Douthat has always stood apart from the crowd. As the sole Republican in a “staunch, hardline-Democrat family”, he formed his conservative worldview from an early age as “a way of rebelling against my parents”.
Douthart recalls that his reputation in high school was as “the guy who people could always count on for a political debate on abortion”.
As the editor of the oft-maligned conservative newspaper The Harvard Salient, and author of a weekly column in The Crimson, Douthat didn’t change his tune upon arrival at Harvard. Not one to shy away from controversy, Douthat writes over 3000 words of copy each week, rallying against almost every keystone of the Harvard liberal ideology, ranging from the living wage to homosexuality. Douthat has even claimed that the Academy Awards are the product of “left of left wing politics”, an accusation that suggests he garners more than a little mischievous pleasure from the act of intellectual provocation.
Rooming with only one other conservative in a group of eight, Douthat, while fervent in his own beliefs, couldn’t survive without the thrill of conflicting perspectives. “Sometimes its difficult socially, but it means you just have to make more of an effort to make friends, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” he says. He admits that “At parties, when people find out I am the editor the Salient, there are always lots of groans...but as a writer, I find being a conservative a liberating thing because you are the only one saying something from that viewpoint.”
Despite the blaze of controversy that invariably follows him, Douthat prefers to take a philosophical, somewhat detached viewpoint. “I regard myself as a conservative in the aesthetic sense,”he muses. Expanding on this, Douthart tells how, in a creative writing class at Harvard, he wrote a novella about a student who was “allergic to technology—he ended up having to type his essays on a manual typewriter, and fell into this collection of people soured with modernity.” Douthat admits that, like his protagonist, he possesses “a vague dissatisfaction with modern life...I have always romanticized the past and that shows up in my politics”. Indeed, his room is adorned with posters of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe - stars from Hollywood’s glamour heyday - as well as a towering tribute to Gladiator. “I think that Russell Crowe’s evocation of manhood is something all men should aspire to”, he explains, “particularly when there are such obvious parallels between Rome and the United States, with the combination of splendor and decadence of Empire.”
Looking back on his illustrious Harvard career, Douthat surprisingly mentions his social accomplishments before talking about pieces he’s written. “I am most proud of the fact that I have made—and kept—friends, in spite of the fact that my public persona is to disagree with everyone here.” At once, this statement demonstrates the enigma that is Douthat; equal parts self-assured philosopher, edgy politician, and aspiring author, he is ultimately far too thoughtful not to take the hype surrounding his persona without a grain of proverbial salt.