Derbyshire’s Democrat delusion

I’ve now read the Peter Beinart column that John Derbyshire called “brilliant” and that persuaded him that the Democrats are becoming more right-wing on immigration than the Republicans. There is nothing in Beinart’s column that backs up Derbyshire’s statement—nothing. Beinart refers to the fact that some Democratic candidates for Congress are calling for controls on illegal immigration, and that some Democrats (a majority in the Senate) supported the recent Fence bill. But there is absolutely nothing to suggest that Democrats are becoming more pro-control than Republicans.

Derbyshire seems to be suffering from a syndrome I will call McConnellitis. This is a condition in which an immigration restrictionist, deeply worried about immigration and also desperately seeking a political alternative to the Republicans, starts to fantasize that liberal Democratic politicians are becoming restrictionists. The syndrome is named after Scott McConnell, editor of The American Conservative, who, when Howard Dean was riding high in the early stages of the 2004 presidential campaign, wrote an article in which he seriously laid out a scenario—without a smidgeon of evidence to support it—that candidate Dean would come out for immigration controls.

- end of initial entry -

Tom S. writes:

John Derbyshire is a fine writer, but he is way out of line with most conservatives on such issues as Right to Life and Intelligent Design, and has in my opinion been looking for a reason to defect to the Dems for about the last year, ever since the Terry Schiavo incident. Immigration and hatred of Political Correctness are some of the few issues that are keeping him in the conservative fold. If he can manage to convince himself that the Democrats are better than the Republicans on immigration, he can go over with a clear conscience. McConnellism indeed. Too bad, he’s a talented writer, and a genuinely nice person, but his worship of “science” is leading him into a blind alley.

LA replies:

Other than this current item, what is your evidence that he is looking for a way to defect to the Democrats?

Tom S. replies:

I can’t read his mind, and perhaps I shouldn’t have said that he “is looking for a way to defect to the Democrats” since this statement implies that I can. But I have reasons for believing that this may be true. For one thing, Derbyshire shares as many positions with Democrats as Republicans. Consider:

1) Derbyshire is very much out of step with Republicans on RTL issues. He essentially accused conservatives of lying and bad faith during the Terri Schiavo incident, he has referred to the RTL movement as a “ A Frigid and Pitiless Dogma” and wrote a scathing review of Ramesh Ponnuru’s Pro-RTL book, “Party of Death.” On Right to Life, Derbyshire is certainly closer to the Democrats.

2) Derbyshire is a hard-line Darwinist who is openly contemptuous of Intelligent Design and any other theory that suggests that humanity arose through any process other than random mutation. This certainly doesn’t make you a Democrat, but the scathing contempt expressed by Derbyshire towards Intelligent Design is closer to the general liberal reaction than most anti-ID conservatives, who generally at least recognize why so many conservatives are uncomfortable with the implications of Darwinism. Indeed, Derbyshire sometimes sounds almost like Richard Dawkins on this issue.

3) Derbyshire is prone to “Scientism,” an exaggerated respect for science and scientists. If “science” says something, Derbyshire believes it. On several occasions, he has pooh-poohed the idea that scientists might “adjust” their findings for reasons of politics or the exigencies of funding. Sometimes, Derbyshire reminds one of P.G. Wodehouse’s Roderick Spode, defending the most outlandish statements with assurances of “I can assure you, it has all been worked out scientifically … “

4) Derbyshire holds numerous other positions that are closer to those of Democrats than Republicans. He has hailed the 1960s “Sexual Revolution” (as you noted in your post a few months ago in your post where you noted his citing of Playboy magazine as a conservative force); he has lamented the decline of the American Middle Class in terms indistinguishable from Democratic talking points; he has written complimentary things about the British Socialists of the 1930s; He has written that there is “no alternative” to government funding of Social Security, and that saving money for retirement is a “mug’s game.”

5) The sheer delusion of his statement concerning Democrats and immigration. No thinking person can believe that the Democrats are going to offend a Holy Minority Group by moving to the right of the Republicans anytime soon. Sentiment, ideology, and self-interest all dictate the Democrats position on immigration. Why would they change? For an intelligent man like Derbyshire to believe something so delusional takes an effort. He is trying to make the Democrats more palatable on an issue he feels strongly about. He is certainly trying to convince himself that the Democrats are “not that bad,” and such thinking tends to snowball. Back in the late 1970s, I and a lot of my friends, Democrats all, disagreed with our party on National Defense, and started out by telling ourselves that the Republicans were “not that bad.” Eventually, we all became Republicans …

Please don’t get me wrong. Derbyshire holds many positions that are anathema to the Democrats, especially on race, gun control, and political correctness. But there is no doubt that he shares positions with the Democrats on many issues, and these issues are not minor ones. In this election, to stay home is to cast a de facto vote for the Democrats. Derbyshire recognizes this, and is trying to justify this de facto Democratic vote. It’s only a short step from this to actually voting Democratic, and I believe, for the reasons I have stated above, that Derbyshire will make this step in the near future.

(Incidentally, I should state that I agree with JD on some of the above; it is the cumulative weight of all of the above that I am citing. Also, I remain a fan of Derbyshire. In many ways, I regard him somewhat as you regard Mark Steyn; entertaining, and a fine prose stylist, but not a serious analyst. If you want links to substantiate any or all of the statements above, I will provide them; all are available at his website,, where Derbyshire has kindly made all of his writing available on-line).

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 28, 2006 06:16 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):