I missed this insightful talk by David Brooks this summer at the Aspen Ideas Festival. The talk is entitled “The Character Code.” Here’s the abstract:

We’re in a world full of good people, but who don’t have a clear vocabulary for character.  We don’t have a moral system. Here, David Brooks puts forth Western civilization’s ancient recipe for being a better person—and how we forgot it.

Essentially, Brooks argues that the Western character code is a hybrid of the Greek honor model (excellence, competitiveness, pride) and the Judeo-Christian model (obedience, self-abnegation, humility).

I think he ignores the cultural ubiquity of the honor code. He suggests for instance that chivalry was an attempt to combine classical “Greek” honor values with Christian ones, when in fact a devotion to the honor code was quite indigenous among the Pagan Europeans the medieval Christians were trying to covert, as writers from Tacitus to William Ian Miller and George Fenwick Jones point out. Nonetheless, this is a very interesting talk. You can find the transcript here.