Michael Brooks passed away yesterday. A journalist, comedian, podcaster, and socialist thinker, he was one of the most important young voices on the left. His family has listed the cause as a sudden medical condition.
More than just a partisan, he combined his “dirtbag left” aesthetic with segments on world history, Marxist philosophy, postcolonial thought, and more. Michael’s humor, kindness, and charismatic demeanor were disarming enough to introduce many people to important, globe-trotting ideas.
Michael was an uncompromising advocate for democracy and other socialist ideals across the world. This led him to a strong focus on the legally shaky imprisonment of President Lula of Brazil, which allowed for the triumph of the unhinged quasi-fascist Jair Bolsonero. Michael’s coverage of Brazil was more in-depth than most major outlets. While The Economist praised Bolsonaro as a dangerous populist, but one with good ideas on fiscal policy, Michael was uncompromising in his support for Brazilian democracy. Eventually, he was able to interview Lula after his release from prison.
He understood the allure of online right-wing thinkers like Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, and Sam Harris to young white men. It was the recognition of the power of this cadre of “Intellectual Dark Web” denizens that led him to produce a short book, Against The Web: A Cosmopolitan Answer to the New Right. In it, he argued against Peterson’s advocacy of a return to tradition and Rubin’s shallow libertarianism. They focused too much on insular internet arguments and eschewed real-life catastrophes like climate change, autocracy, and inequality. These issues, Michael wrote, were very real and could only be tackled by an international working-class movement for a humane socialist society.
It was this cosmopolitanism, this drawing from sources across the human experience, that made Michael so special. From Brazil to online discourse, from lectures on Cameroonian philosopher Achilla Mbembe to commenting on the latest NBA game, few modern thinkers had his breadth. “he was more intellectually curious than most socialists I’ve met,” said Bhaskar Sunkara in a tribute piece in Jacobin. “Michael was fascinated by the world and by the movements people built to change it.”
He combined this substantial knowledge base with a warmth and understanding of human flaws. Human beings contained multitudes, and therefore deserved forgiveness and understanding. What was needed, he said, was a mixture of “Machiavelli and spirituality” to tackle the problems of modernity. “He was hungry to cultivate a milieu of people who were both politically committed and loved life,” said Sunkara.
A few weeks ago, Michael joked that he had finished off his bucket list of famous people to interview: Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Slavoj Zizek, President Lula, and more. I’m glad he got to meet his heroes before he passed. Now that he’s gone, I wish I had gotten the chance to meet one of mine.