Douthat Reviews Ivy Conservatism
New York Times columnist Ross G. Douthat ’02 discussed the status of college conservatism in front of a packed audience in the Quincy House Junior Common Room last night.
Members of the “motley crew that is Ivy-League conservatism” need to defend their ideology against “the liberal center encompassing the majority of the student body and the administration,” Douthat said.
Reminiscing about his undergraduate years, Douthat recalled an annual conference of conservatives at Harvard and Yale composed of “an ecclectic group of Reaganite Republicans, Catholics lamenting the end of the reign of the House of Stuart, and liberal anarchists.”
Offering advice to conservative undergraduates in attendance, Douthat said that “the job of the American conservative is to explain why they’re right.”
Comparing polls indicating that an increasing number of incoming undergraduates place greater importance on “success” rather than “constructing a philosophy of life,” Douthat concluded that students often work towards success for success’ sake.
“Students often focus too much on sex and money,” Douthat said. “As you get older, the drive for money only increases, while the drive for sex tends to decrease.”
Douthat also criticized Harvard’s General Education curriculum and its Core Curriculum predecessor for not focusing on the “great canon of western thought.”
According to Douthat, political polarization leads many to shy away from choosing specific authors or texts as a required part of a curriculum out of a fear of showing a bias for one culture over another.
Douthat also urged students to take more classes in the humanities—especially those in western civilization, history, and literature.
“Conservative students should take more classes in departments such as English and literature,” he said. “Because these classes are full of some of the most liberal professors on campus, and they will challenge you and force you to justify your views.”
Some of the students in attendance said they appreciated Douthat’s views on campus politics.
“It was really great to hear from someone who was here not so long ago and who is now one of the most important voices in American punditry,” Benjamin B.H. Wilcox ’13 said. “I thought it was great that he challenged conservative students to take classes that challenge their beliefs,” Wilcox added.
“It was important that he discussed how some issues seem much more important on campus than they really are,” Derek J. Bekebrede ’13 said. “Sometimes issues such as conflict in the Middle East and ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ don’t receive as much interest as campus life issues even though they are ultimately much more important.”