The New York Times’ resident anti-Pagan columnist Ross Douthat didn’t always get paid to write wistfully about the bygone days of the godawful WASP ruling class. He used to write his terrible opinions for free. Douthat got his start at The Harvard Salient, the conservative student newspaper at the Ivy League school where he spent time at as an undergrad from 1998-2002. Since then, those precious columns have remained buried in Harvard’s archives, read only by reactionary rats and cockroaches. Until now.
Earlier this week, Harvard PhD history student Tim Barker used his institutional access to post excerpts from some of the early Douthat pieces in a Twitter thread. And folks... they’re not great.
Douthat’s early work includes: a defense of Chilean fascist Augusto Pinochet; a comparison between abortion activists and “rapists and wife beaters”; panic over rage-filled rape survivors coming to cut off men’s penises; a warning that pedophilia could be the next sexual orientation embraced by liberals; a hand-wringing assertion that “whites, too, suffered under slavery”; and uh, whatever this is.
The most damning of the excerpts posted by Barker is from a piece in which Douthat compared Arab and African immigrants to the barbarians who sacked the Roman Empire in antiquity.
“Today, it is the Africans and Arabs who are creeping in, despite the resistance of the ‘native’ Europeans (witness the rise of the Austrian Right),” he wrote. “The decline of modern Europe... has reached its logical conclusion: the Europeans themselves are vanishing... the continent of the next millennium will belong to different, hungrier peoples.”
We reached out to Douthat to ask whether he stands behind these sentiments. He responded as follows:
I reconsider things I wrote last month, let alone twenty years ago. But I’d rather not establish a precedent that writers should repent every time someone in the internet digs up something offensive or stupid they wrote in college. Instead I’ll say that I spent some time at Harvard trying to be a particular kind of right-wing provocateur, and the campus resolutely refused to be provoked. In the absence of any kind of freak-out, I was forced to think harder about the world and work harder on my writing, and I became – or at least I hope I became – a better, more decent, and more interesting grown-up writer than I might otherwise have been. I think there is possibly a lesson here for the age of Twitter.
On the surface, this sounds reasonable—whom amongst us was not an idiot from ages 18 to 20? (Most of us managed to refrain from being “provocative” by writing weird panegyrics for murderous dictators, though.)
Most of the time, though, if people are forgiven for their past mistakes, it’s because they have demonstrated growth. It’s because their history since the time of the “mistake” demonstrates that it wasn’t a part of their essential character, or if it was, that their character has changed in the intervening years. It also helps to disavow those past beliefs, which Douthat refused to do when we presented him with the opportunity. (We asked twice).
Douthat implies in his statement to Splinter that the ideas presented in his Harvard columns were meant to provoke, rather than representing his sincere beliefs. But that defense is hard to reconcile with his recent work: the sentiments Douthat expressed in the Salient can easily be found in his Times columns.
For example, his views on shifting European demographics don’t seem to have changed much since 2000. Douthat may no longer call Africans “barbarians,” but he certainly continues to suggest that Africa’s high birth rate poses a danger to Europe’s way of life. In a column published just two months ago, he wrote:
An Afrophobia that a decade ago was confined to white-identitarians is likely to become an obsession of Europe’s technocratic center as well as its nationalist parties... anyone who hopes for something other than destabilization and disaster from the Eurafrican encounter should hope for a countervailing trend, in which Europeans themselves begin to have more children.
His views on feminism have remained steadfastly regressive, too. During the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Douthat wrote in the Times that the controversy over the judge’s alleged sexual assaults could be blamed on the rise of secularism and sex-positive feminism, which he believes have fostered a lack of morality in American society. Feminism, he writes, “would be more realistic if it could acknowledge that crucial differences between men and women aren’t just an artifact of sexism, and that the costs that promiscuity imposes and the unhappiness it breeds might actually be woven into the deeper natures of how both sexes love and mate and reproduce.” Feminists’ unwillingness to see these differences, he believes, has led to depravity we witnessed during the hearings. (None of it, of course, is the fault of Kavanaugh himself.)
Ross is also still terrified of feminists seeking justice for rape survivors—he’s decried “rape tribunals” at universities as being the result of young people so overwhelmed by modern sexual freedom that they can’t distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual sex. And then there’s the men who get no sex at all (also the fault of libertinism run amok, apparently): in a notorious column from this May, he entertained the ideas of wacko economist Robin Hanson, who has argued for “sexual redistribution” to combat violence by incels. Woof.
And finally, there’s the gays, on whom Douthat’s views here have remained... you guessed it, steadfastly conservative. As late as 2010, he was arguing against gay marriage. And a year ago, in a piece about the homophobic baker’s Supreme Court case, Douthat wrote that religious conservatives’ fear of gay marriage was warranted, as its legalization instigated “a sweeping legal campaign against the sexual revolution’s dissidents.” He also suggested that the liberal insistence on gay rights was one of the reasons Trump won.
Since his days at Harvard, Douthat has learned how to dress his beliefs up in language that’s acceptable to your average Times reader. But when that language is stripped away, those beliefs—like those of many Never Trumpers—appear to be a lot closer to those held by the current administration than Douthat might like to admit.
The reality is that all the evidence points to Douthat’s college “provocations” being no such thing—the same views he professed back then still underpin the ideology that he espouses today. As such, it’s no surprise he doesn’t regret expressing these opinions—what he does seem to regret is that people have found them, and want to talk about them.
Sure, we all do dumb things when we’re younger, but not many of us turn those “mistakes” into a lucrative career. If we do, it’s hard to say they were really mistakes at all.