“Derb” Agonistes

Meanwhile, John Derbyshire is expressing increasing and uncharacteristic annoyance at the many readers who write to him complaining about his lack of real conservatism and his lack of Christian belief. He makes this complaint in a long article he just wrote explaining his, uh, lack of Christian belief along with his total reliance on biology as the source of the truth of man. For some reason he fails to understand that readers’ indignation at him is perhaps set off by the fact that he is a ubiquitous, endlessly talkative figure at America’s leading conservative magazine, sharing with the reading public every twist and turn of his interior thought process, and that the main drift of all this chat is his distancing of himself from conservative beliefs and allegiances, including foundational conservative principles.

Thus he’s an Anglican—but now he tells us he gave that up, doesn’t believe in it any more and is no longer a Christian. Thus he’s a conservative—but he happily informs us that he prefers the company of New York City liberals to red state conservatives, and, after all, he’s really a “metropolitan conservative.” Thus he’s a race-conscious, immigration-restrictionist paleocon—but he’s married to a non-Christian Chinese woman. Thus he’s a hard-line immigration restrictionist—yet he now urges Republican voters to stay home on election day, which, if they followed his advice, would lead to the election of a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and the passage of President Bush’s catastrophic open-borders bill. Thus he supported the invasion of Iraq—but only for punitive reasons, not for national defense reasons, and now he’s renounced his support for the invasion in any case. Thus he’s against homosexual rights—but only because he is personally repelled by homosexuality, not because he can articulate any argument against it— not a very helpful stance in the culture wars (however, he has made useful comments about the issue). Thus he says he believes in some kind of mysterious (non-Christian) divine being—but he regards as an idiot anyone who doubts the neo-Darwinian view of life, he has withering contempt for advocates of Intelligent Design, and he thankfully states that the most formative experience of his intellectual life has been his participation at Steve Sailer’s Biodiversity e-mail list, a collection of mostly stone-cold materialist atheists and religion-haters. (I know whereof I speak; I was a member of the list back in 2001 and fought many battles there, alone against a room full of atheists.) It never occurs to Derbyshire that if he stopped calling himself a conservative or at least absented himself from the supposed seat of the conservative movement (where readers are—gasp!—looking for conservatism, not Derbyshirism), conservatives would stop being offended at his continuing demonstrations of his non-conservatism, and stop being annoyed that he is weakening conservatism from within. No. Derbyshire is a modern guy; he wants it all. He wants to spend his life hanging out at a conservative online magazine while gassing on about his non-conservatism, and have no one criticize him for this.

Of course, he denies that he’s non-conservative. After all, he “respects” traditional beliefs. Right, he respects traditional beliefs, after approving whole-heartedly of the sexual revolution and arguing at length that Darwinian evolution by random mutation and natural selection explains everything we are and makes it impossible to believe that man is created in the image of God.

But never fear. One official Christian conservative at NRO warmly approves of Derbyshire’s confession of materialistic, non-Christian belief: the increasingly unfocused Michael Novak, who gave Heather Mac Donald an avuncular ok on her much more offensive attack on Christianity and who also has not a word to offer about how the West can defend itself from Islam.

This is not intended to deny the value of all of Derbyshire’s writings. He occasionally (when not regaling us with his personal thoughts, feelings, and anecdotes) makes worthwhile contributions to contemporary debate. But if he can’t see that conservatives have a legitimate case against him, he’s blind.

On the substance, it would be useful at some point to go through the entirety of Derbyshire’s profession of non-belief showing his profound errors. His errors are those of modern man in all his reductionist folly, and therefore worth discussing.

- end of initial entry -

Jacob M. writes:

It seems I only write to you concerning John Derbyshire. I’d hate to think I’m obsessed; it’s just that it’s so disappointing to me each time he backs further away from conservatism since he used to be my favorite National Review writer.

In this piece from 1999, Ramesh Ponnuru noted that “During the ‘80s, conservatives used to groan every time Kevin Phillips was quoted as a ‘conservative’ saying something snippy about Ronald Reagan. They joked that he had acquired a new first name, ‘Even,’ as in, ‘Even Kevin Phillips opposes these tax cuts.’ “ I call this phenomenon “becoming an Even.” It seems to occur when a person sells out their formerly professed principles in favor of winning approbation from opponents of those principles, and it seems to happen mainly with professing former conservatives. (A more recent example of this is John Dean, who with his book Conservatives Without Conscience has won much back-patting from liberals by attacking conservatives for caring about anything other than limited government and fiscal responsibility.) Well, over the past few years, as Derbyshire has really gone off on the evolution issue, he has become an Even: quotations from numerous liberal bloggers can be found saying things like “even John Derbyshire, a religious man himself, has no problem with evolution.” Thus, they use him as a tool to bash conservative Christians. When Derbyshire didn’t object to becoming an Even, I knew he had gone over to the dark side, because this showed he considered Darwinian evolution more important and worthy of defense and promulgation than traditional Christianity.

I think it is also worth noting that many atheists and agnostics are constantly reassuring religious believers that evolution doesn’t threaten our religious beliefs. “Have no fear,” they say, “evolution doesn’t contradict any religion at all; you can accept evolution and still be an orthodox Christian. The only thing science disproves is a literal six-day creation; other than that, there’s absolutely no conflict whatsoever. Move along, nothing to see here.” An example of Derbyshire doing this can be found toward the end of this article. Yet now, in the article you linked to, he is pretty much stating baldly that Darwinian evolution is incompatible with orthodox Christianity, and that accepting the former necessitates rejecting the latter.

I’ve always doubted that those unbelievers are sincere when they reassure religious believers, since when they talk among themselves, it’s very common to hear evolution given as one of the primary reasons they don’t believe in God. It brings to mind how Yassir Arafat was known to say conciliatory things to the Western world in English, then turn around and say the complete opposite to his own people in Arabic. I think most people who reassure religious believers that evolution doesn’t threaten them are really just hoping that if they can get people to accept evolution first, their conservative religious beliefs will topple later, paving the way to acceptance of liberal social goals like same-sex marriage and abortion-on-demand. Of course, this doesn’t explain Derbyshire, who is not particularly invested in such goals. I think Derbyshire is just such a pessimist that he gains some kind of perverse schadenfreude out of the prospect of people admitting, against everything they formerly believed, that there’s no meaning or purpose in life.

LA replies:

In fact, in response to the question, “What is the purpose of an individual human life?”, the only answer he gives is the propagation of offspring.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 02, 2006 12:38 AM | Send

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