Dumbass Douthat and the clueless conservative perspective

Good god, but the most appalling morons can find a comfortable sinecure on the opinion pages of that blithe harbor for the right-wing tropes of the bourgeois, the NY Times. The latest is some nonsense from the routinely nonsensical Ross Douthat, “Break up the liberal city”. You got the gist from the title — he’d like to somehow rip apart all those big cities, because they’re hotbeds of liberalism.

We should treat liberal cities the way liberals treat corporate monopolies — not as growth-enhancing assets, but as trusts that concentrate wealth and power and conspire against the public good. And instead of trying to make them a little more egalitarian with looser zoning rules and more affordable housing, we should make like Teddy Roosevelt and try to break them up.

Right. Because, like monopolies, big cities are artificial constructs built by violating rules of organic growth and evading regulation. Oh, wait: the opposite of that. He doesn’t seem to consider that maybe it’s not that liberals created cities, but that the diversity and richness of life within a city creates liberals. He also doesn’t have a proposal for how he’s going to disrupt this property of cities. Perhaps he’s going to model it after Mao’s down to the countryside movement? But you know how it goes: scratch a conservative, find an authoritarian.

But I have even greater contempt for his next proposal:

Which is why we’ll go further, starting with the deep-pocketed elite universities clustered around our bloated megalopolises. We’ll tax their endowments heavily, but offer exemptions for schools that expand their student bodies with satellite campuses in areas with well-below-the-median average incomes. M.I.T.-in-Flint has a certain ring to it. So does Stanford-Buffalo, or Harvard-on-the-Mississippi.

HAS THIS ASSHOLE NEVER HEARD OF LAND GRANT UNIVERSITIES? Every state has a network of them. I work in a satellite campus of the University of Minnesota; this branch is located in rural western Minnesota, 3 hours from Minneapolis. The University of Minnesota system has five branch campuses in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Crookston, Morris, and Rochester. We also have MNSCU, which grew from the old system of normal and agricultural colleges, and consists of a parallel network of 30 colleges, 7 universities, and 54 campuses (how can you have more campuses than colleges? Ridgewater College, for instance, has two campuses, one in Willmar and another in Hutchinson). There are 142 colleges in this state, counting all the private colleges, the community colleges, the tribal colleges, the vocational colleges, etc.

Where, exactly, does Harvard-on-the-Mississippi fit into this diverse ecosystem of educational institutions? What advantage would it have over, say, St Cloud State University or the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, which are all located on the banks of the Mississippi already?

I guess if you are a NY Times pundit, you never need to look at how the world actually works to criticize it. Or if you’re a Harvard graduate, like Douthat, you can’t imagine a university that isn’t Harvard.


  1. anchor says


    Probably not, but if he ever does, he wouldn’t want to understand it anyway.

  2. kestrel says

    OK. Corporate monopolies are “growth enhancing entities”? Riiiiigggghhhht.

    Aside from that, his idea that liberals are ONLY in cities is wrong as well, so breaking up cities to stop liberalism will not work. The area I live in is very heavily liberal. (In fact, our governor, who is a Regressive, hates us and constantly vetoes things like ambulance service here, because we didn’t vote for her.) Yes, we are completely rural. Also interestingly, the demographics are mostly people of color. Only 10% of the people here are white, also, interestingly, the same percentage that vote Regressive.

    We actually had people tell us we should not move here because 1. only 10% of the population is white and 2. the place is filled with “Mexicans”. Hey, dipstick, those are Americans, not Mexicans. And to top it off, they are liberal Americans.

  3. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Jebus, what an asshole. Even Dah YooPee has three state colleges/universities (Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Northern Michigan University in Marquette, and Michigan Technological University in Houghton), and a a community college (Bay College in Escanaba). The University of Michigan (a public Ivy) has had a branch campus in Flint from before I was looking into my higher education. Somebody didn’t do their research….

  4. Holms says

    I wonder how rural this guy’s life is… “Break up the cities!” yet I bet that cry to fling people outward doesn’t apply to him. His job, and so many conveniences are all right there after all. Oh and there is also the irony of the complaint that cities are too insular and walled-in coming from such an insular nitwit.

  5. says

    Ooh, maybe he did consider cities created liberals and wants to end this creation.

    @2 kestrel: Maybe he just plans to stop white liberalism, and then assumes white conservatism can stop minority liberalism by… you know… doing… what it did… for centuries.

  6. vucodlak says

    @ PZ, the OP

    *Looks up Douthat’s background*
    Sure he has- he just calls them cow colleges, with his best upper-class-twit sneer. Unless he wants to pretend he’s sympathetic to blue-collar workers, of course. Then he’ll claim they’re the only real institutions of higher learning, and that he wasn’t talking about them. They teach what matters (according to the owner class’s metrics)!

    He’s clueless to both the fact that most blue-collar workers can’t afford to attend a university (or send their kids), and the fact that even cow-colleges have liberal arts programs. It turns out that frou-frou liberal arts stuff is kind of important for nurturing creativity and diversity of thought, without which the owner class wouldn’t have so many nice toys, or ideas to steal and profit from.

    It’s bitterly amusing that he claims that the population of the cities is an “overclass.” The ones who actually hold the reins of power in this country wanted Trump. Some of them are a little alarmed that they can’t control him as well as they thought they’d be able to – a man with an ego as big as Trump’s only listens to those who stroke his ego, and it sticks in the craw of the owners to have to suck-up to such an odious, no-class toad. They do have standards after all. It’s just that they’ll sell them in a heartbeat for a little more power and money.

    Actually, now that I go back through the editorial, I see what he’s really saying: get all these poor/non-white people out of our cities. He’s a courtier, he shouldn’t have to look the dregs of society (someone take away his mirrors, quick!) every day, let alone interact with them and hear their opinions.

    I think you’re right- he’d be all for sending those people off to the farms to serve as unpaid labor. Got to replace all the labor lost when the owners deport the people who serve as their most current scapegoat somehow. It would also be a handy way to physically distance the owners from the people mostly likely to come for their heads.

  7. wzrd1 says

    I say, let’s run with his suggestion. By the same token, wherever he settles down is denied the products of cities and universities.
    So, no prepared foods, no canned goods, no slaughtered and pre-butchered meats, no cars, no medications, no chemicals of any kind, no doctors, no nurses, no lawyers. Pure agrarian heaven for him, with a mined wall around his community of infantile assholes.
    We’ll also know where to dump industrial waste.
    Damned if I know how he’ll get internet or electricity, as those run through those loathesome cities he so hates, because of liberals that he so hates. Or how he’ll access his hedge fund, which is extremely city centric, maybe he can invest in chickens.

  8. whheydt says

    As for large cities… NYC literally could not exist in California, because state law bars city limits from crossing county lines, and the 5 boroughs of NYC are in 4 different counties (IIRC, BRooklyn and Bronx are both in Kings County, while Manhattan is coterminous with Manhattan County and Staten Island is coterminous with Richmond County).

    San Francisco can’t legally expand, since the city limits are coterminous with San Francisco county (hence being the “City and County of San Francisco). Makes for some weird governmental structures, like having both an elected Sheriff and an appointed Police Chief.

  9. qwints says

    I’d support expropriating the Ivys’ endowments to fund public universities. Destroying the means of reproducing the oligarchs would be a good thing.

  10. iknklast says

    so many of these people act like being a liberal is somehow illegal, and we’re getting by with something forbidden by existing.

  11. weylguy says

    Harvard-on-the-Mississippi has a nice, rustic, Christian ring to it. And don’t forget that chemistry and moonshining have a lot in common as well. And just imagine how great Amurika will be when it has perfessors like Goober, Cletus and Bubba teaching creationist genetics alongside PZ Myers in the Biological Science Department.

  12. Crudely Wrott says

    Let’s assume, for the fun of it, that large cities can actually be broken up as this imaginative fellow, err, imagines.
    To do so would result in a multitude of smaller cities populated by the same people that populated the unbroken city.
    What, we must ask ourselves, does he propose to do with all those pieces? Where will he put them? Will he break them, in turn, into smaller bits? If so, where will all of those pieces go?
    As usual, aggressive conservatismatic shills cannot see beyond their own fears and nastiness. The best that they can do is to go out on the slender limb of hope that assumes, without sufficient evidence and even in the presence of contrary evidence, that they are not alone in their woeful dissatisfaction with the arc of human learning and expression.
    As the efforts of our new Pretender in Chief and his Keystone Cops staff have informed us, these poor folks are full to the brim with solutions while being in the throes of a dust clogged drought when it comes to teasing out and formally enunciating the fine details.
    Cognitive failure at its finest, folks.
    All noise but no horsepower. They take their comfort in the noise, though. They dearly love the sound of it.

  13. brett says

    Good point about the land grant universities. Every city and large town that would supposedly be a beneficiary of this already has at least one, and some of them have more. We could start by fully funding them with free or near-to-free tuition and (for the ones that aspire to research alongside teaching) funding projects, and couple that with making sure that every area above a certain population has access to a fully equipped hospital and clinics. About the only virtue of “Harvard-on-the-Mississippi” would be if it actually got Harvard to plow more of that endowment back into taking in more students and more education, as opposed to keeping enrollment constant to enhance the snob factor of a selective Harvard degree.

    That said, I’m absolutely in favor of using the federal government to boost the quality of life and prosperity in small-to-mid-size cities across the US, so that people can live and thrive in the states and cities they grew in without having to move far away if they’d prefer to be a part of (or nearby) the community they grew up in. There’s a rich history of the US government using the location of its spending for regional development too, both for good (defense buildup for World War 2, research centers and projects), for ill (encouraging suburbanization with subsidized loans and policies), and a mix of both (postwar defense spending in California, which sowed the seeds for the tech boom there).

  14. says

    I think splitting up cities would exacerbate housing problems in California. A lot of cities that don’t want to build housing argue that other nearby cities should build housing instead.

    It would also worsen education inequalities, because schools are funded by local property taxes.

  15. Snoof says

    Crudely Wrott @ 14

    What, we must ask ourselves, does he propose to do with all those pieces? Where will he put them? Will he break them, in turn, into smaller bits? If so, where will all of those pieces go?

    I assume he believes they will go Away, like all those other people inconvenient to his ethos.

  16. methuseus says

    I somewhat agree that it would be good to get some of the people out of the cities. If we could get out high-speed Internet infrastructure along the lines of what is available across Europe and much of Asia, and if we could get our culture to be more okay with remote workers, we could break up the cities, and have cooperatives where people work part time in IT, writing, and other jobs, and part of the time they can grow local food, or milk a cow, or something else to help decentralize production in the USA. That will help get rid of the huge conglomerates when they aren’t needed any more.

    I’m not saying everyone needs to move out of the cities, but having the opportunity could vastly change this country for the better.

  17. unclefrogy says

    it is a very rare thing a conservative who actually thinks things out fully this fool is no exception. They all seem to be locked in side their own heads by their belief that they fail to take reality into their “ideas”.
    cities are people after all as was asked where are all of the people (parts) to go. Does his “proposal” consider how we will supply the necessities of life to all of those people and at what cost. No of course not it is just some idle entertainment in a curmudgeonly style with a core of cherished hate for the other inside. just like all the rest
    uncle frogy

  18. zenlike says

    Forget his fact free delusional rant about cities, I am more shocked by this doozy: “the way liberals treat corporate monopolies — not as growth-enhancing assets, but as trusts that concentrate wealth and power and conspire against the public good”.

    So breaking up monopolies is a “liberal” thing now? Excuse me, but even the most ardent right-wing ultra capitalistic economists would agree that monopolies are bad because they disrupt a free market.

    Remind me again why know-nothing Douthat remains employed and getting fat pay-checks for opening is mouth and spreading his uninformed blabber?

  19. zenlike says

    Also, an opinion writer should write the exact same opinion, but lament the concentration of conservative power in rural areas, and suggest forcing them to “break up”.

    Douthat will probably lose his shit over it, ranting about authoritarian liberals wanting big government forcing things down good godly conservatives throats.

  20. Arnie says


    the 5 boroughs of NYC are in 4 different counties (IIRC

    Five counties. All five boroughs are their own counties (since 1914): Brooklyn is Kings County and The Bronx is Bronx County (and Manhattan is New York County).

  21. A. Noyd says

    zenlike (#20)

    Remind me again why know-nothing Douthat remains employed and getting fat pay-checks for opening is mouth and spreading his uninformed blabber?

    Because capitalism. Newspapers aren’t in the business of informing the public. They’re in the business of selling an audience to advertisers.

  22. birgerjohansson says

    Maybe he has read those 1950s science fiction stories by James Blish where force fields are used to uproot entire cities and make them giant spaceships, flying to planets in distant stellar systems where their produce is wanted.
    I am in favor of moving some half-black urban conglomerate this way…and dumping it on Orange County, CA. Or some other place that voted for Trump.

  23. birgerjohansson says

    I see an opportunity for gerrymandering: Move a lot of cities into the mostly rural northern Floida.

  24. Ice Swimmer says

    In case the current misadministration of the U.S. won’t be able to destroy all the public service, moving various bureaus all around the country will result in the many of the officials (probably the most skillful) resigning and moving to private sector.

  25. octopod says

    Ha, like, “University of Michigan – Flint” or “Michigan Institute of Technology” OH WAIT


  26. Derek Vandivere says

    #9 qwints: Hey, half of Cornell is public…although I only donate to the marching band..

    #3 Nerd: “A public Ivy” – do you mean anything by that other than a good school? I keep seeing this term, but it doesn’t really mean anything to me (maybe it’s just ego, having gone to an Ivy)

  27. Derek Vandivere says

    You know, PZ, I think it’s kind of cheating not to quote the line introducing his idea: “Thus this week’s installment in my series of implausible, perhaps even ridiculous proposals:” Plenty of the other assumptions he makes are dumb, but ridiculing the basic idea that he’s labelled is ridiculous is well, a bit ridiculous.

    And actually there’s some merit in thinking about the idea to distribute the functions of the federal government around the country.

  28. Derek Vandivere says

    Nerd, thanks – so indeed it’s short hand for good but not as expensive, basically a self-assigned term, I guess. The article says he includes a few other characteristics (age, etc.). I wonder if he included the old-boys network effect – I definitely benefited from it. First job offer came from an interview from a company that recruited almost solely from Ivies and a few other Boston-based colleges…and it’s even more prominent in the financial world. Of course, now that I actually work for a bank I live in a country where most people have never heard of Cornell.

  29. says

    So breaking up monopolies is a “liberal” thing now? Excuse me, but even the most ardent right-wing ultra capitalistic economists would agree that monopolies are bad because they disrupt a free market.

    Conservatives have long since given up on the notion of free market economics. These days they can barely be bothered to pay it lip service.

  30. raven says

    Yeah, Douthat is a very stupid crackpot.
    The basic premise in all that, is that being a liberal or progressive is bad.
    Recent history says the opposite.
    Bill Clinton and Obama had successful runs.
    Bush the lesser wrecked the USA.

  31. DonDueed says

    Pretty ironic, since it was just recently that we passed a milestone in the history of the human race: now more than half of us live in cities. That’s a trend that has been developing for about 10,000 years.

    Although Douthat’s proposal was facetious, it reveals his deep contempt for progressive ideas. Well, dude, the trend isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Barring some utter collapse (you don’t want that, right?) cities will increasingly be where most of us live, and if that means a more liberal future, I can’t wait.

  32. unclefrogy says

    I haave heard about ideas of moving or reshaping populations out of major concentrations in huge cities and toward a more suburban type of distribution. That would take a much more low impact way of support than is mow the norm however and it certainly wont happen led by conservatives. Most of the things that he finds so negative about cities are the result of bigotry, greed and exploitation which are the hallmarks of conservative politics as it is constituted today they are the market forces that are so gallantly defended by the conservative underpants these days. ( a spellcheck suggestion I will let stand )

    uncle frogy

  33. A. Noyd says

    Derek Vandivere (#30)

    “Thus this week’s installment in my series of implausible, perhaps even ridiculous proposals:” Plenty of the other assumptions he makes are dumb, but ridiculing the basic idea that he’s labelled is ridiculous is well, a bit ridiculous.

    That’s just the stupid, fake-humble disclaimer that privileged nitwits tack on when they want to concoct opinions unhindered by consideration of reality. It’s there to deflect the inevitable criticism and get him out of explaining how any of it would work, not to be a serious admission of deficiency. If a critic says where and how the idea is flawed, Douthat can just wave them off saying, “I said it was ridiculous” rather than engaging with the substance of the criticism and perhaps noticing his ideas really are a pile of worthless turds.

  34. Derek Vandivere says

    A. Noyd: That’s exactly why I think it’s better to acknowledge it – something like ‘even though he claims it’s a ridiculous idea, it’s built on a set of even more ridiculous assumptions.’

  35. A. Noyd says

    @Derek Vandivere (#39)
    But Douthat doesn’t think his proposals are ridiculous. And PZ isn’t trying to convince the man himself of anything, so why even dignify Douthat’s attempt at deflection by bringing up the disclaimer? Unless you’re silly enough to think pathetic rhetorical tricks like that are in any way meaningful, there’s no point in mentioning it.

  36. arresi says

    Flint resident here: I mean, MIT-in-Flint does have a nice ring to it, but does he seriously think throwing a world-class education at us is going to make us less liberal? You’d think the University of Michigan branch (or Kettering) would’ve already handled that. If anything, it’s going to give us more access to researchers who can tell us how badly we’re being screwed over by the state. See: Flint Water Crisis.

  37. Terska says

    Why not just deport the liberals and brown people to Siberia?

    This idea is so fucking crazy, so fucking dangerous, it might just make it into the conservative policy goals.

  38. pontavedra says

    Ha! My university does the opposite! Our main campus is located in farmland outside Sheboygan, but I work at our branch campus in central Tokyo!

    We’re evil or something!

  39. hotspurphd says

    I like to read his columns so I can then read the comments by the very smart liberal readers tear him apart.