John Derbyshire Essay on The Deformation of the Conservative Movement
VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow writes: John Derbyshire is hard at work preparing Radio Derb tonight, so we are taking the opportunity to post his essay from The Great Purge: The Deformation of the Conservative Movement, edited by Paul Gottfried and Richard Spencer and recently published by Radix. Ironically, just as we do so, George Will is ritually invoking the sacred name of Bill Buckley to justify yet another purge, this time of Donald Trump. The Great Purge features other VDARE.com writers such as William Regnery, the late Sam Francis and…moi. It’s available though Amazon, but Radix will make more money, and Jeff Bezos less, if you buy it direct.
These first years of the twenty-first century have been a sorry time for Americans who favor national sovereignty, demographic stability, restraint in government, traditional culture, and the rule of law.
For eight years the federal apparatus was in the hands of neoconservatives, and so distinguished itself by instituting massive new welfare programs ,waging futile missionary wars, and waving in millions of unskilled workers and their dependents (to become our dependents) across wide-open borders.
The U.S.A. then elected its first affirmative-action president, a law-school nonentity with no executive experience and nothing in his head but 1980s college-radical sociobabble and the endless rancor of the blacks. His administration plastered further layers of folly, irresponsibility, and idiot idealism onto neocon policies, with new bursts of welfare gigantism, the toppling of tame, useful dictators who did not meet faculty-lounge standards of “human rights,” and the de facto annulment of immigration laws on behalf of the Mexican and Central American underclasses.
Offered the opportunity to replace this neo-neocon administration with one headed by a worthy but timid and unglamorous (which is to say, white male) contender from the original neocon mold—one who actually had been a missionary in his youth!—the nation declined. Instead they re-elected the guy with the exotic name, who by this point had stopped even pretending to be interested in administering the federal government and had given over most of his calendar to golf, vacations, second-guessing law enforcement, and making vapid speeches at party fund-raisers.
Today the bureaucratic leviathan rumbles on, directed by delusional world-savers and ethnic lobbyists, staffed by middle-aged white graduates of student Trotskyism and out-of-their-depth minority quota hires. Congressional constituencies are ever more finely gerrymandered to assure perpetual incumbency. Washington, D.C. has become a glittering Xanadu of wealth and power, its surrounding dormitory counties regularly ranking at the top of lists logging median household income. Protestants have been purged from the U.S. Supreme Court lest they should assert the interests of our founding population; eleven million Americans are taking federal disability benefits; foreign gangsters loot Medicare; cynical bankers game the system in confident knowledge that the government, terrified of political consequences from a “financial crisis,” will bail them out at last.
As the great meat-grinder wars of the middle twentieth century recede into the fading memories of octogenarians, we maintain 40,000 troops in Germany, 11,000 in Italy, 51,000 in Japan and 21,000 in Korea. A full generation after the U.S.S.R. disintegrated, we continue to support NATO—and even seek to expand it—antagonizing Russia, our natural ally against Muslim fanaticism, Third World demographic pressure, Chinese young-superpower irresponsibility, and North Korean insanity. Ill-considered WW2 socioeconomic quick fixes—employer-linked health benefits, big-city rent control—have become permanent, unquestionable features of the sociopolitical landscape.
Our culture has continued to slide giggling into the pit. It is now thirty years since you last heard anyone hum a tune from a current popular song. Concerts of serious music rarely include anything less than half a century old. Very few of us could name a living painter or architect. Entire years pass when no American outside the academy spontaneously quotes a line of verse written by any American poet younger than Elizabeth Bishop (b. 1911), or a British poet younger than Philip Larkin (b. 1922). The middlebrow novel is slipping into extinction. Movies are an extension of the comic-book industry; only TV drama shows occasional flashes of brilliance. The churches are branch offices of Globalist Multiculturalism, Inc.: the Episcopal church in my sleepy, 360-year-old Long Island town advertises Misa en Español.
Forbidden by Supreme Court decree to test job applicants for ability, employers demand college degrees as proxies, obliging parents either to beggar themselves or to see their children loaded with debt after four prime young-adult years learning nothing much. The colleges themselves are hotbeds of Cultural Marxism, padding out their prospectuses with intellectually worthless Grievance Studies courses, awarding degrees to illiterate black athletes, and writhing in frenzies of agonized self-abasement when someone is seen wearing a hood on campus. Police and Fire Departments, to avoid diversity lawsuits, allow black female cadets to walk through their test fitness runs. Other working- and lower-middle-class employments are sold off to low-bidding H-1B visa holders or illegal aliens. Homosexuals can pretend to be “married,” and if you peaceably express disapproval you will be hounded from your job. Submarine crews are co-ed.
Has there been any push-back from the conservative movement against all this? Not so as you’d notice. It is difficult to name anything that the conservative movement has conserved … although to be sure, the English language is still spoken, or at least understood, in most precincts.
The second year of Obama’s first term did see a little gusher of populist conservatism. The Tea Party movement, however, was easily and swiftly co-opted by institutional Republicanism, as the Gingrich revolution had been in the second year of Bill Clinton’s first term. (Concerning that earlier gusher, neocon authors James Bennett and Michael Lotus pass the following remark in their recent book America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century: “The Republican Congresses, after a decade, lost any connection to the reforming Congress of 1994 and had slumped into oligarchic favor-trading.”)
The Tea Party survives as an independent entity today only in leftist mythology: as a sinister Klan-without-hoods boogie-man used by Cultural Marxists to frighten their children. Among themselves, the leftists refer to the movement by a disgusting slang expression drawn from the louche subculture of homosexuality. They still, after four years, think it the height of avant-garde wit to do so, and utterance of the expression in those circles is still an occasion for thigh-slapping and side-holding. Don’t look to Red Guards for a sophisticated sense of humor.
Hopes for reform through populist conservatism have bubbled up at intervals of a decade or two ever since the Cultural Revolution began fifty years ago. The Tea Partiers were only the latest manifestation of what sociologist Donald Warren, an early observer of the phenomenon, called “Middle American Radicals.” That was in 1976.
I offered my own pessimistic—and of course correct—take on prospects for the Tea Party in a 2010 column for The American Conservative, when the movement was first attracting attention:
Perhaps it is just as simple as this: a meritocratic elite is, by definition, smarter than the rest of us. It can always “control the discourse,” planting shame and doubt in the minds of those who seek to challenge it, manipulating their sensibilities, feeding them a steady diet of soma through media and educational outlets, bewildering and outfoxing them with bogus appeals to the higher emotions. Perhaps it is all an unequal contest.
If there is nothing to be hoped for from populist conservatism, what of the more intellectual variety?
Here a distinction needs to be made between what Peter Brimelow calls “Conservatism, Inc.”—the people who staff the major conservative magazines and think tanks—and the ragged, shoeless, mostly-unsalaried battalions of what I refer to as the Dissident Right.
Conservatism, Inc. has been no more effectual against the civilizational rot than have the populists. Its commanding heights—those magazines and think-tanks—have long since been captured by neocon careerists, dependent for their funding on un-intellectual businessmen and political lobbyists steeped in the Cultural Marxist miasma and terrified of heterodoxy for its impact on sales.
As I told a roomful of National Review cruise passengers three years ago: You can forget about standing athwart History crying “Stop!” The modern style of career conservatism prefers to run along panting behind the juggernaut squeaking: “Would you mind perhaps just slowing down a teeny bit?”
A landmark event in the recent history of Conservatism, Inc. was the cashiering of analyst Jason Richwine by the Heritage Foundation in May of 2013 for facts Richwine had included, with full supporting references, in his Harvard Ph.D. thesis! As I pointed out at the time in an article commenting on the affair, this was a case of the cultural commissars “killing a chicken to scare the monkeys.” Richwine was merely the chicken; Heritage were the monkeys, and they were duly scared.
A lesser purge along the same lines had occurred a year previously in April 2012 when political scientist Bob Weissberg and myself were simultaneously—though for separate offenses—dropped from the contributor lists of National Review at the behest of leftist watchdogs.
Prof. Weissberg’s offense was to have addressed the annual conference of American Renaissance. The editors of National Review confidently described his address in print as “noxious” even though the conference organizers did not issue DVDs of the event until some weeks after Weissberg’s dismissal and no transcript was available until I made one from Bob’s notes five months after that.
In fact the Weissberg address argued against white nationalism, so that one of the following things must be true: either (a) the decision-makers at National Review were both clairvoyant and sympathetic to white nationalism, or else (b) they jumped reflexively at the crack of the leftist whip—chicken and monkeys again—and justified themselves by pretending to know what Weissberg had said.
My own dismissal caused more fuss because it occurred in, and was related to, one of what historian Paul Johnson, in Modern Times, called those “spasms of self-righteous political emotion” to which “America seems peculiarly prone.”
The occasion of hysteria here was the February 2012 encounter between black ne’er-do-well Trayvon Martin and neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. There was an altercation that ended with Martin kneeling astride Zimmerman and smashing his head against the sidewalk. Zimmerman managed to pull out a licensed handgun and shot Martin with it; Martin died on the spot.
When the facts of the case were tested to courtroom standards of evidence a year later, Zimmerman was swiftly acquitted of second-degree homicide. In April 2012, however, public hysteria over the incident was at fever pitch, whipped up by leftist mainstream journalists—excuse the pleonasm—with the assistance, most disgracefully, of the President himself. An innocent baby-faced black teenager has been stalked and murdered by a white vigilante! (Martin was 17; Zimmerman is actually of mixed German, Peruvian-Indio, and black African ancestry.)
The editor of National Review himself had signed on to the Left narrative in a column expressing his concord on the matter with the views of black supremacist scofflaw Al Sharpton—a column the editor must surely have come to regret but which, to his credit, he allowed to remain on the magazine’s website.
At the time I spotted an interesting sub-category of contributions to the general hysteria. Black journalists were publishing columns lamenting that they had to take their children aside and give them The Talk: earnest instructions and warnings about the danger posed to them by the ever-present malice of whites, who because of their privileged position in a racist society need not fear justice.
This of course is nonsense. On Department of Justice statistics—including the National Crime Victimization Survey, where citizens record crimes whether or not the police and courts were involved—blacks are far more dangerous to whites than whites are to blacks. It is therefore much more appropriate for nonblack citizens to warn their children of the danger from feral blacks, as of course most of us do.
Flagrant contradictions of that kind are grist to the mill of opinion journalism. I published a corrective column at one of my other outlets, with thirty-odd hyperlinks to supporting facts and statistics. The Left got hold of the column, the whip was cracked, the monkeys squealed in fright, and the chicken was slain. My column was described by the editor of National Review as “nasty” and I was dropped.
(Following our simultaneous cashierings, Bob Weissberg and I have acquired the habit, when we meet, of hailing each other with: “Well, well—Mr. Noxious!” … “Ah, Mr. Nasty!” …)
National Review was guilty of cowardice, no doubt, but there are mitigating, or at least qualifying, factors. Most prominently: That year was divisible by four, and in early April it seemed that Mitt Romney had a good chance of winning the presidency. A president needs word people: speechwriters, press secretaries, and such. He also needs lawyers: Attorney General, Solicitor General, White House Counsel. At least one National Review staffer had had a creditable prior career as a government lawyer. Visions of sugar-plums were dancing in heads at 215 Lexington Avenue.
Never having been afflicted with political ambition myself, I am indulgent of it in others. Without ambition there would, after all, be no politics, and then where should we be? A president as unimaginative and as thoroughly infused by the Kultursmog as Romney obviously is might indeed be reluctant to hire in persons from a magazine tainted, however remotely, and from however far out on the Left, by accusations of—gasp!—racism. Thus the cowardice had a reasonably self-interested side to it … as cowardice usually does.
And then, I was an easy discard for the magazine, not being a salaried employee (they paid me on piecework rates). Irreligious and not much interested in party politics, I was not actually a very good fit for the place, though I tried my best to not flaunt my indifference to “life” issues, to stay awake through long discussions about Medical Savings Accounts, to feign interest in the latest shyster congressreptile posing as a standard-bearer of family values in breaks from porking his secretary, and to clap along with the collective pretense that George W. Bush had a conservative bone somewhere in his body.
There were, too, particular personal animosities of the kind that will inevitably arise during fourteen years of close confinement with a dozen or more opinionated intellectuals.
One of the first to unsheath his stiletto in the April 2012 business, for example, was senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru, in whom high intelligence, ready wit, and a wonkish mastery of political detail are combined with a feline talent for intrigue and a patience in revenge that would have elevated him to the highest levels in the court of an Oriental despot.
I had earned Ponnuru’s enmity some years before with a critical though not unkind review of his 2006 right-to-life book Party of Death. It was, I suppose, injudicious of me to give a less-than-favorable review to a colleague’s book; but a column was due, I had no topic at hand, and had read the book. Sometimes you just want to knock out some copy and get to bed.
On that earlier occasion Ponnuru and at least one other member of the more strongly Roman Catholic element at National Review had urged the magazine to drop me, but they had been overruled by Bill Buckley. By 2012, though, Buckley was in his grave. As the Chinese proverb says: When the lips are gone, the teeth are cold.
(You will not read much that is positive about Buckley from presses like this one. I only knew the man in the last decade of his life, so I cannot speak to the criticisms in general. Possibly some of the negativity is apt. The maxim current in Northamptonshire during my upbringing, however, was: “Speak as you find.” I never experienced anything but courtesy, kindness, generosity, appreciation and support from Bill Buckley, and I was very sorry when he died.)
These purgings, though petty and inconsequential in themselves, illustrate key facts about Conservatism, Inc. It is timid and pusillanimous in the face of criticism from the Left. Its younger members have absorbed some of the vapors of Cultural Marxism into their body tissues, however unwillingly and unknowingly. At key points in the electoral cycle, ambition becomes a dominating factor.
Worst of all, Conservatism, Inc. is not very intellectual. It was unusual to hear an interesting or original idea around the National Review editorial table; and when any such thing was heard, it usually came from an older staffer. With the settling-in of Cultural Marxism as our state ideology, there has come a flattening and dulling of thought, affecting any American less than fifty, but especially the thirtysomethings. The Overton Window of acceptable opinions is narrow, the notion of peering around it to heterodox ideas outrageously shameful.
Again there are qualifications to be made. From where we stand, out on the Dissident Right, Conservatism, Inc. looks like a power center, owning the ears (if no other organs) of cable TV personalities and congressional panjandrums.
From within Conservatism, Inc., however, things seem different. Staffers at those magazines and think tanks see themselves in fancy as a beleaguered minority, struggling to make their voices heard against the roar of a statist majority. It’s understandable, even if you have only the merest smidgen of heterodoxy in your soul. Turn on your TV; pick up a newspaper; stroll around a campus. The Narrative is mighty; we live under strong ideological control; as timid and ineffectual as they are, career conservatives stand in partial, feeble, occasional opposition to it.
If the populist conservatism of Fox News, Dinesh D’Souza, and the Tea Party is a mere “beggars’ democracy” in the fashion of Frederick the Great’s Prussia (“My people say what they please, and I do what I please”), and Conservatism, Inc. is a mere disgruntled subsidiary of gigantist, world-saving managerial bureaucracy, what hope is there of a return to traditional American notions of individual self-support, governmental restraint, judicial modesty, noninterference in other nations’ squabbles, and realism about human nature?
If there is any hope it lies with the scattered voices of the Dissident Right. How invigorating it is to turn from the latest bellicose editorial at The Weekly Standard calling for war against Yemen, or the latest puff piece from National Review for some bought-and-sold GOP senator, or the latest call to missionary endeavor from Dinesh D’Souza, to the calm sanity, data-rich statistical inquiries, and genuine intellectual curiosity of Dissident Right websites! (And still a tiny number of print outlets. Chronicles magazine deserves an honorable mention here.)
And there is hope. We have on our side the most potent agent of intellectual advance in the modern age: science. As official ideology has drifted so relentlessly leftward this past few decades, an undercurrent of improved understandings from the human sciences has flowed in the opposite direction, and risen ever closer to the surface. We now know enough about population genetics, paleoanthropology, and neuroscience to make happy talk about “the psychic unity of mankind” untenable, fatally undermining the Narrative.
At some points the Narrative is already near collapse, at least among well-informed mainstream observers. Key Cultural Marxist slogans—“Strength in diversity!” “Close the gaps!” “The new civil rights issue!” “Nation of immigrants!” “Glass ceiling!” “Human rights!”—already get a roll of the eyes or a shake of the head from a surprising number of thoughtful middle-class Americans, including human-science academics and—most encouragingly—many young people. The surge of welfare moochers and teenage gangsters across our southern border in 2014 met widespread public hostility. Enrollment in lesser colleges is falling; the spread of online education will advance the healthy rot.
The traditionalist-conservative view of human nature is true; the Cultural Marxist view is false. The truth will take a while to work its way up to the surface of public discourse, but it will get there at last. There will be a new Narrative: not necessarily perfect or infallible, but in closer accord with nature—with reality—than the present one. “We told you so” is not a very satisfactory response in the aftermath of cultural disaster, but it will sound better than guilty silence.
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. ) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His most recent book, published by VDARE.com com is FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.
From V-Dare: http://www.vdare.com/articles/a-report-from-the-conservative-movements-dustbin-john-derbyshires-essay-in-the-great-purge