Posted on February 23, 2010

How Liberty Dies

John Derbyshire, Secular Right, February 22, 2010

Outrage of the week last week was the shutting down of the American Renaissance conference by anti-racist activists.

It impacted my schedule. I was planning to attend the conference (which was scheduled for Feb. 19 to Feb. 21).

It would have been a first for me. I’ve been a subscriber to the AR magazine since the mid-1990s, when I read Jared Taylor’s 1992 book Paved With Good Intentions. Jared is the moving spirit of American Renaissance (and a former National Review contributor). I debated–as in: took an opposing point of view to–him in 2006 at an event since made famous by 14-year-old Trotskyist Max Blumenthal, who knows absolutely everything about the world. The transcript of my address is here. You can hear a recording of the entire event here.

I’ve encountered Jared half a dozen times since then, and had dinner with him once when he was in New York. I like the guy a lot. He’s terrifically well-read and well-educated. Quite a good orientalist, too: he grew up in Japan–I think his parents were missionaries–and we once spent a happy half-hour comparing the odd semantic shifts between Japanese kanji and the ancestral Chinese ideograms. He’s also fluent in French: studied at the Sorbonne, I believe. I visited at his home once: Jared was raising his younger daughter–she was four years old at the time–to speak French. She chirruped “Bonjour, Monsieur” at me when I met her, with a very authentic accent. I consider Jared a fine American gentleman and patriot, with the exquisite manners of the old South, and the strong devotion to his family that a man should have.

My fondness for Jared notwithstanding, I don’t really think of myself as an American Renaissance type. For one thing, there is that ethos of the South, which I don’t really . . . get. I wonder if a foreigner ever can get it. It’s as odd and particular, in its own way, as Tibetan Buddhism.

For another thing, there is the antisemitism of some of the AR followers, which rubs me the wrong way. I fall in line with the long tradition of British philosemitism (Cromwell, Victoria, Lloyd George, Maggie Thatcher), and just have no patience with the other thing. I’d excuse Jared from that: in several hours of private conversation with him, I’ve never caught a whisper of antisemitism. The only remark I ever heard him make on the subject, to a third party, was: “They look white to me!” He has in fact taken pains to get Jewish writers and speakers into AR. His enemies say this is cynical “covering,” but my best guess, from my acquaintance with the man, is that it’s sincere. (My car-pool ride down to the AR conference, by the way, was to have been with Bob Weissberg.)

I had therefore turned down Jared’s invitations to the AR conference (which is held every other year). I wasn’t planning to attend this year, either. Then I read on one of the paleocon websites that the conference hotel had canceled AR’s booking after harassment by some hostile activists. I thought this was very shocking. Whatever you think of the AR ethos, they are genteel types (including a lot of academics, like Bob) who would no more think of burning a cross on someone’s lawn than they would of garotting their own grandmothers. They are people with opinions, that’s all–opinions, furthermore, that were perfectly mainstream 40 or 50 years ago. Well, they found another hotel.

In a fit of righteous indignation on hearing of the first cancellation, I had signed up for the conference & been duly registered. I set up the car pool with Bob and told Mrs. Bradlaugh I’d be away for the weekend. Then on Tuesday of the week of the conference, I got an email from AR saying the new venue had also canceled, after more intimidation from the anti-“hate” thugs. The email said AR would refund our conference fees, but I donated mine to AR in disgust.

The next day another email came saying that AR had found yet another hotel and the conference was on after all. This new hotel (we were assured) would stand up to any threats. In the event, they didn’t, and the conference was finally and thoroughly off. Jared set up some sort of truncated event, with some of the speakers, but by the time I found out about it, it was too late to go down to Virginia. He put out a press release through one of the regular services, but only Breitbart seems to have picked it up.

It is a shameful thing that the AR conference was shut down–an ominous thing too, in that this is the first time it’s happened. We may be losing our freedoms of speech and association, as they have in Britain and Europe. So much for American exceptionalism.

And just as shameful as the success of the anti-racist bully-boys is the utter silence of the media. I haven’t even heard one of those “First they came for American Renaissance . . .” admonitions. It’s as if the AR people are utterly beyond the pale. Yet why should they be? If they are wrong, why not expose their error in open debate, as I tried to? Isn’t that the civilized way to do things? (When I took on Jared in that 2006 debate, the organizers told me they’d invited a number of conservatives, but all had backed out when they heard they’d be sitting in a room with Jared. What on earth is the matter with people?)

AR’s position, in a nutshell, is that if it’s OK for blacks, Hispanics, Asians, etc. to organize in defence of their group interests, and to promote pride in their ancestry, why isn’t it OK for white Americans to do the same? It seems to me there is no very satisfactory answer to this question. The one usually given (by the aforementioned Blumenthal wunderkind here, for example) is that whites are a majority and the others are minorities, so it wouldn’t be fair. But this is already untrue in four states, and by 2042, according to the Census Bureau, will be untrue of the entire nation. Will American Renaissance be respectable then ? If not, why not?

My own strong preference, as I argued in that debate with Jared, would be for everybody to shut up with the race business. There doesn’t seem to be much prospect of this happening, though, so it’s not hard to see the AR-ers’ point of view. In any case, I say again, whatever you think of that point of view, it’s a point of view. It shouldn’t be shut out of the public square; and if it is so shut out, by goons phoning in death threats to hotel employees, there ought to be a fuss made. Well, here I am on Secular Right, making a fuss as best I can. Freedom of speech! Freedom of assembly! Liberty! Liberty!

[Dan Roodt of South Africa, who was scheduled to speak at the AR conference, has written an open letter to Jeffrey Imm, who was one of the zealots who helped force hotels to break their contracts to hold the conference.]