David Brooks wrote what I thought of as one of his strangest editorials last month and I didn’t get around to commenting on it. Titled “A Case of Mental Courage,” it led off with a gruesome story about a woman about 200 years ago having a mastectomy without anesthesia. When I started the article, I thought he was going to go from that to how good health care is today, even for poor people. But noooo. He somehow gets from that to Larry Summers being virtuous in some way. I’ve read the article a couple of times and I still don’t get it.

But Ed Crane, the president of the Cato Institute had a great response last week. I think he understood Brooks better than I did. His piece is short. Here’s the last paragraph:

We should celebrate the fact that the pursuit of happiness is primarily an individualistic pursuit — something that rubs against the grain of neoconservatism. Some years back, Brooks wrote, “ultimately American purpose can find its voice only in Washington…individual ambition and willpower are channeled into the cause of national greatness. And by making the nation great, individuals are able to join their narrow concerns to a larger national project.” That philosophy, of course, was tried a couple of times in the 20th century and found a bit wanting. Especially if you count the tens of millions of human beings who died because of it. On the other hand, they did suffer.

The whole thing is worth reading.