Dear Mr. Douthat,
I just listened to your First Things Erasmus Lecture: "The Crisis of Conservative Catholicism" of Oct. 26, 2015 - - and wondered if the context of liberal-conservative discourse could not be mistaken in itself. That is, perhaps we are not talking about doctrine, liberal or conservative at all. Rather, as the pope said in Florence on this November 10: “Faced with the ills or the problems of the Church, it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of outdated forms and conduct that have no capacity for meaning, even culturally. Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts and uncertainties, but it is living, it knows how to disturb and to encourage. Its face is not rigid, it has a body that moves and develops, it has tender flesh; Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ.”
That is, doctrine is not the point. Thought and truth are not reducible to conceptual "doctrine." The Person of Jesus Christ is the point, and we do not "know" the Person by concepts be they conservative or liberal. We are really in another horizon of knowing which is a consciousness of a Person Who can be known only experientially. You made t wo references to Hegel that were throwaways, but significant, and made me think that perhaps you might be open to what the pope is suggesting. Not that the pope is an Hegelian. I believe him to be Peter who knew Christ and was able to say: 'You are the Christ, the Son...." That kind of knowledge is experiential and comes from self-transcendence - living outside of oneself.
To be truly significant in this kairos will demand someone courageously moving the prism of perception from conceptual debate to a level of consciousness prior to the conceptual. I once read someone suggesting that the way to understand what went on in Vatican II was to understand that the music of always that was played in the key of F, was now being played in the key of C. Same music, different key. Perhaps we could profit from that analogy.