I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!
Several times during lunch, I prodded Douthat on whether the right’s increasing distrust of liberal democracy is really the fault of liberal institutions. Perhaps a large portion of the right had turned into vaccine conspiracists who thought that Anthony Fauci belonged in prison not because of the failures of the élite, or because of natural human skepticism, but in part because of the media outlets that give airtime to Kennedy, or to Tucker Carlson?
When responding to such questions, Douthat often seems sincerely interested—out of some combination of self-preservation and genuine thoughtfulness—in phrasing his answers carefully. After a pause, he said, “Would I say that the New York Times should pluck someone from obscurity to write an op-ed saying that vaccines cause autism, because we find that five per cent of our readers think that, and they need to be represented? No, I would absolutely not say that. But the people who are making the argument already have a platform and an audience, so you need a way to engage it.” Douthat continued, “I think a lot of people in the world of The New Yorker and the New York Times decided in the Trump era that they didn’t even want to know where these ideas were coming from. It was just enough that they were bad. And I think you do have to figure out where those ideas were coming from.” Douthat was getting more animated; he smiled broadly, and waved his right hand in the air to emphasize his points. “What liberalism—élite liberalism, whatever you call it—doesn’t have is just a theory of persuasion.” He paused again. “That’s why, I mean, maybe I am a liberal if I’m interested in theories of persuasion.”