Twilight of the Old Bastards


This weekend John Derbyshire, a little-followed freelancer for National Review and other, more obscure Conservative magazines, wrote a very special manifesto about the danger of the Lower Races of Man that, with a thin intellectual dusting, reads like it was pulled out of a time capsule buried during Jim Crow. For this embarrassment, he’s joined his comrade Pat Buchanan in the dustbin of Respectable Media History. Like Buchanan, Derbyshire is a crowing reactionary but not a moron. Mostly. Like Buchanan, he embarrasses himself with his own honesty. But what gnaws at me is, I think he embarrasses his colleagues even more. By showing the thinness of the line they try to draw between these ornery old bastards and themselves.

I think I’ve read everything Derbyshire has ever published on the web. Lowry is right that he is often a very good writer with a very impressive breadth of experience. I want to read his novels and his nonfiction books on math.

So I hate the sanctimony directed at him by guys like Jonah Goldberg and Ramesh Ponnuru. For those who don’t know, Goldberg is a Kardashian-grade scion of a 90s tabloid subject who has never written anything of substance. He wouldn’t be delivering sandwiches at a political mag with a healthy culture. Ponnuru is a weasily theocon whom Derbyshire took head on (shades of his backhand for Ben Stein), in a piece I will remember for a dozen haunting phrases and thoughtful, devastating honesty.

Is it wrong to have concern for fetuses and for the vegetative, incapable, or incurable? Not at all. Do we need to do some hard thinking about the notion of personhood in a society with fast-advancing biological capabilities? We surely do. […] Should we let a cult of theologians, monks, scolds, grad-school debaters, logic-choppers and schoolmarms tell us what to do with our wombs, or when we may give up the ghost, or when we should part with our loved ones? Absolutely not. Give me liberty, and give me death.

Between Ponnuru, Jean Teasdale, The Baby Turtle and Waterboard Igor, political Catholicism is a shifty, cruel, sad little movement these days. Which means so is NRO. I hate these toadies getting in free kicks when a better man destroys himself.

But of course Derbyshire did destroy himself. In more ways than one. You can track his slide down in the last five years, writing less and less about math and culture and international relations and life, and more and more about Those Niggers and Spics and Their Low Pants and Criminal Genetics. His pedestal as a cold-minded advocate from science took a crack every time he ran with what Charles Murray said and took it ten steps further. He made it a deterministic superstition: jumbling "statistics" unanchored from any context, ignoring all relevant criticism, building a private dogma of Race Science that explained all human problems as Nigger Problems because PSAT scores + Charles Pickering = Revealed Word. Personally I can pinpoint the exact moment I had to stop trusting his conclusions on any subject, especially when he dead-to-rights should have known better. A man who can analyze institutional credit risk for a living, then turn around and say the housing bubble was a buyer problem, because minorities, has stopped trying to notice things.

If the man has any brain cells left, he can maybe ponder this piece. Where he admirably, in an un-PC way, diagnosed a thinker who was eaten alive by The Jew Thing. It’s a tiny bit Greek that you can flip through his own work like this, and watch a whole mind die of The Nigger Thing. But it was his mind to ruin.

Anyway, what really gets to me is how much of a smug liar Lowry is when he says "Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish…". Oh what? Danced around like this? Or like this? Or the thousand other things said by NRO and Weekly Standard writers and NRO and Weekly Standard approved candidates (let’s talk Newt Gingrich), that amount to the same or worse? "Derb" of course, is being fired for the ultimate Kinsley Gaffe. He said an awful thing outright which he has said quasi-politely for years, and which Rich Lowry is saying quasi-politely right now. He is expressing Rich’s worldview, and the worldview of a great deal of Rich’s writers and audience, without the weak ciphers they decide are "acceptable."

So here are my gut feelings about tribe and human nature. Derbyshire once wrote that he would be more of a peer to African mathematicans than white American convicts. This balances nothing. But in that same vein, I would still sit down and shake the hand of a Derbyshire or Buchannan before I would a Lowry or a Ponnuru or a Thiessen. I also feel (can’t prove) that if the tribe of the American Right were filled out with intelligent, worldy, openly bigoted, self-accountable and fully human old bastards, we would be better off than we are today. The insinuating, smirking, unaccountable bastards are worse. They have nothing to teach us. They are not even wrong.

And I still want to read those math books.