TO THOSE AMERICANS who reveled in our independence on the July 4th holiday, David Brooks offers a subtle retort: Freedom sucks.
He actually says these words in his fifth book, “The Second Mountain,” but don’t let that red-white-and-blue hair stand up on the back of your neck. Brooks is targeting a different freedom, one Americans used to seek a self-centered, purposeless destiny unencumbered by communal ties.
The conservative pundit has surveyed the cultural and moral structures of this nation’s society and doesn’t like what he sees. Americans are full of self-preoccupation, primarily driven by the hyper-individualism that originated in the latter half of last century. It’s time, he stresses, for a radical reboot, for Americans to emerge from safe zones and tribal enclaves and recommit to others.
Thus is his theory of the Second Mountain. The First Mountain is the one we climb in seeking money, material, status and self-satisfaction. Once conquered, we’re surprised to discover summiting this peak is a hallow achievement; it fails to fill the yearning in our collective souls. It’s not uncommon, he writes, for First Mountain climbers to tumble down its backside into the valley.
It’s the ascent of the Second Mountain where Americans can find long-sought contentment, Brooks argues. The journey forces travelers to shed their shells; engage with friends, neighbors and even strangers; and learn that giving and sharing will bring the sheer joy they seek.
This book was inspired by Weave: The Social Fabric Project, Brooks’ program run through the nonpartisan think tank Aspen Institute. Through this, Brooks has toured the nation over the past five years, meeting with what he calls “the weavers”: selfless individuals who take it upon themselves to assist their communities in small ways that promote big changes. It’s his retelling of these small stories of success that make this book.
Those who’ve read Brooks’ columns in The New York Times or have seen him speak on PBS or in lectures can expect the same kind of thoughtful narrative here that he shows in those forums. Brooks is candid about his own foibles that led him to write this book, and chapters where he endorses marriage and faith for their sake alone may give some readers pause.
Still, in an era where it seems all Americans exist in lockdown mode, it’s refreshing to let Brooks show the reader another side of the nation, one that includes calm, selfless Samaritans who greet all with open arms.