New York Times columnist and conservative author Ross Douthat visited the University of Dallas for his third time in four years this Thursday for a casual meet and greet with students in the Rathskeller before speaking at a dinner hosted by the American Public Philosophy Institute (APPI) at the Dallas Country Club.
It was easy to spot the columnist as I walked into the Rat a few moments after the meet and greet had begun, not because he stood out — his tan jacket over a tieless blue button-down made him indistinguishable from any philosophy professor — but because he was the only unfamiliar face in the small group of politics majors, journalism students and politics professor Dr. Christopher Wolfe, president of the APPI.
I sat down and found myself in the middle of a conversation about whether Jaws or Schindler’s List was a better movie. At a lull in the conversation, I mentioned I had written an article last semester about an article Douthat had published in the New York Times.
“Oh no,” Douthat quickly responded. “Which one?”
Douthat explained that he publishes articles twice a week. He never knows which article is going to be the controversial one.
“[Without fail], every 72 hours a twitter hailstorm ensues,” Douthat said.
Ross seemed comfortable at the university, an observation that was confirmed by his statement that, “[The] University of Dallas is the least decadent university.”
Douthat did have a few critiques of our Core, though.
Movies, for example, should be a part of UD’s Core, he said, because they were the primary art form for a long time.
“Novels and films have been the most recent forms, but film lasted longer than novels,” he said.
It was then decided that Jaws should be added to the Core as it is the “perfect movie.”
At the APPI dinner, it was once again easy to find the columnist, not because he fit in, but because his tan jacket and tieless button-down gave away the journalist inside of him in a room full of Dallas conservatives in black-tie dress.
Douthat’s talk was titled, “Stagnation or Rebirth? America and the West in a Decadent Age.” Douthat suggested this talk is only a rough draft, since it is based on an idea for a book he has not yet written.
He outlined the ways in which the western world, and specifically the United States, is showing signs of decadence in technology, politics and culture
He compared the technological advancements of today to those of the 1960s — specifically, the space race and moon landing. He pointed out the stagnating effect special interest groups have on government, specifically the legislative branch that hardly legislates anymore.
He discussed how elite colleges are taking the elite out of their hometowns and condensing them in places like Harvard, where they will later join other condensed elite groups. This leaves populus parties struggling because they aren’t able to execute their agenda and really don’t even know what their agenda is.
As an example, he pointed to the Brexit movement’s members who were forced to turn to a leader who didn’t even support their movement.
He discussed how declining birth rates mean the population is getting older. Aging societies don’t like to take risks, which causes a literal drag on economic growth.
He discussed how the Christian debates of 1972 are hardly different from the Christian debates of today, pointing to a religious intellectual stalemate. He pointed out that “Star Wars,” a genius movie of its time, is still the movie franchise in theaters today. We are stuck making remakes instead of thinking of original ideas.
Douthat ended on what he called an optimistic note. Since the age of technology has created virtual realities, people are too complacent with twitter wars and internet porn to create chaos in the streets. This means we could maintain our decadent culture for maybe hundreds of years, Douthat said.
However, Douthat offered hope for a cultural revival in the future through Christianity. He pointed out that religion is often the point of revival in a society and imagined us in a similar moment.
The Bible told us to fill the earth and subdue it, and we certainly have done that.
“I’m not saying aliens are going to descend if Christ is coming back, but if something crazy happens in 100 years, in hindsight, we should have seen it coming,” Douthat said.