Home / General / On Douthat’s Reactionary Mind

On Douthat’s Reactionary Mind


I had been meaning to get to Douthat’s argument about how requiring employer-provided health care packages to provide coverage for contraceptives is the death knell of civil society or something. Fortunately, I was procrastinating we got some classic long-form Holbo on the subject. There’s no such thing as one key passage — it’s all great — but I’ll arbitrarily highlight this line of argument:

[Corey Robin] digs up fun quotes from old, odd sources.

“In order to keep the state out of the hands of the people,” wrote the French monarchist Louis de Bonald, “it is necessary to keep the family out of the hands of women and children.” (15)


Douthat, being a much kinder, gentler De Bonald, would only apply the principle in small ways, to certain traditional sex roles and social hierarchies. He thinks a semi-subordinate status for women, where reproductive stuff is concerned, seems right. But he wouldn’t want to put it that way, because it sounds bad. There should be some way of making out how really the issue is freedom and community. That is to say, Robin is basically right about the way Douthat thinks and argues.

This is a crucial point. Obviously, neither Douthat nor the religious officials resisting this particular regulation deny that as long as we’re going to have a private insurance system largely provided by employers who receive tax benefits, there has to be extensive regulation ensuring that this insurance is actually worth something to people who get sick. There’s no broader principle of liberty being breached by the Obama administration’s regulation. Reproductive health is an important component of health care and it’s logical that employers be required to provide it if they want the tax advantages that come with providing insurance. (And remember that were talking about religious organizations performing the secular function of employers here; for better or worse, for example, the Supreme Court unanimously held just this month that religious organizations qua religious organizations are exempt from civil rights law.) It’s not a coincidence that the one exemption that is being sought happens to involve the subordination of women, and involves invoking a “principle” so essential to the faith that it has been overwhelmingly rejected by practicing Roman Catholics. Even leaving aside the highly unattractive vision that places “community” above gender equity and liberty, what we’re talking about here is a Potemkin “community” — trying to impose anachronistic, reactionary views on birth control on lay Catholics who by and large don’t believe in them.

Obviously, it’s a very good thing that these feeble arguments failed.

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  • Malaclypse

    Coincidentally, about an hour ago, I had someone in my office who wanted to know what it would cost to add her boyfriend to her health plan. I got to discuss how the answer would be different depending on their marital status, and had to explain that our tax code is written by people who are very upset that you live in sin, young lady, very upset indeed.

    You can really taste the Liberty.

    • DrDick

      Funny how the reactionaries’ concerns with liberty and community (given that more people in the US now “live in sin” than are married) never seem to extend in that direction, now isn’t it.

      • Holden Pattern

        THEIR Liberty. THEIR Community. THEIR “Natural Law”.

      • John

        given that more people in the US now “live in sin” than are married

        Is that really true? It seems incredibly unlikely.

  • mark f

    what we’re talking about here is a Potemkin “community” — trying to impose anachronistic, reactionary views on birth control on lay Catholics who by and large don’t believe in them.

    One might say that Douthat “worships at the altar of a stagnant pool,” no?

    • c u n d gulag

      Ah, but maybe he does it because he can admire his own reflection in it?

      • pete


        So now the question is, when will Scott put up a post for which we cannot supply a relevant quote from the Oracle?

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yeah, although it’s hard to avoid saving that line for Althouse.

      • Bill Murray

        I think she drunkenly fell into the stagnant pool, and now Mead worships at that stagnant pool

        • mark f


  • I can’t fathom how such nominally “pro-family” folks like Douthat would deny families the autonomy to choose not to have children.

    Too, some forms of contraception help with other related problems. I know my sister was put on the Pill by a doctor nearly forty years ago because she had really terrible cramps. If insurance hadn’t paid for those, who knows how she would have afforded it.

    Hey, Douthat…you really want to take a principled stand? Talk about how Viagra, a recreational drug if there ever was one, is covered by insurance, including Medicare.

    • c u n d gulag

      Maybe it’s because his wife’s not much better looking than Chunky Reese Witherspoon?

      He figures he might need it sometime soon, after a few more years of her drinking on the sly and eating in secret, because, let’s face facts, being married to a public scold can’t be much fun.

      • No no! Ross will pray for a miracle!

        (and then take it on the sly after driving to Canada to buy it over the counter)

        • c u n d gulag

          Look, they say Christ could raise the dead.

          But I’m not sure even he could do much for Douthat’s pecker.

          • Christ could douthat.

            All he’d need is a bustier and thigh highs.

            Not saying he would, but…

    • ajay

      “This drug doesn’t actually stop you from dying” isn’t the same as “this drug is recreational”. If there was a pill I could take that would repair the damage to my knee joints and make me able to run again, I wouldn’t call that a recreational drug.

      • How does Viagra prevent death?

        • Malaclypse

          I’ve had insomnia for literally as long as I remember. It got worse as I aged. A lot worse. Two years ago, my physician wrote me a prescription, for which I am beyond grateful.

          Now, in my case insomnia was both chronic and non-life-threatening. But ajay’s point, which is that recreational/death-preventing is a false dichotomy, is correct. I function better, and my life is improved, and I am more productive, with my insomnia under control.

          • Hogan

            Chronic sleep deprivation doesn’t kill you. You just wish it did.

          • Funny. I tried melatonin. Seemed to work and it’s OTC. But I won’t doubt you.

            That doesn’t change the fact that Viagra is paid by insurance and birth control, which also has life-saving properties, is not.

            • Malaclypse

              Melatonin did not make a dent in my problem.

              That doesn’t change the fact that Viagra is paid by insurance and birth control, which also has life-saving properties, is not.

              1) In 25 states, this statement is not true.

              2) Even when it is true, that is an argument for broadening the coverage, not restricting it. Your argument mirrors the “Why should unions get a retirement plan, when I don’t?” race-to-the-bottom.

              • Whoa! I asked *Douthat* to defend that! Did you need to see my hammer and sickle tattoo???

                • Malaclypse

                  Then I misunderstood your example.

                • My point was, if you’re going to argue for restrictions, then argue for restrictions on a drug that’s advertised for recreational use.

                  It may have other uses, I’m not saying it doesn’t (altho yours is the first case I’ve ever heard of) but it’s disingenous to ignorantly argue the one and not the other.

                • Malaclypse

                  Oh – I was also unclear. My prescription is simply for a prescription drug, which I left unnamed out of privacy. I highly doubt Viagra would help insomnia.

                  But my point remains that quality-of-life meds are not the same as recreational drugs.

  • It’s nice that Ross admits the argument breaks down to the GOP might do something terrible with health care when they’re in charge and his gut tells him something awful we couldn’t predict will happen. I don’t know how a society could work if we had to count on either Republicans or Ross Douthat’s gut.

  • c u n d gulag

    I read that column twice today, waiting for my Dad to get his MRI, and I still can’t make heads or tails out of the insipid, moralizing, dreck.

    And yeah, he’s an improvement over that completely talentless hack, Bill Safire, but he’s not that much better a writer – just a slightly clearer thinker. And, like Brooks, you know exactly what he’s going to write about a subject as soon as you read the first paragraph. Douthat just gives you the Catholic take on the subject.

    • Ed

      Agree with him or not, Safire wasn’t a hack. He was much better reading than Douthat, admittedly not a large statement, and he also used his column to perform genuine acts of reporting.

      Still miss those “On Language” pieces, which were fun reading. RIP.

      …trying to impose anachronistic, reactionary views on birth control on lay Catholics who by and large don’t believe in them.

      And of course the Church itself in a brief sane moment knew better. In the mid-Sixties a commission set up by Pope John XXIII produced a majority report that would have permitted “artificial” contraception and allowed families more leeway in family planning. Paul VI went with the minority report. Lunacy. And now they complain about the decline of respect for Church teaching….

    • Izzy

      Every Douthat column seems to me to be the same: odious arguments obfuscated almost out of existence in order to make his reactionary beliefs seem palatable to his social circle and to give plausible dependability for the ugliest implications of his arguments.

      The “insipid, moralizing, dreck” thing isn’t a bug: it’s a feature.

    • Pith Helmet

      IIRC, Ross Douthat took over for Bloody Bill Kristol.

  • Veritas

    David Brooks is also the guy who thought Obama would make a great President because he had really sharp creases in his pants. David Frum let a male Senator massage his thigh for a half hour. Thomas Friedman is a closet Fascist, Ross Douthat is a younger, impotent Rick Santorum, and Maureen Dowd? Everything she has ever written goes back to her inability to get laid since about 1995. Ladies and gentlemen: this is your New York Times editorial page!

    • Hogan

      So you agree that the “liberal media” is a myth? Terrific.

      • Veritas

        I’m saying the NYT gives is very diverse points of view: big-government liberalism (Krugmann), big-government conservatism (Douthat) big-government centrism (Frum, Brooks), big-government Socialism with Chinese Characteristics (Friedman), and a gossip column about big-government (Dowd).

        You would never see a Ron Paul get an NYT editorial column. Or, for that matter, a Dennis Kucinich.

        • Malaclypse

          Or Abimael Guzmán. Free Chairman Gonzalo!

        • Bill Murray

          well they probably don’t want the racist op-eds written by Lew Rockwell in Paul’s name

        • Left_Wing_Fox

          I guess if the only tool in your political toolbox is anarchocapitalism, every problem starts looking like a black helicopter.

        • Murc

          Bitching that the NYT doesn’t give a platform to people who believe in small government is like bitching that it doesn’t give a platform to flat-earthers; people who genuinely believe in small government an insignificant slice of the population. Politicians who talk about it don’t believe in it (as evidenced by their voting records) and voters who talk about it actually get angry and pissed-off when people start trying to hack it apart.

          Second of all, Frum and Brooks are conservatives, and to claim that Friedman is a socialist is laughable.

          • Veritas

            Frum and Brooks are centrists, sorry, especially Brooks. I guess you could say Frum is big-government Canadian Toryism, if you want.

            You misunderstand me on Friedman. He always has a boner for whatever the thugocracy that rules in Beijing is doing. They describe their system as “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” which is a nice euphemism for technocratic, authoritarian fascism. You can practically imagine him having to wipe cum off his keyboard after he talks about the wonders of “top-down control” as he puts it, and how the bullet trains always run on time. He and his ideology should be genuinely frightening to both American liberals and American conservatives.

            • Malaclypse

              Dear Cthulhu, I cannot believe I am being forced to defend the Mustache of Misunderstanding. Googling “top-down control” and Friedman yields one relevant hit, which is about how top-down control must inevitably fail.

              • Veritas

                Whatever the exact phrasing, do you really want to argue that Thomas Friedman doesn’t give a blow-job to Beijing every chance he gets precisely because they’re so authoritarian?

                • Malaclypse

                  Don’t know – I stopped reading him a decade or more ago. I’m just pointing out that you quoted something he was allegedly well-known for, which he never actually said. So par for the course for you.

                • Murc

                  And I hate being put in the position of having to defend Veritas, Mal, but as someone who does still read Friedman, his analysis seems spot-on to me. I wasn’t familiar with the actual substance of the term (“Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”) he used in his original post.

                • Malaclypse

                  I know that “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” is Dengism. Googling Friedman’s use of that term yields 4 discussions of Milton Friedman, and the #5 hit is this post. I did not find the Mustache using the phrase.

                • Murc

                  Huh? I’m not following you.

                  My Googling confirms that Friedman has never used the term, but I don’t think Veritas was arguing that he ever had. He was arguing that Friedman has a huge hard-on for Chinese autocracy, and that’s actually true.

                • Malaclypse

                  Ah. I thought the troll’s use of quotes meant that he was quoting things Friedman said.

              • DrDick

                Our trolls are really getting pretty pathetic. This one makes Dishonorable Boob look good, and he make Manju look coherent.

          • Hogan

            And the Douthat column that started all this is a plea to the federal government to LEAVE THE ONE HOLY CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH ALOOOOOOOONE!!!

        • Warren Terra

          Have you detected a bias in favor of the comfortably middle-class in The New York Times? Heavens to Betsy! Alert the media. Well, obviously not The New York Times, the rest of the media. Well, the fringe media.

          Yes: The New York Times has a pro-establishment bias. This isn’t news, and it is a problem. It is odd to hear of it from you, though; your usual comments place you in the camp that perceives a nonexistent pro-liberal bias in The New York Times.

          • Veritas

            The NYT and the MSM have an establishment, lazy, vaguely centrist (sometimes creeping into authoritarian, as in the case of Friedman) bias.

            • Not at all.

              They have a corporatocratic bias: anything that sells ad space and doesn’t piss off the advertisers is their position.

              • R Johnston

                The contradiction between your view and Veritas’s stated view is exactly zero.

                Lazy, centrist, establishmentarians are biased in favor of allowing businesses to more-or-less ignore any concerns other than executive compensation and, secondarily, shareholder gains.

            • John

              Weird. I agree with Veritas?

              • Stopped clock, yada yada…

  • CJColucci

    Suppose, just suppose, that the government bodies responsible for regulating health insurance so arranged it that there simply were no available policies on the market that excluded contraceptive services? Then what?

    • Hogan

      Then it’s off to the Supreme Court to see what the five Catholics think of that.

  • Dirty Davey

    What would be more interesting is that–since the procedures involved for pregnancy and childbirth are vastly more expensive than contraceptives–it’s entirely possible that an actuarially-sound insurer would charge MORE for a policy that excluded contraception.

    • DrDick

      Not to mention that both pregnancy and childbirth can fairly routinely produce complications which are even more expensive to deal with.

      • Anonymous

        So much this. I have never understood why insurance companies don’t seem to realize that covering contraception is to their benefit. Routine childbirth is more expensive. Complications from childbirth are even more expensive. And lest anyone forget, pregnancy creates a entirely new person that now also has to be covered.

        • Holden Pattern

          I think that insurance companies who don’t cover birth control figure that ~40% of their insureds will want birth control and have a VERY strong incentive to buy it, and since it’s not quite expensive enough that it can’t be paid for out of pocket by most people in the middle class, so why on earth would they want to incur that expense?

          • Hob

            Well obviously birth control costs money, but I don’t see how that addresses Anonymous’s point at all, unless you’re asserting that the expense of unplanned pregnancies for X% of insured women would be less than the expense of birth control for Y%, where Y>X. That might be true, but I don’t think it’s self-evidently true, given the massively higher medical costs of pregnancy and delivery. Have you seen any studies or estimates of this?

            • Hob

              (That reply was to Holden Pattern, and by “Anonymous’s point” I meant “Dirty Davey’s point which others agreed with above”. Shorter me: “Why on earth would they want to incur that expense? Because it saves them more money elsewhere.“)

  • Tom M

    I, for one, appreciate the NYT offering Douthat as an alternative to their usual attempts at occasionally intelligent, sometimes witty, firmly centrist op-eds. Utter stupidity has its place in the NYT and should not be confined to the sports pages or their “news” section.

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