PLAYBOY: Then what changed?
BROOKS: As a freshman in college, I was assigned Reflections on the Revolution in France, by Edmund Burke. At first I loathed it. Burke says you’re unwise to think you can think for yourself, and you have to show reverence for the things that have lasted. As a college freshman, you don’t want to hear that. As I read more, I came to see that that was true. Next, after college I worked as a reporter in Chicago, covered some bad neighborhoods and fell out of love with liberal welfare programs, which I thought enabled the drug culture and the breakup of families.
PLAYBOY: How so? Liberals claim that’s exactly what they were trying to fix by taking on poverty.
BROOKS: One of the programs involved the replacement of slum neighborhoods by good-natured people who didn’t understand that when they tore down slums, they were tearing down social networks. They created horrible places. It was bad social planning. In the meantime, the family came under attack in the 1970s, and there was an idea that bourgeois institutions were part of some old reactionary culture, which I didn’t believe. A lot of damage was done by that. Democrats don’t talk that way now, but at the time there was a sense that we should try to get as many people on welfare as possible, and we shouldn’t worry about old family structures.
PLAYBOY: Are you critical of the sexual revolution that also defined that time?
BROOKS: Overall it was a good thing but bad for those who didn’t have structures within which to police themselves.
BROOKS: The part that was bad was the attack on the family. That was a loss for most people but a tragedy for people who have no positive life script.
PLAYBOY: A life script that would have them do what?
BROOK: You go to high school, you get married, you have a kid. The life script got changed: You have a kid and then maybe later you get married. That was a horrible change.
PLAYBOY: Why was it horrible?
BROOKS: If you grew up like I did, there was a set of guardrails. There was a social structure surrounding you, guiding you pretty much in the right direction. Now a lot of people live with no social structure, no guardrails, and it’s a lot harder. They have to figure it out as they go, and they’re set up for problems. They think, Well, I’ve got to make some money, have a job, establish myself, then I’ll get married. That’s a screwed-up life script. You should get married first and then establish yourself.
PLAYBOY: Isn’t that simply part of an old-fashioned and restrictive value system?
BROOKS: But there’s value in the old structures. They evolved for a reason. Marriage offers a kind of stability that can help you, whatever else you do. It’s a foundation. Part of the reason people struggle so much now is because they don’t have that foundation.