October 5th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Oil disruption could mean a sticky patch for Australia

EDITORIAL Gladys Liu controversy ignores reality of China's interference

CANBERRA OBSERVED Water emergency intensifies in Murray-Darling Basin

VICTORIAN AFFAIRS Tolerance Bill aims to 'eliminate' vilification

FUEL SECURITY As Canberra sleeps, all is well ... well ... well

EUTHANASIA An open letter from WA Faith Community Leaders to the Premier and Members of the West Australian Parliament

EUTHANASIA Unsung heroes of the last moments

YOUTH AFFAIRS Tumbler: Where vulnerable youth self-diagnose as autistic and transgender

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Inquiry into the Family Law Act: that misnamed source of misery

PHILOSOPHY The element of justice in economic practice, Part 1 of two parts

CINEMA EXTRA Unplanned: The movie they don't want you to see

OBITUARY A giant of a man has fallen: Hal G.P. Colebatch, 1945-2019

MUSIC Words as music: Bypassing the intellect, straight to the emotions

CLASSIC CINEMA The Wicker Man: Horror by reversal of expectations

BOOK REVIEW David Brooks' search for meaning

BOOK REVIEW Stabbing us in the back

BOOK REVIEW Admired historian dares his memory



Books promotion page

David Brooks' search for meaning

News Weekly, October 5, 2019

THE SECOND MOUNTAIN: The Quest for a Moral Life

by David Brooks

Allen Lane, London
Hardcover: 384 pages
Price: AUD$39.99

Reviewed by Peter Westmore

David Brooks, a well-known American columnist with the New York Times, is a rarity: a social conservative in a world of fashionable left-liberalism.

His informal identification with the Republican Party has not modified his criticism of Donald Trump, the current Republican President, as any­one who has seen his conversations on America’s PBS NewsHour will be aware.

This book is not, however, about politics. It is a deep and provocative examination of the moral crisis of Western society, which places a premium on personal success, social advancement, status and wealth, but ignores the deeper questions related to the purpose of human existence. Hence the subtitle of the book: “The Quest for a Moral Life”.

The first mountain he identifies as the upward quest for personal success. The second mountain, the title of this book, is the true purpose of human existence.


His critique of materialistic Western culture is devastating. He writes: “I now think the rampant individualism of our current culture is a catastrophe. The emphasis on self – individual success, self-fulfilment, individual freedom, self-actualisation – is a catastrophe.

“I now think that living a good life requires a much vaster transformation. It’s not enough to work on your own weaknesses. The whole cultural paradigm has to shift from the mindset of hyper-individualism to the relational mindset of the second mountain.”

Brooks tells us that he came to consider these matters when, in the midst of a career of high achievement, his marriage of 27 years ended in divorce and he was left deeply wounded by the circumstances. These he does not describe, but clearly he felt that he had been at fault. He writes: “The wages of sin are sin.”

But in reflecting on this personal tragedy, he came to the conclusion that he had ignored the higher purpose of human existence. And in reflecting on those people he knew whom he most admired, he concluded that those who climbed that second mountain had made a strong commitment to at least one of the following: a vocation, a spouse and family, a philosophy or faith, and a community.

Drawing on his own life experiences and those of many others, which he chronicles, Brooks sets out to explore how we can climb that second mountain.

He shows how people have found purpose, dignity and excellence in life through each of the four “commitments”: to vocation, marriage, philosophy and faith, and to community building.

One chapter that will interest many readers has the title, “A Most Unexpected Turn of Events”. It is an account of Brooks’ encounter with Christianity.

Growing up in a Jewish household in New York, he understood the Jewish holy books as the anchor which gave meaning to his life, and to that of the Jewish people, even if he considered them to be largely if not entirely myth.

He describes the Jewish ethos of his childhood: “Imagine a better future, build a better future. Don’t let them destroy us. Make it in the promised land.”

He says it was a worldly ethos, but it grew out of a deeper and more eternal one. “We are commanded to co-create the world. We are commanded to complete what God had begun. Our common salvation comes through works and good deeds. Salvation through work. Survival through intelligence.”

Like many young Jewish children, he grew up attending Christian schools and youth camps where he became acquainted with Christianity. He wrote: “I grew up in the late-20th century American version of Judaism, and the late-20th century version of Christianity. I grew up either the most Christiany Jew or the most Jewy Christian, a plight made survivable by the fact I was certain God did not exist, so the whole matter was of only theoretical importance.”

Yet having passed through decades of atheism, his reflective mind kept coming back to the profound truth he recognised in Jesus’ teachings and in his death to redeem mankind from sin.

Speaking of the Sermon on the Mount, Brooks says: “The Beatitudes are the moral sublime, the source of awe, the moral purity that takes your breath away and toward which everything points. In the beatitudes we see the ultimate road map for our lives.”

David Brooks’ journey towards truth is, he tells us, still incomplete. But it is wonderful that a reflective mind can explore the truth, despite the chaos and confusion that we see all around.

Purchase this book at the bookshop:


All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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