“It’s been a long year,” Ross Douthat ’02 sighed gustily. He was lamenting the irony of being a Catholic conservative who lately found himself criticizing the pope and the Republican nominee he’d expected to defend. “A long year for all of us, I think, in American politics. The world at large. But we’re here now.”
Here was at the Knafel Center at the Radcliffe Institute, where on an unseasonably warm and cordial afternoon, the self-described “token conservative” at the New York Times and “cultural go-between” presided over the panel “Righting the Record: Conservatism and the Archives.” As Jane Kamensky, professor of history and Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library, explained in her introductory remarks, a gap exists in the archives: “Politically conservative women and grassroots conservative organizations focused on the household have been doubly hidden by gender and ideology.” She cited the death of activist Phyllis Schlafly, AM ’45, as a signal reminder that “Even the longest-lived activists eventually pass into history. We’re at a generational turning point for the heated family-values contest of the post–World War II era. They’ll either make their way into institutions or suffer the fate of most of the records of most of humanity over most of history, which is to be lost.”
“We won’t make this a conversation about Donald Trump,” promised Douthat. But two days before the final presidential debate, and three weeks before Election Day, the conversation—shadowed by the candidate’s yet-undetermined legacy—felt more than merely academic. The event was an attempt to exemplify the kind of civil discussion that could take place among people with different ideologies; it was also described by participants as a trust-building exercise between the conservative guests and the liberal-leaning Harvard community. But at its core, the dialogue itself, over how to maintain a fuller history of the right, reflected a current political angst: who defines conservatism—the elites or the grassroots, the fringe or the center?
For Harvard Magazine’s full report on this event, visit http://harvardmagazine.com/2016/10/radcliffe-and-the-right.