Is Trump an “Anti-Enlightenment Man”?

By | 2017-03-08T11:15:55+00:00 March 8th, 2017|
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

David Brooks, one of the New York Times’ in-house “conservatives,” recently attempted to mount an intellectual attack on President Trump. Brooks, you may remember, is the deep thinker who was awestruck by the crease in Barack Obama’s trousers.

The article is a tangle of intellectual confusion. To address them all would probably require an entire semester. I’ll focus on only one.

Brooks attacks Trump with the claim that Trump is an “anti-Enlightenment Man.” To lay the groundwork for his attack, Brooks writes:

America became the test case for the entire Enlightenment project.

In truth, America is the test case only of the American Enlightenment. America could not become the test case, for example, for the French Enlightenment for the simple reason that the French philosophes disagreed fundamentally with the American Founders.

France is the test case for the French Enlightenment, and we all know how that test turned out. The nightmare of the Terror in which France’s political leaders took turns executing each other while simultaneously slaughtering French citizens by the thousands gave way to Napoleon who took the bloodletting beyond France’s borders. Napoleon overran Europe, threatened England, and brought military catastrophe on his own forces by attacking Russia, exactly as Hitler would later do.

The philosophes of the French Enlightenment and the American Founders were contemporaries, as were Washington and Napoleon, but the important point is that the philosophes and the Founders differed about as much as did Washington and Napoleon. The French Enlightenment and the American Enlightenment were related but not similar.

And other countries generated their own versions of the Enlightenment project, each with their own distinct characteristics. Of these, the English and the Scottish Enlightenments are perhaps best known. Consequently, be on the alert whenever anyone makes claims about “the Enlightenment.” It is always appropriate to ask “Which Enlightenment?”

Brooks, you will not be surprised to learn, gets around to identifying globalism and the institutions which are stepping stones to world government with “the Enlightenment” in order to label President Trump as an “anti-Enlightenment man.”

Trump certainly does seek to prevent America from being submerged in a globalist world order that extinguishes everything which has made America the exceptional country it is. By advocating a globalist order on America and the world, one that requires America to un-make the Founders’ design, Brooks is actually the one who is being “anti-Enlightenment.” Brooks seems to be against the American Enlightenment.  Trump, on the other hand, is merely the foe of the globalist establishment. Brooks forgets that being “anti-Establishment” does not make one “anti-Enlightenment.” Quite the opposite, in fact.

President Trump declared he is a “common sense conservative.” We can do a much better job than Brooks of relating Trump to the Enlightenment era by remembering that the American Enlightenment was rooted in common sense. The great American historian Arthur Herman has written that “common sense realism was virtually the official creed of the American Republic.” The Founders, you see, were common sense revolutionaries. The best way to understand common sense conservatism, I believe, is that it is an attempt to conserve the Founders gift to us, the common sense nation they founded.

The most interesting aspect of the Trump phenomenon is that ordinary people of sound common sense were able to recognize Trump for what he is—our chance, perhaps our last chance, to save America from the progressive globalism that holds the Democrats and David Brooks so firmly in its grip and which, sadly, is coming to dominate the Republicans too.

By | 2017-03-08T11:15:55+00:00 March 8th, 2017|

About the Author:

Robert Curry
Robert Curry serves on the Board of Directors of the Claremont Institute and is the author of Common Sense Nation: Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea from Encounter Books. You can preview the book at: He also serves on the Board of Distinguished Advisors for the Ronald Reagan Center for Freedom and Understanding.


  1. AEJ March 8, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Very fine piece, Robert!
    More about the Scottish Enlightenment in future, please!
    Would like to read Brooks’ piece you linked to but NYT expects me to pay them to read their rag; that phrase “cold day in hell” races to the forefront of my mind.

    • Robert Curry March 8, 2017 at 5:58 pm

      Dear AEJ,
      Thank you for your friendly and generous reply.
      As to reading the Brooks piece, I don’t recommend reading it anyway. I read it for you so you don’t have to. It’s terrible.
      I share your interest in the Scottish Enlightenment. My book, it turns out, is outstanding on the SE and simply the best we have on the SE and the American Founding.
      Please consider taking a look at it.
      With best wishes,

  2. BOB✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ March 9, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    Can we just say that David Brooks is the NYT’s “Uncle Tom”? I think we can.

    • Frank March 10, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Ummm… he’s white.

      • BOB✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ March 10, 2017 at 9:20 am

        No kidding, genius.

        • Frank March 10, 2017 at 9:22 am

          Aha. So then you’re not familiar with the origins of the term “Uncle Tom”.

          • BOB✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ March 10, 2017 at 9:29 am

            Look “sarcasm” up, then get back to me, puto.

          • Frank March 10, 2017 at 10:13 am

            The problem with sarcasm is, it only works if your reader knows you’re being sarcastic, and doesn’t simply think you’re an idiot.

          • Brian B March 10, 2017 at 10:06 am

            Apparently you’re not familiar with the fact “Uncle Tom” has attained a generic meaning describing a traitor to his group or cause.

          • Frank March 10, 2017 at 10:12 am

            I’ve just never heard it used — even generically — outside of a racial context. It has a more complex meaning than saying, for example, that someone is a “Benedict Arnold”.

            But hey, I learn something new every day.

  3. Russell Steadman March 10, 2017 at 9:05 am

    i confuse David Brooks with David Brock..I don’t mind being un-enlightened because i don’t read either

    • SaguaroJack49 March 10, 2017 at 11:47 am

      Brock is Brooks going completely off the rails. Brooks is Brock feeling guilty for being a fraud.

  4. Frank March 10, 2017 at 9:08 am

    France is the test case for the French Enlightenment, and we all know how that test turned out.

    True, but when the battles were over, they moved past the bloody part and kept the enlightenment.

    • Robert Curry March 11, 2017 at 8:13 am

      So its defenders claim.
      But they might not be correct, you know.
      Others draw a direct line from the French Revolution to the Bolshevik one, and to the Third Reich. Russia and Germany brought “the bloody part” back in a big way.

      • Frank March 11, 2017 at 8:16 am

        Interesting. I can easily imagine a connection to the Bolsheviks. Not sure about the Nazis.

        • Robert Curry March 11, 2017 at 8:30 am

          If you are interested in following up on the connection to the Nazis, Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism (pp. 12-13 for a quick glance) does a good job on that.

          • Frank March 11, 2017 at 9:08 am

            Ahh. Jonah’s the idiot who started this “fascism is a left wing ideology” BS. No respect for him at all. Nor for his whack-job mother Lucianne.

  5. SaguaroJack49 March 10, 2017 at 11:46 am

    Well said, Mr Curry. I style myself a Classic Liberal and reduce it to “a belief that the system bequeathed us by the Founders is needed more today, as written, than at any time in our history.” Even America has never really lived up to all the ideals in our founding documents, but she has sincerely tried. Done properly, that system involves constantly relooking the founding ideals in light of experience and – you got it – common sense. That’s what the judiciary’s supposed to have been doing all these years that it’s been getting itself (and us) into mischief.

    At any rate, a Classic Liberal usually votes Republican or some brand of Libertarian, and identifies more with capital-C Conservatism than any other extant way of political thinking. That’s because the true anti-American Enlightenment people are Democrats/small-L liberals, who are pushing for the destruction of all that the American Enlightenment achieved.

    • Robert Curry March 10, 2017 at 2:32 pm

      Dear SaguaroJack49,
      Beautifully stated!
      May I recommend that you get hold of my book? You, sir, do not need it for yourself, but I believe you will find it of use with people who are important to you and who could use a good dose of good ol’ American Enlightenment.
      Great to hear from you! We classical Liberals must stick together.
      With all best wishes

  6. Keyser Soze March 10, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Brooks PRETENDS to be a conservative, but everybody knows he’s not, which is why he has ZERO credibility, Brooks is the definition of, A POLITICAL , PERIOD.

  7. nonametoday March 11, 2017 at 12:36 am

    I think Trump is an enlightened man. He is a well-traveled man who worshiped his mother and father, loves his wife, adores his daughters and daughters in law. He is enlightened and David Brooks is light in the loafers, similar to the Kenyan president we just dumped.

  8. Kenny A March 12, 2017 at 9:41 am

    “the French philosophes disagreed fundamentally with the American Founders”

    Which philosophes precisely, and how precisely did these individuals fundamentally disagree with the American revolutionaries?

    “countries generated their own versions of the Enlightenment”

    Not very surprising to find discomfort with Enlightenment cosmopolitanism in an Ultra-Nationalist publication.

  9. […] my recent critique of the Brooks column, I noted that addressing all its confusions might require an entire semester. […]

Comments are closed.