David Brooks, a political journalist and commentator on PBS Newshour, made an appearance at Manhattanville College on Tuesday for the inaugural Castle Conversations lecture of 2016. As a distinguished conservative voice for The New York Times, Brooks took advantage of the current political climate with the ongoing presidential campaign to discuss, well, absolutely nothing pertaining to politics.
In a twist that caught even the closest Brooks followers off guard, the names Trump, Sanders, or Clinton weren’t heard until the Q&A that followed. Instead, Brooks took the evening to discuss which virtues he believes our society values most, and how we can work towards a morally supportive society in the future: topics he focuses on in his most recent book, The Road to Character.
The voice behind the widely read political column was soft, reverberating easily throughout the cavernous chapel found in Manhattanville’s Reid Castle.
At the onset of his lecture, Brooks created a distinction between “résumé” virtues and “eulogy” virtues (think economic versus moral, or success versus charity) and argued that our society places those of the résumé above all else. However, these virtues rarely contribute to true happiness. Instead, Brooks implored us to focus on building our own moral character in order to move towards a society that encourages our children—through art, community, and “beautiful experiences”—to seek depth of character in their own lives.
“We can shoot for something higher than happiness,” said Brooks. “We have a chance to take advantage of everyday occasions to build virtue in ourselves and be of service to the world.”
Following Brooks’ lecture, the audience was given a chance to ask questions of their own. Like the lecture, most questions strayed away from Brooks’ turf of political commentary, and focused on educating our youth. One audience member asked Brooks what he might include on a reading list were he to teach a freshman level course.
“I would stick to the classics—Shakespeare, Aristotle, Plato. These help show the depth of human emotion,” said Brooks. “When you’re 45, and your mom or dad dies, you remember what suffering feels like, you remember the pain of that Shakespeare character.”
A notable question of the night came from an audience member who wanted Brooks to answer the following question as a proxy for Donald Trump: “Why do you want to be President?”
“I assume he’s being motivated by humility, and virtue,” Brooks joked.