Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt (New York: HarperCollins, 2019), 256pp.
A review by Brad Keister, former Deputy Division Director of the Physics Division for the National Science Foundation.
Arthur Brooks is completing a ten-year run as the president of the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, from which he is about to move to an appointment at the Harvard Kennedy School and Business School. He is a frequent columnist with major publications. Prior to that, he was a classical musician, which included a time with the City Orchestra of Barcelona.
The title that Brooks, a Catholic, has chosen for this book may lead Christian readers to ask what’s new about a directive from Jesus given two millennia ago. But the perspective of this book is not a religious argument, but rather Brooks’ attempt to step into our highly polarized society. His claim is that a deliberate strategy to love one’s enemies is both desperately needed, and that it works.
Brooks argues that the most dangerous aspect of our divisive society is not disagreement, but contempt. In a culture of contempt, there is no space for a conversation. To illustrate its toxicity, Brooks notes research by the psychologist John Gottman, who can predict in advance of marriage with 94% accuracy which couples will divorce within three years, on the basis of signs of contempt that partners show one another.
Brooks urges us to seek out friends with whom we will likely disagree, and do the hard work of listening and building respect with them. He cites the friendship of two professors at Princeton — Robby George and Cornel West — who disagree deeply on nearly every issue, yet maintain a level of respect that they can model for their students, and that is more important than all their disagreements.
The book concludes with five rules of behavior toward counteracting the culture of contempt. Brooks himself is no stranger to controversy, and his opinions on many subjects are quite clear. But he sees an imperative beyond his own views or those of anyone else. Both the imperative and the difficulty of the task ahead is summed up in his final sentence: “You are now entering mission territory.”
Dan Clendenin: email@example.com