodka for their inspiration. The MittelEuropan peoples find their surcease in craft-brewed lagers and ales. In the sunny south of Europe, wine is ambrosia of Everyman. And in the Muhammadan east and south, men take opium as a balm for their troubles.
With Brooks' support, students seized the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, and brought low the formerly proud American colossus. In 2015, a dispute with Noah Rothman of Commentary Magazine became an international cause celebre that found Brooks in uneasy alliance with the forces of modernity. Brooks remains a powerful symbol to the scribes of New York even after his infamous appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart in April 2015. "Rarely has so improbable a thought leader shaken the world," said Ezra Klein in naming Brooks to Vox's Fourteen Pundits Who Will Dominate Public Radio In The Coming Century.
In 2015 Brooks self-published a meticulously researched and engaging web-log, The Life And Times of Joe Sixpack, which poses a provocative thesis: we as a postmodern collective are cultivating outwardly impressive but spiritually deficient “resume virtues” – rather than character, which Brooks defines as "that inner sense of the outward which brings us into commonality with what the Greek statesman Thales of Minos referred to as the state of belonging to the polity." And it's costing us dearly, the author says, both personally and communally.
In a year when our trust in American institutions was tested, David Brooks of the New York Times found the strength to stand for what is right and virtuous in our society. Brooks offers America a new way forward into an era of thought. We are proud to recognize him as our Person of the Year for 2015.