Word is official that the Atlantic’s Ross Douthat will get the coveted Times Op-Ed slot left vacant by Bill Kristol. Notwithstanding my desire to see more women on Op-Ed pages (and in the pages of the Nation!) I think this fantastic choice. I consider Ross a friend, so you can take this with a grain of salt, but he’s genuinely principled and thoughtful. He’s a very fine writer, and always interesting to read. He believes in a lot of things I think are misguided or, particularly on social issues, just flat out, irredeemably wrong. But that’s the nature of political disagreement, and Ross’ particular brand of conservatism really is both difficult to precisely classify and genuinely, deeply, "conservative" in the sense that it carries with a kind of wistful sorrow at the fallenness of the modern world. Here’s an excerpt of a review I wrote of his first book:
But what permeates the book is a sense that the Harvard he had expected to be a "scholarly island, a place in the world, but not of it, like the monasteries whose power and dignity universities long ago usurped" is instead a kind of glorified pre-professional school where students are caught in the adult rat-race before they even turn 20. If meritocracy is a parody of democracy, as the Christopher Lasch epigram that opens the book reads, then Harvard, in Douthat’s view, mirrors our money- and power-obsessed society: students climb over each other to gain acceptance to exclusive clubs, embezzle student association funds and even engage in campaign finance violations during student elections, followed by a full-out Clinton-style impeachment frenzy. All of this, Douthat argues, is the result of a school culture that, like the culture at large, worships success above all else. Because the entire ethos of Harvard, from its administrators to its students to the author himself, is so caught up in the pursuit of worldly success, Douthat fears the living wage movement was "trying to put a Band-Aid on a machete wound–a wound that wasn’t Harvard’s bottom-line mentality but an entire system of selfishness in which our university was just a small wheel turning within larger ones."
I think this captures what I like best about Douthat: his conservatism has within it a healthy skepticism for many of the trappings of modern capitalist society.