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A Reply to David Brooks' Column "What Is Your Purpose?"

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) May 5, 2015: No doubt the Canadian-born (in 1961) commentator David Brooks is an inner-directed person. Like other inner-directed persons involved in the anti-60s movement conservatism over the last half century or so, he suffers a deep nostalgia for supposedly good old days in American culture before the 1960s -- in other words, before he was born.

Even though inner-directed persons appear to be substantially over-represented among movement conservatives in the United States, many American progressives and liberals may also be inner-directed persons.

Nevertheless, movement conservatism has thrived by spreading anti-60s propaganda. By contrast, progressives and liberals have failed to counter their anti-60s propaganda.

For a discussion of the anti-60s rhetoric deployed by American conservatives nostalgic about the 1950s, see Philip Jenkins' book DECADE OF NIGHMARES: THE END OF THE SIXTIES AND THE MAKING OF EIGHTIES AMERICA (2006).

In my first e-book, WALTER J. ONG: ON HOW AND WHY THINGS ARE THE WAY THEY ARE (2015), which is available at, I have countered movement conservatism's anti-60s propaganda.


In Brooks' column "What Is Your Purpose?" in the New York Times (dated May 5, 2015), he selectively reviews how things were in American culture "[a]s late as 50 years ago" -- 50 years ago, Brooks turned 4 years old.

Of course Brooks' column "What Is Your Purpose?" is designed to promote his new book THE ROAD TO CHARACTER (2015) and the website he has set up to promote it.

So from Brooks' own personal experience of life in American culture, he may know something about how certain things have been in American culture since he turned 4 in 1965. But he is deeply nostalgic for how things were in American culture before he was born. In other words, roughly coincident with his birth in 1961, things in American culture turn a turn for the worse. So perhaps his birth in Canada was symbolically a bad omen for American culture, eh?

In any event, my purpose in life is to call attention to and promote Walter J. Ong's thought, which I will draw on in the present essay to respond to Brooks' concerns about American culture over the last 50 years or so.

Now, Brooks says, "Some of these authority figures [in American culture as late as 50 years ago] were public theologians. Reinhold Niebuhr was on the cover of Time magazine."

But in his entire column, Brooks does not mention even one Roman Catholic. But the Roman Catholic theologian John Courtney Murray, S.J., was also once on the cover of Time magazine. He could also be described as a public intellectual who emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, as could the American-born Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003), and the Canadian-born Catholic convert Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), both of whom played a role in the intellectual ferment of the 1960s in American culture.

As late as 50 years ago, the Canadian-based commentator Marshall McLuhan was a rising star in American culture, mostly as the result of his books THE GUTENBERG GALAXY: THE MAKING OF TYPOGRAPHIC MAN (1962) and UNDERSTANDING MEDIA: EXTENSIONS OF MAN (1964).

In the time-frame of as late as 50 years ago, both Fr. Murray and the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Roman Catholic Church would fit into the time-frame. Thanks in large part to Murray, Vatican II decisively changed the church's odious teachings that Paul Blanshard had criticized in his books AMERICAN FREEDOM AND CATHOLIC POWER (2nd ed., 1958; 1st ed., 1949) and COMMUNISM, DEMOCRACY, AND CATHOLIC POWER (1951).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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