The next chapter in David Brooks' The Road to Character is surprisingly about St. Augustine. For a book that had mostly focused on early and mid-twentieth century Americans, this seemed strange. He never explains why he discusses Augustine, but it seems to be because he views the philosopher and saint as one of the creators of the worldview being explored in the book.
The one interesting point about Augustine which I had not quite heard this way before is that his story is a "renunciation of the whole ethos of self-cultivation." Brooks explains, "He came to conclude that the way to inner joy is not through agency and action, it's through surrender and receptivity to God."
Brooks had been discussing the sin of pride, and guess who his paradigm example of pride is? Donald Trump. This book was published in 2015, and according to the acknowledgements took 4 1/2 years to write, so likely this paragraph was written well before Trump ran for president:
Pride can come in bloated form. This is the puffed-up Donald Trump style of pride. This person wants people to see visible proof of his superiority. He wants to be on the VIP list. In conversation, he boasts, he brags. He needs to see his superiority reflected in other people's eyes. He believes that this feeling of superiority will eventually bring him peace.
One of the many things that surprised me the last two years was that anyone took Trump seriously. I had always viewed him as a buffoon. A rich buffoon who gaudy decor, bad fashion sense, and outsized ego could be entertaining in small doses. What a shock to discover that a large number of people thought of him as a serious businessman with insights on public policy!
Of course we really discovered that he wasn't an entertaining buffoon at all but a moral reprobate and incredibly dangerous person.
Another insight from Brooks' chapter on Augustine is this about the current fixation on the "fear of missing out."
Augustine's feeling of fragmentation has its modern corollary in the way many contemporary young people are plagued by a frantic fear of mission out. The world has provided them with a superabundance of neat things to do. Naturally, they hunger to seize every opportunity and taste every experience. They want to grab all the goodies in front of them. They want to say yes to every product in the grocery store. They are terrified of missing out on anything that looks exciting. But by not renouncing any of them they spread themselves thin. What's worse, they turn themselves into goodie seekers, greedy for every experience and exclusively focused on self. If you live in this way, you turn into a shrewd tactician, making a series of cautious semicommitments without really surrendering to some larger purpose. You lose the ability to say a hundred noes for the sake of one overwhelming and fulfilling yes.
The previous post in this series discussed how love reorients the soul.