Crunchy Christian Cons for the Derb!

Tom S. writes:

I know you’re probably sick of hearing from me on Derbyshire, but can you explain why so many religious “conservatives” have been so solicitous to JD on the issue of his apostasy? I mean, it’s a free country, and God has given us free will, and Derbyshire is free to believe anything he wants. But let’s face it: his critique of religion was not exactly a philosophical tour de force. It more closely resembled a three a.m. bull session in a college dorm room, where the atheist kid tries to convince everyone else that science has proved religion false. That being the case, why have some religious conservatives chosen to treat Derbyshire’s statement as being on the level of Pascal’s Pensees? First, Michael Novak; now Rod Dreher. What the heck is going on here? Can they really not refute arguments as superficial as those JD put forward?

LA replies:

The passive, approving response to Derbyshire by his Christian colleagues in the NR circle is part of what is deeply not right here and part of the reason why I have felt it necessary to write about the subject as much as I have, much as I’m sure some people are put off by it. Rod Dreher is a writer I respect, but his blog entry on Derbyshire is inane. Of course, Dreher hastens to assure us, he as a Christian doesn’t agree with Derbyshire, but isn’t it just wonderful that Derbyshire is so truthful and open about his beliefs? It is as though Dreher’s main concern here were not what is true and what is false, but the encouragement of self-expression and “sharing.”

A friend has been saying to me the same thing Tom just said, that Derbyshire gets to write whatever he feels like at NRO, talking interminably about himself and his attitudes, and why he thinks this, that and the other, while everyone else at NRO defers to him. What gives Derbyshire such cache? Is he a profound or serious thinker? He is not, and he himself has indicated in myriad ways that he knows he is not. So why the deference to him? Why do these National Review Christians fawn over Derbyshire the way liberals fawn over blacks or Muslims?

The question answers itself. The fawning shows the essentially liberal nature of the NR crowd. They are drawn irresistibly to show their tolerance and approval to that which undermines the substance of their own culture and civilization, so long as it’s presented to them in a polite, non-disruptive way.

My friend has a different and simpler theory. Because Derbyshire frames all his ideas in terms of his own personality, to criticize him would require criticizing him in personal terms. People don’t want to do that, so they give him a pass.

The truth of the theory is seen in the fact that I, in violating that rule and criticizing Derbyshire, seem to be going after him in a personal way that deeply offends some people. Thus one blogger has spoken of my

astonishingly ad hominem verbal assault on John Derbyshire; damned by Auster for nothing more than writing about his religious beliefs…. so poisonous is Auster’s contempt for any view other than his own…. All hail Lawrence Auster, conservative purist with a Chekist’s heart.

So the Derbyshire strategy of treating truth as personal anecdote and confession works. Put your ideas in personal terms and no one will go after you, because anyone who does go after you will seem like a totalitarian brute. The strategy has protected Derbyshire from attack both from his left (on issues such as his belief in racial realism and immigration restriction), and the now from his right (his profession of non-belief in God and total belief in Darwinian natural selection).

By the way, the blogger I quoted above misunderstands me in numerous ways. The primary drift of my entry, “Derb” Agonistes, is not to attack Derbyshire for his non-religious or non-conservative beliefs, but to say that given the fact that he’s a regular and prolific writer at a supposedly conservative website and he’s constantly expressing non-conservative views, he ought to expect that a lot of people are going to be annoyed at that, because they feel he’s undermining conservatism from within, with the approval of his NRO colleagues. What initially got me going on this was Derbyshire’s complaint about all the negative e-mail he was receiving from readers.

Jacob M. writes:

The more I’ve thought about this issue, the more I think Tom S. is on to something. I would go farther in responding to Michael K. than you did. The problem with Michael K.”s view is that he seems to imply that the Democratic party is mainly about things like multiculturalism, homosexual rights, hate-crimes laws, and other such ideas that Derbyshire doesn’t like, and only secondarily about things like abortion rights, Darwinian evolution, and allowing Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube to be pulled (things Derbyshire does like.) But with our two-party system, neither party is really “mainly” about anything, in the sense that they are both big tents that must incorporate a variety of different factions, not all of which are comfortable with each other (such as in the Republican party which includes both us social conservatives as well as the big-business types who couldn’t care less about social issues.) Thus, his first paragraph could just as easily have read as follows:

“Given his views on abortion, the Terri Schiavo affair, evolution, religious belief, and related matters—issues on which right-conservative republicans have been the most fanatical and intolerant of heresy over the last four decades [OK, I know that analogy doesn’t quite hold, but there is a core of the Republican party that considers these issues absolutely essential]—I rather doubt that “the Derb” is about to join the party of Rick Santorum, James Dobson, John Ashcroft, Cal Thomas, Bill Frist, and Tom Delay simply because he disagrees with the secular left and mainstream “liberals” on race, massive Third-World immigration, “multiculturalism,” “political correctness,” homosexuality, feminism, sexual egalitarianism, and innate sex differences.”

In other words, one can go either way depending on which issues one thinks are most important—the Democratic party includes pro-lifers who are Democrats because of their views on issues like health insurance or environmentalism. And as you’ve pointed out, it is a person’s primary philosophical commitment that determines how he will align himself, and the locus of Derbyshire’s primary philosophical commitment, which is now “Darwinian evolution explains everything we need to know about life and mankind, and therefore conservative Christianity is stupid,” is in the Democratic party, not the Republican party.

Michael T. writes:

There is reason for conservatives to be concerned over Derbyshire’s defection. We lost a good soldier turned traitor. Derbyshire was in many ways a conservative bastion at NRO in recent years (if not, who was?). He was, of course, free to defect to right-liberalism (not the neocon brand, but RL nonetheless), but the public nature of it was a sorry sight to behold. It’s clear now he never was any serious conservative. Since he has unmasked himself so ingloriously, people are right to feel betrayed. He couldn’t simply slip quietly away into the night, he had to let the world know that he, The Derb, thinks the rest of damn fools. More than that, though, it’s one more non-conservative writing for an ostensibly conservative publication—openly non-conservative at that.

LA replies:

How do you see Derbyshire as have explicitly ceased to be a conservative and become a liberal? I didn’t quite say that myself.

Michael T.:

It’s implicit. There was always something uncertain about Derbyshire and now it’s clear why: there was never anything transcendent undergirding his positions. Fair enough, he may still be a functional conservative of sorts. But the man can no longer look at the detail of reality—grim, bitter reality, as it so often is—and be comforted by a reality greater than it, no longer remain steadfast that the order of things in our world is the way it is for any transcendent reason. For him, as for the liberals whose company he admits preferring, it’s a world of unfortunates and victims—for him made worse by his functional conservatism that sees neither hope nor salvation for them, neither earthly nor otherworldly. His abandonment of religion was marked by sentimentality, so how much longer he’ll maintain his conservative line will be interesting to see.


I have often said that non-believers can be true and effective conservatives. But their effectiveness will be functionally limited by the fact that they cannot articulate the meaning of our civilization at the highest level, because they don’t believe in that highest level.

Michael T. writes:

You wrote:

“I have often said that non-believers can be true and effective conservatives. But their effectiveness will be functionally limited by the fact that they cannot articulate the meaning of our civilization at the highest level, because they don’t believe in that highest level.”

Derbyshire is more than just a non-believer, though. More than being unable to articulate the meaning of our civilization, hasn’t he, in fact, articulated its very antithesis? The strong language he denounced God with actually denounces a great deal more. How can there even be a “civilization” in his view, apart from whatever social and institutional arrangements chance produced at a certain point in time? Such a chance arrangement aims at nothing more than, nothing higher than, simply propagating the species—which could have been done in a myriad of ways, so what’s so special about ours? It doesn’t move toward anything. It sees no greater purpose in itself. It doesn’t reflect back on its course so as to discern its direction. It merely exists—for now—the way we all do, according to Derbyshire. Non-religious conservatism can be done right, I’ll grant. (An example that comes to mind is Theodore Dalrymple.) Reductionist neo-darwinism is not it.

LA replies:

First, my comment was not about Derbyshire. I wanted to make it clear that I am not seeking to define non-believers per se as non-conservatives.

Second, you have stated the Derbyshire problem very well indeed. He himself in his profession of non-belief said that the only purpose of an individual human life is the propagation of offspring. If that’s the case, what is the basis of civilization or higher values or anything?

Your very insightful remarks bring us back to my problem with Rod Dreher with which I began this blog entry. What Dreher should have said was: “Derbyshire’s view means the cancellation of everything conservatives believe in—civilization, objective morality, a higher purpose in existence. I’m appalled.” Instead, Dreher said how nice it was that Derbyshire felt free to share his views with us. I hope Dreher can see how inadequate his reply was.

As this discussion shows, the establishment conservatives and their websites do not have a clear grasp of these fundamental issues. It seems to be up to tiny websites like VFR, with its readers, to uphold the genuine conservative view that the official conservative movement has abandoned or perhaps never understood.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 05, 2006 06:14 PM | Send

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