Derbyshire Bites the Dust

John Derbyshire is a paleoconservative who has had a long association with National Review. For some years he has been, in my view, the most legitimately controversial of the writers associated with that magazine and web site. NRO’s relationship with Derbyshire has now come to an end, as a result of a piece that he wrote in Taki’s Magazine. The article is titled “The Talk: Nonblack Version,” and purports to set out the facts of life as a white parent should explain them to his children. Derbyshire’s piece is intended as a counterpoint to the post-Trayvon Martin discussion about how black parents have to explain the realities of life in America to their sons.

Rich Lowry of National Review responded Friday evening by distancing the publication from Derbyshire’s “appalling view of what parents supposedly should tell their kids about blacks.” Today, Lowry announced that National Review has severed its relationship with Derbyshire:

Anyone who has read Derb in our pages knows he’s a deeply literate, funny, and incisive writer. I direct anyone who doubts his talents to his delightful first novel, “Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream,” or any one of his “Straggler” columns in the books section of NR.


Derb is also maddening, outrageous, cranky, and provocative. His latest provocation, in a webzine, lurches from the politically incorrect to the nasty and indefensible. We never would have published it, but the main reason that people noticed it is that it is by a National Review writer. Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we’d never associate ourselves otherwise. So there has to be a parting of the ways. Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation.

Is that a fair assessment of Derbyshire’s column? You can read it and judge for yourself. No doubt Derbyshire is willing and able to defend his factual statements, but the tone of his article seems indefensible to me. It oozes hostility toward African-Americans.

This has all been a long time coming. In January 2003, I wrote here that Derbyshire should be kicked off the conservative team:

I’ve always thought Andrew Sullivan’s criticisms of John Derbyshire of National Review Online were unfair. Now, however, Derbyshire has put his foot in his mouth in a manner that makes Trent Lott look discreet and statesmanlike by comparison. In his latest NRO column, Derbyshire vows to stop talking about race, since his views are “non-respectable.”

A resolution to which he should have held firm.

Unfortunately, in the process of swearing off any further talk about race, Derbyshire lets loose one last volley of incomprehensible stupidity:

All American politicians are liars and hypocrites about race, from Democrats like Hillary Clinton posing as champions of the downtrodden black masses while buying a house in the whitest town they can find, to Republicans pretending not to know that (a) many millions of nonblack Americans seriously dislike black people, (b) well-nigh every one of those people votes Republican, and (c) without those votes no Republican would ever win any election above the county level.

It’s hard to know where to begin responding to this slander of Republicans and Republican voters. In the first place, while there are no doubt plenty of white people who don’t much care for blacks (and vice versa), I don’t know of any support for the claim that “many millions” of nonblack Americans “seriously dislike black people.” If this were the case, it is hard to see how Michael Jordan could be our most admired athlete, Oprah Winfrey one of our most popular entertainers, and Colin Powell probably the most admired person in American public life–to take just three of many possible examples.

Further, Derbyshire’s claim that “well-nigh every one of these people” (i.e., racists) votes Republican is ridiculous. All of the public opinion surveys I have seen on the subject have indicated that racial animosity is expressed more often by Democrats than by Republicans. (They also indicate that of all ethnic groups, whites express the least animosity toward other races.)

And finally, the idea that without the anti-black vote, “no Republican would ever win an election” is equally absurd. Take just one example, my home state of South Dakota. South Dakota’s black population is essentially zero, and the state has historically voted Republican. George Bush carried South Dakota easily in 2000. Does Derbyshire seriously believe that what motivates South Dakotans to vote for Republicans is their distaste for black people?

The conservative movement is a big tent, and in general, I don’t like efforts to expel people from it; for example, I thought it was silly for NRO to purge Ann Coulter for language it deemed over-the-top. But to anyone capable of expressing such foolish and destructive sentiments as we have just heard from Derbyshire, all I can say is: get off my team.

NRO should have listened in 2003. Better late than never.

STEVE adds: John beat me to it (mostly since I was stuck on airplanes and in airports all day–I had it I’m mind to note this story), but having tangled with Derb a few times, both in person and on NRO’s Corner a few years back, I can only add: good riddance.  One of the small ironies here is that Derb embraces all of the left-wing slogans about conservatives and science, which ought to at least give a moment’s pause to all the folks on the Left who want to use him (wrongly) as representative of conservatism.

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