David Brooks: “Social freedom is not a good feeling”

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When politicians start talking about the meaning of life they often come unstuck. From Gordon Brown’s aborted British values project to Cameron’s doomed Big Society agenda, when our political leaders stray away from economics into questions of what gives a person a sense of belonging or purpose, they often sound absurd, and sometimes sinister. Generally they fail. But since the vote for Brexit, these questions have returned once again into the political mainstream. It seems they can’t be ignored.

David Brooks, perhaps the New York Times’ most famous political columnist, addresses them in his latest book, The Second Mountain. With it, he has turned from the political to this more personal, spiritual territory. The experience of his own mid-life crisis, he says, has given him insight into both individual and societal renewal – how we can identify and climb a second ‘mountain’ of life after losing heart in the first.

I met him in London to discuss whether his version of a society founded on community and commitment could ever translate into political reality: