clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ross Douthat on Lord of the Rings conservatism, Donald Trump, and writing for liberals

One of the questions I get a lot is which political writers I try to read regularly. A mainstay on that list is New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.

I don't always agree with Ross. But that's one reason I find reading him so valuable — he's a thoughtful and fair political analyst who comes at issues from a very different vantage point than I do. And I admire him for developing a rare skill in this hyperpolarized age — he's exceptionally good at writing for an audience that doesn't agree with him in a way that doesn't permanently alienate them.

I sat down with Ross recently for a wide-ranging conversation that touched on his background as a campus conservative, how he writes for a mostly liberal audience, why he's thankful for Donald Trump, what he sees as the Democratic Party's internal divisions, and how he thinks J.R.R. Tolkien conservatism differs from Ayn Rand conservatism. You can download the full thing on iTunes (or wherever you download your podcasts from) or listen on SoundCloud:

Not convinced? Here are a few highlights:

1) On J.R.R. Tolkien conservatives and Ayn Rand conservatives: "The J.R.R. Tolkien path is where you find your way through cultural conservatism. His perspective is deeply, culturally conservative — and deeply suspicious of industrialization.

"It literally is the opposite of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which is: ‘The railroads are the most amazing thing human beings have ever done.’ In Middle Earth, railroads are the things orcs would build while tearing up all the beautiful ancient trees."

2) On learning to write for a mostly liberal audience: "I have spent my entire life surrounded by people who disagree with me. … I have almost always been in environments where I have been one of the few conservatives, and one of the few conservatives who has my distinctive cocktail of ideas."

3) On the internal conflict within conservatism: "There’s always this tension between this sort of small-c kind of conservatism that says, ‘These programs exist, they have their problems, they work reasonably well in some cases … but you can’t tear them up and start afresh, because that would be un-small-c conservative.

"And then there’s the sort of more ideologically side of conservatism, which says: ‘No, these programs were built by our enemies, and we should not be imprisoned by the vision of Wilson, FDR, and LBJ.’"

4) On why reform conservatism has developed an extremely hawkish foreign policy: "The critique of reform conservatives from the right is that we’re just sort of right-wing social engineers who don’t believe sufficiently in the power of liberty. And whether that critique is fair or not, it does get at an important point — which is that reform conservatives tend to be conservatives who think government can do things, and that government policies can do things that make the country a better place.

"So when you translate that into foreign policy, it maybe isn’t completely surprising that conservatives who are a little more comfortable with an active government at home are a little more comfortable with the active social engineering approach abroad."

5) On the possibility of the Democratic Party following the Republican Party into an ideological crack-up: "Can you be a party of the liberal rich, the young, left-wing Sanders vote, and the party of this multicultural America — especially of the kind that’s emerging in the South and West?"

You can find the full interview here, and subscribe to all our podcasts here!

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.