G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Yesterday I wrote that I believed that John Derbyshire knew what he was doing when he wrote his piece for Taki’s Mag. I also tried to make the point that both Derbyshire and the National Review could have made choices in which both sides were “correct”. Insofar as that’s the case, the attacks on National Review are misplaced. Derbyshire’s arguments could still technically be true if not cumbersome and without context, but he could still have also put National Review in a precarious position that required them to assert themselves in their pursuit of their chosen vision.
Here’s an analogy: a man decides that he wants to devote his time and energy to blogging. He quits his corporate job and takes on a part time job as a waiter (this is only partially autobiographical) so he can better focus his energy on his hobby and his passion. But this strategy doesn’t gel with his girlfriend’s vision of the life she wants to lead. The smaller income means that the couple are forced to forgo vacations, and they eventually move into a smaller apartment in a slummy part of town. The girlfriend dumps the man in short order. Can we say that either one is right or wrong? Both seem correct in their actions; there is nothing immoral, unethical, or incorrect about their choices. They just have different goals. Perhaps the girlfriend sticking with the man she supposedly loves would be the more pure and virtuous act. It is more in tune with the virtue of love – what fosters a loving relationship is the pursuit of truth and the man’s pursuit of truth should in turn make the girlfriend happy. But this is all pie in the sky. Unconditional love does not exist.
Derbyshire understood this when he wrote in 2007 (h/t JG aka Audit Nerd):
If tomorrow I submitted a piece to National Review saying, “Kevin MacDonald is really onto something. He’s doing great work and I think everyone should read him,” the editors would reject the piece, and they would be right to do so. I don’t think I would be canned for submitting such an article, but if it happened, I would not be much surprised.
A conservative magazine simply can’t afford to do that. Its hold on the attention of the U.S. public is too precarious. A conservative magazine can’t afford to let a writer say anything nice about MacDonald without putting it under some such title as “The Marx of the Antisemites.”
There isn’t any kind of chicanery or dishonesty there. That’s just how the world is, how America is, under what Bill Buckley calls “the prevailing structure of taboos,” and the prevailing system of status perception, both of individual human beings and of easily anthropomorphizable entities like opinion magazines.
National Review wants to get certain ideas out to the U.S. public—ideas about economics, politics, law, religion, science, history, the arts, and more. To do that, the magazine needs standing in our broad cultural milieu. It needs status. That’s hard at the best of times for a conservative publication. To lose status points—to lose standing—just in order to draw readers’ attention to some rather abstruse socio-historical theories cooked up by a cranky small-college faculty member, would be dumb. Ergo, as I said, NR would reject a piece of the kind you suggested, and they would be correct to do so. I would do so if I were editor of NR.
Ideally, if a firing had to occur, NR editor Rich Lowry would have just said “sorry John, you crossed outside the boundaries of our vision. We can’t have you here anymore.” But breakups never go that way. There are always “break up words” – rhetoric that matches the physical act of severing ties. Crying, outrage, and denunciation to friends is how it goes in a domestic relationship. Creating distance, shunning, and denunciation to other media figures is how it happens with political magazines.
These are always interesting struggles. It’s the narcissism of small differences that Freud wrote about. Two entities on one hemisphere of the political map are jostling with each other over the proper recipe with which we should bake their conservative cake. Principles or politics? Inside the system or from without? Respectable or devil-may-care? Diplomatically or doggedly? There is no singularly correct calculus. The struggle has and always will take place, and these different entities will fight for position within the conservative movement. And none of it will be done in silence.