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Conservatism’s Last Best Hope

February 1, 2010

Ross Douthat is possibly the last of a dying breed: the conservative intellectual. There are, of course, intellectuals at the margins of conservatism. These include your libertarian Nick Gillespies, and your religiously conservative, back-to-the-land Rod Drehers. (I am somewhat enamored with the latter breed.) But among mainstream neocons, even the intellectually gifted (e.g. Michael Medved) must sacrifice their insights at the altar of the Republican party’s corrupt leadership.

Having just read a Mother Jones piece on Douthat, I admire him, a voice crying out in the wilderness of militarism and capitalistic excess, all the more. True, he continues to oppose gay marriage — a position that no one has, to my knowledge, managed to coherently defend. But, unlike conservatives content to merely affirm the “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman” tautology, Douthat exercises restraint amidst doubt:

One way to think about this is, I am not comfortable making arguments against gay marriage to my gay friends,” he says. “And if you’re not comfortable making arguments against gay marriage to your gay friends, you shouldn’t be comfortable making them to anybody, probably, so I don’t tend to make them.”

As a Catholic, I understand Douthat’s insistence on fidelity to a Church that possesses, in so many other respects, such penetrating and enduring wisdom. But he seems to sense what I also sense: that the Church’s position on contraception and gay marriage is simply untenable.

Douthat also gets that it’s not pro-life to ban abortion without addressing its underlying conditions. Douthat tells Mother Jones that he would favor a blanket ban on abortion, but adds that such a ban would require “radical experimentation with the welfare state” and likely “a lot of new welfare agencies of one kind or another,” plus orphanages and an expanded “network of crisis pregnancy centers.” Ditto that.

Douthat may be conservatism’s last best hope. If it can keep him.

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