Klavan On The Culture

On The Firing of John Derbyshire

I love National Review — love the magazine, love the website, love the people there, love their work. And  I know that NR has to protect its brand name and is well within its rights to decide whose work it will publish and whose it won’t. Furthermore, all joking aside, (because I hate political correctness and I kid around about stuff like this a lot), I think racism is a kind of moral sickness. It’s an insult to God and self-destructive to boot.  It reminds me of that old definition of resentment:  “It’s like taking poison and waiting for the other guy to die.”

And yet — and yet — for all that, I wish National Review hadn’t ended its association with John Derbyshire over Derbyshire’s openly racist article for Taki’s Magazine.

Two reasons I feel this way. The first and simpler one: Derbyshire is not a secret racist. He’s an avowed racist. He has been for years and years. Other writers at National Review have chided him for it, even yelled at him for it. But to fire him now has a touch of Inspector Renault to it. As in, “We’re shocked — shocked — to find racism coming from a racist!” It smacks of nervous CYA before the expected onslaughts of the left. Personally, I say to hell with the left. Leftism, even assuming its good intentions, has been more destructive to our black citizens than the bloody Klan. So let the left condemn us. They will anyway.

But secondly — more importantly — and more difficult to explain: I believe racism like Derbyshire’s deserves a full and free airing. It represents a strain of thought that exists on the right and is shared by some people of good will. I have friends who agree with Derbyshire. I have argued with them — loudly sometimes. But I don’t abandon them because I can see they aren’t motivated by hate. And Derbyshire does not seem to be speaking out of hate either. He’s not a person who thinks blacks (the main target of his racism) should be denied any rights or targeted for harm. He believes rather that science shows black people to be less intelligent and more prone to violence than whites. He believes that to deny the evidence of this is tantamount to a kind of creationism.

Now the most frequent word used to describe this opinion is “indefensible!” But Derbyshire does defend it, and he defends it very well. I find his arguments — to use one of his own words — “bracing,” in the same way I find it bracing to read good atheist arguments, even though I very strongly believe in God. What good do we achieve by silencing people like Derbyshire or demonizing them or excluding them? Isn’t that just the sort of Virtue Preening (“Look how non-racist I am!”) we expect from the left?  It seems to me it only serves to make racism kind of thrilling and forbidden — a secret philosophy that dare not be uttered. It gives it the aura of a hidden truth rather than a moral error. Instead of cries of “indefensible,” and “you’re fired,” I’d like to hear honest, well-informed voices argue back against Derbyshire. I think they would win the argument. If not, I’d like to be able to decide why not.

I don’t know Derbyshire. I was on a panel with him once and shook his hand, and I gave his racist book We Are Doomed a generally positive review in The New Criterion, though I disagreed with him. I understand he is having some health issues and I wish him well. And, as I say, I love the folks at National Review and understand they are well within their rights to act for the good of their brand.

Still, I wish they’d reconsider.