National Review's sacking of veteran columnist John Derbyshire was as unfortunate as it was predictible.
To be honest, Derbyshire is not always my cup of tea. Even though he is an atheist, I can appreciate that he is broad-minded enough to acknowledge that religion is not necessarily the root of all evil and he doesn't descend into the zealousness of what I like to call the missional atheism of Richard Dawkins, Penn Jillette, and the late Christopher Hitchens. While I find some of Derbyshire's writings objectionable, he is always interesting.
But it was not Derbyshire's atheism that was the catalyst for his removal from a magazine founded by Catholics. Derbyshire's unbelief is well-known. But so was the content that got him into trouble.
The mortal sin was committed in a column at the eponymous takimag, a webzine founded by William F. Buckley's sailing friend Taki Theodoracopulos, entitled, "The Talk: Nonblack Version."
At first reading, Derb's column smacks of clumsy, often narrow-minded advice for his kids on how he wants them to behave around and regard American blacks. I'm going to avoid passing judgment on the merits of Derb's points and only concede that he was too blunt. It should be noted, however, that he linked to sources to support many of his claims and NR editor Rich Lowry did not try to refute anything, only explaining that it was "a column . . . so outlandish it constitutes a letter of resignation."
Regardless of what one thinks of his conclusions, the unceremonious firing of Derbyshire represents, if nothing else, the narrowing of allowable opinion and his conservative colleagues' piling on exposes how closely the official Right and official Left resemble each other. There is a heretic among us!
But aren't speech codes the exclusive domain of the Left? Derbyshire's column is doubtlessly controversial but NR's reflexive shunning of their longtime colleague more than suggests that they are in agreement with the Left: there are some subjects which may not be discussed. Lowry's own words convey that Derbyshire's column was so reprehensible that he does not deserve the opportunity to defend himself. The Inquisition was more generous with its defendants, although Lowry hid behind his magazine's reputation to justify his move:
"[t]he main reason that people noticed it is that it is by a National Review writer. Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we'd never associate ourselves otherwise."
What evidence does he have that Derbyshire was using National Review's name for the purpose of propagandizing odious views? Lowry himself admits "Derb has long danced around the line on these issues" so he can't honestly claim that he is shocked--shocked that Derbyshire would write such a column.
If Derbyshire's comments are in fact racist, then they should be subject to debate and discussion. And yet, there has been no discussion: only condemnation.
There's a cliche on the Right that a racist is someone winning an argument with a liberal. The Derbyshire affair indicates that this saying may require amending: "or someone who offended a liberal or, someone who through such offense has embarrassed an establishment conservative in the eyes of liberals."
That Lowry and his colleagues so reflexively dumped on their friend without giving him a chance to defend himself speaks to their character. There is a reason Derbyshire gets canned but the likes of Lowry, Jonah Goldberg and Kathryn Jean Lopez will be around forever.
All of the latter represent conventional thought and Derbyshire was a boat rocker. As were fellow status quo challengers Pat Buchanan, Lou Dobbs, and the late Joseph Sobran.
It was not one month ago that the same movement stood beside Rush Limbaugh in the aftermath of his characterization of a private citizen as a "slut" and a "prostitute." Rush had the opportunity to apologize and he did, sort of. The difference is that Rush Limbaugh is one of their own, i.e. a foot soldier for the GOP, so he gets a life raft.
Derbyshire, Buchanan, et al. could not be trusted to toe the party line and so, they walk the plank.
Regular Columnist, THL
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