My Conversation with Ross Douthat

We do another CWT, here is the audio and transcript (link corrected), a very good installment in the series.  Here is part of the summary:

Ross joined Tyler to discuss why he sees Kanye as a force for anti-decadence, the innovative antiquarianism of the late Sir Roger Scruton, the mediocrity of modern architecture, why it’s no coincidence that Michel Houellebecq comes from France, his predictions for the future trajectory of American decadence — and what could throw us off of it, the question of men’s role in modernity, why he feels Christianity must embrace a kind of futurist optimism, what he sees as the influence of the “Thielian ethos” on conservatism, the plausibility of ghosts and alien UFOs, and more.

A welcome relief from Covid-19 talk, though we did cover Lyme disease.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Does the Vatican have too few employees? There’s a Slate article — it claimed in 2012, the Roman Curia has fewer than 3,000 employees. Walmart headquarters at the time had 12,000. If the Church is a quite significant global operation, can it be argued, in fact, that it’s not bureaucratic enough? They don’t actually have state capacity in the sense that state capacity libertarianism might approve of.

DOUTHAT: Right. State capacity libertarianism would disapprove of the Vatican model. And it reflects the reality that media coverage of the Catholic Church doesn’t always reflect, which is that in Catholic ecclesiology and the theory of the institution, bishops are really supposed to be pretty autonomous in governance. And the purpose of Rome is the promotion of missionary work and the protection of doctrine, and it’s not supposed to be micromanaging the governance of the world Church.

Now, I think what we’ve seen over the last 30 years — and it’s been thrown into sharp relief by the sex abuse crisis — is that the modern world may not allow that model to exist; that if you have this global institution that has a celebrity figure at the center of it, who is the focus of endless media attention, you can’t, in effect, get away with saying, “Well, the pope is the pope, but sex abuse is an American problem.”

And to that extent, there is a case that the Church needs more employees and a more efficient and centralized bureaucracy. But then that also coexists with the problem that the model of Catholicism is still a model that was modern in the 16th century. It’s still much more of a court model than a bureaucratic model, and pope after pope has theoretically tried to change this and has not succeeded.

Part of the reality is, as you well know, as a world traveler, the Italians are very good at running courts that exclude outsiders and prevent them from changing the way things are done. Time and again, some Anglo-Saxon or German blunderer gets put in charge of some Vatican dicastery and discovers that, in fact, the reforms he intends are just not quite possible. And you know, in certain ways, that’s a side of decadence that you can bemoan, but in certain ways, you have to respect, too.

Definitely recommended, a very fun CWT with lots of content.  And again, here is Ross’s (recommended) book The Decadent Society: How We Became a Victim of Our Own Success.


First link is broken, I think it should be (currently points to Alex's "Stock Buybacks Are Fine" post).

PS Years-long reader, love the blog! Keep it up!

A timely message, one that needs to be repeated.

Fixed, thanks.

Yo Tyler, I'm really happy for you, Imma let you finish but Beyonce had one of the best Conversations of all time.

Probably because "today" isn't halfway over.

By this time yesterday, and the day before reported cases were close to 3000. We are way down. Way way down today.

U.S. cases of Covid-19:

Mar 20....19,383....40%
Mar 21....24,207....25%
Mar 22....33,546....39%
Mar 23....43,734....30%
Mar 24....54,881....25%....784 deaths
Mar 25......?

There are already 10% more cases than yesterday with many hours to go, yo.

You gotta loathe people who argue their points by saying "In certain ways,". They might as well come out with "I'm going to say this in such a way that I can completely deny ever having said it."

Congrats to Ross for doing it twice in one sentence. That's a record that no one is going to break. Attaboy!

"Time and again, some Anglo-Saxon or German blunderer gets put in charge of some Vatican dicastery and discovers that, in fact, the reforms he intends are just not quite possible. And you know, in certain ways, that’s a side of decadence that you can bemoan, but in certain ways, you have to respect, too."

Like, deepstate. Without the respect, of course.

Can't the pope consign them to Hell (Keys of Heaven) or wag his finger at them until they relent?

Douthat's latest column reveals that he has spent the last 2 weeks in isolation with his family infected by the virus (probably, the column is about problems with testing). I assume he met with Tyler before symptoms were apparent.

As the note in the transcript and show notes indicates, this was recorded Feb 25.

How does Douthat harmonize his view that we are decadent because we have low fertility with his view of New Testament radicalism, the former being, at least on first reading, a proponent of non-fertility? A problem that Christianity has never really rationalized.

As a US -> Canadian immigrant, I have many nitpicks about Canada's innovation, or lack thereof. (I think the good governance is in part because there's a governing Laurentian elite who take great pains to keep Toronto/Ottawa/Montreal humming along well.)

But boy did I love the description of Canada as a "series of city-states". Sums up the nature of Canada perfectly, in my experience. I'm from central Illinois, and I still can't get over how *empty* this place it outside the big ten or so cities. And you see it in the governance. The country might as well be Montreal and Toronto, and then a few outposts that are occasionally in the news when it comes to oil prices or real estate.

Most Canadans live south of the border that divides the Dakotas.

Genuinely surprised Ross would volunteer his views on demonic possession. It seems like that would be more discrediting than he realizes.

If you believe that the Gospels are historical accounts there's no compelling reason to not at least allow for the possibility of demonic possession.

Enjoyed the interview. I feel RD shows some gaps of knowledge about Orthodox Christianity when discussing married priests and singleness. True that there is not a widespread monastic culture in the west, so it is easy to see why he doesn't readily express this as a part of his imaginary for radicalness. Same goes for his reducing married life to the bourgeois option. Married life can be a kind of martyrdom.

corona or gtfo

Ross Douthat's definition of decadence is not what you think it is. Its a definition that actually makes sense. He defines decadence as laziness, complacency, and the inability or unwillingness to strive for greatness. He cites the declining rate of technological innovation as one metric of decadence. I agree with this concept of decadence being the only meaningful one, and I do think it is a problem of today's society.

Jeez, if a lack of "striving for greatness" is decadence then perhaps 99.9% of humanity through history have been decadent.

Certainly Jesus would have been decadent, Darwin, Newton. They strove to solve specific problems that fascinated them (moral, scientific). Not "greatness".

Your strivers for "greatness" are, what, Alexander, Napoleon?

(I'd be tempted to define decadence, if it's useful term at all, as "living by spending credit and inheritance", which may be my bourgeois-cum-peasant mentality at play.)

Well well we’ll, 54:40 - 57:00 or so got real interesting. Pending the outcome...

Demon possession and fairies in the "literature"? 3+ billion people with cell phone cameras and internet with no proof and he continues to believe Lord of the Rings, is real?

Hey Credibility, where you at? Because you're sure not here.

It's not an American problem. See Scotland, Australia, Ireland, ...

Could you add timestamps to transcripts?
Could you also add all Conversations to YouTube or similar, so I could annotate with timestamps in the comments?
-I would like to make make it easy to jump to specific parts of the interview.

COWEN: Maybe the problem with the low birth rate — it’s not that kids aren’t fun, but men are not fun. So once women have some wealth or employment opportunities at all, they don’t need men as much. Those men don’t compete as much to marry those women. You have families forming later or not at all, or there’s high rate of single motherhood of course. But you’ll just have fewer kids. What would possibly reverse the problem of men simply not being that much fun?

Is this why Tyler never had his own kids?

Enjoyable conversation, thanks.

A couple questions:

Does Douthat not like music? It seems like most of the Conversations I've read have been pretty music-heavy. But you only seem to discuss Kanye, and not as a musician, but as a public intellectual.

As Utah and Mormonism get more and more lenient on polygamy, I wonder if Douthat's strong favorable opinion on them will change. If you get another chance to interview, please ask!

Related to that: you realize that the problem with men is that they are not "fun" while Douthat still thinks the problem is that men are not "good." I think you're closer to the mark here. But, it's a problem besetting both g*nders. While many people agree that men having immediate and unprecedented access to images of attractive women in various compromising positions is likely trouble for the fertility rate, no one says about women, to attract men in this era, "they must be hotter." Because there is an analogous issue for women: they have unprecedented access to "fun" men in the form of Tinder. Are you a bored woman? Because a world-traveling dj will go on a date with you whenever you want. They won't commit, you know, but they'll give you attention. So much for the accountants at the office, they're not "fun." Improving social norms about having men lay off the porn and women lay off the tinder would likely improve things for everyone.

Limitless free pron, synthetic lubricants, and modern edging techniques mean that a man can now literally spend the whole day choking it. Why would he bother with 'fun' ?

when women are able fully to share their gifts with the whole community, the very way in which society understands and organizes itself is improved

"..the purpose of Rome is the promotion of missionary work and the protection of doctrine..."

Funny...I've always viewed Rome as more of a bank and real estate operation?!

Douthat is less a futurist optimist than a neoclassisist apologist...a secular Bishiop Sheen.

I'm always suspicious of "converts" to the Catholic religion. What are they running from? What do they think they are running towards?

...from a (very) right-of-center ex-Catholic

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