Beginning with a consideration of David Brooks's popular and influential characterization of modern Americans as "bourgeois bohemians," Lawler paints a picture that is not altogether hopeful. If Brooks and other contemporary social commentators are correct, our elites care about little more than their own psychological and physical comfort. Though they at times still realize that simply being affluent, tolerant, and democratic consumers is not entirely satisfying, their laissez-faire libertarianism leads them to consent to the "alien extermination program" being carried out—for ostensibly humanitarian reasons—under the aegis of biotechnological science. In understated and often ironic prose, Lawler shows how the soft tyranny of the utopian biotechnological project is the logical outcome of, and is supported by, various strands of modern thought, including atheistic scientism, liberal pragmatism, Lockean individualism, and the cult of therapeutic democracy. He demonstrates how, in different ways, the ideas popularized by thinkers lilke Francis Fukayama, Carl Sagan, and Richard Rorty are intended to make us forget that a truly human life is necessarily limited, that we can only live well by accepting the misery, sense of homelessness, and alienation that accompany life as much as do joy and love.
With help from Alexis de Tocqueville and Walker Percy, Lawler offers a defense of the common experience of ordinary men and women in all its harsh ambiguity. Our instinctual opposition to attempts to transform us through chemicals, technology, language, or the machinery of the state is not, as some liberal communitarians think, rooted in a fearful attempt to escape the world, but in a positive affirmation of this world's fundamental goodness and the love, both human and divine, to be found within it. Our souls are not yet lost. But they will be if we refuse to acknowledge that, in this world at least, we are destined to be aliens.