Interview with John Derbyshire

Vox Day, April 16, 2012

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For the most part, there’s been a tremendous amount of support for you across the right blogosphere, whereas there hasn’t been much defense of Rich Lowry’s position except by the other writers at National Review. I would estimate that eighty to eighty-five percent of the comments have been running in your favor. I thought that was really striking, because I’m not sure that would have been the case ten years ago.

Do you mean the comments on the National Review blog?

I mean the comments on pretty much every blog where it’s been discussed, with the exception of the left-wing blogs where the competition is to see who can feign the most outrage.

I am in quite high spirits because I’ve had tremendous email support. I’ve had hundreds of emails and I’m going to have to do some collective thank you for them somewhere because I’ve totally given up trying to deal with them. I’d answer a dozen and forty more would come up in the meantime. It’s been almost a tsunami. I’m taking my life in my hands here, I know, but almost none of them have been negative even though my email address is right there on my web page. I think by the time I got through the first few dozen, there were two negative ones. And they weren’t vituperative, they were sarcastic and sneering, but they weren’t horrible. Everything else was really positive and supportive. That’s just tremendous, I’m really heartened by it. I am going to read them all. I can’t possibly answer them all, but I am going to read them all. People have been great.

I get the definite impression that something has changed. You talk about how 50 years ago, you would have had some different opinions more in line with the Standard Model view of race. And certainly 20 years ago, the reflexive anti-racist position was the normal one in educated society. But now things have changed and people are much less terrified of having the race card waved at them. Have you noticed that yourself?

There are a number of things in play there. One, which I’ve written about more than once, I think, in the United States, is just despair. I am of a certain age, and I was around 50 years ago. I was reading the newspapers and following world events and I remember the civil rights movement. I was in England, but we followed it. I remember it, I remember what we felt about it, and what people were writing about it. It was full of hope. The idea in everyone’s mind was that if we strike down these unjust laws and we outlaw all this discrimination, then we’ll be whole. Then America will be made whole. After an intermediate period of a few years, who knows, maybe 20 years, with a hand up from things like affirmative action, black America will just merge into the general population and the whole thing will just go away. That’s what everybody believed. Everybody thought that. And it didn’t happen.

Here we are, we’re 50 years later, and we’ve still got these tremendous disparities in crime rates, educational attainment, and so on. And I think, although they’re still mouthing the platitudes, Americans in their hearts feel a kind of cold despair about it. They feel that Thomas Jefferson was probably right and we can’t live together in harmony. I think that’s why you see this slow ethnic disaggregation. We have a very segregated school system now. There are schools within 10 miles of where I’m sitting that are 98 percent minority. In residential housing too, it’s the same thing. So I think there is a cold, dark despair lurking in America’s collective heart about the whole thing. That’s one factor. Another factor is the Internet, especially YouTube. Now, you can log on any morning to the Drudge Report and see videos of crowds of black Americans misbehaving. Maybe there should be some videos of white Americans misbehaving, but there just aren’t that many. People are seeing these things and it’s fortifying that despair.

I’m a bit scared of it, it’s making us kind of cold. But we’re still mouthing the platitudes. It’s something happening under the surface and it hasn’t really come to the surface yet except perhaps in reaction to events like this. But I do think that in our innermost hearts we’re in a state of despair.

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National Review has a long and rather Stalinist history of purging its writers, including Joe Sobran, Samuel Francis, Ann Coulter, and now you. Is this part of National Review’s culture or is there something else going on there?

On National Review’s behalf, let me just correct you on Coulter. She wasn’t a National Review employee, they just syndicated her column and they stopped syndicating it. I think that was all that happened there. I’m sorry to sound defensive on National Review’s behalf, but it is something they have to do, to some degree. I actually spoke to Bill Buckley about this a couple of times. As a committed conservative, it hurts to say this, but there are a lot of crazy people on the political right and if you’re going to have any kind of presentation in the media marketplace at all, you do have to keep fending them off. Unfortunately, it’s a matter of judgment about which ones you fend off and which ones you let into the tent. It’s awfully hard to get right, and I know, Bill Buckley had said to me, that he didn’t think he’d always gotten it exactly right. It’s an approximate art. You sometimes boot out the wrong person and sometimes keep in the wrong person. Bill called it a policing exercise and it does have to be done. If you’re going to be a, oh dear, respectable publication, and get your ideas out there in the marketplace, you do have to draw a line against the craziest of the crazies. It’s not an easy line to draw. It’s not an easy judgment to make. Sometimes you get it wrong. I think Bill got it wrong with Sam Francis.

You sound remarkably comfortable having been found to be on the wrong side of the line.

Well, I say again, it’s a hard thing to get right. Did Rich Lowry get it right in my case? You be the judge.

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