The Ring-Bearer

Why Ross Douthat, The New York Times’ wunderkind columnist is on a quest to save intellectual conservatism.

  1. Ross Douthat doesn’t know what to say. The 30-year-old, whose elevation to the New York Times op-ed page last spring makes him one of America’s most visible conservative columnists, sits across from me at a Thai restaurant near the Times’ Washington, DC, bureau. He is struggling to explain his position on gay marriage—to me, to himself. “Gay marriage? I’m…” He pauses, groping for the right words. “I’m opposed to gay marriage but do not…” He pauses again, looking genuinely vexed, as if anything he says will come out wrong.

    Which may be why Douthat (pronounced “DOW-thut”) has opted not to write about the subject. Not in the Times, anyway, and only in passing during his stint as a researcher, editor, and blogger for The Atlantic—his only other employer since he graduated from Harvard College in 2002. “You either intuitively believe certain things about cultural change or you don’t,” he finally says. “And it may just be I intuitively believe those things”—that marriage is between a man and a woman—“because they dovetail with my own theological premises about the nature of sex.” And so, in this important cultural debate, Douthat has chosen silence: “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.”

    And so we know at least three t...

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