We Are Doomed Revisited:
An Interview with John Derbyshire
2019 is almost here.
As everyone knows, 2019 is the year when the dystopian sci-fi movie Blade Runner takes place. 2019 will also be the ten year anniversary of the release of John Derbyshire’s paradigm-shifting bestseller We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism, a book which paints a dystopian future for America even more disturbing and unsettling than the one portrayed in Blade Runner.
John Derbyshire was Alt Right before it was cool. Derb was Alt Right before there was even a word for it. While Derb may seem moderate compared to an Andrew Anglin or a Mike Enoch, for many years until his dismissal from National Review in 2012, John Derbyshire was undoubtedly the most hardcore Right-winger with access mainstream conservative media outlets.
Before settling in at his current home at VDare, Derbyshire spent years as the black sheep on Conservatism Inc, writing for National Review and Weekly Standard. Derb was to Conservatism Inc. was Larry Bird was to basketball or Eminem was to rap, a sort of reactionary Great White Hope in a sea of unevolved neocon cucks. Derb also wrote for the “kinda-sorta Alt Right” website TakiMag and hosts the longest running Dissident Right podcast on the internet: Radio Derb.
Derb was my and many others’ first exposure to truly reactionary ideas. Well, there was Pat Buchanan, I guess. Pat was a sort of a proto-Alt Right figure himself, but Buchanan was steeped in sentimentality and Christian traditionalism. Derb believed everything Pat Buchanan believed but was a lot more scientific and racist about it and without all the Jesus stuff.
But it was in 2009 with the release of his landmark bestseller We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism that Derbyshire laid out the scale of our problems: demographic decline of whites and our replacement by low-IQ Third Worlders, totalitarian egalitarianism running rampant in all our institutions, monumental wastes of resources in futile quests to close racial achievement gaps, and all the while, a cheery tone of Reaganist optimism coming from a Right who should be scared to death.
With the Left triumphing on all fronts, the Right with its head in the sand, and the whole damn system rigged against us, Derbyshire concluded that America, conservatism, and the West in general were basically doomed. Doomed to become a Brazil-style multicultural Third World hellhole, and there wasn’t a lot we could do about it.
But now we are ten years in the future and much has happened since. How does We Are Doomed hold up today? We caught up with the famously and eternally blackpilled John Derbyshire to find out.
We’re coming up on the tenth anniversary of your earth-shattering best seller We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism.
Nearly a decade later, are you more or less convinced that we are in fact doomed?
Yes, small-government, restrained-foreign-policy, ordered-liberty American conservatism is not merely doomed, it’s dead and gone. We’re close to the point – maybe past it already, it’s hard to keep track – where the federal government can tell you which pronoun to use.
We’re in a shooting war in Niger, a place hardly any American could find on a map, or should need to. We have 26,000 troops stationed in Korea, and 13,000 in Italy for crying out loud. Gotta stop Mussolini!
Freedom of speech is being stamped out by the tech monopolies and universities, with the eager help of lefty judges. Freedom of association is a fading memory – killed by the Civil Rights acts. Small government? You looked at the federal budget lately?
Has anything happened in the last decade that you did not anticipate?
I got cancer.
One of the menaces you warned against in We Are Doomed was “smiley-faced fools”–the empty-suit politicians with their sunshine happy talk about “brighter tomorrows,” “new days dawning,” and “shining cities on the hill”. However, Trump took the exact opposite route: “we’re in big trouble,” “we never win anymore,” “these guys are killing us,” etc. Reaganesque happy talk now seems old fashioned. Would you say that Trump has vanquished the smiley-faced fools? Was Trump a victory for the scowl-faced? Has pessimism at last won the day?
Uh, you’re asking a pessimist if pessimism is a winner?
Human beings, along with all the other higher animals, are optimistic by default. There is scientific literature on this. Pessimists are shunned and despised. In the hunter-gatherer EEA they were driven from the tribe, or just killed.
Pessimism is an attitude to the future. Trump campaigned on a promise to Make America Great Again. How is that not happy talk?
You were still at National Review when We Are Doomed was released. How did the rest of the National Review gang react to your book?
Unenthusiastically, although I don’t recall any actual hostility.
For one thing the ethos at 2009 National Review was stuck at happy-face Reaganite. Doom’n’gloom was not going to go down well.
For another I was frank about some topics that frightened them.
You were a fan favorite at NRO. Was NR worried that you were “redpilling” too many people? Did any of NRO’s readers complain about you or “The Talk” or was it just the NR bigwigs who couldn’t take the heat?
NR, like any other periodical of opinion, has a “line.” They didn’t, and don’t, like their contributors to engage in frank talk about race, even in other outlets.
What counts as “frank”? Well, some things you only find out by experiment.
I have no idea how the proportions fell out in reader reaction. I’d be mildly curious to know. I heard almost exclusively from people who supported me; but that is likely a selection effect at source.
I should add, though, that, as I described at length elsewhere: “There were, too, particular personal animosities of the kind that will inevitably arise during fourteen years of close confinement with a dozen or more opinionated intellectuals.”
A lot of We Are Doomed is about overcoming biases. You did a lot of that during your time at NRO. Most notably, you went from a Christian to a secular agnostic. You also broke with the neocons on the Iraq War. You were able to overcome your biases and reevaluate your worldview yet much of Conservatism Inc seems incapable of doing this. How can people look at the information on race and IQ, demographics, voting patterns and say “No. I still think we’re all equal and I think we can convert all these blacks and Hispanics to small government.” How much of that is careerism and cowardice versus blind ideological loyalty?
Some careerism, some ideological loyalty; but mostly innumeracy.
My earliest inclinations were to math and science. I was trained that way to university level. I wasn’t a stellar performer in either field, but I arrived in adulthood with a strongly empirical cast of mind and a clear understanding that the universe doesn’t give a fig whether or not I like its arrangements.
That is an unusual and eccentric outlook. To quote from We Are Doomed again: “The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, social, and personal. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the approval of those around us; we want to get even with that s.o.b who insulted us at the last tribal council. For most people, wanting to know the cold truth about the world is way, way down the list. Scientific objectivity is a freakish, unnatural, and unpopular mode of thought, restricted to small cliques whom the generality of citizens regard with dislike and mistrust.”
Do you have any hope that Conservatism Inc (of which I include National Review) will ever reform itself and become committed populists? Or will they choose to go down like the Weekly Standard before embracing white identity politics?
“Embracing”? How about “returning to”? Bill Buckley circa 1960 was a strong white-identitarian by 2018 standards.
So who knows? Stuff happens. This is a personnel issue. The current leadership at NR is firmly locked in to Old Conservatism; but a new editor could be brought in, do a purge, … If anyone on the board is reading this, I’m open to offers.
You were a critic of the Christian Right for their advocacy of pseudoscience like Creationism and Intelligent Design instead of hard scientific realism. In the end, Conservatism Inc wound up ditching the Christian Right, not because of the pseudoscience, but because they got in the way of Conservatism Inc embracing gay rights and other PC nonsense. They still don’t embrace hard scientific realism. What do you think of the Christian Right in America today? Has their decline been positive or negative for the Right?
I haven’t really kept in touch. I honestly couldn’t name one figure in today’s Christian Right. That’s my fault, not theirs.
As noted above, I think science is the bee’s knees. The Christian Right’s fondness for pseudoscience always grated on me. That aside, as a cultural Christian I was broadly sympathetic to them. Organized religion is a social good. And, as the old quip goes: If people stop believing in God, they don’t start believing in nothing; they start believing in anything.
The pseudoscience seems to have faded from the scene since Kitzmiller. The Christian Right seems today to be less institutional, more personal. But those are vague impressions. I’m really out of touch here.
You didn’t start writing until your 40s after having had a full career as a computer programmer and yet you rose to the top fairly quickly. Do you ever wish or wonder what would have happened if you had started writing earlier? Or like Hemingway, did you need to travel the world and run with some bulls (or in your case, star in a kung fu movie) to acquire your singular hardboiled world-weary Derb style?
Do I wonder? Yes, sometimes.
There’s a lot to be said for knocking around the world in your 20s and 30s: doing drudge work, getting into fights and love affairs, being penniless and hungry, getting swindled and beaten up. You come away with a clear understanding that greed, trickery, malice, stupidity, and brute force play much larger parts in human affairs than you would have believed at age 18. That’s good to know; and it makes the human virtues, when you encounter them, very impressive.
The House of Authorship has many mansions, though. If I’d lived a cloistered life and come to my 40s still innocent and unworldly, I might still have become a writer – just a different kind of writer. Plenty of good writers have led sheltered lives: Jane Austen comes to mind.
Americans love hearing their opinions affirmed by people with British accents. It’s one of the reasons neocons loved Christopher Hitchens. It’s why the Left likes to employs people like John Oliver and Trevor Noah to comment on American politics. Why do Americans respond so positively to British accents? As a person with a British accent, do you feel you have “British accent privilege”?
Yes. It sure is weird. I’ve written about it at some length. (At this point there isn’t much that I haven’t written about at some length.)
Brits, at any rate Brits of my generation and Hitch’s, are more conscious of their speech than Americans. There is way more variety of accents in Britain and accent is much more of a class marker. It’s impressed on us – those of us who got into good schools – that we should not speak like those rough kids on the other side of town.
If you believe the West is doomed, why keep fighting? Is it for the glory? To be there at the Alamo for the heroic last stand? What keeps Derb going?
Orneriness. It’s genetic: my Dad and my brother were both ornery. Plus a deep dedication to the idea that there is a real world of solid objects that doesn’t care how I feel about it.
The mainstream media crowned Richard Spencer “Leader of the Alt Right” largely because he coined the term “Alt Right.” However, many people feel the term “Alt Right” is now irreparably tarnished and I’ve seen a big uptick in “Dissident Right” (a term coined by none other than the Derb himself). Your term may win out in the end after all. If that happens and consensus settles on “Dissident Right,” that would logically make you our new leader. That’s the established precedent. The guy who coined the name is leader. Do you have any royal decrees prepared? Are you planning any purges? Just know I’ve been on your side from the beginning.
Wasn’t “Alt Right” coined by Paul Gottfried? And did I really coin “Dissident Right”? Whether I did or not, I am currently negotiating purchase of the website title dissidentright.com; so yes, the phrase will be mine – my Precious!
The Derbian epoch – reign title “Dissident Right” – will open with Judgment. The sheep will be separated from the goats. The righteous will be rewarded, sinners will be cast into the pit.
However, I am contemplating a pre-Judgment system of indulgences. For a modest fee, and on submission of a loyalty oath, some goats will be spared. For full details and scale of fees, contact me via VDARE.com.
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